Diane drove Emily and I in to work this morning. We were surprised by how little mail was waiting. Ellen is breaking the news to Diane in the picture below.
When the Peoria county jail opened their new facility on Maxwell road in 1985, my father was asked to be the chaplain for the inmates. He had been involved with a half way house for released inmates called Faith Hope and Love before that. He accepted the volunteer position and I would drop him off at the jail in the morning and pick him up for lunch. I would drop him off again after lunch and then pick him up for a ride home after work. He and his brother Ed were also placed in charge of the religious programs at the jail. I would sometimes hear stories of things that had happened while he was there, on my way home. They were also put in charge of 3 Sunday AM church services to be held in gym B. In the year 2000 dad had a heart valve acting up that would leave him short of breath and one day he asked me if I would help him with the jail ministry. It took me about 3 seconds for me to tell him, "nope, I think they are getting what they deserve." He dropped the subject and never said another word about it for about a year. Then one day he asked me again. I gave him another NO hoping that he would give up on the idea. He said, "Spark, I think you should pray about this." I told him I had no problem with that request. I was 100% positive that God who knows everything, knew that this was a bad idea. When I got home that night I got my Bible and told God that if He wanted me to do this His book would have to open to a passage that said we should visit those in prison. I opened the Bible and it did. "let's try again God, I'm sure you didn't mean this." It happened again. One more time I closed the Book and prayed, or should I say begged God not to open to one of these passages. I didn't even know that it was in the Bible that many times but it is. When I told my father what had happened he said he would pick me up for the Sunday morning services at 7:15 am. So much for the only day of the week I could sleep in.
My first Sunday at Peoria County Jail Church Services:
At 8:00 am guards usher in about 50 women inmates into gym B for the first church service. We shake their hand and welcome them to church. We all stand to sing a song out of the hymnal while Joanne plays the piano. Then we have an opening prayer and after that everyone sits down and it's time for audience participation (becomes my favorite part of the service). Then dad introduces the preacher and after he finishes about a 20 minutes sermon we finish with a song and prayer. After that 2 more services with about 50 men in each service and we leave at about 10:20 am.
All I really remember about that first Sunday is, while I was looking at the inmates with possibly a little contempt in my mind, the Spirit challenged me with the thought that if they would have had my dad and I had their's we would exchange places. He's still working on me!
CHECK BACK HERE FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT TOMORROW