One of the counter-intuitives of Church Planting Movements states: “Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.” In my attempts to obey Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 I am experiencing the truths of this irony.
They had not attended the church long when Jason * confessed he would be going to jail soon to pay for his crimes. He had been using drugs and alcohol and violated driving under the influence laws. While on probation he again became intoxicated and was caught shoplifting. The judge was angry and Jason realized things were in a mess. He wanted a spiritual family to accept him, his wife and children without condemnation for his sin.
We spent several weeks getting to know this family and learned to love his humble spirit. This man acknowledged he had violated the law. He was disappointed that his previous church chose to ostracize him and his family. He wanted to come clean.
Our worship minister became friends with Jason and began to visit him in jail after he had to report. Eventually he approached me to relay Jason’s request for additional biblical resources. Within a few months, Jason had completed every Bible correspondence course the jail chaplain had on hand. The worship minister felt like he would benefit from visits by someone with a formal theological education. I agreed to visit Jason.
Before that first visit could be scheduled I had to complete a visitation form and agree to a background security check. When that was cleared I began to visit weekly. I quickly sent Jason an additional correspondence course on the Gospel of John. Jason, his cell mate and some other guys in their pod who were meeting daily for a group Bible study quickly completed this ten lesson course.
Jason requested assistance in getting ACT study manuals for some of the other inmates who wanted to prepare to get into college upon their release. The Rutherford County Jail is not your stereotypical place of incarceration. The inmates are not allowed any TVs, no radios, CD players or any other type of electronic devise. There are no hard-backed books allowed. Family or friends could provide paperbacks, but they would become the property of the jail library. The church where I pastor began to assist with some educational materials.
Jason requested I find a college or university that would offer correspondence courses that he could take—especially Biblical ones. With today’s technological advances these types of programs have transitioned to video or web-based formats. Such prevented this type of study.
Eventually I discovered the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement reader and workbook and purchased a set and had them mailed to Jason. He was grateful to receive such an in-depth study that would give him greater insights into God’s work in our world. After a few weeks he asked if I could get another set for his cellmate. The two of them had been sharing one reader and workbook since the original set had arrived. I purchased one for Malcolm * and it was mailed to him directly. Less than two weeks later Jason was moved down two floors so thankfully each had his own study materials. Before moving Jason communicated that Malcolm would like to visit with me each week to continue learning.
[* NOTE: The names of these men have all been changed. All the other details are accurate.]