Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Simple Letter

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

This is a condensed version of the story I wrote yesterday for Touched by Service:

It began with a simple letter.

One day a gentleman leading an Ohio prison ministry asked Jim to consider writing letters to inmates who had expressed a desire to be shepherded. Leary at first, he began writing inmates and soon discovered he had a heart for forging Christian fellowship with men who were is such bleak circumstances as prison.

Somewhat contrary to his expectations, Jim also discovered there were many Christians and seekers behind bars. One man in particular was a passionate Believer, he recalled. “Before it was over with, he was shepherding me.”

A few months after he began writing this inmate, Jim was given an opportunity to go visit the man. “After meeting him and being there worshiping with the other inmates I knew I was hooked,” he said. Wanting to become even more involved with the ministry, he moved from letter writing to become an active member of the prison worship team. Traveling to all the prisons throughout Ohio, sometimes departing at 4:30 in the morning and traveling five hours each way, he participated in worship services for the inmates, singing, preaching and praying for men behind bars.

When he moved to Atlanta fourteen years ago, one of the first things on Jim’s mind was where to get plugged into a prison ministry.

Beginning with one unit housing seventy-five men, Jim, with the help of two other gentlemen, Bob Fortin and Dan Fitzpatrick, now serves four units and three hundred men at the Gwinnett County Jail.

When Jim and his team arrive, fifteen or so prisoners in each unit will join one of the volunteers for ninety minutes of Bible study. “With only three of us in the ministry,” Jim explained, “we can’t get to all four units each Thursday. We have to rotate through the units, skipping one each week. Right now the jail administration is unwilling to let us bring in a fourth ministry volunteer, but we are praying God will change their hearts on that matter so that we can provide all the men with an opportunity for Bible study each week. I believe if we pray often enough and petition the Lord, the doors will open and we will be able to add one more volunteer. We need to take the Word to these men. So many of them are in the middle of very dark spiritual battles; they constantly ask me to pray for them.”

I asked Jim what keeps him motivated when those he shepherds could so easily be angry and hopeless, maybe even place him at risk.

“I’ve been there preaching or conducting a Bible study when all of a sudden one of the men will stand up, hold his hands in the air and tell me he wants to be saved. Other inmates who are Christians and I will lay hands on that one man and pray over him; we’ve even baptized men in there. I get to see God move among us.”

Although he, Bob and Dan have a heart for the prison ministry, Jim acknowledges it isn’t for everyone. The prisoners’ offenses range from DUI to murder. They range in age from the early twenties to seventy, and are serving terms that span decades to life.

“It can be a scary place at times. That’s why we want to start a letter writing ministry, so that anyone with the time to write a single letter can offer a little compassion to someone who basically has none in their life.” Jim turned and looked out a window at the blue sky, green grass and people walking past. “Imagine being in jail twenty or more years, your scenery and routine never changing, and then imagine how powerful it could be to receive an occasional letter that offers friendship and the love of Christ.”

Yes, imagine how powerful it could be to receive a simple letter that offers the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Yes, there is much a simple letter can do.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

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