The Lord is on the move in the Upstate…

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matt. 19:26

We see exciting movement across the upstate through His Spirit and his people in the South Carolina. This year we have seen the Lord making way for the expansion of God’s Kingdom as the churches live out their mission.

  • Christ the Redeemer, Clemson, SC mission is “To live out our values, we gather to worship God and care for one another, and scatter to serve God in the world” has purchased land with a residence that will be converted to a church
  • St. Pauls, Greenville, SC mission is “To know Jesus and make him known in Greenville, SC, the Upstate and the utter most parts of the world” purchased adjacent land with office building to make way for future Sanctuary
  • Village Church, Greenville, SC mission is “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; To teach, baptize and nurture new believers; To respond to human need by loving service; To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation; and To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth” purchased  former UMC sanctuary and property.for permanent worship space
  • Church of the Resurrection, Rock Hill, SC mssion is “to be a people who embody the beauty of the Gospel for the good of the City to the glory of God” moved into a Christian School to begin new church plant
  • The Gathering, Spartanburg, SC mission is to worship the Lord, experience the depth and richness of His love and goodness, share authentic life together daily, and proclaim the gospel in love and truth in our community” is launching for ADOCs newest church plant in diocese.

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Introducing Creative Worship, Balanced with the Liturgy

Have you ever thought about incorporating a creative moment in worship to help tell the story of God?  The Church Calendar (Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, etc.) is our circadian rhythm, played out week to week in the liturgy. The arts can provide windows into the Holy Mysteries during worship. Shannon Sigler, Director of Fuller Seminary Worship and Arts says,  “The beauty of incorporating the arts into worship that follows the Christian year is that the liturgy is always present to balance and bolster our emotive experiences, thus drawing our congregation into an holistic encounter with our God.”

During Lent, Christ Church, Murrells Inlet is doing a creative series on Praying the Psalms. Each week the sermon focuses on a specific psalm and the congregation then has an extended time of response in which we pray that psalm in creative ways. Each week is different—some are quiet and meditative, some involve moving around the room to visit prayer stations, and some involve the artistic gifts of its members. Recently,  Pastor Michael Guernsey preached on Psalm 8. In the response time, worship team member Tracy Guernsey sang an original and partially spontaneous version of the psalm and invited the congregation to join in singing a repeated refrain. While the psalm was sung the congregation had the opportunity to watch a church member (Marybeth Johanson) paint a beautiful sunset over water inspired by the Lord through the psalm. The church also had the chance to see a marvelous work of calligraphy of the psalm done by another member (Sandy Burgio).  This exciting expression of the arts can provide windows into the Holy Mysteries during worship.

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Have You Ever Needed to be Rescued?

Bishop Steve Wood, Diocesan Bishop

Have you ever needed to be rescued?  Ever need someone to come to your defense?  Ever needed someone to be your advocate?

When I was growing up our neighborhood, like any other, had a bully – he was about four years older than me.  And for whatever reason the summer when I was nine he decided to make my life miserable.  It was really miserable.  Nothing worked.  My dad talked to his dad and it just got worse.  One day I was walking down to my friend Mike’s house – just three houses away – and the bully caught me.  By the time I made it to Mike’s I had a bloody nose and was pretty roughed up.  Mike’s older brother Louie came to the door.  Louie would become one of the best athletes our neighborhood had seen – a two sport star – football and wrestling – but this particular summer he was thirteen just like the bully.  “Stevie, what the heck happened to you?”  I told him the story – I told him about the whole summer of suffering.  Next thing I know Louie’s running out the door.  He comes back a little bit later and tells me the bully will never bother me again.  He told me if anyone ever bothered me to come tell him.  My first experience of a saviour was a kid named Louie Matteo.  He was the big brother I never had.  No one ever bothered me again.

The Bible tells us we have a Big Brother.  The Bible also tells us we have a powerful enemy.  But he is not all-powerful.  In fact, the Bible reveals to us that Satan is a defeated enemy.  The Apostle John says: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”  Paul writes of Christ, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him.”

