Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Achievement (03/08/12)
TITLE: Unlikely Heroes
By Sherry Hoffcastel
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Although the grilled chicken was delicious this year, I could not attribute my presence to well prepared poultry. I came to hear stories and I knew I would not be disappointed. I scanned the large dining room and wondered as I do every year which were the volunteers and which were the criminals. My church family conversed around me as I gazed intently at the strangers eating nearby. We were seated at one of many circular tables and every chair was filled. I glared at my four inch heels and ignored the pain. The blessing of being in that donated facility was worth more than the discomfort I was feeling.
I anxiously opened my notebook and flipped to a blank page, digging a pen out of my small handbag. Applause sounded as the musician took his exit. A man dressed in a navy suit and tie approached the microphone. He cleared his throat and addressed the audience. “I am Sergeant Steve Andrews and it is a privilege to be here with you tonight. Welcome to our annual Chaplains Benefit Dinner!” More applause erupted and the well dressed Sergeant nodded his head and continued.
“Because of volunteers like you countless prison inmates have made the transition from incarceration to working class citizen a success. Your time and devotion to these men and women has been invaluable, as you will see shortly. Before I introduce you to our guests would you like to hear a few interesting facts about how you have transformed your community? Last year in your region alone you gave six thousand, seven hundred thirty hours of service to incarcerated inmates. Five thousand, three hundred fifty five requests for chaplaincy service were granted in 2011. Your time, prayers, and support have changed the lives of countless inmates in ways that you cannot comprehend.
We run seventy seven Bible Study programs a week. Nearly two thousand lessons were completed in the first quarter alone. That number doubled in the second quarter. A total of ten thousand, four hundred forty five awards and certificates were presented to inmates who had completed their studies. If you wonder if you are making a difference in the lives of these individuals, the answer is a resounding yes! I would now like to introduce you to a few of the men and women who have benefitted from your service.”
They took the stage as if in a police lineup, wide eyes taking in the sea of faces before them. There were only six, a small number compared to the twenty or so in attendance last year. A gentleman coughed and another fidgeted with his tie. Karen was the first to testify.
“I would, um just like to say that I am very thankful to be here and um, I want to tell you what a huge impact you have made on my life.” She wiped a tear out of her eye and continued. “Since I have been released from prison I have regained custody of my child and have rededicated my life to Christ. I no longer depend on drugs and alcohol but I rely on Christ alone to help me get through each day…”
One after another they testified, telling stories of redemption, salvation, and new beginnings. A former drug dealer became a full time pastor. A business man turned embezzler is currently working on his seminary degree. A murderer is happily married and raising a family. They hold jobs and attend church every week. Some have even begun their own prison ministry. They are husbands, fathers, mothers, and tax-paying citizens. Remarkable still is that every single one of them accepted Christ while serving time in prison.
My heart swelled with pride both for the volunteers and the former inmates. According to the world’s standards these men and women are probably insignificant. They have not acquired wealth or fame or notoriety. They are not athletes or movie stars or Nobel Peace Prize winners. Their achievements would probably go unnoticed by many. I cannot help but think that in God’s eyes these people have already accomplished more than the finest actors in Hollywood. Not only have they obtained favor with God, they are changing lives simply by sharing the love of Christ.
Author’s Note- The need for prison ministry volunteers is very great. If you would like to help, contact your local chaplain’s office.
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