“Are you willing to stay, but preparing to go, or are you willing to go, but actually preparing to stay?”
- George Verwer
Heaven Invades Human Hell
Walking into the dismal gray "Sally-Port", we were suddenly exposed to the desperate voices and the revolting stench of refuse, decay and unbathed bodies. We were willingly descending into what seemed like human hell. Going through the "check-in" had been an experience enough. It was a bit unnerving, handing over our precious ID cards, only to be given a "post-it" note with a number scribbled on it as evidence that you were only a visitor in the Tijuana Prison. I'll never forget the Mexican guard who sat stoically typing our names and numbers on a pre- WorldWar II typewriter, as others stamped the underside of our forearms with huge black inkpads. A few more checkpoints, a few more guards, and whoosh, we were ushered straight into the mainstream, inmates moving freely about, bumping up against us, some asking for "Dollares", drugs, or who knows what else.
But almost at the very same moment, we were suddenly surrounded by other inmates, gently speaking to us in Spanish, and calmly yet firmly directing us, moving us toward one of the cell-blocks. "Agua Viva" (Living Water) was the name of one of ten churches in this Prison, and we were their guests. Having met us at the "Sally-Port", they now led us deeper and deeper into the Prison; a labyrinth of passageways, alleys, Mexican blankets, scraps of wood, corrugated metal, and men - everywhere. A place that was built to hold 2,000 people, was now incarcerating 8,000. As we passed the prison dump, one of the ten or so men who "lived" in the dump, having seen us look with amazement as he foraged through the rubbish looking for something to eat beyond the gruel that was served daily, remarked, "Well, a guy's got to do something to survive, eh?"
All of a sudden, we were whisked out of the crowded corridors where men seemed to be on an endless treadmill, and then taken down a cell block where instantly things were different. Agua Viva had been living, meeting, praying and breaking bread here, winning the entire block cell by cell. The walls were painted white - a stark contrast to the drab gray and brown of the prisons walls, interrupted occasionally by the dirty stains of God knows what. They escorted us to one of their cells, where they proudly sat us down in some white patio chairs, and began discussing what came next with Linda, a Chaplin in this Prison, and Martin, a Mexican Pastor.
Sitting there in the cell block Agua Viva, Linda then bounced up, and asked us if we would like a "tour" of the prison, while other inmates setup the sound system and keyboard. Immediately two inmates took off with us. I asked one of them what his name was. He said, "To you Guillermo, my name is Gabriel." These inmates stuck to us like glue, guiding us, helping us, and even pushing us at times, as we made our way through the human crowded chaos, and went block to block, through the maze of passageways, and visited the "old folks home" where the elderly prisoners looked after each other, and slept on cots piled three high. They took us to the lock-down area, the isolation areas, and even the places where those who wanted would go through drug rehab. The churches in the prison would help with that too, but without the drugs and facilities, the only thing they could help with was "cold-turkey".
But nothing prepared us for the family section: a musty humid enclosed area, dampened on one end by leaking toilets, with children running around and mothers trying to either rest in the heat of the day, or do whatever women had to do in the prison to survive. You see, in this prison, the only way you get looked after is if someone outside the prison is sending money, food, and clothes in for you. If you don't have that, or your family can't survive on the outside without you, then you move in to the prison too. Linda had started a Vacation Bible School with the children, and Martin was trying to raise the money for an orphanage to help look after the children, for without intervention, these precious little ones are being discipled into a wicked world of vice and sin. Sometimes a mother or father would be so drugged out that they could not protect their kids from those who would be more than happy to prey on them. And sometimes the mothers in there would be raped by other prisoners who would sneak into the family section.
Still reeling from what we had just seen, we were then ushered into the "courtyard", what seemed like the inner sanctum of this labyrinth called a prison, where there was a basketball court, surrounded by what looked like a three story shanty-town fresh out of a "Mad-Max" movie set. Men were living in accommodations depending on how "wealthy" they were, and strewn around the ground level were taco stands, a mini "AM-PM", and various other cottage industries. It occurred to us that what we were really in, was a city within a city, where everything was run by the inmates. No guards were to be seen, and everyone seemed to belong to one group or another, and everyone seemed to know the "rules".
