We arrived on a Tuesday evening in Guernsey after a nightmare at the airport (planes cancelled at Stanstead so we were bused to Gatwick. Not much fun when your 1 year old daughter is really tired and just wants her bed!). I knew I was going to be challenged in so many ways when I meet the team who were going into the prison. Many of them were from Holy Trinity Brompton, the birth place of Alpha. I struggle with Alpha because of much of it's theology, so I knew it was going to be a fascinating time working alongside these guys.
On the Wednesday we went into the prison and had the visitors room as our base. It was a really big room with plenty of space to use. It had a projector for film clips and song words to be put up. It was just right for what we were looking to do. 40 prisoners signed up to come to the 3 days we were there (the prison has about 100 inmates). They were all men and were a whole range of ages from 18 - 50. Most were in for violence, drugs and theft. As soon as they turned up we spent time mixing with them, chatting and trying to begin building some sort of relationship with them. It was during these times that I believe proved to be most fruitful and worthwhile.
Each day we did a variety of things such as good old traditional preaching(!), music, testimony times and discussion groups. What I saw was a real hunger for God from these guys and a recognition that Jesus could actually change and transform their lives. Over the 3 days I saw Jesus begin to do this. It was amazing to see these men declare that Jesus was the answer that they had been looking for! To see the Holy Spirit so powerfully at work was so humbling. The one thing I can say, hand on my heart, is that God spoke very powerfully into the lives of these prisoners. I saw it happen and am so excited that it did happen. About 30 of the prisoners made a decision to follow Christ, which is so, so good! I felt so 'at home' (if that's the right expression!) sharing the Gospel, it is what I am called to do as an evangelist. What really encouraged me was that the Chaplain, Billy (a good Spurgeon's student!) has got a really good discipleship program set up to enable these guys to go o in their faith. When speaking to some of the prisoners they said how they have a lot of respect for Billy. I think much of the discipleship will come from seeing Billy living it out.
What also struck me was the thought that I could have very easily ended up in prison for the things I used to get up to. If I had not been pulled out of the pit by God I could have very easily ended up in prison. May God forgive me for those times I have judged people.
What did I struggle with...
I have to first say that without a doubt God was clearly and powerfully working in the lives of the prisoners during the time we were at the prison. But I did struggle with certain things that happened while we were there.
There seems to be a theology coming out of HTB that everything is 'spiritual'. By that I mean that everything can be accounted for at a spiritual level. They often said how we are 'spiritual' beings, which I understand that we are, but we are not just spiritual beings, for are we not flesh and blood? If our humanity is defined by Jesus Christ, and what we look forward to is to become like him, then did he not ascend with a physical body? Heaven will not be some sort of floating around experience where we are all some kind of spirit! No, we will have bodies. what they are like I do not know, but we will have bodies nonetheless. HTB came across to me as very dualistic, and therefore a bit worrying!
Another thing was their attitude to the Holy Spirit. It seemed at times that they were trying to order Him about, if such a thing were even possible!
They also had a very strong theology on rebuking. So they would rebuke 'the spirit of...fear, pride etc etc.' Again, it is not something that I believe is biblical. They would also rebuke 'words'. So they would say 'we rebuke the word... skepticism etc.' For me that stinks of superstition. I have always struggled with HTB theology and this added to my struggles.
God was clearly at work during those 3 days. What seemed to speak most powerfully was when all religious language was put down and we were 100% real with the prisoners. That's when God really used us.
I'm thankful that despite our differences in theology, God can still unite us and use us, His Church, to reach the 'captives and prisoners'. I'm not saying we should just let any old theology pass, no, I am a great believer in the Truth, that is Christ. I believe we need to honour Him with a right theology and get rid of all the nonsense that flows from the pulpits around this nation (I can dream). But I saw that when we as God's people are united with one effort, to see God's Kingdom come, then Jesus shows up, big time!
If you want a really great picture, imagine on the Wednesday when we sung Amazing grace and all you could hear were the musicians up the front, but then on the Friday when we sung Amazing Grace again all you could hear were the prisoners belting it out at the top of their voices! Fantastic!
What I loved was the realness of it all. No pretty language from the prisoners, no pretending about how they felt each day, just a raw unflinching honesty. How I wish church was more like that. I want people to flood into the church who don't even pretend to be someone that they are not. I want people to come in who make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our worldview. I want to see the people of God rise up and say 'you are SO VERY WELCOME to be here! Please come in and eat with us.' Actually, first I want the people of God to GO and say 'Can we come and eat with you?'
This is verging onto another entry so I will end it there!
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!