Is It Worth It?
“When you look at us, at our lives, do you feel like we have honored your investment into us? Do you feel like it has been worth it?” That was the question that one of my students asked during a recent class at Hutchinson Correctional Facility (HCF). After three years, the first group of TUMI students at this prison is about to graduate.
In June 2013 The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) had just started a satellite campus in Hutchinson Correctional Facility, and I was set to teach the first course. I was entering into a maximum security prison to teach convicted criminals about the Word of God. I was not entirely sure what to expect from these guys, but what I found in them absolutely overwhelmed me. They were excited and hungry. When they left that evening, every one of them hugged me and told me how excited they were that I was there.
In May 2015, two of the top students were moved to a lower security facility where they were no longer allowed to take the courses, as inmates cannot go between units. Soon a third student was moved with them. I was not willing to see these amazing students forced to cease their studies, so I volunteered to teach every other week until they completed the entire sixteen course curriculum. The original class in the maximum unit continued as well with a rotation of various teachers as they had been doing.
This fall, I went into the prison for the last time as their teacher. I will tell you what I told my student who asked if it has been worth the investment. The first time I came to HCF, there were nine wide-eyed men who barely believed me when I told them that God had selected them to lead His church in prison. What has happened since that day has justified every hour I spent with them. The original group set about reforming their church, winning new souls, training new leaders, and establishing patterns that will outlive their prison terms. When three guys were transferred to the East Unit (medium security) the same results started to occur there. At one event, I had an inmate that I did not know give me a big hug and say, “Thank you so much for what you do for [your TUMI students]. We are all blessed because of their leadership.” Recently, one of these three students was transferred again to the minimum security unit. Wouldn’t you know it, church reform, people getting saved, leaders being trained there too.
They have done it! They have completed the entire curriculum, earned 32 hours of spiritual leadership training, and will participate in a graduation ceremony soon. It has been my greatest joy to impart to them what has been given to me, to empower them to take on the responsibility of their own learning and teaching of others, and even to read and grade all their papers (well, maybe not the 45-page paper that was just turned in last class!). So often in ministry we sow seeds, but never reap the harvest. Or, we reap the harvest of those who have gone before us, only somewhat grasping all the energy and prayer that was poured out in the sowing and watering. When God allows us to see something through to the end, the joy is almost indescribable.