Pentecost in the Local Jail

Pentecost in the Local Jail

In 2007 over 75 men in the local jail – comprising more than a forth of those incarcerated in the “modular” building – had a dramatic encounter with God.

For some time, I’d been feeling that we were falling short with the men who were coming to the Lord or re-dedicating their lives through various outreaches in the jail. God was bringing men to salvation on a weekly basis, and over the previous months I’d been involved in scores of men becoming Christians. Others involved in ministry at the jail were having similar reports.

We were being successful in leading the men to Christ and were doing a good job teaching them God’s principles. The men had a heart to follow the Lord, and a basic understanding of how God wanted them to act and live.

The problem, however, was that they lacked the power to do so effectively, and when they got out, they were falling prey to old habits and circumstances. Although they had hearts that want more of God, and had understanding, they lacked the power to be overcomers.

As a result, I approached the chaplain and asked for permission to hold a special service in the jail. With only a few day’s notice, he found a time and a room for me to bring a team of mature brothers, with proven gifts, to the jail. My intent was for us to minister to the men about, and pray for them to receive, the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. (The chaplain also had been receiving requests from men in the jail for teaching on the Holy Spirit, so the timing was right.)

Heeding the Call

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at attracting interest or any response from the pastors and elders I was relating to at the local Assemblies of God church I was attending at that time, despite my pleas for help. They were just too busy doing church stuff to do any ministry.

I was desperate. No one had agreed to help, and I knew God was going to move in ways that were too big for just one person. (This wasn’t an issue with lacking faith. In the jail, it is important to have adequate “supervision” or the correctional officers will stop the meeting).

Some brothers in Maryland, however, contacted me unexpectedly the day before the planned meeting in the jail. They said the Lord told them to call me and ask if they could be of help with anything – not knowing of the upcoming meeting in the jail.

I told them about the meeting, and they immediately said they would stand with me and help minister to the men. They were sensitive to God’s call, and obeyed His leading, for which I will be eternally grateful. This task was going to be too big for one person, and I needed other mature men of proven gifts to help.

Lanny Clark, from St. Mary’s county, Maryland, and two other men from his church, drove over two hours during the evening rush hour to have dinner with me and then minister together at the jail that night.

While we were having dinner in Manassas to plan that evening’s gathering in the jail, Seymour Jordan (a local Manassas pastor with a small, new church who occasionally ministered with me in the jail) ended up seeing us at the Golden Corral. He stopped by our table to say hello, and as I shared with him our plans for the evening, he, too, became excited and insisted on joining us – which we readily agreed to. He too heard and heeded God’s call.

When you are on a divine appointment by the King of Kings, He provides the resources!

The Prelude

The day before, I had circulated some flyers to inmates that I knew in the facility who have been impacted by some of my prior ministry there. I asked them to spread the word and get other men to attend. They did so with enthusiasm and anointing!

The night of the meeting, as we were setting up the room (they gave us the largest room in the facility!), it was amazing as men kept streaming in – they kept coming and coming. It quickly grew into largest meeting I’d seen at the jail in the five years I’d been ministering there.

The guards overseeing the gathering, who just “happened” to be strong and committed Christians (God knows how to bring together the right people!), were doing all they could to help, but started to get nervous because of the unprecedented turnout.

Soon the room was full, and we had just about standing room only. Nonetheless, the guards had a heart to help and organized the men into a seating arrangement that allowed even more to be crammed in. In all, more than one out of four men in that jail building came to the meeting!

We started late because of the time it took to get everyone into the room and seated, but the inmates were ready! I had spread the word previously, and boldly stated in the fliers that they should come expecting an encounter with God – and they did!

From Impetuous Peter to Mighty Apostle

We finally started, and I taught for about 45 minutes on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I used the life of Peter as my focus and showing how he had many of the same struggles experienced by men in jail – he was a man of passion and was impulsive and often got himself into trouble, but Jesus still called him to follow him.

Peter knew the Lord and walked with him for three years, yet ended up denying Jesus and became a broken man. Peter also saw the empty tomb, and met the Lord soon after His resurrection, but in Peter’s brokenness and feeling unworthy, he left the Lord and returned to his old profession – fishing.

I explained to them that even though Jesus said Peter would be a rock, and would build His church on Peter’s profession of Christ’s Lordship, Peter’s life alternated between being a rock and being Simon – a reed blowing in the wind. They could relate!

But Jesus didn’t give up on Peter, and even after Peter’s denials and turning away, the Lord called him again, by the Sea of Galilee, to follow Him.

There, on the shore after Peter impetuously (typical Peter!) jumped into the water and swam to Jesus, the Lord healed Peter’s broken spirit. He compassionately asked Peter three times, in response to having been denied by Peter three times, if Peter loved Him. Peter found healing, and was restored to the Lord.

Even after all this, however, Jesus told Peter he had to wait in Jerusalem for the power that he needed, which eventually came in the form of the Holy Spirit falling upon him at Pentecost.

The difference between the impetuous and wavering Simon, and Peter the Apostle was Pentecost – was the power he received in the Upper Room through an encounter with the Holy Spirit. He finally became an effective witness (meaning, I think, a man who now was able to conquer the circumstances and issues in his life, and thus exhibit and speak from the authority of a transformed life that had become immersed in the Holy Spirit).

The story of Peter’s life seemed to resonate with the men as they hung on every word. It was an amazing time of teaching.

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

I ended with the story in Acts of Peter going to Samaria, after Phillip had led many to Jesus and water baptized them, to lay hands on the new believers so they might also receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I then said that just like in Acts, God wanted to do the same today, and invited the men who came with me, to begin laying hands on the men.

