The agreement, as we understood it, was to be thirteen men, however as we looked at the classroom filling up we counted twenty two. A brief discussion followed, and our commitment became the twenty two men expectantly sitting in front of us.
Immediately, our minds were filled with the reality that building trust and creating the necessary vulnerability was the task at hand. We knew how to achieve it with a smaller group, but what would it be with a larger group of men, long serving inmates no less?
A normal StepOut-StepFree class takes 2 weeks. This class, SOSF Class 35, took a month, as we deliberately slowed it down to allow more time for discussion, reflection and the building of the community essentials.
As the days progressed we began to observe genuine interest: a taking hold, an embracing of the self-confrontation, and questions - so many questions opening into wonderful discussion. During this same time, the strength of worship changed to where the voices now blended, harmonised and became the beautiful praise of broken men - new community was being built!
One of the men had served 17 years - having entered incarceration at 14 years of age. StepOut-StepFree was the first program he had undertaken, and it was by his choice. We observed the scales falling from his eyes, a new hope, a new understanding, a new countenance.
Several other men testified to becoming 'unburdened' during the days, and we could see that take place before our eyes. Our fear of taking on such a large class was replaced with a faith that God can accomplish so much more.
Final words belong to one man who wrote, 'StepOut-StepFree is a signpost, a lighthouse. I mean to say like air that I can now breathe after the confusion that had become my life.'
Providing these men the space in which to encounter their lives, their past, their future is a sacred trust. Our collective thanks goes to so many of you, our partners, that provide the resource and prayer to make this all happen again and again.