The crusade started out with the rally on Sunday. Our family sang a few songs as a part of the service for the day.
As usual, we are not able to get any pictures of the prisons or our time there. So here are a few pictures from other activities throughout the week! Scroll down to the bottom to read testimonies from several of our family members, about our actual time in the state prisons.
Our schedules during the days were open, and then early/mid afternoon we would head out to the various prisons we were scheduled for. A typical prison service would then take up a good portion of the day, usually from 3-9pm. (driving time, check in/security check, setup, sound check, service time, tear down, and check out)
During the days, we took advantage of the hotel lobby and set up our "offices" for school + office work.
Above, Hudson enjoys a chess game with a friend, one the sons of another one of the family bands there.
Potluck lunch with these fun girls from two of the other bands. We loved meeting lots of new people at the crusade again this year!
Mom + I enjoyed lunch together at Cracker Barrel one day before heading into our prison.
A few of the dads, exchanging stories and ideas!
Mom with a friend at the WeCare headquarters.
Late night hashing with these kindred spirits. (another one of the family bands)
From theology, to music, to marketing, to relationships...you'd better believe we got it covered. =)
So thankful for the absolute GEMS of people that God has placed in our lives through our traveling.
I will close with a few "prison stories" from family members. You can also read a little more here about my person thoughts from the crusade week. Come back soon for a recap of the Gospel Express crusade and more stories from other Bontragers!
Testimony from Josh (19):
At the beginning of our last prison service in Alabama, I sensed a spirit of heaviness among the inmates. Part way through the service, I recited Psalm 27. I don't know why I picked Psalm 27—I just felt like the Lord wanted me to recite that Psalm.
As I recited, the atmosphere in the room changed. Several of the inmates quoted along with me, and many of them smiled and shouted “Amen” during the recitation. Later, I found out that a group of the inmates were currently studying Psalm 27 together! That's why they were so excited!
After the service, one of the inmates shared his testimony with the group. He said, “Before I was saved I never cried. When I was sentenced to prison, my brother cried, yet I never shed a tear. When the Lord saved me, I asked Him to soften my heart and give me tears. And tonight when Psalm 27 was recited, I wept. This evening, the Lord gave me tears. Praise the Lord".
Testimony from Marlin:
For me personally, God did a work in my life at the ReNew Hope crusade this year. I have never felt as much compassion for the men and women in prison as I did this year. I believe this is for two reasons.
1) I realized the huge blessing and foundation of being raised in a Christian home. Even though it was not perfect, I had role models of parents who did their best to apply Biblical principles in how they raised their family.
2) The crisis in America has never been more real to me. The breakdown of the family unit is unprecedented. I was speaking with one of the prison wardens who was also a believer, and he told me that for the men and women in prison, the grandparents used to take care of their (the inmates') children while they were incarcerated. Now, the warden said, the grandparent generation isn't even able or willing to care for the children because they are heavily involved in drugs and alcohol, too. It is as though there is no one left to stand in the gap for these children of the incarcerated. And so the cycle is being repeated again and again.
I was reminded through all this that in spite of all the negative effects of culture that we see in prison, God's ways still work. I think of a 65 year old inmate I talked to, who came to Christ a year ago. He told me that when he got saved, his life totally changed. He had already been incarcerated for forty years when he came to know the Lord, but he told me that he had a praying mama who never stopped praying for him. // I prayed with and talked to another guy, this one a 19-year old young man in the SHOCK unit. He told me, "The pressure in here is just so intense." I pointed him to Jesus and ached for the hurt and betrayal that he has gone through in his life.
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30