This little church along the Lake Michigan shoreline wasn’t that much different than your church.
Its people loved the Lord, loved to worship, sang hymns with gusto, heard preaching that was true to the Word, and did their best to love and care for one another.
Years ago, getting a very subtle and almost un-noticed start in the church was support for a lonely, unknown, indigent, African American prisoner. A member of this church had started campaigning for the man’s release, claiming he had been wrongly convicted. Over the years the name Maurice Carter became a household word. His name was not only included in the prayers of church groups young and old, but in family devotions at mealtime. And so, by the time Mr. Carter was released from prison (after serving 29 years!), seriously ill and with only a few months remaining on this earth, he called the church his church. And before he died he slowly made his way to the pulpit on a Sunday morning to thank the people for their love and support and prayers, and then he received a standing ovation when he raised his voice with this statement/question: Isn’t God wonderful?! Mr. Carter died a few weeks later, but the congregation’s sensitivity for prisoners did not.
Five years later, members of the church were surprised when another prisoner showed up for morning worship. Turns out the same member of this church who started the campaign to free Maurice Carter---now working full-time in a prison ministry---was instrumental in the release of Ron Ross, who served 11 years behind bars, and who also claimed wrongful conviction.
No one ever encouraged Ron to come to this fine church, it wasn’t a part of any spoken or unspoken “deal,” he didn’t do it just because he thought he owed the church a debt. He liked it there! He felt at peace there! He met God there!
A generous couple gave him their second car so that he would have transportation. Learning very quickly that he was a skilled carpenter and master gardener, members of the church soon had him working long hours, not only enabling this once-penniless ex-convict to eat well and pay his bills, but also restoring his self-esteem!
But evil forces seem to hover over situations like this, and one day the borrowed car that Ron used for his handyman jobs was struck from behind as he waited in a stalled line of traffic. The old car was destroyed. God protected Ron and his minor injuries soon healed. But his work vehicle was gone.
He couldn’t have known that kind and generous people of this church, with selfless zeal and enthusiasm, quietly raised the necessary funds for Ron to purchase a beautiful and functional used pick-up truck.
His grin of appreciation nearly matched the one pasted on his face the day he walked out of prison!
A college intern, who organizes my lack of orderliness in the office of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS observed all of this. I know not whether she attends a church, but I know that she’s a spiritual being.
When the episode played out, she made this astute observation: I wonder what the recidivism rate would be if every prisoner who stepped out into the free world were adopted by a church!
I was in prison and you visited me.