Early one Sunday morning I pulled into the parking lot at Garza West, a maximum security prison located outside of Beeville, Texas. I had left my family at a church in Beeville who had allowed us to set up temporary headquarters while Dad was ministering to the incarcerated church for four services in two days. We were on our eighth month of ministering in US prisons for one full year, coast-to-coast! Once inside I instantly knew that was once again it would be me who would receive the greatest blessing for I sensed the presence of God was indeed in this place! Time and time again during our time on the mission field I had seen God show up to minister through me….as I got out of the way. And today would be no different! Upon entering the large chapel I was greeted by huge, joyful smiles from the brethren – many of whom might never see the streets again – but it was easy to discern that their hearts had been set free! And this freedom was not based on circumstances or blessings but on a surrendered life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ! For a moment I thought back to 1979 when I, myself, arrived at Union Correction Institution in Raiford, Florida. Six months earlier a judge had sentenced me to a consecutive “Life + 15-Year prison sentence” But following my 1978 arrest someone had led me to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and I had already begun tasting of the goodness of our Lord and come to fully appreciate the scriptural passage in 2 Cor 3:17 which reads “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom!”
The Church of Garza West boasted a choir of 100 and that morning their voices touched heaven and quickly brought us into the presence of our King! Following several songs, one of my “relatives”, Grandpa Dudley Hicks “interrupted” and asked “if he could testify?” Held up by his walkers and sporting his new dentures (a set of billy bob teeth), Grandpa kept the 400+ men laughing with his comedic routine, entitled “It’s hard to be a hick in a hi-tech world!” But next came “the serious side of funny” as our Lord anointed me to JOYfully minister freedom to His children as I drew from many of my experiences while incarcerated as well as my failures following my miraculous release from captivity! As always, God’s Word never returns void as many stood up to receive the gift of eternal life by professing Jesus as their Savior. The majority of these men had previously raised their hands when I asked “who didn’t have a Dad as a player in their lives while growing up?” Statistics compiled by Josh McDowell clearly point out that “80% of children who don’t have a Dad who is present in their lives will turn to drugs and even worse.” Scripture clearly points out “the sins of the fathers come upon their children” for several generations. Based on this, it sure looks like the vast majority of those behind bars already have two strikes against them while still young! It’s no wonder they look for love in all the wrong places in a futile attempt to find acceptance but never coming even close to discovering their true identities. Most everyone present that morning stood up for prayer as the Spirit of God “broke” the generation curses off their lives. And just as many raised their hands in surrender and we asked our Lord to break the chains of anger and lust from their hearts as well!”
That evening I returned from Garza West Chapel to minister to still another packed church. As I was slowly making my way to the front of the chapel a man approached me, stuck out his hand and said “hello, Brother Hicks….my name is Manuel….and the message you ministered this morning was for me!” A member of the choir, Manuel was allowed to sing again that evening if he had sung that morning. He towered over me (most do) at @ 6’ 2”, looked like he lived in the weight room with muscles rippling all over his body and was covered in tattoos! “Brother Hicks,” he began, “this morning when you reminded us that if we are to walk in obedience and full surrender we will have to separate ourselves….from others who want to continue to serve satan. Well, today…I went to my people and said I can’t hang with ya’ll anymore!” Suddenly, this giant of a man broke down in sobbing tears – more tears than I had ever seen on a human being, so many that his skin sparkled! And as I placed my arm around his shoulder and began to pray for him we both sensed a heavy presence leave him…and his mourning was suddenly turned into JOY! Yes, Jesus is still behind bars…..and the Father’s love is drawing the hearts of orphans into His warm embrace as never before! Where the Spirit of the Lord is…..there is freedom!
Philip Hicks and his family are based in Roseville, CA but are available to minister in your church and local prison anywhere within the United States. Endorsed by Chuck Colson, Merlin Carothers and Francis Anfuso, his first book, entitled “The Cross & the .357 Magnum” is available on his website, www.JesusBehindBars.com.