By Michael Vassalotti, Jericho Discipleship Team Leader
While I am thankful and feel honored at the privilege of being asked to write a piece for The Insider, this made me do some heart searching. While I do love teaching, and I love these brothers God has called me to, there are some Tuesdays, when honestly I might rather feel like staying home and playing guitar. Inevitably, when I do have one of those days, that ends up being the time when Holy Spirit shows up in the Bible study time with renewed vigor and fire. Then, I am more glad than ever that Father God did not let me quit during that first year (2013?), when I told the ministry that God could find someone else to do the job.
Our group meets in Facility 2 of the Southwoods State Prison in Bridgeton, NJ. We meet every Tuesday at 7:30. Though I’ve never been told the details “point-blank”, it seemed to me that Facility 2 might be the sex offenders and mental health facility. If this is true, it would suit me just fine. In my thought life, well before I reached 56 years of age, I could’ve been classified as a mental breakdown survivor and a sex offender. (The Lord sees every thought and knows and covers all my sins).
Not long after becoming born-again in 1984, doctors diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. They prescribed some stabilizing meds that made me function slightly better than a zombie. I could not pray or read the Bible without falling asleep. Within the next 5 years or so, and 3 different prayer-group attempts to break from the meds, I finally received healing from the bipolar delusions and manic episodes. Hooray! No more zombie drugs…now I’m just moody! As a result, I have a closer connection to people who have struggled with anxiety and issues of the mind/will and emotions.
These guys in F2 are truly my brothers. As I write this, I just got back from our meeting. James, a new man to the group, was there tonight. He is a cancer survivor, having completed an intense chemo regiment. He spoke to me before the class began today and said He wanted to rededicate his life to the Lord. The Lord led me to let him share a little of his testimony before we got into our Bible lesson. All the guys and I listened very intently as he shared about his early faith, death of his mom, his anger at God, and car crash, turning to alcohol, then his ending up in prison. We laid hands on our new brother and prayed as a group that his cancer is gone and doesn’t come back.
Vince is always there. He could easily teach the class…perhaps better than I! Yet he humbly listens and participates in a way that enhances the experience for all of us. He has a Barnabas type of a spirit of encouragement and I feel blessed to see him each time I go.
Prison is not a pretty place. Do I love to go there? Sometimes I do. Other times, I feel tired. When I feel most tired, is when the most special meetings take place, like tonight. Ultimately, I rejoice to do what Jesus wants because therein is the life of blessing, the life of greatest rewards and the life of no regrets. In His presence, and with wet eyes, I would tell the Lord I don’t deserve the well-done good and faithful servant greeting, except He already said the weak and the foolish ones are the ones He chooses to do His work!
I’m thankful for that old expression someone told me long ago, “He doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called ones.” Thank you Jesus, I have been blessed to hear your call of Love!