One of the last places you might expect to find freedom would be in a former communist prison used for housing the most treacherous of offenders (such as Christians, or political dissidents), now serving as maximum security penitentiary in the city of Vac, Hungary (pron. 'vats'). But "Freedom" we did find, as we had the privilege of joining a group of about 75 inmates in the worship of the living God.
My latest tour in Hungary/Serbia saw us doing 11 concerts in 14 days; a few of them being in some very unlikely places. But we follow the footsteps of the Lord into the places He leads us, and this time that included a Girl's Reformatory, a Co-Ed Sanitarium, and this Maximum Security Prison. Yes, we got to do some things that many would find more "standard", or even "exciting", like opening the European Youth Festival that was taking place in the Kecskemét city square, where the organizers say that as many as 2,000 people were within sound of our songs, testimonies and dances (go here to check it out: <http://vimeo.com/100087410>
As the tour unfolded, we realized that we had an opening on the very last Sunday, and asked Attila, our tour organizer if he would be OK with finding us a church, or another opportunity to ministry – after all, we were there, and all of us were up for it! Needless to say, God came through when in one of the first concerts, we met Zsofia, a lawyer who told us she had a great opportunity for us in a prison if we were willing!
Paul and Silas not-with-standing, my experience doing ministry in prisons has been quite encouraging, and have been in them in the USA, Mexico, Cayman Islands, the UK, South Africa, and now Hungary – and everytime, I am overwhelmed with how the inmates respond – genuinely, to authenticity, brokenness, and invitations to join in. And this experience in Vac was no different.
The inmate carried the equipment up a couple of flights of hard stone stairs, filed into the room when it was time to start, and serious "rocked out" as soon as we hit the first downbeat! We were opened by one of the prisoners, an extremely talented man who was a musician, songwriter, worship leader, and professional potter, making pots to sell to produce income to help improve prisoners lives. He met Jesus, and his life was totally transformed. He played the keyboard brilliantly, and led the men in worship – and we just soaked it in. When it was our turn to take the stage, obviously the ground had already been plowed, and we just entered into the flow, bringing the Word of God through song and testimony.
James, our guitarist from England, shared with the men how he had been a drug addict and homeless – and how God rescued him through the ministry of Teen Challenge. I shared of divorce, abuse, death of parents, and being suicidal, and offered to them the same choice Teri's College Pastor had offered me – kill self, or die to self. It is such a wonderful experience to share with people who know exactly what you are talking about, have been through it, and are looking for answers. Obviously nothing short of unconditional surrender to Jesus will ever bring the freedom that comes from shedding the grave clothes the enemy fashioned with us, and putting on the wedding garments that the Groom of Heaven has prepared for those who come to Him.
I arrive back in the "land of the free, and the home of the brave", wondering if we still know what we as a nation mean by that. But that last concert in Vac serves to remind me that the physical constraints of body and bars in no way dictates where true freedom lives or thrives.