Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Behind the Walls of Gladiator Camp

Are you ready to stand up and fight?

Don't Wimp Out!

Why are you here?

How are you going to respond?

These are just a few of the questions/statements that were posed at "Gladiator Camp" this past weekend. What is this "Gladiator Camp"? In short, it's a nickname given to the prison that twenty-some men and myself spent four jam packed days of "reality" in. The nickname was given to the prison due to the amount of fights and altercations between the offenders behind the walls. The average age inside the facility is around 24, so there are a lot of egos that need to be stroked, and to these young men fighting seems to be the best way to do just that.

Enough about the name though. Let's get to reality.

The purpose of the visit was to bring a program called, Brothers In Blue (BIB), into the system. BIB brings offenders and brothers from the outside world together to spend time worshiping Jesus and hopefully answering some questions and steering others in the right direction. It is a totally voluntary event for the offenders and a privilege for the brothers from the outside.

Starting on Thursday, our days began by entering the facility at 7am and walking out of the doors around 8pm. The time in between there was spent witnessing some of the greatest things my eyes have ever seen. Which was hard because I think my eyes were filled with tears for over half of the weekend.
I can't tell you what touched me the most or what stands out as the biggest event of the weekend. There were so many awesome things that happened to all of the men inside that gymnasium turned chapel. Inside the gym the offenders and outsiders were put into small groups. Within my group there were drug dealers, addicts, burglars and some that never even mentioned their crime. I didn't care. I didn't need to know. They knew that. They understood that I wasn't there to judge them. And in turn they weren't there to judge me. Inside that gymnasium we were on an even playing field.

I entered the weekend knowing as little about what would happen as they did. We were one in the same. By the end of the weekend we were even more of the same.

We cried together as my brother-in-law poured out his heart and talked about his likelihood of losing his vision. We cried even more as he was anointed for healing by one of the pastors on hand.

We hugged and sang our hearts out as we sang a popular Hispanic song worshiping Jesus.

We sat in awe as outsider after outsider dropped life lesson after life lesson on us. Some of the most unreal stories that left everyone in shock and tears.

We danced, and did little kid actions, to a song raising Jesus' name. This is probably one of the most memorable moments of the weekend for me. As this song played, thirty some of the most hardened men I have ever met danced and sang like school kids doing a performance for their families. They yelled, laughed, hugged and danced. All this as prisoners passing by the gym looked in the window with confused looks. INCREDIBLE!!

We witnessed a first ever baptism for the BIB at Gladiator Camp.

We were privileged to share the experience of asking Jesus into the lives of at least 5 offenders. WOW!!

We sat in disbelief as an offender ended the weekend with his testimony. He left the room speechless as he emptied his heart out and was then embraced by the men that he once hated. Amazing!!

You might notice that I started a lot of sentences with "WE". That is because it was a WE WEekend. My new brothers and I experienced all of God's glory together. And it was wild.

I can't begin to tell you how amazing it was, maybe you got a sense of it. But I have not even come close to doing it justice. I would love to share it all but it would be impossible and writing it here would diminish its power.

Behind those bars is a brotherhood that gets forgotten by most. WE drive past them and most give them no thought. I was apprehensive, scared, nervous and very leery when I entered those walls. I didn't know what to expect or who I could trust. I no longer care about any of that. I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known. I met kids that have never grown up and don't know how. I met men that are in search of something bigger and better than themselves. And some of them found HIM!!

I do have one confession to make though. As one pastor was giving a talk, my mind wandered. I couldn't pay attention. I had something weighing on me. I needed to write something down. So while he gave his 3o minute talk, I wrote. The following is what happened on paper.

Before I share that though I would like you to consider a few things:

Are you going to Wimp Out?

Why are you here?
How are you going to respond?

Are you ready to stand up and fight?

Brothers In Blue

Because you chose to be here

Right here in this place

Only you can make the decision

To feel God's Holy Grace

How much he really loves you

Even though it may not feel so

Really good things are all around you

So let the blessings flow

In life we have our obstacles,

and those things that hold us down

Now is your chance to stand up

and leave Jesus with your crown

Bring HIS message with you

Love, and what is Good

Unto you has been given a family

Enjoy your new brotherhood. (BIB, 2009)

Peace and Love.


  1. Incredible, Jon.

    I love that acrostic. And I felt so privileged to hear it come from your own mouth during our Sunday night (and early morning) debriefing.

    Jon, there is no doubt that you blessed these guys immensely with your leadership and your humility and your incredible sense of humor.

    I'm blessed to call you a friend.

    Thank you for your Kingdom Work. And I'm so glad to hear that you were blessed in the process.

    You rock ... 'cause God is rockin' in ya.

    (And your wife and kids rock too. A LOT.)

    We love you guys.

  2. Jon, thanks for sharing this! It is uplifting for believers every where to hear these things; it's one of the ways that God challenges us to not "wimp out" and to keep on keepin on!

    So grateful you were able to be a part of this. I can't help but wonder what God has planned for you - you could have taken an "easier" route and attended a Cursillo weekend...hmm.

    It is humbling being part of something so "big" isn't it? If we could see everything that God is up to it would blow our minds - literally!

    God bless you, Jon. I know he has plans for you - I feel it in my spirit.