I often talk about the jail ministry I’m involved in. But I can’t help but tell about the greatness of God, and how He moves in the lives of the most broken. This particular instance was no exception. I was blessed beyond words as tears streamed down my face in one of our recent jail church services.
I’ve rarely had trouble with any of the ladies in the jail, but for the past few weeks I have had one inmate who was determined to make my life a nightmare. She came into the service cursing and being extremely disrespectful. She would not listen and was a tremendous distraction to everyone else.
The ladies would ask her to be quiet and stop cursing because she was being disrespectful. She shouted, “I don’t give a (expletive)!” I wanted to have her thrown out. I have the option to ask the jailers to come and get disruptive inmates and take them out at any time. If they are taken out of the service, they are not allowed to come back.
My patience was growing thin, and I was just before calling them to come and get her. But inside I knew the Holy Spirit was not releasing me to do so. I bit my tongue and tried to ignore her shenanigans. The following week I was filled with dread when I saw her walk into the room again. Once again, I endured her disruptions, and I allowed her to stay in the service even though I was dying to kick her out!
She repeated her performance again—disruptive, rude, obnoxious, argumentative, and using all manner of profanity. I was so close to calling the jailers, but once again I felt that I needed to endure. I’ll admit, I was finding it very hard to love this one. She was making ministry extremely difficult, but God was still obviously working in the lives of the other ladies.
On the third week I had determined that if she came to the service, I was going to set some strict boundaries. Well, here she was yelling loudly as she waltzed through the door. As all the ladies took their seats, I told them I needed to talk to them about something serious. I dreaded doing this because most of them would never dream of being disrespectful to me.
I explained that for the past few weeks I had put up with some behaviors that I refused to put up with any longer. I said, “Most of you would never dream of being rude or disrespectful, but there are some who have come into the service using profanity, being disruptive, and disrespectful.” I continued, “You don’t have to respect me. But I will not stand for you being disrespectful to God. This is a church service. You would not go into a church in your neighborhood and act this way, so you will not come in here and disrespect the God I love and live for in here.”
I explained, “I have never had to send anyone out of here, but I will if I am forced to. I will not let anyone be a disruption to others who have come in here to seek God.” The room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I felt bad for having to speak to them in this way, but I knew it had to be done. We continued the service, and the lady for whom those words were intended did not make a sound or say a word the entire time.
The following week when I went into the jail, I still had the feeling of dread when I saw her come into the room. I felt like every word I had spoken for the past four weeks had gone in one ear and out the other as far as she was concerned. There were a few new ladies in the service so after I opened with prayer we went into the praise and worship service. Some of the ladies requested to sing Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave.
As we sang those words many of the ladies were crying, and others had their hands raised and were rejoicing. When the song was over, I said, “Some of you sang that song in honesty, but others are longing to be able to sing that song and mean it.” The Holy Spirit’s presence was so evident in the room at that moment. I continued to let the Holy Spirit speak through me and ended with an altar call. Four ladies gave their hearts to Christ!
I asked if they wanted to sing the song again now that they could all sing it truthfully and from the heart. They gave me a resounding, “Yes!” As we began to sing it again, I walked around the room hugging each one of them and telling them how proud I was of them.
When I approached little Miss Disruptive, I looked at her and was suddenly overwhelmed with compassion for her. Tears rolled down her face. When I neared her, she grabbed me and began to weep uncontrollably. She said, “I am so, so, so, sorry Miss Donna, will you please forgive me?” I was crying too as I said, “Yes dear, of course I forgive you. I come to this jail because I love you, and I believe in you. Yes, you frustrated me, but I still love you and want the best for you. I want to see you set free and living the life God has planned for you!”
She continued to weep as she hugged me and would not let go. She apologized over and over again. In the next few moments, I led her to Christ, and as we continued to sing Redeemed, she had the biggest most beautiful smile on her face. Both hands were raised to heaven as tears dripped onto her orange jumpsuit. The ladies who had seen the ugly side of her began to walk over and hug her as well. It was an incredible service. God’s love poured into that room in the most powerful way.
I was reminded of how quick we are to write someone off when they disappoint us or cause us frustration. I remembered something I have said to others so many times--hurting people hurt people.But I believe that freed people free people. We must sometimes pray for patience and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we can be people who help free hurting people. It’s not easy to love the unlovable, but when we allow Jesus to love them through us, He makes it possible, and we are blessed in the end!
Donna Sparks is an International Speaker and Evangelist. She is the Author of Beauty From Ashes: My Story of Grace, and, No Limits: Embracing the Miraculous.