Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots
It seems that a long dormant component of the Phillips Talbot Global Ministry Fellowship is finally being revived! TEEZ has been involved in prison ministries for many years, serving as a source of education, pastoral care, and daily needs donations. In recent years there have been complications for the fellows’ involvement in this vital part of TEEZ’s mission, largely due to an institutional fear that U.S. Americans would make scathing reports about conditions (If only they knew the horrific realities of mass incarceration and our willful ignorance of the carceral state in the U.S.!). Permission was thus denied or tied up en route to the necessary permit granters.
My office mates and I have made a concerted effort this time around to get my employment permit expedited and to talk to the necessary officials to get a letter of permission to enter the prisons. A couple of months ago this effort paid off, and I was granted access to serve with TEEZ in this capacity.
This past Saturday I finally had the opportunity to present these documents at the prison nearest to Kitwe and enter. TEEZ was invited to a graduation ceremony for inmates who had completed a certificate in pastoral ministry from Upper Room Ministries. This is not a program in which we are involved, but they wanted all partner organizations present to celebrate this great accomplishment. It was at once startling, challenging, and inspiring to see the mixture of orange jumpsuits, clerical collars, and graduation suits and ties. The preacher rocked it with a message based on Paul, Silas, and Timothy singing into being an earthquake that destroyed their prison cells (she had the room in Spirit-filled uproar). Families celebrated. This, my friends, was CHURCH.
Afterwards I had the opportunity to visit the women’s prison that shares the campus. Previously the PTGMF would lead TEEZ courses here. It is not a given, but there is a possibility that I will do some teaching in the near future. While visiting I did my typical short greeting in Bemba. I will never grow tired of espousing the deep value of language-learning for a ministry of presence or even for simply being in relationship with people! We did not have much time together, but we indeed connected at a beautiful level. Hopefully we will all get to know each other between now and September!
Please keep this ministry in your prayers. Please explore advocacy for people experiencing incarceration in whichever context you find yourself. Please fight against systemically unjust carceral states. Please remember the imprisonments of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, Timothy, Silas, and many more. Please imagine the possibilities for a church in which orange jumpsuits, black shirts, and white collars are interchangeable (and all the ways those mixtures can come about!).