Thursday, June 23, 2016

Don't throw away the key!

Paul’s offense wasn’t one of those vicious, brutal crimes that we read about on the front page.  No.  Instead, it was the kind of crime that disgusts us, the kind that we detest to the nth degree.  We want these kind of people put away.

I’m reminded of that today, because Paul called our office from his new home in Grand Rapids.  He is enjoying transitional housing, provided by a fine ministry that works hard to keep prisoners from re-offending.  He simply wanted us to know that he’s doing great, and that, at the age of 41, he’s intent on making a new life for himself.

I’m not about to use his real name, or describe his crime, because I suspect you’d get disgusted all over again and ask why he’s on the outside.

Actually, those are the thoughts we struggled with at first.  But Paul’s letters to HFP seemed genuine.  From what we could tell, he had a real conversion experience while in prison.  I know, I know.  The Parole Board hears this all the time.  “I’ve met the Lord, and now I’m not the same person I was when I entered prison.” 

Even if Paul’s letters were accurate, because of the nature of the crime and because of the psychological issues that led him into this kind of activity, he would have a long, uphill struggle.  Still, we believed him, and we stuck with him.

When it came time for his appearance before the Parole Board, he had no friends or family willing to be at his side, so Matt Tjapkes was his representative.  We were surprised to learn later that parole had been granted.

The State of Michigan wasn’t about to just let this man out on the street.  He was first paroled to, what the state calls, a community corrections center.  This type of program provided not just housing, but also much more structure than just regular probation.  Unlike many other prisoners whom we have helped, Paul stayed in touch with us.  Periodically I would receive a letter from the center.  No complaints about the strictly-enforced structure…only positive statements.  He was there for a year, before he was allowed to get his own lodging through a ministry in Grand Rapids.  That’s where the call came from this morning.  Still positive.  Still upbeat.

Kind of reminds us of another Paul.

This guy was persecuting Christians, and not just pestering them.  He was seeing to it that they were placed in jail or even put to death.  That is, until a most remarkable conversion experience, as reported in the book of Acts.  Christians weren’t quickly ready to accept the new convert.  Even Jesus’ disciples were skeptical.  The rest is history.  Just check your Bible to see how many of the New Testament books were written by this reformed criminal.

I’m not saying today’s modern-day Paul, our friend, is going to set the world on fire.  I’m reporting to you that he’s taking one day at a time, and doing a great job. 

Let’s not be quick to say, “Throw away the key!”

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