THE POTTER’S JAIL
Recently I was asked to visit a young man whom I’ve never met that was incarcerated. Jail ministry wasn’t something that I was experienced with, and therefore was somewhat apprehensive. The anxiety wasn’t over visiting the jail itself, but connecting to someone I never met in one of the most challenging times in their life. What if I say the wrong thing and cause the young man to be offended. Like most people, I like to have a plan which identifies the ultimate objective, and the process to accomplish it. This brought the realization of being totally dependent on God. It is much like the time when God instructed Jeremiah to go and visit the “Potter’s house” (Jeremiah 18). Jeremiah’s marching orders were simply to “arise and go” and when he arrives at the potter’s house, God will instruct him on what to say at that time.
Following the faith of Jeremiah, I arrived at the jail after working all day at my secular job. Before going in, I spent some alone time in prayer, specifically asking God to give me the right words to say that would point this young man to Jesus.
As I walked into the building, the appearance was something out of the 1940s. There was a large metal desk awkwardly centered near the middle of the small waiting room. The chairs were old and stained. The room was everything but inviting. There were no personnel to greet you. I noticed a lady sitting nearby and as I looked around for some type of direction, she said to me, “you have to sign in” and pointed to a clipboard by a security window. After signing in, I noticed that she and I were the only people in the waiting area. I asked her if she was visiting a relative. It was at that time that she began to cry hysterically. I thought to myself, “great pastor Dorrin, what a way to start this visit, this is way over your head”. I know this was Satan trying to discourage me. All during this time I kept praying silently, “God I need your help, give me the words to say to this lady”.
I validated the lady’s distress in letting her know this must be very difficult for her. She replied repeatedly, if only she could take the place of her son she would do so. She stated, he is a good kid, he did something wrong and fled to Canada, but because he has a child he wants a better life and therefore turned himself in. I informed her that I was there as a pastor visiting someone, and asked if she wouldn’t mind if I pray for her and her son. She desperately accepted the invitation as if she was hanging on to her last hope. She pleaded for me to pray for her son, and that it would be a good outcome at his court hearing. I then approached her, put my arm across her shoulder and prayed.
After praying, there seemed to be a peace that came over her, and she thanked me for the prayer. The tears ceased and she seemed to collect her emotions to prepare herself for the visit with her son. Shortly after this, a Sheriff came and escorted us into another room that had a glass partition and phones on each side of the partition. The young man I came to visit, came to the booth and picked up the phone. I smiled and introduced myself. Immediately there was a sense of trust as if we had previously known each other. He shared with me why he was incarcerated and what his plans were upon release from jail. His story, like so many others is grounded in a difficult childhood with a father who is an alcoholic and a mother who passed away in his early childhood. When asking him where God is in his life, he stated, “I’m broken, but not shattered.” Reading me like a book, he sensed my ignorance, and further explained that in prison you can be broken but not shattered. When a glass is shattered, it is almost impossible to put it back together again, but when a glass is broken it can be fixed. We talked about Jesus being the fixer in our lives. When I asked him if he had a bible, he responded that his roommate was feeling suicidal, so he gave the roommate his bible.
After about an hour visit, it was time to say goodbye. First, I prayed for him then I asked him to pray for me explaining that we are all in need of prayer.
As I proceeded to walk out from the visiting room, the lady whom I had met earlier also stood up to leave and looking at me she pointed to her son. She than pointed to the young man that I was visiting and stated, “the person you were visiting is my son’s roommate”. I immediately made the connection; this woman’s son is the one that was suicidal and received a bible.
We walked together back to the waiting room and she began to cry again. This time her tears were tears of hope. She proceeded to tell me that the prayer that we had prayed on behalf of her son, she used it to pray with her son. While this young man and I were praying for this mother’s son, at the same time, this mother was praying with her son. We spent about another 30 minutes in the waiting room talking about the goodness of God, and that He is faithful in hearing and responding to our prayers. She asked me what denomination did I belong to and I responded, Seventh-day Adventist. She responded in amazement stating that her grandmother attended a Seventh-day Adventist Church. After encouraging her to keep praying and providing her my contact number we said our goodbyes.
The words that this mother kept repeating, how she wished she could take her son’s place and receive his punishment, touched my heart. Her words reminded me of Jesus who took my place on the cross of Calvary. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Reflecting on Jeremiah 18:1-4. When we truly rely, depend, and trust in the working of the Holy Spirit through prayer, amazing things will happen. God saw three hurting lives, a distraught mother, her suicidal son, and a broken young man. In these three lives, these precious vessels, God took away their hurt and suffering and replaced it with hope in Christ our eternal Savior. In that moment in time, God turned a jail into a prayer room through the presence of His Holy Spirit.
The inspired words of Ellen G. White state,
“The potter takes the clay and molds it according to his will… Thus it becomes a vessel fit for use. So the great Master Worker desires to mold and fashion us. And as the clay is in the hands of the potter, so are we to be in His hands. We are not to try to do the work of the potter. Our part is to yield ourselves to be molded by the Master Worker. MH 471-472.
May this be our prayer as well, “Heavenly Father, take us and mold us according to Your will. That we may become vessels fit for Your use. Amen”.
Pastor Dorrin Patillo