I just spent the weekend with a prison ministry. I wrote a report on it before I left and said that I hated it and that I would never go back, saved it and left for the church to meet with the rabid Evangelical Care Bears who I'd be serving with. Mid-way there I told my husband that I was sick and didn't want to go. Yes, I have the mentality of a 9 year old when I panic. He finally said, "I will take you home if you want me to, but I think that you have to be there. There are Native Orthodox who I don't think are being ministered to and I think you will find them. You have a responsibility to your Orthodox sisters."
I went and as I got to meet the ladies in a big circle we all told the group where we went to church. I said that I was Orthodox and sure enough, a couple of the offenders told me of women in different houses that were Orthodox who'd not come to the retreat because it wasn't Orthodox. I knew why-- I'd not expected to get my priest's approval and yet he had promised to come and was thrilled that I was reaching out. I met a couple who were there and told them to come meet him when he came. I was furious because my husband was right as there are no Orthodox Christian outreach at least in this prison. Actually-- the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) is supposed to be serving the prison but it doesn't. The priest is a young looking Alaskan Native-- he's older, but he looks young. I wonder if the girls flirted with him or something and he doesn't feel right going. Or he may be too spread out as it is and prison is easy to cut; it is for politicians.
God was amazing. One of the Orthodox "girls" and I met and I called her "sister." She started to cry. Well, she is my sister in Christ and she is Orthodox! She'd been praying for just one Orthodox woman and God sent her me and another team member, then my priest came! He's going to go to a training this coming week and go and minister to them. To think that my church's big sister church is practically next door to this prison and it was me who got The Call to be the link to the priest going there humbles me.
Kairos is about the basics of Christianity. We brought in food, and this symbolism wasn't lost on them. God feeds us. We sang, "Oh when the saints go marching in" when they walked in in the mornings. One said to me that it reminded her of Heaven, that when she dies that she will be greeted by the smiling faces of family members that she both knows and doesn't know.
I don't know how I feel about Jesus still, but if Jesus isn't real, G-d will forgive those who believe in Him. We were trained to discuss forgiveness, repentance, Opening the Door to Jesus (my talk) and many others. I broke bread with women convicted of embezzling, drug abuse, murder, and worse. (Oh yeah, there is worse. Much worse.) We served them & never let them serve themselves as we were servants of God, sent to talk to them about Christ's love. Would a murders' or child abusers' victim want their abuser to get good treatment for a few days? Most likely not, but would they want them to change? This was their chance to get the love they missed out on. Ninety per cent are getting out, which ones do you want being your neighbor-- the ones who've not been through this ministry or the ones who have been? I saw women who are very tough and very mean break down and cry.
This past weekend I heard some of the most heart breaking stories that any one has heard. I heard them from survivors. A woman was hugging me and said she had never felt joy or happiness before. I never understood how anyone could survive the indignity that prison is rumored to be, but I met women who said there is no dignity but manage to survive with a sense of humor and inner strength.
My husband said, "Next to raising children, nothing that you do will ever be as important as leading people to God." We will train them to start a weekly session within the prison. The hope is that they will stay with studying and keep a sisterhood alive. Corrections officers across the country have said that the effects last about 4 months, then they kind of whither. It's OK-- we (from the Outside) try to get back every six months, as well as monthly. I've committed to the monthly meetings for the following year.
I will see if there is more need. It is enough that I have brought my gentle priest over to meet the chaplain and find a slot. I hope that I can continue to serve.
On the other side, living with a group of other females (we'd leave at night and stay at a church) is not my thing. I can stand it for three days before I begin to fray! When I think, my face isn't smiling and about half decided to comment on this. "Tea! You look like you are angry." WTF is that about? I am embarrassed to tell someone that she has something on her teeth and they felt obligated to comment on my facial expression? One woman acted like I had some nerve for explaining that I had some muscle damage. I told her that I'd had a stroke, but no, she'd not be fooled! She knew I'd not had one! I was trying to tell her to shut the f--- up. You don't tell anyone what to do with their faces. "Smile! You look angry!"
"Go stand on your head! You still won't look attractive."
I cannot make myself smile when people do that and I want to slap them.
Another woman kept jabbering at me in the morning and TOUCHED MY BACK and said, "Are you not a morning person?" I was ticked-- if you have to ask, back off! I wanted to say, "No, but it's not that. I just don't like talking to you." I am comfortable with silence. This woman just doesn't say a lot of smart things.
They were as bad as dental assistants, if not worse.
The third and most irritating thing, an older lady brilliantly decided to come up from behind me and tickle me. I almost choked on my Ny-Quil pills that I was swallowing and she giggled to the room of 20 women getting ready for bed, "You look so serious!" I said I was swallowing pills. Everyone laughed some more. I am scared around this group-- had I choked and tried to cough them up, they'd have been banging on my back forcing them the other direction. They seemed to react to things to get attention. It bothered me.
I go to do the work of God. So what if I am not smiling? My grandmother died, I was missing her funeral, I was hearing deep stories and I did not go there to explain my face, affirm some dimwitted woman's need for affirmation on stupid comments on the weather and to watch to see if she was talking to me, and I sure as hell didn't need to have someone tickle me. (I almost slapped her when she did that.) I felt like those women were cultish in how they acted, "You must be what I want you to be." I don't mind training with them, and i don't mind breaking bread with them, but there is a line. Had I, the odd duck of the group placed my hand on someone's back to say anything, the response would not have been comfortable. Had I tickled anyone, it would have just been strange and I'd have probably been smacked. I can't even imagine ordering anyone to smile. That is so beyond the pale.