Just about every year, our church provides a birthday party for inmates at a local minimum security prison. It is always the last Tuesday night of whatever month we are assigned to. I always receive a blessing from going, but it never fails that the day of the party comes and I spend part of the day griping in my heart (and yes, sometimes from my mouth) “I wish I didn’t have to do this tonight. I have a lot of other stuff going on, I have other work that needs to be finished.”
Yesterday was our day, and, yes, yesterday I griped in my heart and from my mouth once again. And once again, God gracefully reminded me that I had no idea what I was talking about. There were many blessings from the whole night, but in a week when we are studying the story of Ruth, there is one particular blessing I wanted to share.
When I showed up at church, I expected that 7-8 other folks would soon be meeting me there, as usual. For whatever reason, on this night, there was only 1 other person, a young woman in her first year of college. And so it fell to her and I to load up the car with coolers, food, and 23 presents and drive the 25 minutes to the prison. To be honest, I was initially frustrated and worried about the thought of just 2 of us doing this. However, this young woman’s attitude was amazing. There was no hesitation, no fear, just a willingness and eagerness to go and serve.
We arrived at the prison and had to figure out where exactly we needed to go. As we walked around in the cold, she took pity on a little lost puppy who was wandering through the parking lot. Once we reached our destination, we unloaded the car and started setting everything up with the help of some of the guards. Finally, the 20 inmates were led in to the room where they sat in chairs in a circle. When the young woman and I got to the circle, I felt a protective responsibility to stay close to her. However, as it turned out, there were not two empty seats next to one another. So we each moved to a seat, each of us sitting with 2 or 3 inmates on either side of us. At first, I was anxious about the circumstances, but she didn’t show a moment’s hesitation. We started to talking to the guys, and then we had to introduce the person we had been talking to to the whole group. As God would have it, he placed this young woman next to a young man who was from the same town as she is from. This common bond gave them an inroad to a conversation. Good thing I wasn’t in the way trying to be “protective.”
After introductions and a time of prayer, we all moved to tables to eat and fellowship together. After helping hand out plates of food and drinks, this young woman sat right down at a table with 2 older gentleman and struck up a conversation. We all sat and talked and ate and laughed for 45 minutes, and before we all knew it, it was time for the guys to go back for lights out. We cleaned up and packed up and began the drive back to the church. As we rode, the young woman and I exchanged some stories about the guys we met, the conversations we had, the blessings we received. We observed how easy it became as the night went on to forget that these men were inmates, and that the room we were in was not a church fellowship hall but a prison activity room. Throughout the whole evening, a smile never left this young woman’s face.
As we got back into town, the young woman looked at her watch and said, “Wow, it’s not too late at all. I still have time to study.” Turns out she has a test today, the 3rd of the week for her. And she gave 2 1/2 hours of her time to walk into an all-male prison to provide a birthday party for 20 inmates.
The story of Ruth is a story of courage in the face of uncertainty, love in a world of bitterness, and gracious kindness in a land that seemed dominated by violence. The story of Ruth is a story of risk, sacrifice, and faith that ultimately leads to the entrance of Christ into the world (Matthew 1:5).
Last night, Ruth was not just a story in the Bible. Ruth was a person, a young woman who carried Christ to a lost puppy and 20 inmates at a local prison. Not many women her age, not many people of any age, would be willing to do what she did. God not only silenced my griping heart, He also remind me that our world needs men and women that are willing to be Ruths.
Thanks Ruth, and thanks “Ruth” (and good luck on your test!).