There have been times when the Lord asked me to do something I didn’t really want to. Such was the case one morning in 1979 as I lay in a hospital bed recovering from a mastectomy. I was waiting for a nurse to bring me a pain killer and wondering what in the world my kids were doing in my absence when I idly picked up my Bible. It fell open in my lap to Matthew 25. My heart quickened as I read verses 31-33 (NIV). “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left.”
It was then that the Lord spoke to my heart, “Feed my sheep.”
“What sheep are those, Lord?” I asked.
“Read on,” he said, “You have obeyed all my commands except one. I was in prison and you never came to visit me.”
Well, of course, He had a point there. But, Heaven forgive me, I had no intention of going among thieves and murderers and handing out Bibles. I had enough grief at home trying to control my three kids, not to mention my struggle with cancer. So I ignored God’s call and went on with my life.
But the Lord was not to be ignored. Several years went by before I was approached by a friend whose adoring mother had given her the name of Precious. And, believe me, she was pure gold, always ready to witness boldly for Christ when others were silent. She told me that she’d been visiting the Cook County Jail in Chicago for about six years with a group of friends. They conducted a Friday night Bible study with a group of non-violent inmates and she wanted me to come along. I was about to refuse when I remembered God’s challenge. So I agreed to give it a try.
But, oh, I was scared to death of going into that jailhouse. Repeatedly, I prayed the Lord would give me courage to enter the jail without fear. “Lord, give me peace of mind if this is what you would have me do?” I implored. And he did! When the heavy gates in that jailhouse clanged shut behind me, I knew perfect peace.
Once inside, we had to pass through a long row of cells with prisoners staring through the bars from both sides before we could reach the chapel. Instead of fear, I felt the stirring of excitement.
At first, I was allowed to sit beside Precious and let her lead the Bible study. We had about 100 men in attendance each time with ten tables where they could sit, each of them headed by a Pace Institute volunteer. But finally the day came when they didn’t have enough volunteers and needed me to lead a Bible study.
I began to sweat as the men filed in, some of them taking a seat at my table. All of them were big, dark and grim-faced. I sent up a silent prayer, “Lord, I’m scared. Please help me to do this right.”
Immediately the voice in my head responded, “Get up and pour their drink.”
There was a pitcher of Kool Aid on the table in front of me. I stood, lifting the pitcher, and made my way around the table, introducing myself to each man and pouring him a cold drink. The tension melted like ice on a hot day. Soon we were all relaxed and smiling.
As I got to know my “small group” over the next few months, they opened up and began to talk about themselves, confessing their crimes and confiding in me. I was touched by their confessions and listened quietly, never judging or offering advice. After all, I wasn’t a counselor, just an ambassador of the Lord who would gently lead their Bible study. Ironically, there were a few I encountered who had a better knowledge of God’s Word than I.
Looking back, I feel the experience was every bit as precious as the woman who led me into it. I learned the realities of life in Chicago’s backstreets and the reasons men submitted to a life of crime. And I wept for them. And maybe, just maybe, they learned from being with me that there was a God out there who truly cared what happened to them.
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