There was an immediate whoosh…

The power of God fell on the place.

Men started crying out in repentance and asking for God’s mercy, and men started speaking in tongues. To a man, every one of them – without a single exception – asked to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as we circulated among them and laid hands on them. Men started falling on their faces before God, and men were trembling in the presences of God’s sovereignty as the Holy Spirit fell on them with power and grace. It was one of the most amazing times of ministry I’ve experienced in my forty years with the Lord.

Lanny began ministering healing and praying over the men. Dozens of men gave immediate testimonies of being healing from various acute and chronic pains, along with visible healings of men who were in braces and had other infirmities.

As God continued to supernaturally minister to the men, they started assembling in small groups and praying for one another – without being prompted to do so by us.

They continued calling out to God and repenting, while the Holy Spirit continued to touch them and immerse them in His presence. Men were being delivered before our eyes from oppression with cries of joy and deep weeping. We didn’t need to do anything other than simply let God have His way.

Men were being healed and touched by God as they encountering the power that had been lacking in their Christian walk.

Stop Looking for Revival!

Our churches pray for revival, and we wait for God to break out in our Sunday morning services. I keep trying to tell people and churches that I know, however, that revival is happening now – but it’s not in our pews or in our numerous church programs that seem to keep us so busy and distracted. I’m seeing it every week as I get out of the church and into the places where people are hurt and hungry and crying out for God to make them whole.

The fields are ripe for harvest, and the harvest is happening – it is now, and it is real. I pray that people will open their eyes and realize that their prayers are being answered, but it’s just not in the way or in the places where we expected it.

The Fields are Ripe for Harvest

People, let’s get out of the “church” and into the fields!

Let’s stop being so busy doing “church” that we miss the Kingdom!

The church is not the Kingdom of God; it is simply where we (hopefully) are prepared for ministry and being equipped in our callings to then go out and bring His Kingdom – His will, grace and rule – to a desperate, waiting world. (I pray that our churches will catch this vision and start doing so!).

Church and church meetings should not be the focus of our faith, but simply a springboard. May God in his mercy likewise give us a passion for the Kingdom, and not just for “church”.

May God in his mercy break us out of our ruts and programs and lives that are too busy to see what He is doing right under our noises!

God is moving. As for me, I want to be where God is, even if it means jail and men who have messy lives and complicated issues. These are the people Jesus said he came to reach, and He’s stilling doing so today.

Doubtless, there are many fields ripe for harvest, and I urge you to pray, and seek, and find your place in that harvest.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

This event – along with some other factors – began the journey that eventually led to me helping to plant and grow various local, participatory fellowships here in Virginia, including indigenous fellowship in the jail itself. As these and other men came to the Lord they could then start forming community with each other in the jail, and when they were released, with us on the outside. See Participatory Church. The traditional churches didn’t want them (we tried) – beyond lip service and arms-length “programs” for them. But God did, and so did others in fellowship with me who saw their potential. Many of those men are now leaders in the Body of Christ, and have birthed many more into His Kingdom. — Jim

12 responses

  1. I read your testimony of the ministry in the men’s jail last year and loved reading your account this time too. I’d love to hear more of what you are doing. I’ll be in town next weekend (Jan 16-18). Do you think we can meet on Sat afternoon or Sunday after church before I have to head back to Charlotte?

    Lauren M

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  2. Truly blessed by this message and testimony. This is the second time I’ve heard someone say we need to start doing God’s work outside the church. The church is just a training ground – amen to that. May the Lord continue to broaden your vision and enlarge your coast in everyway. Amen!

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  3. Your essay was really interesting and thought provoking. There seems to be an almost “Christless” Christianity preached from many pulpits today as the church embraces a highly individualistic center with messages that focus more on personal transformation or moralistic concerns. It’s time to get back to orthodox doctrines and the theology of the cross.

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  4. Neat! (I realize that’s the understatement of the century, but being short on time these days -I have to sum up my thoughts in as few words as possible!) You have such an interesting life. ~Steph L. ~@ The Beach

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  5. Jim, As you know my son was in the jail at that time and along with my wife Diana and I we were praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the PWC Jail. My son began with a group of men to form prayer circles where that would link arms pray the Lords Prayer and then pray for each other everynight after this event. My son who had suffered from clinical depression was delivered and Jim began to mentor him and others. My wife and I have been in the ministry for 28 years and have experienced great revival and by all accounts this is where Jesus would have ministered and in fact He did because He was there that day. As C.T. Studd said, ” Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” We’ll Jim hell is know much poorer for the souls you and the men who went above and beyond that day and now continue to rescue the parishing. May the God richly bless you.

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  6. el SERVICO que empesaste logra cambiar vidas, por que vas con la palbra de vida y con el Amor de Dios en tu corazon….cuantos corazones destrozado al oir tus charlas y enseñanzas se vuelven a sanar, se ablandan…..demos gracias a Dios por usar personas como tu para llegar a personas que estan buscando ser salvadas, Gracias Diosito por poner tu mano en el corazon de tu servidor Jim. sigue adelante y lo que tu hiciste conmigo yo lo hare con otros.

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  7. Truly Amazing and a really inspiring story – Jim Wright. So refreshing and a good example of the gospel of the kingdom of God with His Spirit and Power and for His glory. May the LORD help many of us (His disciples) to go out in His Power and be His witnesses in the nations….for the time is so short and the harvest is so so ripe……
    “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
    “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

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  8. Pingback: I Confess: I Killed Ekklesia « Crossroad Junction

  9. Pingback: Rethinking Missions « Crossroad Junction

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