Jail staff were generous, giving us a full hour to visit with the first group. After we’ve had prayer, some are writing their names in a little book for the meeting leader — he and his wife are devoted to praying each week for any who’ve renewed or begun a commitment to Christ. And then the fellows are out the door, down the hall heading back to cells.
As we wait, hoping some more fellows will come out for the next hour we fellowship and enjoy a few words about the previous group and the study. It’s always instructional, we learn each time. And for me particularly in this context, the county jail — we’re focused on the Gospel. The good news of hope. Mercy has real meaning here. In contrast, at the State institutions it’s less so. Inmates have been sober for long periods of time. Their callouses are well developed, spiritually speaking. Some have committed long-term relationships with Christ that have been formed over years of attending Faith-based meetings inside. MOST are confused by different denominational doctrines.
Finally, one fellow drifts in through our door and after a few moments we realize he’ll be the only one we’ll see in this hour. The door closes and we try not to surround him. He’s a new comer – someone we haven’t seen inside before. It’s evident he’s not feeling well, perhaps in withdrawal. Since there are four of us and one of him we pull chairs close together — but leave room. We try not to impose. Our leader begins as usual, to follow our little process — discuss who we are, what we do.
And then it happens. As if a light bulb comes on almost simultaneuosly we realize — this is a divine appointment. We suspend the usual stuff to hear what’s happening in his life … he’s very emotional and also senses that the Lord’s hand is in this “private” meeting.
He’s in his early thirties. Married, recently divorced. Wife an adulteress, an addict. Then the heart breaking facts: he was until recently an assistant pastor, had a long relationship with the Lord. His experience of such difficulty caused him to leave the faith. Abandoning the Lords truth in pursuit of numbness through drinking and drugs. His rationalization is that having lost his wife, children and career to vile circumstances — where was God?!!
Wow. No wonder — as an assistant pastor he must have tried so hard to keep things in control … to cover those problems. Experience tells us that no one is without fault. And so we try not to pry into details. He’s known Christ, still does — the truth is in that still small voice — and we know he’s hearing it. Will he respond?
Drinking, drugging — patterns of his early youth — were what he fell back on to numb his pain. Of course those inexorably lead to crime, his capture and now our chance to visit. To speak again to him of a merciful, loving savior. All of this story has a purpose. What we can’t understand now will be obvious in times to come. This is Gods way of recovering his lost sheep. This is a Prodigal Son — being driven back into the fold. God has a plan for this life!
In minutes we were alternating between prayer, reading scripture and sharing our “experience, strength and hope” as some programs call it. We read from Psalms, Isaiah, John, James … Paul’s words to suffering believers. Our time passed in what seemed like just a few heartbeats. Our cheeks are damp from tears that have come in trickles, floods and persist.
In that hour, we were blessed to be present. To encourage a fallen brother — weeping and praying with him and finally with hand’s joined, we jointly recommitted our lives to Christ.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1
There but for the grace of God … go any of us.