Nicaragua 1997. Beads of sweat rolled down my back and legs. Outside the lone window, on the rooftop, were armed guards manning their posts. The stench from a couple dozen filthy prisoners saturated the air of the tiny second floor room.
The first reel of The Jesus Film was over. Nervously, I cleared a path through the men until I reached the front; I was the half-time show. There were no musical instruments and no interpreter, so I sang the only song I hoped would strike a chord: “Amazing Grace”. Trying desperately to maintain composure, I did the only thing I knew to do – close my eyes and sing.
The room was eerily quiet until a perplexing sound broke the silence. Too nervous to look, I waited until the last note, then opened my eyes to the most beautiful sight– tear-soaked cheeks in everydirection. I had been hearing the sound of tears pooling on the dirt floor! The Lord showed up and used me just like He had promised five years earlier on the other side of the continent!
Winnipeg, Canada, 1992. I was there to sing. Nothing more, nothing less. When my part was over, I sat down, quietly sighed relief, and got comfortable to enjoy the ministry of a woman named Nancy Fenstermacher. I gathered quickly that Nancy had a special connection with God, and I was eager to observe how God would use her to reach the women who had come.
When Nancy turned her attention toward me, I could not have been more surprised; I did not plan to be on the receiving end of any personal exhortation that day. But the words that Nancy spoke to me that day marked me for life. Here is an excerpt:
I have set before you, daughter, an open door that no man can shut. You shall sing where there are prisons and dungeons. A sound will come out of you that will bring revelation of the Lord Jesus to men who sit in darkness.
Because the meeting was recorded, I was later able to transcribe the message, and I recognized that many of the words were direct quotes from the Bible. Though I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of what was being spoken, Iaccepted that this message was from God and that I was to hold it close to my heart.
For the next five years, I carried the message in my Bible and would often meditate on it and ponder how the prophetic elements might be fulfilled. At times I became discouraged, asking God, “Why isn’t this happening?” I even wondered if I had somehow messed up His “A” plan. Nevertheless, I heeded the words of Habbakuk 2:3: “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
When the opportunity to go to Nicaragua on a missions trip presented itself, I jumped at the chance, though I made absolutely no connection with the words on that yellow sheet of paper in my Bible. There were no plans to sing and no plans to visit prisons. Once in Nicaragua, most days we went door to door inviting people to come see The Jesus Film. After the film, we would mingle among the people, pray, and share our faith.
On our second-to-last night, at the ministry base, I led the team in worship asI had done all week. As the team members were scattering back to their rooms, the leader, Brian, approached me and asked me if I would consider singing at a prison the next day. Reluctant initially, I remembered a promise I made to the Lord that if He would open doors, I would walk through them, so I agreed.
The next morning we prepared to go to the prison. I was a little uneasy with the whole idea; I had never been to a prison, let alone a Nicaraguan Prison! I didn’t know what to expect and I wondered what impact a song could possibly have.
After arriving at the prison, the Warden took us on a tour. Apologizing repeatedly for the deplorable conditions, he walked us down the corridor where the prisoners were housed. We stopped at the first cell and peeked inside the tiny barred window. I was shocked to see several men cooped up, with only a few rays of sunlight streaming in the small window.
As we continued, we passed what I assumed to be an unnoccupied cell because of the total darkness. But when I looked up, I saw the fragile clutches of a man’s hands on the bars. The Warden told us twelve men shared that dark cell. In that instant, the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit and said, “This is a dungeon!”. Then, the words of the prophecy given five years earlier came flooding back: A sound will come out of you that will bring the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ to men who sit in darkness! I started to weep, both for the lost men and in response to God’s remarkable faithfulness to use me.
A few years after my trip to Nicaragua, I received news that made my heart leap again. One of the twenty or so men who encountered Jesus in that upper room was so transformed that he went on to begin a Prison Ministry in Nicaragua after he was released! I never could have imagined that the Lord could ever use me and a song to reach prisoners in Nicaragua, but He did. And today, countless men who sit in darkness in Nicaraguan prisons have echoes of Amazing Grace ringing in their hearts.