Jesus disarmed and destroyed Satan, taking away from him the power and fear of death by triumphing over him by His cross and resurrection and opening to you (and me) the gateway to eternal life.  Our stronger, older Brother is both deliverer and Saviour. So, the Apostle John will write, “But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (John 1.12-13)

Friends, may your Lenten observation and Easter celebration lead you back to the One who has loved you and fought for you and saved you for Himself.

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Leaving Epiphany

by Sharon Pullen

Looking back to where we have been often helps us see the way forward and stay on course. We are well into our journey through Lent, but for just a moment, let’s take a look back at the season that recently came to a close.

Epiphany. Did you miss it?

Christmas rushes by in a blur and leaves us exhausted. We are so thankful for the lull between the holidays and Lent when we can rest and hunker down for the remainder of winter. Many of us miss Epiphany completely.

But Epiphany is where we live.

During Advent and Christmas, we remember the first coming of our Savior, and we prepare for His coming again. During Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, we recall His earthly ministry, His death, resurrection, and ascension, and finally, the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world to establish the Church and to empower us to live out the Great Commission as we await His second coming.

We remember, we prepare, and we wait. During most of the liturgical year, we think in terms of the past and the future.
Epiphany is experienced in the present tense. It is the chapter in God’s story in which we are the main characters, living out our lives in the time between the first and the second coming of Jesus.

At the opening to the season of Epiphany, we read about the Magi, those mystical sages who traveled westward in search of the long prophesied King of the Jews. For many of us, reading about the wise men signals the end of the Christmas season. That’s probably why we miss Epiphany. The coming of the Magi to worship Jesus actually marks the beginning of the season as well as the beginning of our part in God’s story.

Many legends are told about the Magi, but we really don’t know much about who they were, or where they came from, or even how many of them came. One thing we do know about them is that they were not Jewish. They were foreigners, gentiles, outsiders. And yet God beckoned them to come and meet Jesus. He invited them to be among the first to worship Jesus as King. We might also say they were the first missionary supporters, bringing valuable gifts that sustained the holy family during their exile in Egypt until the time when they could return to their hometown of Nazareth in preparation for a ministry that would change the world.

In our modern language, we use the word “epiphany” to mean a sudden insight or the realization of an important truth. When the Magi discovered Jesus and realized the truth about who He is, they bowed down and worshiped Him.

Epiphany is called the season of light, and the lectionary readings during Epiphany are all about discovering Jesus, the light of the world. The coming of the Magi to worship Jesus confirms Simeon’s proclamation that Jesus is a light to the gentiles and reveals God’s plan to draw people of all nations, tribes, and languages to Jesus. We are part of that plan.

Epiphany is where we live. We have moved on to the season of Lent in the church calendar year, but we never really leave Epiphany. 

~Sharon Pullen is a member of Church of the Holy Cross in North Raleigh.  

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Church Spotlight: St. Thomas Anglican embraces Arabic Online Ministry “The Way الطريق “

St. Thomas Church is a exciting mission minded growing church in the Charleston area. This congregation believes the Gospel changes everything and therefore St. Thomas Church exists to “raise up ambassadors of the Gospel where we live, work, play, and learn, and to extend Common Grace to our Community through authentic relationships, service, and beauty through the arts”. Worship takes place in an elementary school cafeteria. With well over 100 worshipers on Sunday, you will possibly find an ambassador of the Gospel who also happens to be a 47 year old Medical Doctor sitting humbly in the back.  This kind Doctor, Sherif Yacoub, reaches over a half million men and women with the love of Jesus in the Middle-East through his Facebook online ministry called “Altareiq” (Arabic word which means “The way”). St. Thomas desires to partner and support this exciting ministry.

Sherif was born and raised in Egypt until the age of 30 and has been walking with Jesus for as long as he can remember. Sherif had two spiritual encounters with Jesus that shaped his life and ultimately led him to ministry. The first encounter was in New York City, following the events of 9/11/2001, and the second was through a Holy Spirit revival occurring at St Michael’s Church in Charleston, SC, from 2005 to 2007.

