The first time I stepped foot in a prison was in Las Vegas, Nevada.  No, I wasn't incarcerated and no, I wasn't doing a Spiritual Kairos walk. 

I was in Vegas visiting my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.  My brother, Mark, lived in Vegas for many years, but our relationship and encounters usually didn't end well so I didn't plan on seeing him.  Besides that, he was in prison and I wasn't knowledgeable on how to visit him nor comfortable with the idea of seeing him locked up.  It had been years since we had talked, so no reason to start now.

God had future plans for me and He was working out the details that gave me the push I needed to visit my brother in prison. 

I did not even call ahead, but instead, I borrowed a car and drove by myself through the mountains and desert to the State Penitentiary.  I approached the guard shack, announced that I wanted to see my brother and that he didn't know I was coming, so I did not have permission nor did he for visitors.  Even though I trust our Lord, I was shocked that they allowed me to enter, within minutes of arriving. God was in control of this whimsical visit and had worked out all the details. 

This event, 10 years ago, ended up being a turning point in our relationship.  He was so surprised to see me and I realized what it means to show love by showing interest in someones life.  We had a great visit and kept in touch from that moment.  There would be long spans of not talking and then we would call or email each other and it was as if we had talked the day before.

Jumping ahead--- this experience changed our relationship, but not my desire to visit or work inside a prison.  About 3 years ago, a friend who started Celebrate Recovery in the women's prison here, asked me to go with her.  I politely declined.  She finally said that she just needed me to be a warm body.  I love her, so I went, but it wasn't a warm and fuzzy feeling.  I was relieved that I could help, but I didn't plan on returning.  The next week, she called and again asked for me to go.  I went as a warm body for at least 3 times, before God's plan reached me.  For the next year, I went as a warm body, as an administrator and as a friend.  I fell in love with the ladies and was delighted when the leaders asked me to teach.  I credit my work in the prison and to my gals to my brother, Mark.

This weekend, we were working a medical missions weekend in a rural area in Costa Rica.  We don't always have reliable internet in these areas and I rarely check my emails, but this weekend, when I did, there was an email from my dad who told me to call him ASAP.  I knew something was wrong, but it didn't cross my mind that he would tell me that Mark had died. 

As I was talking to my father, my Conexion family heard the news and lifted me and my family up in prayer.  As they laid hands on me and prayed in Spanish, I was listening to my father give me the details in English.  What a surreal moment. Marks 51st birthday is a week away. I grieve for him, his children, his girlfriend and especially for my dad.  He will be missed.  Through a bad experience of being in prison and a simple visit, our relationship was changed and the lives of others currently living in prison have the opportunity for a change.  Had I never visited him, I am not sure how willing I would have been to have my weekly prison dates on the calendar.

We are asked to visit those in prison.  Many of the people in prison made a bad choice and got caught.  Some of them were caught in foreign countries or foreign counties. Many of their family members have given up on them.  It doesn't matter if they are near family or far away, they are lonely and just want someone  talk to and who will listen.  I encourage each of you to make a point to brighten the day of an inmate.  You may not get a warm fuzzy, but hopefully, through your example of God's love, they will, if only for a brief moment.

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