By Ernest Herndon
Jim Sterling and the Rev. Hong Yoo proceed down a dark corridor and into a small cellblock, where five inmates await.
It’s 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Yoo, pastor of
“It’s easy to get to hell ... but it’s hard getting into heaven, and that’s what we try to do is show you how to get to heaven,”
His audience doesn’t look particularly excited. They’ve finished their breakfast and seem sleepy, bored, maybe depressed.
“Everything about life is written in that book - everything from planting crops to breeding animals. If you like stories, if you like adventure, there’s adventure stories in there. There’s love stories in there. ... It explains exactly how to get into the kingdom of heaven.
“We as individuals are trying to spread the word that there is a way to go that you can have eternal life.”
The inmates sit at two tables whose surfaces are covered in graffiti, some of it Satanic. Several cells with steel doors face the main room.
Hong asks an inmate to read from John 9, where Jesus heals a blind man. Then Yoo preaches a short, energetic sermon.
“When we accept Jesus Christ, we can see,” he said.
“Just believe in your deep heart. The power of the Holy Spirit will touch your heart.”
When he finishes,
“I need a lawyer,” an inmate said.
“I can’t help you,” Hong said. “I don’t have a license in the
To kill time while waiting for Meaux, Hong gives a martial arts demonstration. He said he’s out of shape - too much Southern cooking - but still knows the techniques.
He has an inmate - a tall, slender man around 20 years old - stand in front of him and pretend to hold a knife. Hong grasps the knife hand, twists it, places a foot behind the inmate’s legs and takes him quickly to the floor.
“Now you dead,” Hong said with a laugh, then helps the man up. He demonstrates again in slow motion.
The group chats about religion. Two of the five inmates say they are churchgoers. A third said he is a follower of Jesus.
“In the back of this book there’s a plan of salvation, and if you decide to follow Christ, all you have to do is follow that plan and sign that book. That’s basically all there is to it. When you get out of here you can be baptized. It’s nothing complicated. It’s really simple.”
When Meaux still doesn’t arrive, one of the inmates slams a cell door against the wall to draw his attention.
Meaux arrives, and the jail ministers file outside into brisk air and sunshine, away from the stale air and dull light in the cellblock.
It was cold, and concerns about liability if an inmate took sick prevented future baptisms. Instead he and Hong urge them to go to church when they get out.
“I just get a blessing out of it. Makes me feel good to know that I’m spreading the word, like in the book of Matthew. It said visit the sick and visit those in jail,”
Hong came to the
“I just want to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ,” Hong said. “He said go to the poor, the sick, the oppressed.”
About then a big pickup pulls up. Sheriff Tim Perkins gets out and shakes hands. Hong and
“I see positive,” he said of the effect on inmates. “At least here they’re exposed to it, and it’s a captive audience back there. And if they’ll listen and pick up just a little of what’s shared back there, it may be the seed that changes their lives.”