I spend a lot of time in detention centers on a weekly basis. Sometimes I wonder how many conversations I have had with kids who are locked up. Sometimes I wonder how many kids I have met in this unfortunate situation. Sometimes I wonder how many kids have heard the gospel due to the fact that they were locked up. Sometimes I wonder who I would be if I hadn’t spent the last many years of my life working with kids in detention centers. They have changed my life.
They have taught me about the raw edge of life that I so often try to ignore. They have shown me a resilience in the face of suffering, abuse, loss, pain, and abandonment that I have never seen before. They have instructed me on the art of transparency and honesty with other human beings. They seem to be able to put the fig leaves down more willingly and quickly than myself. They have taught me what it means to come to God with empty hands. They have shown me what it means to trust in God’s grace alone through Jesus Christ for my rescue and salvation. These youth have wrecked my view of sanctification and progressive transformation as we follow Christ. In this vein they have helped me see that going forwards often feels like and even looks like going backwards. They have helped me come to terms with the messiness of becoming like Jesus. My clean, ordered, triumphant view of the Christian life has been obliterated. They have taught me that the life of a disciple is one of continual daily repentance. They have demonstrated to me how a witness for Jesus can and must be reckless. So many of these young men have spoken things into my life that have touched me and changed me. There are at least 5-6 guys running around right now that feel like my own kids. At the same time these same guys feel like my brothers. They are my family. I have come to deeply love my work with kids behind bars. To be honest sometimes I feel more at home when I am with them. Sometimes I feel more like myself. I do not feel like I have to front or pretend with them and I don’t think they feel the need to do so with me. The only thing that distinguishes us is the orange jumpsuits they wear. We both stand with empty hands. We both stand in desperate need of God’s grace in Christ. I am thankful to Christ for ordaining that my steps would find their way into many jails and detention centers. What a kindness.