"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Clowns in prison

I have learned a few valuable lessons in life; don’t try to teach pigs to dance, don’t mess with any women’s missionary organizations, and…..don’t ever go into a men’s prison as a clown. Especially when you are wearing turquoise capri pants, red and white striped socks, a bright blue wig, and long blue glittery eyelashes.

When I was in college and new in the ministry, I heard a sermon based upon St. Paul’s teaching that we should “become all things to all people so that by some means some might learn of Jesus.” At the time I was studying to enter the church recreation ministry which was in the days before Upward programs and almost no church gyms or ball fields around metro Atlanta. Our challenge as Christian recreation ministers was to come up with ways to meet the leisure time needs of people both within and outside the church. In the first church where I served, we put a huge emphasis on the community and providing programs for them whether or not they ever attended an “official” Sunday service. Our sole aim was to love the neighborhood and teach them that God loves them, too. And, it worked.

Well, at some point in this, I was asked to help with a worship service at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta. So, I threw my guitar in the back of the car, met several other guys at McDonalds and planned it all out. It was without a doubt one of the most meaningful times of my life. Meeting the inmates who wanted to come (and were brave enough to come), hearing them share of their lives and walk with God under these dire circumstances, seeing a small stained glass window in the chapel with prison bars behind, all showed me that this is what the church should be doing in today’s world.

Shifting forward a number of years, I underwent training into the “clown world” where I learned all the techniques of make-up, illusions, costumes, and how to fit 28 of us into a tiny car. My thinking was it would help me in my quest to become “all things to all people” and provide many avenues for sharing God. It did. Our merry little Christian Clown troupe went to nursing homes, hospitals, children’s hospitals and, yes, to several women’s prisons around the south Metro area. We even travelled to St. Simons, New York City, and Washington D.C. to spread out little red balloons of God’s Love to people.

Then, one day I remembered the days of my Federal Prison services and wondered how the men would react to clowns. So, I contacted a local County prison and asked if we could do a program for the men. They agreed, however, none of our women clowns were allowed and that left me and the other man clown…..a 70 year-old-cowboy clown who was always up for adventure. Without going into a lot of details in print, we were well received by the prisoners, but not for the reason we were there. There is a possibility that someone heard the story of God, but it might have been during my prayers to please get home safely with my blue eyelashes intact.

Where is all this leading? There are many opportunities around to be a witness and become “all things to all people.” You can be a friend to the friendless at A Friend’s House or the Haven House. You can volunteer at Helping in His Name. You can spend a day helping The Fuller Center – Project McDonough. Just go share your God wherever you can…..just be careful of the wigs and eyelashes you wear.

And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.