Last Friday I had the great pleasure of attending a benefit dinner in recognition of some very special people. Bay Area Chaplains hosted a gathering of former prison inmates and the volunteers who give up their time to visit them while incarcerated. It was a beautiful testimony of what God can do with an open heart and a willing vessel. The sad news is that I forgot my notebook. Therefore I am unable to give you specific details, such as the correct numbers of volunteers and inmates represented. I can, however share with you what I remember and hopefully pass on one or two valuable lessons.
Every week thousands of volunteers infiltrate bay area prisons, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. My husband was one of those honored for his efforts. It was staggering to see the numbers of men and women whose lives had been changed for the better. So often we hear ugly stories about former inmates committing gruesome crimes while out on parole. The truth that rarely gets told is that good things are happening inside many of our nationís prison walls. Incarcerated men and women are hearing the Gospel message, accepting it, and applying it to their own lives. Every two weeks my husband comes home and shares stories about men who have accepted Christ in their jail cell. This simple act of submission changes the entire atmosphere in the prison. Guards are seeing the changes in these men and their lives are changed, affecting their families and everyone around them on the outside. The truth that rarely gets told is that incarcerated men and women are serving the Lord while simultaneously serving their jail sentence.
Of the 20 or so inmates represented at this dinner, three of them had testified that they had gone through seminary and were pastoring their own churches. Every single individual acknowledged that they were actively serving God and going to church on a regular basis. One woman stood and shared how she had received her GED and regained custody of her three children, despite the courtís ruling of a life sentence in prison. She is currently holding a steady job and raising her children to love and fear the Lord. One individual was asked, ďHow many lives do you think you changed since youíve been set free?Ē Without missing a beat he answered. 2,000 lives had been touched since he had walked out of his jail cell. The message resonated with everyone. One choice truly has the power to affect thousands upon thousands upon thousands of other lives.
I learned two very important life lessons as I sat at my table listening to these men and women. As Christians, we have an obligation to preach the Good News at every opportunity. People in prisons and hospitals are just as hungry to hear the Gospel as anyone else. They need to be told that they have a purpose and that God does indeed have a plan for their lives. They need to know that they are not forgotten and that God loves them regardless of what theyíve done. Once they know this and have it rooted deep in their spirits, miracles happen and the Lambís Book of Life grows ever larger.
The other thing I learned was that itís so important to make the most of every opportunity. Our days are numbered here. Nobody knows how much time we have left until Christís return so we really do need to be about our Fatherís business. Colossians 3:5 commands that we walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. We need to remember those who are incarcerated, pray for them, and pray for the volunteers who sacrifice their time to go to them on a regular basis. We need to remember the guards who are being changed simply by witnessing the transformation among the inmates. I have stored all these things in my heart and will pray for my husband the next time he goes to visit his inmates. I will also remember to be prepared next time an opportunity like this comes along to learn something about the world around me. I will remember to bring my notebook.