Freedom Life Community Choir
By Jim Smith
Freedom Life is looking forward to a great year with many community collaboration projects. The best way for the community to understand a person reentering the community from incarceration – is by understanding each person and their story! I will have to admit, I was rather closed-minded from the bubble I lived in for many years. Being employed full-time in community-style churches, my only true understanding of reentry work was the little I saw that came thru our churches. The churches I served in had tremendous hearts, but there was still a stigma of, “let’s help them and move them on their way”. Since being at Freedom Life, I have come to realize that I personally missed out on many opportunities to integrate reentry community members into my church for the lack of education and understanding of what was really going on. We want our churches and communities to be safe and clean but what we have done is a band-aid in our process and pass those members that are struggling on to the next community or ministry. Freedom Life has some of the most wonderful clients that are going thru reentry. Through interviewing and getting to know so many of them, in so many ways – they ARE exceptional church and community members.
One of the most important resources a reentry client needs is a church and community willing to stand with them. A strong group of Christian men held “Jon” accountable, helped him along, and refused to let him fall back into his old habits.
“Before I went to prison, people all around me were drug dealers and killers,” Jon says. “When I came home from prison, I was in the church mostly. My friends were engineers, lawyers, construction workers—my environment was totally different.”
Jon’s church family could see past his criminal record and acknowledge his God-given potential. And it made a huge difference in how Jon thrived in his second chance at life.
Today, Jon is the pastor of Chicago West Bible Church. In the years since his release, he’s had his fair share of struggles. He can’t tell count how many times his job applications were rejected—he stopped after 67. But even so, he’s managed to pursue both his education and his career as a minister.
He recognizes how his reentry got off on the right foot because he had people who cared about him—but not every returning citizen is so fortunate. Because of this, Jon works hard to advocate for the needs and rights of the formerly incarcerated.
And he believes the Church today should lead the way, particularly when it comes to hospitality. “The Gospel is relational, and it’s uncomfortable because it means you’ve got to see all my mess” “I often say [to Christians] that if you’re not letting a man or woman sit at your [dinner] table, you’re really short-changing the process,” Jon says. “There were people who accepted me into their homes, and there was a plate for me at their dinner table whenever I wanted it,” he explains. Jon adds, “I had never seen a godly family before. I had never seen a man lead his family in prayer. I had never seen a guy act like an idiot and then have to go and ask his wife for forgiveness! But I learned all of that because I was around people enough that I was able to see their [lives].”
“The Gospel is all [relational],” Jon says. “And it’s uncomfortable because it means you’ve got to see all my mess—you’ve got to give access to my heart in very vulnerable ways, but that’s what men and women who are coming home from prison need.”
This story is amazing. At Freedom Life, we have clients that are successful at many local businesses and factories. Many are serving at churches in recovery ministries, as Sunday school teachers, outreach volunteers, and even as peer support teammates in the community.
One method I have chosen to use this year is by starting a community choir. Many churches no longer have choirs or choral programs. This spring we will start the Freedom Life Community Choir, made up of anyone wanting to sing in our communities. There will be 4 rehearsals at FBC Marion’s Fellowship Hall culminating in a concert on May 20. You need to attend at least 3 rehearsals. Tracks and pdfs will be available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org The location of the concert is to be determined after we see the participation and size needs. We will be rehearing several styles of music together from contemporary, evangelical, and gospel.
At each rehearsal, we will also hear the stories of a couple of reentry clients from Freedom Life. They will be sharing how God is moving in their life, and I am sure your heartstrings will get connected. Consider bringing your choir if you are a choral leader. If you are a person that likes to sing and make a joyful noise, please join us. There are no auditions, just have a heart for worship! Everyone is welcome. Song selections include: What a Beautiful Name, My Help, I Call You Faithful and many others.
Jon’s story was taken from www.prisonfellowship.org
Jim Smith is an area Worship Arts Director, He is the Development Director at Freedom Life Ministries, and runs a production company – wjscreativegroup.com
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