In 2013, he started a Facebook Page to share some insights about the Bible. The page was originally in English and in Arabic, yet, to his amazement, it seemed that only the Arabic posts received attention. Initially, Sherif had 20 followers, but the numbers quickly increased. There was an intense interest from Muslims across the Middle-East. By the end of 2013, there were more than 20,000 followers. As the workload increased, Sherif hired a Christian refugee from Iraq, who had fled ISIS reign of terror to Jordan, and subsequently to the US, and, also an Iraqi Christian living currently in Lebanon. The number of followers kept increasing exponentially, reaching 200,000 by 2015. Through the page, the Gospel was preached and introduced men and women across the Middle-East to the love of Jesus. Several accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior over the Internet or over the telephone. Others had already been secret converts for a while, yet had no mentorship or discipleship. Altareiq worked with a ministry partner, Endure International, to get the converts locally discipled and baptized, yet the hunger for the Word could not be satisfied by the scarce resources on the ground. In 2015, Sherif’s ministry started a group on Whatsapp to disciple the converts. They have strict criteria to choose who joins that group. So far, they have mentored more than 100 converts, several of whom now have their own Christian ministry. Today, Altareiq’s ministry has over a half million followers on Facebook from 45 countries. The page reaches 100,000 people every month with the message of the Gospel. Check it out for yourself at  www.facebook.com/altareiq

In 2015, following the events of the Charleston Church shooting, Sherif felt the call to reach the Western, English-speaking world with the same message of the Gospel that he saw transform the Middle- East. He started a Facebook page which now has 25,000 followers. Here is the link www.facebook.com/1h4jc

Sherif says “It has been amazing to get to watch the Lord transform our world, one person at a time. To see Him do it through us goes beyond what words can express.” If the Lord calls you to partner with “The Way” ministry through prayer or financial support or if you want to know more about the ministry you may contact Sherif by Emailing him at szyacoub@gmail.com or St. Thomas Anglican.

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Getting to Know Jacqui Wood…

In what ways do you support your husband in his MINISTRY, and in what ways, if any, are you involved in the life of the church?  Supporting Steve in ministry has many different dimensions for me. It begins with the fact that I believe God brought us together to minister to a specific community as a couple. Keeping our relationship strong is the foundation that enables each of us to do our part. Clearly we each have different roles, so my support of Steve in his role involves
•    Being present – attend Sunday service, participate in a small group together, visiting diocesan parishes together.
•    Being involved in areas where I feel called – I currently volunteer at the Christian medical clinic held within the church.
•    Praying and listening with him to discern direction for the church/Diocese – commitment to praying for the church and it’s ministries on a regular basis, being a safe place for him to talk through ideas or concerns.
•    Available to help – a willingness to step in when needed.
•    Encourage him in his work – giving him the time and space to accomplish tasks, while trusting him to respect family/’Us Time’ boundaries.

What are TWO OR THREE OF your primary passions, callings or gifts… whether or not they overlap with the ministry of the diocese?  Passion, calling or gifts, hmmm…..I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, registered nurse. I enjoy serving the Lord in and through these different rolls.

What is ONE rewarding part of ministry life for you?  What ONE OR TWO PARTS do you find challenging?   I really enjoy going on parish visits with Steve, It’s fun seeing the different ministries that are taking place around the diocese and witnessing the passion and calling these churches have for their community.   Time is always a challenge to doing the things we love to do. Having help and the friendship of three other Bishop’s and their wives has been a real blessing!

What ONE OR TWO causes THAT ESPECIALLY have your heart, (AND PERHAPS your pocketbook)? PUT ANOTHER WAY, what ministries do you wish we all knew about? I could tell you about thousands of different and equally important ministries that are out there. Some ministries at St. Andrew’s that we have come to love are ‘One World Health’ for those needing help with medical care, an outreach ministry to active military members, we also support an elementary and junior school in Liberia – J. Dawlu Kimber, and Water Missions International to name a few. I think what is most important is finding a ministry that you feel passionate about and then supporting it with your time, talent and money. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

IS THERE ANY BOOK OR OTHER RESOURCE THAT HAVE HELPED YOU KEEP AFLOAT?   We all have to take care of ourselves and nurture our spiritual journey. We can get so caught up in ‘doing’ that we forget the ‘being’ in the presence of God. Right now I am reading a book called ‘Sacred Rhythm’s – Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation’ by Ruth Haley Barton. Deepening your relationship with God is the most important thing you can do for yourself and for those around you. This is not a book that will make you feel guilty or bog you down with a list of things you have to do to feel worthy. I highly recommend!

