Sunday, February 26, 2012

We're all in this together

One of my favorite and oft-recited phrases took on new meaning yesterday.

Board Chair Dan Rooks, his wife Deb, and I, were special guests of Chapter 1014 of the National Lifers of America, in Michigan's huge women's facility. All 1,800 women incarcerated in Michigan are at Huron Valley in Ypsilanti. When community volunteer Mary Lynn Stevens invited me to speak at one of the chapter's monthly meetings, called a soiree, I readily accepted, and then asked if Dan and Deb could participate as well.

Saturday, the three of us were guests of honor at HVW, and it was one beautiful experience. We learned so much about their NLA chapter, and will talk more about it in the future. These women and this organization are amazing. To say that we were impressed would be an understatement.

But back to the title of this entry.

I do have manners, and the last thing I would ever do in a prison speech is hit on inmates for money. They don't have any. They are incredibly poor. Their expenses are high, and if I had it to send, I would send money to them.

But here's what happened. In my overview of HFP, I explained that we are facing a financial crunch. I told the women that in the past week I was forced to inform Dan that we had an uphill fight coming in March. We would have to raise $10,000 to stay in business, because we have used up our surplus. I honestly did this because, as I often say, we are all in this together, and I knew that many of these ladies would become prayer partners for our cause. I've had first-hand experience with this. Dozens of these women prayed for me during the staph infection health crisis of 2010.

One inmate tried to stop me right there in the speech, I got a little flustered but waited until Q&A time to respond. I hurried to the end of my presentation.

But the prisoner was not to be deterred. She wanted the address of HFP. Not sensing the connection, I put it up on the chalk board. Often prisoners ask for our address so that they may correspond with us.

Then another woman asked if she could send a contribution. Another asked if she could send a tithe. Still another asked if we were a tax-exempt agency. I started getting the picture and became alarmed. I quickly responded that I wasn't asking for that. Several more jumped into the fray and quickly said they understood, but they wanted to help. And then still another prisoner said, "We're talking about that $10,000 that you need."

I was dumbfounded. This wasn't heading in the right direction. I wanted to end my presentation, and then came the part that we may never get used to, the standing ovation. Cheering. Applause.

I'm going to tell you something. It's love.

True, we represented the love of Jesus with our presence there.

But there was love in the room. Not just respect. Not just kindness. There was love.

We were still feeling it all the way home.

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