In the hallways of Century Regional Detention Center, the largest Women's County Jail in the United States, exists a small enclave of four modules labeled as High Power, known to many simply as 2100. Within the walls of these four modules are women who have been accused of or have committed crimes that are worthy of being separated from the majority of the inmates in general population.
A Place Where...
2100 is where I first played worship outside of the walls of my own home. A place where God revealed to me that His plans for me are so much bigger than my own; And that walking in obedience never requires talent, but simply willingness.
A place where God showed me that I could be used, if only I am willing to come to Him as an empty vessel.
A place where I learned that man's ways are not God's ways. That He can do things, even in our own day in age, that we could not ever seek to fathom or understand. "I will make a road in the wilderness," He said in Isaiah 43:19b, "and rivers in the desert."
A place where I learned that God CAN, even when I cannot.
A place where I learned that He is truly alive!
Within the walls of 2100 I met an inmate who had been in High Power for over 7 years. For over 7 years she had been confined to a small module inside an even smaller cell. Only allowed outside of her cell one hour per day, not outside to a yard, but restricted to movement inside the module. To take a shower, to stretch, to function in somewhere other than a jail cell. I often think of these women and wonder how they survive for such long periods of time without exposure to the sun and fresh air. With limited exposure to the human touch and face to face conversation.
I can recall short conversations with an inmate on the lower tier of one of these four modules. They would be short conversations, always in passing, but always about the things of the Lord. Then I began to hear from the Senior Chaplain words of encouragement from an inmate located in 2100. This particular inmate wanted my husband and I to know that she was praying for us. We were humbled. I began to wonder about this person that was seeking God on our behalf and I too began to pray for her. In the Summer of 2014 the Senior Chaplain had relayed a message to me from this inmate. She had a dream that I was speaking at a women's conference. She wanted me to know that she was praying for me. Little did she know it was the desire of my heart. In September of that same year the Lord revealed to me that I would be given a chance to speak at a women's conference behind the walls of Chino State Prison. I must confess, no one knew of what the Lord was about to do. In fact, not even the group who had organized the event. Due to last minute changes and one of the speakers not being cleared to enter the facility I was given a chance to speak. It was one of the most powerful messages I have ever uttered. It was nothing of me, but all of God.
Through this woman God gave me hope. Hope that the work of the Lord is never done in vain. That the preaching of the Gospel and the laboring for souls does not always fall on deaf ears. That even in this day and age people can be saved. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Through this woman God taught me that He is very much still alive and working. Not only can men be saved, but they can be transformed. "BUT YOU," as the Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesian Church, "were once dead in your trespasses and sin." (Ephesians 2:1) And yet the Scripture continues on with an even greater exhortation...
"BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" Ephesians 2:4-5
What a momentous declaration this is! The contrast that we see in the statement "BUT YOU" versus that which we see in these two small words.... "BUT GOD". What we see is a changed life. One redeemed from their sins. One who has been given a second chance at life. One which has been made whole and knew again. Just as the Scripture so beautifully proclaims, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (1 Corinthians 5:17). A life, a soul, a human being who has been reconciled to God. This gift of salvation. This gift of grace and mercy. This gift of eternal life. This gift of love. This gift of a redeemed and regenerated life that can only truly be understood when you are able to see it with your own eyes. Experience it in your own heart. Now I understand why Paul so admittedly professed to the Church of Corinth, "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (1 Corinthians 5:20-21)
Because of this woman in 2100, this redeemed and reconciled life I met behind the walls of High Power, in a cell about the size of my restroom; Because of her I now understand why God's message burns so heavily in my heart! He is alive! He is truly alive! He can take even the most wretched of sinners, like me, and make a man whole again. And THIS is why we labor for the Gospel. Not because they are vain words needing to convince man of an empty message, BUT because they are living words that can revive a man's soul. Give a man a second chance at life, more so, grant a man the gift of eternal life. THIS is why we need to take serious the calling of God upon our lives as ambassadors. We have been called to be men that are willing to plead and implore to the lost on our hands and knees, not only as representatives of Christ, but as Christ Himself is speaking through us: TO BE RECONCILED TO GOD. To be saved. To be healed. To be transformed. To be given a chance to live and breath apart from the confines of Satan himself.
Behind the walls of a Century Regional Detention Center, the largest women's jail in the United States, in the heart of Lynwood, California, in High Power, where most would consider exists women that could never be saved or transformed I met a woman of God. One who has learned what it means to walk with the Lord even while in chains. Through this woman God has taught me the power of prayer and the power of His Word. And because of this woman, two small but powerful words will forever be burned in my soul...BUT GOD....
There is no end to what can exist after those two small words.
A transformed life.
A reconciled marriage.
A body raised from the dead.
A healed soul.
A mountain moved.
Never forget, where there is darkness, dead ends, and endless chasms lies these two words...BUT GOD... there is no end to His power. No end to His love.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a group of women who have been homegirls since they were young girls running the calles of Norwalk. It was a short meeting, one in passing. One that lasted but only a few minutes. Yet, in that short time, made a lasting impact on my soul.