Jacqui is married to Bishop Steve Wood, who is also the Rector of St. Andrews, Mt. Pleasant, SC. Jacqui and Steve raised four boys and they have two grandchildren.

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What kind of fisherman are you?

Bishop Steve Wood

One of the men who most influenced my young Christian life was a man named John Wimber.  Wimber, as you may remember, was the founder of the Vineyard Church and he had a soft spot for us Anglicans.  I did not know him but my then rector did and so I came into contact with both his preaching and his writings. The “tell” and “show” nature of his ministry was very attractive to me – and remains so.

One of Wimber’s greatest gifts was making the gospel understandable and then helping us ordinary, every-day kind of Christians (through his teachings, encouragement and model of ministry) believe that we really had a part to play in the ongoing unfolding of God’s kingdom.  I have in my files any number of his stories and illustrations.  One particular story he told about fishing and evangelism remains a favorite. Wimber wrote:

In 1990 Larry Shaw was trying out a new outboard propeller on Ohio’s West Branch Reservoir when he saw a huge muskie just below the surface.  Shaw motored over to it, and cast toward it several times with no luck before the fish disappeared.  About a half hour later Shaw returned to the cove where he had first spotted the big muskie.  And wouldn’t you know, it was back!  Shaw turned on the trolling motor and crept closer to the big fish.  Suddenly, the muskie started swimming toward the boat.

Shaw quickly put on a leather glove and stuck his arm into the water, grabbing the monster just behind the gills.  The muskie started splashing and fighting to escape but Shaw held on.  It was quite a fight, but with the help of a nearby fisherman he was able to get the fish into his boat.

The muskie weighed in just a bit over 53 pounds.  If Larry Shaw had caught the fish with a rod and reel, it would have broken the then record for the largest muskie ever caught in Ohio.  When reporters asked him about the fish, Shaw said, “I was in the right place at the right time, and I was fool enough to grab it.”

That’s a good description of evangelism: being in the right place at the right time, and being fool enough to share the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 4 (v.19) we read of Jesus’ call to his soon-to-be disciples; an invitation to be fishers of men and women.  When Jesus used metaphors like fishing his listeners heard what he was saying in a very different way than we do in our Western world.  For most of us fishing is a hobby – a recreational diversion from the business of our everyday lives. I am a casual fisherman.  And so when I come home empty-handed (more often than not) I am still content for having spent a day on the water.

Jesus issued that first invitation to join his fishing expedition to Peter, Andrew, James and John. Fishing was not a pastime for these men. If they failed to catch fish they did not eat.  Fishing was their livelihood.  Repeated failure was not an option.  As fishermen these men would have learned how to adapt their fishing technique to variety of situations.  Was it sunny or overcast?  Calm or windy?  What was the time of year?  What kind of fish were they fishing for?  Some fish are very quick to respond.  Some fish, especially the older, larger, ones had learned the fishermen’s tricks and were more wary and elusive.  When Jesus said to them that they would be fishers of men He spoke in a language they understood.

How does this apply to you? To your church?  Well, what are the trends in your community?  What kinds of people are moving into your neighborhood?  What are the challenges they face?  What are their aspirations?  We live in the South and in many of our communities there remains a strong residual of the Christian faith within our culture. But folks who live in Asheville, Raleigh and Charlotte face unique situations that those of us in the Outer Banks, midlands, lowcountry or upstate do not face (and vice-versa). Good fishermen know how to read their environment. They know what bait the fish are hitting on.  They are aware of their presentation.

