Whoosh went the air as the heavy doors opened and the burnt orange uniforms of convicts shuffled quietly into the dark room. The men drew the attention of all the boys in our mission group seated on the stage inside the tiny ornate chapel in Trinidad during spring break of 2010. The chapel was located in the middle of the prison compound, like a small beacon of hope in a pit of darkness. The strong pungent smell of sweat hung heavily in the room. It was hard to read the faces of the men before me. I felt timid about the events that were about to unfold, since I would be interacting with someone whose experiences and beliefs were so different from my own.
After each man had settled into the wooden pews, we nervously took our starting positions to perform the Journey-man drama, an evangelism play created to bring people to Christ. I was surprised to see how engaged the men were with the topic of our drama. They all listened very closely to the underlying theme of our play. Despite my efforts and prayers, it was hard not to judge these men for what they had done. I was grateful that God had not put me in their shoes just to show me the hard way to learn about consequences. I felt blessed that my introduction to Jesus was in a church in Texas, and not in a church in the middle of a prison.
When the drama was over, we were given the opportunity to mingle with the convicts. Honestly, I was scared of all the big Trinidadian men in the room, and I had to leap out in faith to go and talk to them. All of these men were in their early 20's and covered with tattoos.
The young man that caught my eye was slumped over with his head in his lap, and I felt led to go and talk to him. As an icebreaker question, I asked him about his friends, family, and interests. Cautiously he shared that his father had abandoned him and his mother. He even thought that his dad was in a prison somewhere else in Trinidad. His dad's absence set off a spark in his life that led to a domino like effect of bad decisions. I then realized the importance of a dad in a young man's life.
After that epiphany, I asked him why he was in prison. He said that he had stabbed a guy four times in an attempt to kill him. When I heard that, I hoped it was not true. The prison director told us that the convicts add layers of drama for shock affect. Whatever he did earned him a long prison sentence. Next, I wanted to know if he had ever heard of Jesus Christ. He said that past missionaries had come, but he did not understand their message. I soon explained who Jesus was and what He did for this guy's sins and that he paid for all of them on the cross.
He went on to say that everyday since the attempted murder, he had regretted what he had done. I was excited to share with him that Jesus had already forgiven him and loved him no matter what. Additionally, I told him that even though he had to suffer the consequences of his sin, his Heavenly Father would help him be a better man. He told me that he felt a huge burden lifted from him after he heard this and then asked me more about Jesus. My feelings about the salvation available to both of us was deepened by this unforgettable man. From time to time I pray for him and hope that he has come to know God the way that I do. I hope to see him in heaven in a white robe of glory and not an orange prison uniform down in the dark pits of hell.
On the bus ride back to our hotels, I realized I would never forget that man and what God showed me through him. Although our experiences have been different, I discovered our spiritual needs are the same whether we are in the comforts of America or in the prisons of rural Trinidad.