My keyboard was set up at one end of the court, and so was a decent sound system! Martin was greeting the different pastors from the different prison churches, and Linda was being a social butterfly, going around and welcoming the inmates as they began to assemble for the concert. Blankets and bedrolls were pushed toward the far end (those who can't "afford" a house or cell simply sleep on the court), and Martin addressed the 500 inmates or so who stood all around the court. He welcomed them and then he prayed. He then motioned to me, and I started the concert. I was blessed and shocked as the men stood and clapped to the beat, and encouraged me again and again as I sang and went through a few numbers from my new CD at the time, Every Nation Tribe and Tongue. It mattered not that I couldn't sing in Spanish, because Charlie, Martin's associate, translated the lyrics as I finished each song. I brought greetings to them from Christians around the world, and they applauded and cheered as I shared where God was at work in the world, and the privilege they could have of being part of His big family. I shared my testimony, and just as I went back to the keyboard to do the second half of the concert, the power went out.
Of course we had no idea where the electricity was coming from anyway! There was quite a scuffling going on as they desperately tried to get it re-connected. Add to this a former inmate who had come back in to see his buddies: he had gotten hold of some money, and just started passing out 800 one dollar bills! This almost started a riot!
All of a sudden, one of the Mexican women who had "joined" us, stood up, and facing the mob, raised both her hands toward them, and began to pray earnestly. Immediately, two things happened. One, the mob quieted down straight away. Secondly, two "floors" up, and right behind the end of the court where I was playing, two inmates who had been watching the goings-on, motioned to the sound-man to pass up our extension cord. They had been playing their music up there, for we had heard it playing between my songs. But that had stopped early on, and from Teri's vantage point, they had been intently watching and listening to us for almost the entire time. The extension cord was passed up, and the concert went on.
When I was finished, Martin came, spoke a small sermon, and then gave an invitation. Over 25 inmates came forward, and knelt on the hot asphalt of the basketball court, surrendering their lives to Jesus. Teri and the rest of our team came up and prayed for these brave men, some of whom were openly weeping as they knelt there. When Martin was finished, there was a loud clap, as the Christian inmates welcomed their new brothers. New Testaments were passed out, and there were hugs and handshakes all over the place.
I turned around to find the guys who had let us plug into their electricity. I saw them immediately, two floors up, leaning over a very nice rod iron fence, which formed the outside boundary for what appeared to be the veranda of a penthouse! I mouthed a "Muchas Gracias" to them, and they motioned to me to come up to their pad. I turned to Linda who was standing nearby, and asked her to see what they wanted. She replied, "They probably want money for using their power!" But she moved a bit closer to them, as we were both quite hemmed in by the crowd now forming on the basketball court. She shouted up to them, they shouted something down, and she came back to me with a much different look on her face. "They want you to go up and pray for them," she said. I replied, "Are you OK with that?" She said yes, and we started toward the stairs. Immediately, one of the Mexican inmate-pastors attached himself to Linda and I, so we went up as a threesome.
To get up to their place, there was an enclosed metal spiral staircase, which with every circumference brought you up one level of the shantytown built around the basketball court. At each level, the enclosure opened up to reveal drugged-out men, crowded into what appeared to be sleeping quarters only high enough to sit up in, and the smell of their body odor and the heat and humidity made us thankful that we could continue to rise up the staircase. As we arrived on the veranda, we were amazed at the beauty of this "house", which looked out over the entire center of the prison. Besides the veranda, it was one big room, with a smaller one at the back that was their private toilet and shower. Their room was immaculately decorated, with a big TV, stereo, refrigerator, and kitchenette. We stood by their bed, which even had a color-coordinated bedspread on it, to go with the green, white and black decor of their pad.
