Wednesday, July 26, 2017

God's Inconvenient Call

I wrote a guest post at The Exponent a few weeks ago about my new volunteer opportunity as a chaplain at the local jail. I hadn't gotten around to posting it here, so here it is. (Since the time I wrote it, I've been several more times, but I'm leaving it as-is.) If you want to comment, please comment over at The Exponent.

Four years ago, I was living in the SF Bay Area, and I was volunteering as a chaplain at San Quentin Prison. It was a meaningful experience for me, and I felt, for possibly the first time in my life, that I was finally living up to the call to the ministry that I’ve felt my whole life but was unable to fully answer in the context in which the church is currently set up.

A year later, life happened, and I had to move. I ended up in a new city, in a new state, where I didn’t know anyone. It took me months to find a job, and I was really struggling - financially, socially, emotionally, and even spiritually. I was, to be honest, really miserable.

I remembered the last time I was happy, and it was when I was involved in ministry. I considered getting involved in my new city, but I was so wrung out that I couldn’t muster up the wherewithal to do anything about it. It was all I could do to get up and go to work every day. Eventually, I moved across town, which shortened my commute and put me in a situation where I had friends, which improved my social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Now that I had gotten my own act together, God started nudging me to get back into ministry. I was working two jobs at the time, just barely making ends meet. I decided to ignore the call, figuring that I had too much on my plate. I made a deal with God that as soon as I was in a financial position to quit my second job, I would revisit the issue.

God backed off for a bit but every now and then would remind me of what I needed to be doing. I kept saying that as soon as I didn’t have to work two jobs, I would do it. This went on for almost two years.

Then back in March, I was studying the scriptures. I came across the following passage:

“So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin.” [1]

The Spirit pricked my heart. Then I asked myself what to do about it. I knew how to repent of things I had done, but I didn’t know how to repent of not doing things I hadn’t done. Within the next few weeks, on two separate occasions, someone in a church talk (one in a broadcast, one in my ward) mentioned volunteering in a jail or prison setting.

A week or so later, I ran into a friend at a party who I knew was volunteering as a chaplain at the jail. I asked him how he got involved, and he gave me the phone number of the branch president for the jail branch. I called the branch president a few days later to talk about it.

At first, the branch president wasn’t sure he could use my services, but he called back a few days later and said that due to some staffing issues he hadn’t been aware of when we first spoke, he did need me. We got the ball rolling on getting me cleared to enter the jails. The process took months.

I still wasn’t sure how I was going to fit it all in; I was still working two jobs. Then, in mid-June, I had a few changes at work where I could quit my second job. (I should add, I’ve been wanting to quit my second job for a long time, completely unrelated to this.) The day after I gave my two weeks’ notice at my second job, my background check cleared.

I’ve been to the jail to minister to inmates once now. There are definitely some differences between jail ministry and prison ministry, [2] but I’m finding it a meaningful experience once again. It was extremely inconvenient to answer this call. On paper, it didn’t work, but I can’t deny that it came directly from God, and God provided a way for me to answer the call, even if it took me two years to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes of this opportunity.

[1] James 4:17 (New English Translation)
[2] Those differences are outside the scope of this post, but once I’ve settled in a bit more, I may write about them.