Friends, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples.  Are you going where the “fish” are, or are you waiting for them to come to you?

All Saints Charlotte Dedicates New Building

all saints charlotte
by Nancy Bryan

GOD IS FAITHFUL, ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME, GOD IS FAITHFUL. All Saints Church, Charlotte, NC opened its doors to over 400, including many distinguished visitors in attendance. Archbishop Foley Beach, Archbishop Daniel Sarfo (Primate of West Africa), Archbishop Justice Akrofi, (retired Primate of West Africa), Bishop Daniel (Ghana), Bishop David Bryan (ADOC), many clergy from representative churches and faithful parishioners were present to consecrate the new sanctuary. The international representation was typical because on any given Sunday All Saints has people from five continents worshipping in their new sanctuary.

All Saints Rector, The Rev. Filmore Strunk said “I had times in the recent past where I didn’t think this day was going to come and I’m so delighted to be here.” He went on to say “You could say that we are here to dedicate a building … Or you can say that we’re here to celebrate a community…  and to an extent you’d be right, we’re celebrating a community – Celebrating the faithfulness of that community. And you could say we are celebrating a movement, The Anglican Church of North America, that out of the ashes of the previous entity, God has raised up a true church. All of these things are true but they are grounded in something bigger. A larger truth and it is this – GOD IS FAITHFUL, ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME, GOD IS FAITHFUL.”

All Saints Church has laid it’s foundation in Word and Sacrament. “The Word of God stands forever, and we are believing that nothing… church tradition, human reason, nothing can stand up to the Scriptures.” By God’s grace they raised 2.8 million dollars. And the founding Rector went on to say: “Today it is really not about what we celebrate, it is about WHO we celebrate. We celebrate God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All knowing, all seeing, all compassionate, all powerful, the fountain of justice, the source of all truth, from everlasting to everlasting, perfect in love, perfect in grace, perfect in mercy, a friend of sinners, our savior, our healer, our redeemer, the Lion of Judah, the light of the world, the lamb of God, FAITHFUL, FAITHFUL, FAITHFUL!”

The people of All Saints will continue to affirm the Word of God, and serve the world through God’s grace and His joy in their new building and their community. For this we give thanks.

To learn more about All Saints in the Charlotte, NC area visit allsaintscharlotte.com

Sowing and Growing a Heart for the Home Team

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by Teresa Glenn

“Why do I have to go?”
“I won’t have anything to do…None of my friends will be there.”
“It’s so boring. Why are you making me go…I’m not gonna watch.”
“He doesn’t care if I’m there or not… He won’t even notice if I’m not there.”

These were our young children’s responses almost every time we communicated that we (all) were going to a sibling’s athletic, academic, or arts-related event. Their tone was generally some combination of whining, frustration, grumpiness, and resentment—and typically in the presence of the child who had the event.

I understood. The program or game didn’t interest them, and it was their sister or brother they’d be watching…why would they want to do that?! Sometimes they acted like I was torturing them with this requirement.  Funny, I felt tortured when I couldn’t enjoy watching one child perform, since I spent half the time responding to the other two—“It will be over soon . . . not much longer . . . stop that . . . comeback over here…”

Some outings were fine. They’d make a friend or see one there and occasionally watch some of the event. My strategy was much prayer for the children and for me, positive strokes, and pointing out any other family doing the same thing to disprove, “No one else makes their kids do this, Momma.”

My answer to the innumerable times they asked, “Whyyyy??” was consistent. “We are going to support him, to encourage him. We are his home team. I know you don’t want to go, but it’s what we’re doing.” This was one of many seeds that I sowed by word, reinforcement, and buckets of prayer. There is a high value in family learning how to support each other.

At the same time, I didn’t want them to become adults who attend their siblings’ occasions because “they should”. I wanted them to grow to desire to go because they want to support their sibling. Over and over again, I led, explained, and prayed. “Lord, help her grasp the blessing that this is to her brother. Help him experience the blessing of knowing she’s here.”  I depended on God to do the heart work in each child and to help me exercise His grace. We all had attitude struggles.

