“Can you pray for me?” The question caught me off guard. We were in the hallway of the education building where young inmates were coming in for their afternoon classes. YOs are generally not very friendly. Especially with someone they don’t know. The trust factor is a real thing.
First, let me back up.
We had scheduled a special class for YOs (Youthful Offenders) in this particular prison. It’s always our hardest crowd to minister to… but so worth it! The zeal that young people have when they are set on fire for Jesus is worth the difficulty in getting to that point. They are regular world-changers, if we are willing to view them as such. For this reason, we press on.
We had a four-day class in one of the education buildings. We had our own room for those four days. Every morning we would come in and set up our equipment… DVD player, laptop, pencil sharpener and pencils, screen, projector, and workbooks. Then we would wait.
Little did we know what we were getting into that week. When Susannah and I started that first day, we barely knew each other. A few short conversations in person at various events and a couple phone calls leading up to the week. We were just acquaintances, really. That was about to change. We have a saying on my women’s prison team- “Come as friends, leave as sisters.” That’s the way it goes. Intense ministry can make or break you.
For our first two days no one showed up.
That’s never happened to me. There was literally not a soul that came those first two days. We were stuck in a room a thousand miles from home and not a person to show for the time and energy we had prepared. It was discouraging if I stopped and thought about it too long. But Susannah and I were determined to not go there with our minds. Instead, we chose to stake our claim on the hearts of these girls.
We prayed like mad women for two days.
There in that little classroom, we prayed for hours. Once in a while a passer-by would stick their head in our room and ask where our students were. “They’re coming,” we’d say, or “we don’t have any yet.” There were a lot of strange looks from people…especially from the other teachers in the building. One teacher kept telling us- “You came all this way and don’t have any students? Go to the beach or something! I feel so bad…you’re sitting here and you have no one. Don’t waste your time. Go enjoy yourself.” We smiled. He couldn’t see what we could see.
Like Elisha when he saw what his servant didn’t see in 2 Kings 6…Elisha saw the Army of the Lord and his servant couldn’t see, so he was afraid. We could sit and wait knowing that God could still make something beautiful out of our days of sitting and prayer. What if our waiting was for someone else? What if our waiting was showing that one teacher that we were willing to wait for ONE student? What if our patience was proving to him that there is a God in heaven who waits for the one? Even for ONE. What if our waiting showed the love of the Father for one child? Individually. Personally.
By the end of our first day, that room was like our home. We stood at the doorway during break times and talked to the ladies coming by. We had women come in and sit on the front row, telling us their stories and asking for prayer. One at a time, we ministered to them in whatever ways we could. It started feeling like our living room where the broken were coming. I started to wonder if this would be our week.
Over and over I heard the words of Revelation 3:8- “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you and open door that no one is able to close.” (HCSB) I kept feeling like God was setting the stage for something bigger than we could even imagine.
After two days of praying and small talk with those visiting “our house”, we made a bold request and ASKED to track down some students. Maybe sometimes God tells us there is an open door… then He asks us to kick it down. It’s unlocked, but maybe it’s stuck. The authorities said we could stand near the education classes and talk to the girls coming in after lunch. We were all about it.
When the YOs started pouring in the doors, my friend Susannah and I split up and started trying to make conversation with the girls as they walked by. I stood there in a lull, looking for a pair of eyeballs to meet mine, ready to jump out with a smile and howdy-do. I kept whispering under my breath, “Jesus, just give me ONE.” But no one was making eye contact with me.
Then I heard a voice behind me. “Can you pray for me?”
It startled me. A girl who I had seen walk by me had whirled around and stood directly next to me. She had her head down and she was twiddling her hat in her hands. She seemed nervous. I reached for her hands and although she gave them to me, she kept her head down. “Absolutely! What do you want me to pray for?”
Her answer cut through me.
“I want God’s favor on my life. I need help. I need answers.” This was my one. I had come a thousand miles for THIS GIRL.
Fast forward two more days and we were wrapping up our class with SIX GIRLS, ages 17-23. Y’all, that’s a door that we couldn’t have went through if it wasn’t for Jesus.
I had my one and Susannah had her one and each of them had brought friends. We ended the class with six girls who were ready to face the compound with a new zeal and hunger for Jesus. One 17-year-old decided to follow Jesus with her life. Maybe she was our ONE too.
Yes, we cried tears of joy over these girls. But can I tell you what made me cry every single time those last two days?
When that certain teacher would come by and peak in the window and see us teaching the class. Every time he came by and stood in the window or whenever some other teacher or inmate who knew us from the first two days came by and peaking their heads in the door, their responses made me tear up. They knew of the waiting. They knew about the praying. They knew that we had staked out in an empty room waiting for ONE. And then they saw filled chairs and workbooks being wrote in and interactions between us and the YOs and they knew- Jesus is real. I saw a dozen or more inmates and teachers stand in that window over those two days and clap. Quiet standing ovations to the God who believes in waiting for ONE. They would laugh and high-five us. They would give our girls thumbs up.
I’ve never seen six girls so applauded by the rest of the prison compound as these gals were. They weren’t just waited for by us anymore…there was a host of men and women that were rooting for those chairs to be filled. Now they were seeing the answer of their waiting and hoping. Maybe true faith is slightly contagious.
We weren’t standing our ground for ourselves. We were willing to wait because we believed that the Jesus we serve is more powerful than the one who had chained these in prison. Because ONE can change the world. Perhaps the domino affect starts here in the waiting.
Do you have ONE you’re waiting for? Don’t give up, friend.
There is power in one. The ONE named Jesus and He says ONE is worth the wait.