On July 3rd, the day before Americans would celebrate their country’s freedom, Hillsong NYC and Prison Fellowship collaborated to bring an evening of worship to 43 men in New York’s Rikers Island prison. When presented with the gospel message, at least 21 inmates came forward to dedicate their lives to Christ.
“It just moved me so much. The guy right next to me couldn’t stop crying. It was amazing to see,” Jennifer Lowrey told The Christian Post (CP). Lowrey is the senior director of programs and special events for Prison Fellowship, and the evening was particularly significant to her because her parents had been imprisoned at Rikers when she was a child.
Bringing the Gospel to Rikers Island Prison
About 35 volunteers from Hillsong NYC and Prison Fellowship took part in the event, which was held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in a gymnasium on the Rikers Island prison complex. Prison Fellowship field director Jose Negron shared a message, and Hillsong NYC’s team led the inmates in worship with assistance from Hillsong United’s Chris Davenport. Lowrey told CP that an especially moving moment was when the band played a song called “Another in the Fire.” She said, “It has an amazing lyric about not being alone and about how Jesus is our other person in the fire with us. I was standing back next to the men so I could see the lyrics. … I just couldn’t stop crying.”
Lowrey told CP that being at Rikers provided a kind of closure for her. As a girl, she lived with her grandparents, who were her legal guardians. At one point, her parents kidnapped her and then were arrested and imprisoned at Rikers. Lowrey’s father has since been pronounced dead by her family after disappearing about 10 years ago. She said, “The thing I’m really grateful for is that the Lord has given me an opportunity to kind of come full circle. It really is illustrative of the kind of change that we hope for.”
Hungry for Hope
According to its website, Prison Fellowship is the largest nonprofit in the U.S. that serves people impacted by incarceration, whether they are offenders or offenders’ loved ones. The site says, “We seek to share the real, living hope of the Gospel with people who long for its power to make them new.” Among their strategies for providing encouragement for inmates are “Hope Events,” described as “dynamic one- or two-day events [that] feature inspirational speakers, musicians, and performers who bring the light of the Gospel to men and women who desperately crave hope.”
The Rikers Hope Event was the first time that Hillsong NYC and Prison Fellowship have teamed up, having connected after someone on staff with Prison Fellowship attended a Hillsong service. Said Lowrey, “They have been just super excited about finding ways to serve. So they now have volunteers that are coming in, working as volunteers in our [Prison Fellowship Academy] at Rikers.” Lowrey said Prison Fellowship would like to continue collaborating with Hillsong NYC for upcoming Hope Events.
For Lowrey, the Rikers Hope Event emphasized the importance of bringing the gospel to incarcerated men and women. “I am so grateful that we have an opportunity to bring hope into places like Rikers,” she said. “At the same time, it makes me really sad because when I see the guys, a lot of times I wish that my dad had somebody to intervene and do that for him. You wonder, what if someone had been able to be there for him at a key point. His trajectory could have changed.”