Early on, I was grateful if the children sitting with me simply behaved and didn’t complain. Then one day during the elementary years, as I dropped our son Terrell off early before his game, he looked at me and asked, “Are Ellison and Cecilia coming?”  When I replied yes, he smiled.  That moment made every trying moment worth it. Gradually, each child began to ask, “Who all’s coming?” Push back was subsiding. Each child began to enjoy being the recipient of the family audience. I didn’t see it happen, but God was growing the seeds’ roots, and now sprouts of growth were evident.

Eventually blossoms began to pop up. When Cecilia was in the 9th grade, I told her brothers (11th and 12th graders), “After your football practice, I want you to walk over to the gym for her volleyball match.”  Knowing they would be exhausted and hungry, I expected push back.  They both said, “Sure.”  I was stunned—no excuses or complaints.  “Thank you, boys. That means a lot to me and it will to Cecilia, too.”  When I left the room, I thanked God and cried. Sibling trials are hard, but when beautiful breakthroughs happen—wow.

Cecilia’s junior year of high school, Terrell surprised her and drove 4 hours round trip to listen to her perform. Her senior year, Ellison called me from college and said, “Mom, I want to surprise Cecilia and come to her play-off game tonight, but I’ll have to drive back right after the match.”  The next spring Terrell and Cecilia drove 6 hours round trip in one day to celebrate Ellison’s entry into an elite drill team at The Citadel.  In each instance, I said, “You do not need to come”, and they responded, “I want to.”

I want to. God does this.

We sow, toil, and pray without ceasing. God gives the growth. He opens a child’s heart and stretches ours. He grows the seeds we sow, waters our effort with love and grace, produces fruit in our family, and wells awe in our soul.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3.20–21)

Teresa Glenn speaks and writes to encourage and mentor women about partnering with God through the everyday circumstances of life. She is the author of Becoming A Peaceful Mom: Through Every Season of Raising Your Child She writes at celebratethefamily.org. For speaking requests contact Teresa at teresadglenn@gmail.com or complete the form on her website. She and her husband Terrell live in Mt. Pleasant, SC.

Into the Darkness

kairosprisonministryby Dr. Sharon Pullen

A woman was seen late one night searching the sidewalk underneath a streetlamp. “Did you lose something here?” someone asked. “No,” answered the woman, pointing across the street to a dark alley. “I lost it over there, but the light is better here.”

Until recently I was like that woman, searching under the bright lights to find what I seemed to be missing. The Lord had worked a radical transformation in me after I surrendered my life to Him over 30 years ago, and I have always felt a deep desire to see Him perform this same miracle in the lives of other people who are far away from Him.

I had become immersed in Christian life and community where I certainly could see God at work among my fellow believers. But the world from where I had come still seemed very dark. Standing under the bright light of God’s presence in the body of believers surrounding me, I could not perceive the power of the Holy Spirit at work outside the church.

Then I went to prison.

I went in for the first time in March 2016, and since then I have been in and out of prison many times. I serve as a volunteer at North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) in Raleigh through the ministry of Kairos Inside.[1] Volunteers from all around the state and from multiple Christian denominations come together twice a year to lead a four-day retreat inside the prison. The Kairos retreat model evolved from the Cursillo movement back in the 1960’s in which participants listen to and discuss a series of talks and meditations introducing them to the basics of the Christian faith. Once an inmate has completed her Kairos weekend, she is invited to join weekly prayer and accountability groups along with other Kairos graduates inside the prison and with volunteers from the outside.

I was well into the training for my first Kairos weekend as the season of Lent began. I was reading about the early ministry of Jesus when I noticed something new to me in the Gospel accounts of His baptism. I realized that my impressions had been shaped and influenced by traditional Christian art in which Jesus and John are often depicted standing alone in the clear, calm water as Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him.

As I read carefully the story of Jesus’ baptism, my mental image of the event began to change. Matthew tells us that people from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to John, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And Jesus also came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John (Matt. 3:5-6, 13). Luke tells us that when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened as God proclaimed his great pleasure with His son, affirming the true identity of Jesus (Luke 3:21-22).

