Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inspired by the Good News of Easter

Maundy Thursday communion at East Taieri Church was thoughtful and meaningful. Easter Sunday was a great celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. All my children had great Easter Camps. I had some quality time with Sue. I even enjoyed some Easter eggs. However the most life-transforming moments for me this Easter were those I spent in the Milton Prison.

In January, David, a member of East Taieri Church, told me he felt prompted by God to form a prison ministry team. God has clearly been in this, and to our delight a team came together easily and has been inducted and joined the roster of churches taking service in the Otago Correction Facility. I am a member of that team. The first service I was involved with was on Good Friday. I feel that God spoke to me in several ways through it:

1. All the unknowns forced me to lean on God and not to trust on my years of ministry experience. That was a great reminder for me. I also felt very appreciative of the Prison staff and the other members of the team as we made our way through the security checks into the facility.

2. I was struck by how young the prison congregation were. In contrast to many church congregations around the country, I would say the majority of these men were in their 20’s. This is a sad reflection on the choices being made and situations faced by young men in our society. (43% of prisoners are younger than 30 years old).

3. I was encouraged by how friendly they were. Sadly I have visited churches where people have been much less friendly than these men. They walked up to us, introduced themselves, and thanked us for coming.

4. I was in awe at how carefully they listened to the Bible Reading of Jesus dying on the cross (Mark 15:22-39). Familiar, even routine words, which many church congregations on Good Friday may have taken for granted, rang out with fresh relevance as Mitch read them in that setting. One prisoner near me said, “Mean story!” at the end.

5. I was astounded at the openness of the prisoners in talking about Jesus dying for us all. I had more conversations about the sacrifice of Christ after that service than after any one church service in 20 years of ministry. Forgiveness, a new life, and the promise that there is more to life than this, truly do make for good news!

6. The importance of participation was highlighted for me by the prisoners taking ownership of the music and leading us in three worship songs.  They were great!

7. As senior pastor, one of the most inspiring things has been the way this enthusiastic prison ministry team has come together.  One church member felt prompted by the Holy Spirit.  He was supported by ministry leadership, who had hoped for such a team for some years and had invited the prision chaplain to preach at ET.  After the opportunity was promoted in one church service, others felt called to join the team and now it's underway.  This encourages me that God is speaking into the "missional imagination of the congregation".  By this I mean that God is prompting us to think like missionaries to Mosgiel, living the good news in our surroundings.  See Alan Roxburg's book The Missional Leader (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2006), p.151.

May you also be inspired about the good news of Jesus dying for our sins!