Andrew is one of the guys who sits in the back and cracks jokes. He is a good looking, friendly and articulate guy that you’d never expect has been in prison continuously since the 1980’s, 27 years in all. I’ve chatted with him, got him a few clothing items, and built a little bit of a relationship with him. He makes me laugh and is just one of those people that you like to be around. Since the entirety of our interactions have occurred inside a church service I foolishly assumed he was a Christian. Well, it turns out that he wasn’t. He was like many people who come to church on Sunday and then resume their normal lives throughout the rest of the week. All of that changed on Saturday…
We have been pushing the fact that the church services that take place inside the institution are just as much a part of Granger Community Church as the services happening at the church’s other campuses. WE ARE THE CHURCH has been the rallying cry. It does not matter if the building where we worship and serve God is a beautiful campus in Granger, Elkhart or soon LaPorte, or if it is the cafeteria inside a Department of Correction facility in South Bend, the church is us, not the building. The message seems to be getting across and many of the guys we worship with in South Bend have wanted to pitch in with GCC’s community projects.
On Saturday January 26th, GCC had its annual Food Drop. We come together every year to stock local food pantries throughout our community. This year we delivered over 8000 boxes of food. Delivering all of that food requires volunteers and church members turn out in droves, in the freezing temperatures and snow, to help out. (check out a bunch of picture from the event here) This year our prison campus came too, including Andrew.
I spoke to Andrew on Sunday about his experience of serving at the Food Drop. Andrew told me how he had not really been in the community much for the last couple of decades. The facility we serve him in is a reentry facility that eases inmates back into society over the course of a year or two when the guys are nearing the ends of their sentences. They can get regular jobs and begin the transition from prisoners to proper members of society. Andrew was excited to help out at the Food Drop but he had never been to a GCC campus other than our community of believers inside the South Bend facility. It was a bit of a shock to him to see how we do it at GCC.
Arriving at the Granger campus was the first thing that was new to Andrew, he said that he thought the had made a wrong turn or something. The place didn’t look like any church he had ever been to and their were kids and families running around all over the place. The guys went inside and were received with smiles and handshakes like anyone else, not like less-than hangers on. Hundreds of people were laughing and enjoying themselves as they packed boxes of food, side-by-side, with GCC members from the “reentry campus”. Kids were laughing and joking and running up and down the halls when they weren’t helping out too.
“Even the tiny kids were packing boxes”, Andrew explained.
I nodded and smiled, its how we do it, and Andrew isn’t the first voice that I’ve heard who is a little confused by the experience. What he said next did surprise me though.
“It was in the middle of that room, with people milling all around, chaos in the air, that I realized that this is what it’s all about. It all kind of came together, what you all have been telling us. This is what Jesus is about and this is what I want. This is what I have been looking for all these years. In that moment, I was done. I said to myself, I’m all in. I decided right there to turn my back on everything else and commit my life to this.”
Andrews eyes were a little misty, mine were too to be honest, but I wanted some clarification. “Wait, are you telling me that you came to Jesus at the Food Drop?” I asked.
He smiled and shook his head yes. “I mean I was baptized when I was a little kid but it didn’t mean anything. At the Food Drop it all came together and made sense. I knew for sure that I was in and that all this was real”.
I was shocked. “We need to get you baptized my friend”, I offered.
“Yeah, man. I want to do it. When can I do that?”
It’s crazy how God works. I am always amazed. What might have been just a time of helping to pack some boxes, turned out to be an eternal change of circumstances. The hands and feet of Jesus were moving all around Andrew and helped to change his life forever. I’ll be there to walk with him over the next months and I will be right by his side when he is baptized. The people of Granger Community Church will be there too, celebrating another step towards Christ, together.
(**Here is a video of the Food Drop)