I asked them what they would like me to do for them. Linda started to translate, but they responded in perfect English, that they wanted to be free, and they wanted liberty from this prison. Linda jumped in on that, and said, "You really need Jesus, don't you?" They replied that they were religious, and believed in Jesus, and this was evidenced by the crucifix with Jesus hanging on it, as well as a "Sacred Heart" picture, nicely framed hanging on one of their walls. I took my queue from that, and asked them if they knew the difference between religion and relationship. They said "no", so I began to give them the Gospel, explaining the difference between intellectual assent, and real trust, and demonstrated on their bed the difference between believing it would hold me, and then actually sitting on it. I told them that Jesus came to offer us a loving, freeing relationship, as well as forgiveness for all we have done wrong. As I was winding it up, Linda asked them if they would like to receive Jesus into their hearts. I added that they needed to surrender their entire lives to Him. They said yes, that is what they would like to do. I said, "Great, lets get down on our knees here and pray". As we knelt on their beautiful Mexican tiles, they said timidly that they did not know how to pray, but could I please pray for them. I said that no, this was something that they needed to do for themselves before God, but that I could lead them, and they could repeat after me if it was the true desire of their hearts. I promised to pray for them as well. They agreed, and we bowed our heads. The Mexican inmate-pastor stood up, extended his arms over us, and went off into fervent Spanish. I led these two men, and they gave their broken lives to Jesus.
After we were done, we stood. Linda and I and the inmate Pastor gave them hugs, and Linda gave them a New Testament. We encouraged them strongly to go to this pastor's fellowship at Agua Viva, and I told them that I would make sure the some of my CDs got to them. They were so grateful, and I believe that what went on there was quite genuine.
We were interrupted by Martin and "Gabriel", shouting up from the courtyard, informing us that we had better move to the gate, or be locked in for another two hours. We said our good-byes, and went down the spiral staircase, marveling at what had just happened. As we got to the bottom, some of the team asked us if we knew who those two guys were. I said "no", although Linda may have known. We were told that they were Drug-Lords, in fact, two of the most powerful in the entire prison - certainly the most wealthy. I begged Martin to go back and follow up on them, and He agreed. And as we were led toward the gate, past the dump, past the children, past those sleeping on the concrete, and all the filth and stench, I knew God had been there. God was there. The God who touches lepers and prostitutes, who visits those in jail, and redeems criminals while hanging on the cross. A God who is neither surprised nor repulsed, but who embraces those who will come to Him, all who are weary, heavy-laden, imprisoned in spirit and in body.
I don't think I'll ever forget what I saw or experienced that hot July 3rd, 2002. And any freedoms which were celebrated across the border the next day without the knowledge of Him who grants real freedom in the first place, were at best shallow in comparison to the chains that fell off those precious souls in the Prison this afternoon.
More Than Willing was one of those songs that just kind of appeared one day on a massive West-Coast Tour I was doing from Bellingham, Washington down to San Diego, California. My band and I were staying near Salem, Oregon, and there was an old piano in our accommodations. I remember sitting down to it, and this song just rolled out. Jill McAfee found a cool harmony, and boom, More Than Willing was born. Jill ended up leaving the USA, and moved to Italy where she embarked on an international worship leading ministry in many nations where the Christian workers only had cassettes or CDs to worship to – she would go where there wasn’t a worship leader, and bring the sweetness of the atmosphere that is engendered when someone sits down and rests in the lap of the Father Heart of God. Jill has an unnerving way of getting you “straight in”, and has been known to say that “to lead worship is to host well the presence of God”. Jill rocks. And she wrote the tag at the end – no surprise – it just came out of her in the studio as she was laying down the BGVs, and Josh and I were like, “Yeah! That stays on there!” Thanks Jill.
“No more talk or endless speaking, no empty words that have no meaning – I will go for you.”
- Jill McAfee
Bill Drake – Keyboards
Joe Ricciardi – Electric Guitar
Travis McAfee – Acoustic Guitar
Joe Simpson – Bass
Josh Fisher – Drums, programming
Jill McAfee – BGVs
More Than Willing
Past the host of good intentions, past the burdens of my heart
Past the vows, that men so easily make
Past my psalmic declarations and convictions that I hold
Lord I've come to give myself away
Here am I, send me to the nations
Take my life, and spend me as You will
Break in me, a heart that beats for You
A soul that speaks Your truth, a vessel You can use
So I say, let Your Kingdom come
And I pray, let your will be done
For I am more than willing
There's a fragrance in costly worship, there's an offering I must make
There's a self that must now be denied
There's a purpose worth the living, there's a world left to save
So I will go as You've commanded in Your name
I am crucified in Christ, and it's no longer just my life
But it's Christ Who is drawing every breath
But I wrestle with the cost, to go and die for the lost
And drink the cup of obedience unto death
So I say, let Your Kingdom come
And I pray, let your will be done
So I say, let Your Kingdom come
For Lord, I am more than willing