In the community where I grew up, my father had a friend named Albert. Albert was known throughout town as a drunk, but my father stuck by him, anyway. He saw not who Albert was, but who he could be—a child of God full of love and joy.
The greatest gift in Zachary’s life is his daughter. Like many new dads, his whole world changed when she was born. “She was the light in my world of endless darkness. She made me see,” he wrote in a recent letter to Prison Fellowship.
When I was growing up my father had a favorite saying. “There are two types of people in the world,” he would say, “those who need to share the Gospel, and those who need to hear it. So if you’re not sharing it …”
The words he left unsaid did most of the talking, and I always knew he meant it sincerely.
“Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” – Psalm 80:19
To restore something, in a spiritual sense, is to return it to the state God intended for it. God created men and women in His image and gave us the privilege of loving Him and one another.
In a major criminal justice reform speech this week, President Obama brought attention to the steep rise in America’s prison population over the last few decades—and its collateral consequences for prisoners’ children.
“Around one million fathers are behind bars,” the president said.
I’ve only ever been a member of one prison gang. Some time ago I was made an honorary member of “God’s Gang for Change,” the faith-based dorm at a correctional facility in Alabama.
On a recent visit I had the privilege of celebrating a worship service with my fellow “gang members.”
It was uncanny. The prisoner standing in front of me shared my first name. Like me, he was raised on a farm in Michigan. In fact, our homes were so close together that we frequented the same ice cream parlor and hamburger joint growing up.
When I was still a pastor in Michigan, Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson came up for a visit. He attended a lunch celebrating those involved in a church-based reentry program for the formerly incarcerated. Men and women came up to thank Chuck for his work with prisoners, and as they did so, tears sprang to his eyes.
Brother Potts will never go home. Because of the crimes he has committed, he will spend the rest of his days on earth locked behind prison bars. But he is also one of the most joyful people I know. He is humble, gentle, and caring.
By God’s grace, I have never served a sentence, but the men and women I am blessed to encounter in prison always teach me about following Jesus.
Recently, I was privileged to spend an entire day in prison with hundreds of prisoners and their families.