Only 8 Hours.
I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:36b
I participate in a prison ministry called Forgiven Prison Ministry (http://www.forgivenministry.org). It was founded by Scottie Barnes several years ago and is headquartered in the foothills of North Carolina.
Scottie grew up as the daughter of an inmate. Her father eventually came to Christ while in prison. Because of her story, she’s passionate about seeing incarcerated men and women reconcile with their children, despite the circumstances that separate them.
Throughout the year, Forgiven Ministry conducts 8 hour-long camps called One Day With God (ODWG). They are held from 9 AM til 5 PM at the prison (maximum security) or at host churches (minimum security).
During this 8 hour day, fathers (or mothers) are united with their children. They play games, share a meal, complete a craft and emotionally reconnect.
The camps for men include a deeply moving father-daughter dance to the tune of When Daddy Says I’m Beautiful (http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=WDLGYLNX) followed by a father-son walk around the gym to the tune of Courageous (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_VaiBLo3hg) where fathers tell their sons what it means to be a man of God.
At this point, tissues are always needed. Trust me, they just are.
The result of this 8 hour day is that forgiveness happens. Transformation happens. Broken hearts are mended. Relationships are reconciled. Prayers are answered.
One of the greatest volunteer needs is to be a child mentor. An inmate with three or more children will be assigned at least two volunteers to come alongside him and his kids for the duration of the 8 hour camp.
These 8 hour days are emotionally draining and lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng, yet wholly fulfilling.
Like hard awesomeness.
Knowing the physical, mental and emotional energy required to volunteer, I found myself praying before the most recent camp, that I’d have added strength to endure.
In the afternoon, with two and a half hours remaining, the camp director asked if any of the men wanted to share what the day meant to them. Several of their responses humbled me to my core and had me re-evaluating that 8-hour day.
Grown men serving hard time, wearing prison issued, dark green pants, gray t-shirts and with arms covered in tattoos, choked back tears of gratitude for the time they’d been given. And those 8 hours suddenly become pitifully brief. Because eight hours were all they had to spend with their child(ren).
Here I’d been concerned about the taxing day ahead when these men wished they had more time.
When 5 o’clock rolled around, I said my ‘goodbyes’ and went home.
And the children went home.
But the inmates returned to their cell, with no guarantee there’ll be another 8 hour day.
~Inmate participation in ODWG is an earned privilege.
~The facility has to be willing to let Forgiven Ministry hold the camp
~The children’s caregiver has to be willing and able to bring them. Sometimes she/he just isn’t (no transportation, don’t feel up to it, or angry with the father/mother)
So was it really a long and laborious 8 hours? Or was it only 8 hours?
For me, it all came down to perspective and attitude. To be honest, mine both sucked. Now they don’t.
Is there a difficult 8-hour day that, if seen through the eyes of God, could begin to feel like it’s not enough?
Because in matters of ministry, just how many hours is enough?