I was fascinated being in the midst of these women. I listened intently to their casual conversations. Shooting the breeze as only close homegirls can do. Back and forth, a word here, a word there. I had a sense that I was amongst women who knew what it was to survive the barrio life, what it felt like to be scarred by the ways of the calles, and what it meant to come out still standing. I had nothing but respect as I found myself in their company. Not only because of who they were or where they came from, but more so, what they came out of. I was taught from a young age to always respect those who came before me, to talk very little, and to pay attention to what is being said. Because from these words come nuggets of wisdom that one could easily miss if he is not observant. That is why King Solomon so wisely said in Proverbs 10:19, "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking; But he who restrains his lips is wise."
As a Chaplain in the Los Angeles County Women's Jail I come across a lot of gente, some young, some old, some broken and stripped by life, some just beginning a new life in Christ. There's a homegirl in the module that I minister in that I like to shoot the breeze with and most often talk about the things of the Lord together. She's from a suburb of LA. She was born in the neighborhood and I suspect lives by its rules. Recently she shared with me that one of the homeboys from the neighborhood was shot and killed. She was visibly broken and upset. We prayed together and sought the Lord for peace and comfort.
The next week she comes back as I am setting up for Bible Study and tells me, "Hey, Chaplain Hernandez, it was my birthday yesterday."
As I was unraveling the chords for the microphone I said, "Oh yeah? Well happy birthday. How old did you turn?"
"38," she tells me.
"Whaaat?," I respond, "I'm a year older than you." And I smile.
She stops and turns around and says, "You know what Chaplain Hernandez?"
I too stop, and stand upright to give my full attention to her, "What's that?"
"Me and you, we should be happy," She says.
"Why's that?" I ask her.
"Because most of the homegirls never make it to our age. And if they do, most of them are spent out of their minds."
It took me a second to respond to her. It took the breath right out of me. What a heavy thought that was. What a heavy burden that is to carry. What a very poignant statement she made in a matter of seconds.
"You're right!" I said, "Praise God." I was too taken back to say anything more.
In the midst of meeting these women who once ran the streets of Norwalk, that statement flooded my mind and bled through every recess of my soul. The women that stood before me were women that had survived this cruel trick we call life. The very few who have fought the battle and have come out alive, even more so, sane. I was taken back by that moment. And reminded of that short conversation between myself and that inmate. Behind the battle scars we carry, both seen and unseen, come a flood of hurt, pain, fear, joy, and even happiness at times. Behind every scar lies a word of wisdom and sometimes a world of regret. These scars bear witness of who we are and what the world has done to mold who we are or maybe who we once were.
Never think for a minute that Job did not bear the scars of his trials, his tribulations, his losses, and his pains. Even when his blessings were returned ten-fold, never think for a minute that these scars did not remain. He had become a different man. "I had only heard about you before," Job said,"But now I have seen you with my own eyes." (Job 42:5) Seeing God changes a man. But what I have come to realize is that the clearest I have ever been able to see God were in the darkest of times. Perhaps it is because the thicker the darkness, the easier it becomes to spot even the smallest glimpse of light. One cannot learn to know or understood God in a most intimate of ways apart from having to bear the scars of life. Scars make us who we are and are able to mold us into all that God desires us to be. They are reminders of battles we have lost and victories we have won. Reminders of places that we should never return to and places that God, only by His hand, has taken us out of.
Scars bear witness that there is yet HOPE.
Scars testify that life still remains. And where life remains, there is hope. A dead man cannot scar, he can only decay. Rotting flesh does not scar, only the living can scar. Why? Because scars are signs of healing, of broken flesh that was reconciled to itself. This, my friend, is why Christ still bore His scars long after the resurrection and still bears them today. This is why in John 20:27 Christ spoke to Thomas, who doubted His resurrection and said “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
The scars of Christ were a reminder to the Disciples and HIs followers of the days and hours leading up to His resurrection. Can you not help but buckle under the thought of the fear, the pain, the remorse, the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the deep-seeded sorrow leading up to His crucifixion?. And the emptiness, loneliness, hopelessness, and sheer terror as His body lay lifeless in the grave? Did they even have a faint hope that He might rise from the dead? Probably not. It was probably very few or none, for that matter, that understood Him as He spoke of His resurrection prior to His death. "Destroy this temple," Jesus said in John 2:19, "and in three days I will raise it up again." All hope had been lost. The One who they believed to be God, their Savior, their Messiah had died. Can you imagine the fear and hopelessness that gripped their souls?
And yet, Christ...
even in the midst of such a momentous event, willingly continued to bear the scars as a reminder of His love for us. His undying, undeniable love for us. A love that was willing to suffer and die on a cross. To bear the pain and ugliness of sin upon His shoulders for us. "This is love," as the Bible describes, "not that we loved Him, but that He first loved us." And even more so, "That He sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for us." (1 John 4:10) That's love. Being willing and ready to die a long and painful death for someone who themselves were in the wrong. Knowing that most would remain that way even after the gift was offered up.
As we enter in to the Easter season, the Passion Week, let us not take lightly the scars that we bear. Understand that we were made in God's image, as He too was scarred. And yet, not by His own transgressions, but for ours. Think back at all the scars that you bear, physically and emotionally, and ask God to show you His hand in each of those. It's amazing the insight you will gain as you begin to see your scars, not for what they are, but for what they represent- HOPE. You are alive and can be healed. You are alive and can be reconciled and restored. Saved and made whole again.
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, BE RECONCILED TO GOD. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Burn the ships! We're not going back! Leaving an eternal mark on this world, one calle at a time.