God revealed His Son in the presence of a crowd who were confessing their sins, asking forgiveness, and being baptized in a river churning with mud from all the people wading in and out. Those who knew they needed to be forgiven were granted the privilege of witnessing Jesus revealed as the Son of God. Meanwhile, the religious leaders of the time stood at a distance sneering and grumbling over the fact that Jesus regularly hung out with sinners (Mark 2:15-17).

I did not immediately understand how God was using my newfound understanding of this event to prepare me for prison ministry. But this image I now had of Jesus, clean and sinless, plunging into that dirty river with a crowd of people wanting forgiveness for their sins was crystal clear in my mind as I stepped into the prison for the first time.

And there He was.

Jesus is inside the prison. His light and His power are substantial and intense against a backdrop of darkness and oppression. I had to laugh at myself, thinking in those months leading up to the retreat that I was preparing to take Jesus into the prison.

He is already there.

He has plunged into the dirty prison just as He plunged into the muddy Jordan River to be with people who know they need to be forgiven. And like the people watching on the day Jesus was baptized, the women in prison get to be witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit as He reveals Jesus as the Son of God.

The presence of Jesus in the prison is so undeniable, there is no need for tiresome apologetics to convince these women that He exists. They can see Him clearly for themselves. But many of them do not understand the boundlessness of His grace, love, and forgiveness. They need to be told that He is there because He loves them, because there is nothing they have done that He is not willing to forgive if they come to Him, and because He wants to be with them forever. I am awestruck at seeing the miracle that happens when these women realize the truth about Jesus and what He is offering them. At the close of the retreat on Sunday, some of the participants are barely recognizable as the same women who came in on Thursday afternoon. Imagine the impact of those visible transformations on the rest of the prison population.

I discovered that Jesus is not waiting at my church for me to take Him out into the darkness of the world. He is already at work there and has been from the beginning. My purpose is not to choose some great work out in the world to do for God. My purpose is to find the place He has appointed for me to join Him in His ongoing work. I have found that place inside a prison.

When we have lost something, we can often find it by going back to the last place we remember seeing it. I was looking under the light, trying to find the power that had transformed my life all those years ago, when I realized that Jesus had first appeared to me in the darkness of my own heart. He was beautiful and brilliant standing there in the middle of my messed up life, and there was nothing for me to do but follow Him.

When I go into the prison, I can see Jesus there in the middle of all those messed up lives, beautiful and brilliant, lighting up the darkness and offering life and freedom to the prisoners. Furthermore, I don’t have to go very far to find Jesus at work in the darkness. He is hanging out with the sinners inside the prison and with us sinners outside the prison as well. There is still darkness inside of me, and if I am brave enough to look, I can find Jesus there waiting for me to join Him in the work of bringing light into my own dark places.

We don’t all have to go to prison. There is plenty of darkness out there in the world beyond the light of our churches where Jesus is waiting for us to join Him in His work of bringing light. The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 used to make me feel uncomfortable, because it sounded to me as though Jesus is saying He will not be pleased with me if I do not do enough to help ease suffering in the world. That may be true, but I have discovered that He is saying so much more than that. Jesus says that when we feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit those in prison, we are doing it for Him. I always assumed He means it is as if we are doing it for Him. But I have discovered that we truly do it for Him, because He is there.

Sharon Pullen is a member of Church of the Holy Cross in North Raleigh.

[1] Kairos Inside is a program under Kairos Prison Ministry, an international organization dedicated to sharing the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to impact the lives of incarcerated men, women, and youth, along with their families, and to help them become loving and productive citizens of their communities. Kairos Prison Ministry serves around 500 prisons and communities in 35 states and nine other countries. Kairos Inside actively serves in 25 men’s and women’s prisons across North and South Carolina.

http://www.kairosprisonministry.org/

http://www.kairosnc.org/

http://www.kairosofsouthcarolina.org/

For more information about becoming involved in Kairos, please contact the author smpullen@gmail.com.