I was standing in a prison in Central Asia, guards were all around, my passport had been taken from me and my phone was gone. Whatever was about to happen was about to happen. There were no text messages I could send to distant lands asking for prayer, or a quick call to let my wife know what was happening to me.
There were two people in the room who had the power to make life very difficult. The first was the army Major of the actual prison, the second was the Major of all the prisons in the nation. But I also had the power to make life very different for 35 teenagers in that same room.
I stood in the only male juvenile prison in the nation; it was bleak, bare and menacing. I had been asked to visit the prison by ‘Maxence’, one of our local staff. The exact reasons were not entirely clear to me. This nation has a very distinct law that the Gospel must not be shared with anyone under the age of 18. Every offender in that room was under the age of 18. I was in a government building, and if I shared about Jesus, then I did so under the watchful eyes of the authorities. It had taken a special favor to get me into the prison, and I felt like it might take a greater favor to get me out again.
But it was their eyes that stirred me, 35 broken, distant, lost pairs of eyes. I couldn’t ignore their hopeless stares. “Okay, do you want to share?” Maxence asked.
I could have spoken about making right choices in the future, or that life will present better days to come, so hold on. I could have mustered up a stirring message perhaps to comfort them through some cold lonely nights.
Instead I shared my own story as a teenager, the poor choices I had made, the trouble I had found myself in and how lost I had become. As I had shared the boys listened, laughed at the funny parts and remained silent at the harsh parts. Even the guards had moved forward to listen. I knew something was happening, I sensed the Spirit at work. So I continued, and talked about how in the bleakest moments of my life Jesus had brought light into my darkness, joy where there had been only sadness, forgiveness where there had been regret and hope where there had been despair. I offered them all the opportunity to allow Jesus to bring the same transformation to their life that He had brought to mine.
While I shared it was as if I had forgotten my location, who my hosts were and the sensitivity of the words I spoke. Maxence shared further with the boys, but there was an urgency in his voice. Then we quickly took our leave. As we were ushered out of the prison both my passport and phone were returned to me. There were no reprimands, no snarls, not even any awkward comments from the authorities.
However what then happened, I could not have anticipated. The Major of all of the prisons got in the car with us as we began to leave seeking a ride back to the city. She asked whether my story was real, to which I replied “yes”. She then shared how she herself was a Muslim but that she was open and searching. I was unsure where our conversation might lead, but then came an unexpected invitation “Would Youth for Christ be interested in helping us with all of our 18-20 year old junior soldiers across the nation? Nobody cares for them, I like what you stand for, and would you care for them?”
We now have an open door not only in the juvenile prison but in every army barrack with 18-20 year olds. I was reminded that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit declares the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6)
As staff continually step out—believing that if they do the possible God will do the impossible—we are being provided with opportunities to share Jesus and His Gospel with some of the most isolated, remote and inaccessible communities in the world.
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World Changers – a growing community of followers of Jesus who through their collective investment of $25 per month pioneer ministry in new nations, mobilise “world-changing” young leaders and bring about enormous change for good in the world.