Prison ministry is no mean source of sad stories. Young men with lives shattered by sin--drugs, alcohol, lying, stealing, sexual perversions, etc. Old men with lives shattered by sin, thirty, forty years later, still paying the terrible cost extracted by the sins of their youth.....
It's also a place filled with great stories of God's redeeming love, of His power to change lives and to make new creations of fallen men. What a blessing it is to fellowship with our brothers who have been snatched as brands from the burning and washed in the Blood of the Lamb of God!
Last summer, I thought I had come across an inspiring example of this New Life in Christ in an inmate I'll call Brother G. In the middle of the week, I had gone into a minimum security unit where we hold weekly services (starting our 3rd year next month) and some of our "congregation" came up with an air of excitement to introduce a new resident in their unit: Brother G, a 40-ish black man with gang tattoos creeping out from under his t-shirt, up onto his neck, cheeks, even his forehead.
He proved to be a soft-spoken, humble fellow, with a mild speech impediment and an apparent love for Christ and His Word. He told me that he had seen me with the chaplain in the high security unit just the day before and could not wait to get involved in worship services in his new unit. And so he did, attending regularly our services and some of the others during the week, actively participating in testimony times and singing hymns of praise.
All his conversation was about our Lord; his Bible was nearly worn out and almost every verse was underlined or highlighted. He was always full of questions and seeking deeper understanding of God's Word. He'd not been raised in church and had no background at all regarding Christianity. All he knew was what he read in his Bible. He told me he'd been saved in July 2006, so he was a very young believer.
One story will illustrate his level of understanding scripture. We're usually seated just inside the door of the chapel as the men come in for our services. Most of them shake hands with us as they walk by. Brother G would come in, shake hands with the men who were seated ahead of me, shake my hand, then go to his pew, bypassing my wife. One night he asked her if he was doing the right thing, not shaking her hand. It didn't seem right to him but, he said, his Bible said that he should not touch a woman. So, we had a talk about that and he was much relieved to find that it was permissible for him to shake hands with a woman!
We were able to give him a good study Bible (MacArthur) and he reported that he was spending hours in it each day. He was a slow reader, a struggling reader, but he worked hard. Despite his hesitation because of the speech impediment, he would participate in the scripture readings and public prayer during the services.
In the Spring of this year, he began missing some of our services. I knew that he had had some conflicts with some other professing Christians as he was wont to confront them about inconsistencies in their lifestyle, pointing out that their behavior was not in line with the Word. Prisons are, just like the "free world," a place of "haves" and "have nots"--some inmates have money and some are penniless. Some have jobs (scarce in some prisons) and get $35-75/monthly; some have families which send them money; and some, like Brother G, have nothing. The state supplies essentials like toothpaste but the "wealthy" inmates have bi-monthly commissary purchases laden with canned drinks, tuna fish, Ramen noodles, and other delicacies.
Brother G, as I've said, knew only what the Bible says about the Church. He made the mistake of reading Acts 2 and taking it literally. He had the idea that the brethren who had should share with those who had not, liberally and joyfully. So, there were conflicts there, and disappointments.
When I saw him and asked about his absences and asked if he was going to other services, his usual reply was that he just holed up in his cell and read the Bible, staying away from other inmates as much as possible. I encouraged him to not forsake the assembling together with other believers and showed him the scriptural teachings on fellowship in the Church. He was also discouraged by having attended several times the services of one of the "baptismal regeneration" bunch, where the preacher openly scoffed at his testimony and mocked him because he had not been "properly baptized".
..to be continued