Christmas Eve Behind Bars

“Each one of these men is a son; they have fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.” That stuck out to me as Warden Cline of the Hutchinson Correctional Facility (HCF) gave me a tour of the prison and we passed by man after man.

For the last two years HCF has allowed World Impact many opportunities for ministry events, including TUMI classes. We are getting to know these men well; a wife of one of the inmates told me recently that World Impact staff are family to these guys.

This past fall, my wife Angie got her volunteer card so she could come with me to HCF and lead worship. I heard from a friend who spent time in prison a few years ago that the inmates would love hearing a female voice. They hear men all day every day for years on end, so the opportunity for them to hear a woman sing worship songs would bring them great joy. At our last ministry event we got to fulfill that joy. Angie led worship and at the end we asked if anyone wanted to come up and sing with us. They called out, “No, we never get to hear a woman sing. We love this!”

As I visited with the men that night, they asked about the possibility of Angie and me returning for a Christmas Eve service. I didn’t really like the thought of being away from our kids on Christmas Eve. But I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to further discuss this with Angie and our kids to see if we could do this ministry event. We presented it to our family, and while they were a little sad, our kids were excited for this opportunity. They considered how all of the men were separated from their families all the time, and how at the holidays it must be hard. And again the thought came to me: each one of these men is a son.

So we have decided to spend Christmas Eve inside the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. We will lead a basic service: the incarcerated will read different Scriptures and prayers for the advent season, I will give a message, and Angie will lead Christmas carols. We are sincerely looking forward to spending this time with the church behind bars.

I have heard all sorts of comments about inmates. They deserve to be locked up. They are criminals. We should just leave them alone. But my heart is burdened for these brothers. The more time I spend with them, the more I see that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am who I am. I didn't do anything to earn the situation I am in. I have sinned mightily before the Lord – but the sins I have committed simply have different consequences.

As we worship and celebrate the arrival of King Jesus the Son this Christmas, would you take some time to pray for this service? Would you consider praying for the 1,000 TUMI students taking classes in prisons across the country? Take some time to think about the incarcerated and how they are separated from their families on this holiday. And then let's worship Jesus for how He rescued us all from a life of sin and has brought us into the kingdom of God, where we are sons and daughters of the Babe in the straw.

Matt Penner is World Impact's National Prayer Director. He serves in Wichita, KS, along with his wife Angie and their two children.