Monday, July 8, 2024

Doing the hard things

Obeying the commands in the Bible can often be difficult, but I've always done my best to obey them to the best of my ability. If God says for me to do something, I want to do it. That's why I became part of a prison ministry about 20 years ago. I don't even remember how I was introduced to the program, my mind isn't as sharp now as it was then! What I do remember is the ministry, Saints Prison Ministry, reaching out for volunteers to write inmates. Since I love to write, I figured it'd be a perfect way to help someone else and obey God's command. 

The ministry assigned me "pen pals." Over the years, some of those inmates have been put to death and some are still incarcerated. A few of the inmates stopped corresponding after a note or two but others have kept in touch throughout the entire 20 years. Some have been believers and others have not. Currently, my longest prison relationships are with a male believer and a female Muslim. 

When I first started writing them, I had no idea what to say. I didn't know whether to ask about their sentences or not and I had no idea how they'd respond if I did, so I left it alone. Over time, they did divulge their crimes and I felt honored to be trusted enough to receive that information. I was shocked to find out the male inmate had been sentenced to life without parole for molesting little boys. The female had been sentenced to life for second degree manslaughter. After learning of their crimes, I almost stopped writing them. Their crimes were horrendous and made me sick but then, I heard Jesus whisper in my ear, "Judge not lest ye be judged." So I kept writing. 

The ministry had given us guidelines for our own safety and protection. We weren't to give our real address. We weren't to share very personal information. Basically, we were to keep things generic. We were also given a list of prison rules regarding suitable topics, what we could send through the mail, and that all our correspondence would be read by prison staff and censored. I was thankful for those protections. 

The first few letters were very impersonal. How's the weather there? It's hot here. What do you do during the day to stay busy? Do you have friends or family who visit? I tried to think of things that might segue into other topics and help me get to know them better. It was almost like fishing. My words were the bait. If I threw them out and they were taken, I could gently and slowly reel them in to find a prize on the end - my prize though wasn't a fish, it was a person with thoughts and feelings. And though they'd committed horrible crimes in my eyes, I was reminded that all sin is horrendous in God's eyes.With Him, there are no degrees to sin. A lie is as bad as murder. 

I worked hard at building those relationships. I tried to read between the lines of what they said and didn't say. I could always tell when they were sad or lonely, angry or depressed, feeling rejected or unloved. And I began to truly care about them. 

I can't imagine what it would feel like to have all your freedoms taken away, to be locked up and separated from all you know and love... Even worse, knowing you'd spend the rest of your life behind bars, grow old and die there, it seemed a very long, harsh sentence that was difficult to grasp. 

How many times have we acted without thinking about the consequences? Our little "crimes" may not have warranted sentences like my prison inmates have received, but still, the Bible says God is Omniscient. He sees and knows everything. And one day, we'll stand before Him and give an account for our actions. Of course, as believers, our debt for those crimes has already been paid in full, but I think God will let us see a slow motion movie of the poor choices we made in order to help us understand the depth of our depravity. 

My prisoners, Charles, and Terri, have become long distance friends. I doubt I'll ever get a chance to meet them in person but I hope they've felt loved and cared about through our conversations. 

I thought about stopping all correspondence with them last week. I was tired of buying online postage to write them and it felt more of an obligation than a ministry after all these years. When I mentioned the possibility of stopping to my youngest daughter, she chided me. "Mom, you may be the only person they hear from each day." Wow...I hadn't thought of it that way. 

So today, I sat down and wrote both my inmates long emails. I tried to give them the latest news on my health, our upcoming plans, and so many other things. I tried to imagine how I'd feel if I'd waited all day to hear from a friend and the letter never came. I'd be heartbroken. 

It's sad they don't have much to look forward to, but hopefully, the emails I send bring them a little ray of sunshine on some really dark days.

 

Matthew 25:36 New King James Version (NKJV) - I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.

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