I don't know who was more excited, the new believer or Loren. So much had happened during the Prison Fellowship® Hope Event at Four Mile Correctional Center. I had to take a step back to recall it all.
The day had been an early one. I had instructed my volunteers to be at the prison's front gate no later than 7 a.m. that Saturday morning. Cañon City is a long way from nowhere. Most of our volunteers had been up hours before the sun to arrive on time. Loren and his wife had been on the road since 4:30 to make it on time that morning. I would have thought there would be some complaints for the early hour. Instead, all gathered at the gate with a tangible excitement and anticipation for what God might do that day.
After exchanging photo IDs for guest badges, Chaplain Matsche led the small group of volunteers and band members through the yard to the gym where the scheduled Hope Event would take place. Prison Fellowship Hope Events introduce prisoners to the hope of Jesus Christ through yard events featuring inspirational speakers, musicians, and other attractions.
After several announcements, volunteers greeted prisoners as they arrived. The men were drawn by the strains of electric guitar as the Billy Spoon Band rocked the gym.
Among the first to greet residents as they entered the building were Loren and his wife Paula. Loren was once a resident at that very same facility. Raised by an alcoholic father who was incarcerated until Loren turned 11, it was no surprise when Loren started meth at the age of 12 and continued the addiction for the next 47 years.
But the man who had spent most of his life drug addicted was now on fire for Jesus. He wanted to tell the world about it. Having been afflicted by a stroke months earlier, he now stood with one limp arm holding on to his wife for balance. His other hand he used to shake those of men entering the event. Tattoos run up and down both arms—one bearing the image of Jesus on the cross, and the other sporting an image of the "shield of faith."
A SECOND CHANCE
The group of prisoners that had shown up for the event that morning smiled admiringly as the guitars wailed familiar tunes. Others nodded, engrossed in what former prisoner George Medley had to share about his earlier life as a thief and drug dealer and how he'd been transformed into a follower of Jesus. My attention kept being drawn back to Loren as he stood taking it all in again—the very halls where he'd once lived as a prisoner himself. I wondered what he was thinking as he watched the men who had gathered with so many similar stories to his own.
Before I knew it, men were standing in agreement with George as he prayed to close the message. I was proud of my volunteers as they engaged the men in conversation afterward.
Then I noticed Loren again. He stood in a corner, animated as he shared with a young man who was leaning into his every word. I could tell it was a moment of great decision, Loren nodding while the prisoner shared his own story. I smiled as Loren prayed with the young man, his "good hand" gently placed upon the prisoner's shoulder, much like a dad encouraging his son.
ONE BEGGAR LEADING ANOTHER
Later as we were packing up, Loren couldn't stop talking about the thrill he'd experienced praying with that young man as he declared his decision to follow Jesus. Loren smiled broadly as he told me, "If only for that kid, it was worth it all to be here today! He made my day—no, he made my year!" Like I said, I don't know who was more excited—the young prisoner or Loren.
And then it hit me—in God's economy, moments like these are a double miracle. One beggar leading another to bread—one forgiven sinner leading another to the same forgiveness!
And as we walked out through those gates that day, I couldn't help but imagine the smile on God's face to see His son, Loren, paying it forward for all God had done in his own life. It just doesn't get any better than that!
ABOUT MARY ELLEN
Mary Ellen Armbruster is the Colorado and Wyoming field director for Prison Fellowship.