Since I was twenty years old I have made a study of true revivals. I wrote a book some years ago with the title: True Revival. My life was profoundly altered by the campus revival at Wheaton College in 1970. I have never been the same since those remarkable days of blessing.
My very good friend David Bryant recently sent me some encouraging news about an awakening that is going on right now within the United States. You will not likely read about this great movement of God anywhere else. Why? This awakening is happening in a prison.
As you've heard from me previously, there is a "Christ Awakening" in progress in the East Jersey State Prison, a high security penitentiary. At this point upwards of 200 inmates (out of 2000) are turning out regularly for seasons of strong worship, Bible teaching and discipleship. This movement is shepherded by the full time chaplain, formerly a top exec with GM who in his 40's went to seminary to prepare for the very ministry he's now in (he's African American, which is important because about 80% of the East Jersey inmates are African Americans). Rev. Larry Aikins devoured Christ Is All and now has distributed 200 copies of a new smaller version of the book among inmates. Daily he's in there, stoking the fires. And the fires are burning—evidenced, for example, by the depths of public prayers I've heard from inmates as well as original worship wrap music, both of which manifest levels of theological understanding that few lay people I know could match!
A team of us go in there every couple of months to spend an evening with all these guys, during which I'm given about 35 minutes to preach to hungry men exclusively about the glory and supremacy of God's Son. After 40 years in ministry, this whole experience remains, for me personally, utterly unprecedented, incomparable and breathtaking.
The past couple of months, the chairman of my board has been leading weekly studies through Christ Is All (the new revised version). He's done so using the free small group study guide downloaded from the Christ Is All web site (but he's lengthened the study from 7-9 weeks). In two weeks, the whole group will graduate (I think there are 13—there's a limit the prison administration puts on the size; many others wanted to be in it and can be in the next go-around). We designed a special certificate that each inmate will receive, called a "Certificate of Commissioning." When they graduate they become commissioned as MESSENGERS OF HOPE throughout the prison (as defined in Christ is All—the old term for it might be "revivalists"). The guys are excited about this special benchmark for them. But there's more.
Last week the men discussed "where to go from here" and initially decided they would commit to pray together at the same time each day (when the 9 PM bell rings for returning to their cells), even if they are not physically together, and to pray for a Christ Awakening in the whole prison. But then, as they talked further, one of the guys said: "Why don't we form a CAST" (Christ Awakening Servant Team)? This idea is covered in one of the last chapters of the shorter edition of the book They discussed the proposal. All agreed to the CAST strategy. So, for their next meeting (in 2 weeks) that will be their focus: forming a CAST in EJSP!!
One more story. The current head of all of New Jersey "Crips" gangs was sentenced to many years in EJSP (Crips and Bloods are the two major rival gangs across the USA). Recently, he gave his life to Christ, was baptized in the prison and now has entered into the flow of the emerging Christ Awakening. Just last week, he stood up before all the other Crips members in EJSP to renounce his leadership (which, in gang world, means a death sentence — he should be killed by other members for leaving the gang). Then, he told them, as they stood before him in the exercise yard (and this is a direct quote): "I release you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to go and serve Him alone." Sort of a combined exorcism and commissioning all in one, you might say.
I said to my board chairman: What if every pastor in this nation would stand before their congregation one Sunday and say: "I release you from all the lesser issues and activities in this church that have consumed you—release you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to go forth, to begin again, to give yourself wholly to Christ and to serving Him alone!" The implications for any local congregation are not unlike for those Crips members in EJSP, right?
One final observation to encourage all of us: This is absolutely no coincidence—rather, it is clear evidence, evidence of the supremacy of Christ at work. The Father has placed some of us as participant-observers in the vortex of a most thrilling "awakening-in-progress" at East Jersey State Prison. Of course, none of this could have happened without the previous years of faithfulness of Dick Griggs (my board chairman) in prison ministry, or the sacrificial daily labors of Larry Aikens. Nevertheless, I truly believe as the "story" and testimony at EJSP unfolds and becomes better known, what the Spirit of Jesus is doing in that place will reverberate among God's people in many places. As a result, it will stir up fresh vision, hope and desire among God's people for the Spirit to exalt and magnify Christ in whole new ways within many churches the way He is doing among these prisoners.
People often say "If it can happen in New York, it can happen anywhere"—true, but to this claim I would add:
"If it can happen in a prison in New York, then it really can happen in New York, and, thus, if it can happen in New York, for sure it can happen anywhere!”
EJSP may, in fact, become a primary catalyst for the outpouring of answers to years of prayer for the whole NYC region—and beyond. Surely, it is another (of many) "signs" of great things to come!