The Scriptures remind us that God will use the weak things of the world to confound the "wise" and demonstrate His glory (1 Corinthians 1:27 ). During a recent visit to a state prison, God used a state prisoner, a man society had discarded, to teach me a lesson on service I will never forget.
I first met Troy* a couple years ago. Troy had a terrible stuttering problem and could not get through a single sentence without stammering and stumbling over his words. He was also so consumed with insecurities and anxiety that visits could be an ordeal for him to endure.
On more than one occasion, the gravity of his behavioral issues made me question whether I should continue visiting him. It didn't appear that he was improving at all.
Over time Troy and I began to talk about Christ, and gradually I began to see subtle changes in him. Eventually his stuttering cleared up, and a lot of the negative behaviors began to disappear.
And then one day I realized that the changes in Troy went far deeper than what I could see outwardly.
AN ACT OF KINDNESS
Troy and I were seated in the visiting room eating our vending machine snacks when a large, powerfully built inmate walked by with an older woman I presumed was his mother. Since there were no longer any tables left, they headed toward a row of chairs nearby.
Troy's expression changed as he watched the man. He looked so serious; I wondered what he was thinking.
"God just placed something on my heart," he said, breaking the silence. "I want to give up our table to that man and his mother."
"Do you know him?" I asked.
"Yes," Troy said. He proceeded to tell me that the man often harassed him on the block, and recently threatened to punch him in the face.
NO MATTER THE CONSEQUENCES
In prison culture, acts of kindness are often perceived as weak. And at 5-foot-6, Troy was an easy target. I worried that giving up our table might backfire on Troy and make it look like he was trying too hard to gain his friendship.
But Troy was insistent. He motioned to the man and offered him our spot. The man murmured a quick "thanks," but his look did not convince me he was feeling much gratitude. To be perfectly honest, I was felt embarrassed for Troy. Judging from the other man's demeanor, I was sure he did not appreciate what Troy had done.
"Do you think it will help?" I asked. "Do you think he will be any nicer to you in the future?"
The patient look Troy gave me was humbling. "It doesn't matter," he said. "It's very possible he'll keep saying the same things—or punch me in the face the minute we return to the block. But I didn't do it for him, or for me. It was between me and God. I did it to show God how much I love Him."
I was in awe. It was clear I had misunderstood his act of kindness as a means to an end, not an effort to please God, no matter what the consequences.
A MIGHTY MIRACLE
In that moment, I understood why God promised to use the "weak" things of the world to confound the "wise." God had worked a mighty miracle in Troy, and I was blessed and honored to be a witness of His glory and power.
*Name has been changed.
ABOUT CINDY SANFORD
Cindy Sanford is a self-proclaimed "tough on crime" advocate whose accidental meeting with a juvenile lifer strengthened her faith and led her into prison ministry. She is a registered nurse and the wife of a retired law enforcement officer. Cindy and her husband Keith are both official visitors for the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
She is the author of "Letters to a Lifer: The Boy 'Never to be Released.'" Visit her website Letters2alifer.