PHOTO CREDIT: LiveMoreStudios.com
You are loved. You have great worth. God is with you. You are not forgotten.
Simple statements and deeply powerful. They reach beneath the chatter and the lies bombarding us from outside and from within. They reach to our core, our heart and soul, and create “holy magic.” And they are embodied — dare I say incarnated — in the team of people who brought the Timothy’s Gift Christmas Tour 2021 to Florida the week after Thanksgiving.
That team of 20 people — 9 of whom had never done this before — brought their talents, gifts and beings into 10 correctional institutions and immersed themselves in the experience. They radiated the love of God which was received as genuine and profound. In the process we were impacted in ways difficult to articulate. We too were changed, and a deep passion for this ministry and deep bonds among us emerged in a few short days.
This was the 25th major Timothy’s Gift Tour since 2012. It was my 10th. There are many similarities with other tours — and also unique aspects that made it different than those that preceded it. I begin with snapshots of moments.
Snapshot #1: This was repeated at each of the 10 locations — inmates standing and singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” a cappella with our vocalists. The fervid singing of “O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him…”echoed in the room and mystically united all our hearts. It was the final song of a singalong of Christmas songs, a mix of secular and fun classics and traditional carols that transitioned to the rest of the program which was more personal and spiritual.
Snapshot #2: A mixture of affirmation, tears, smiles and more were on the faces of those listening to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sung a cappella at the conclusion of communion. We saw this and felt more — particularly to the repeated phrase “Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart.”
Snapshot #3: The entire team stood in a dorm which houses the faith-based program with the 60 or so inmates sitting on their bunks and shared music. Our vocalists sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and 4 of their praise team sang a couple of worship songs.
Snapshot #4: At our final concert, when those present were invited to introduce themselves, an officer gave his name and said that he loved his job and these guys and that they had made him a better person. He also received communion — from JC whom he had watched over at the work camp when he was incarcerated there! What a God moment!
How This Tour Was Different
Tim, for whom Timothy’s Gift is named, was part of this tour, making it unique among all the 25 tours. JC and David who had also served time in Florida prisons were part of the team as well. At 8 of the 10 locations, this was not known ahead of time. The exceptions were the 2 locations where the 3 had served their time, and the publicity posters had included their photos.
As the revelation was made — one at a time spread through the program — that these 3 formerly incarcerated men were part of our team, the responses were palpable. Applause, sometimes cheers and standing up, always a feeling of surprise — even amazement — greeted them as JC, Tim and David each shared some of his story and words of encouragement. It elevated the substance of our message to another level.
Snapshot #5: David, Tim and Josh standing together in front of each audience leading them in declaring boldly “I am loved, I have great worth, God is with me, I am not forgotten.” Standing tall, placing their hands on their heart. Voices booming, claiming that for themselves now and forever.
Another notable aspect of this tour was that 4 of the 10 institutions we visited have “incentivized” programs for all or part of their population. Some are specifically ”faith and character” programs. Those who apply and are accepted into these programs have access to a variety of opportunities to help them prepare for life beyond prison — or for those serving life sentences, for making their time meaningful and productive. In one location, we were able to tour the lounge with TV and games and workout/gym area and then the faith-based and veterans dorms. And 8 of the inmates who serve as chapel clerks ate lunch from the canteen with the team.
I cannot say for sure that there is a causal effect, but we observed a correlation between the tone and demeanor of many of those we saw related to whether it was one of the “incentivized” sites or not. There were more people reacting to parts of the program with tears and sobs in the settings where these things were not available. There was more of a sense of wellbeing and community and hope where they were available. One inmate enthusiastically touted his dorm as the best to us — a sure sign that it is a positive, healing and forward-focused atmosphere.
Community and Caring
Demonstrations of caring and supportive relationships among those we visit always touch me. Here are two examples on this tour.
Snapshot #6: As 3 female vocalists sang a tender “Happy Birthday” song to a man whose birthday was that week, he began choking up. After sitting down he began sobbing. Others were touched by that and what followed and soon many were in tears. One person got permission to leave the room and came back with a handful of paper towels and took them over to those who needed them to dry their eyes. Others put hands and arms on the shoulders of those near them. We saw their care for each other so clearly.
Snapshot #7: We visited one women’s institution on our tour, and all those invited to the concert were within 18 months of being released. Energy and exuberance radiated from them from the time they walked into the room. As they were invited to introduce themselves, one woman would introduce others around her, and they identified the group they were part as they move toward release. This continued with cheers for each group. The affection among them was so clear.
Each concert ended this way: communion followed by “You’ll Never Walk Alone;” the affirmation of the 4 statements led by David, Tim and Josh; and “The Prayer” sung as a benediction. As the words of that last selection resounded in the room, we were all lifted beyond to another place, a higher dimension.
“…Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe. A world where pain and sorrow will be ended and every heart that’s broken will be mended. And we’ll remember we are all God’s children, reaching out to touch you, reading to the sky…..”
Each of us who were part of this tour has his/her own highlights, insights, and experiences that will continue to impact us. That’s true of the team and of every person we encountered along the way. For me, the week can be described as miraculous — “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention” or “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.”
Or it could be called magical — “extraordinarily pleasant, enjoyable, or exciting.” Clearly an experience that transcends the ordinary. It could be called magically miraculous or, my personal favorite, holy magic! It was a magical week, an impactful week, a transcendent week. And I am deeply grateful.
For more information about this ministry: https://www.timothysgift.com
I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives — regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age — the next stage of their lives — to be the best it can be. Follow me on Twitter! Follow me on Instagram! Follow me on Pinterest! Follow me on Facebook! Visit my Etsy Shop!