This week we had the honor to attend and participate in a memorial service for an offender who passed away recently at Jefferson City Correctional Center – a maximum security prison. Whatever this man’s crime, it led him to serve the rest of his life in prison. He was on hospice. Before we began doing prison ministry I had never really thought about what happens to inmates who serve life sentences and eventually die in prison or about offenders who become terminally ill before their release date. People live and die in prison in spite of our blindness to it. But we as followers of Jesus should know and should be doing something… “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3
The gentleman who passed away was known as the “Candy Man”, I don’t know when he gave his life to Jesus but by the testimonies shared at his memorial service the Candy Man was sold out to Christ. He got his nickname because he would bring bags of butterscotch and cinnamon candy to the chapel services and give every man who attended a piece of candy. This may not seem like much of a thing to people outside the razor wire but on the inside…it’s an act of love. Who would spend their small amount of income on other offenders, not just once but repeatedly? A man who was changed by the Gospel, who found love and shared that love. We saw men mourn for the loss of their friend, their brother in Christ. Johnny had the privilege of knowing the Candy Man and shared that he was a great influence on his Christian walk and how to really live for Christ. We heard many stories of this man’s walk with Christ, he was an example to all who met him and knew him how to live for Jesus regardless of their circumstance.
Two days before this memorial service, our team led a worship service for City Union Mission’s homeless shelter for men. To be honest, it was a little outside our comfort zone…that sounds ironic because we go into prisons but nonetheless it still rings true. What do you say to the homeless? The same thing you say to anyone…you share the Gospel. You point them to the cross, to a Savior who died for them. You tell them that their is hope because of Jesus, that He promises a life more abundant. You speak truth into their hearts and pray they receive it. You tell them about a mighty, awesome creator that loves them and that regardless of where they are and regardless of their situation that it can be well with their soul because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. You say that God has a purpose and a plan for their lives. You point them to eternity and the temporariness of this life. And you know what else you do? You love them. You wrap your arms around them, no matter how they smell, and you tell them you love them and that Jesus loves them and that it’s OK to cry. We saw 13 broken, tearful men come to Christ last Sunday night. We saw hearts opened and lives changed…Glory to God.
Whether we lead prison services or services at shelters or even at churches, the same is true for all. The Gospel changes lives, Jesus is the answer to every problem and every situation. Our circumstances may be difficult in this life but this life is so temporary and life with Jesus is better…life with Jesus is best.
Sing for the King,