Baby Steps (Part 1)
A report from OSWM – a Watchman behind the walls of a West Coast Prison
COVID related restrictions have made prison life more difficult than normal. Men remain in their rooms 22.5 hours a day. Restrictions on books, personal items, mail, and entertainment items such as playing cards, make the hours of incarceration slowly move through each day.
Dinner is served early, in a rubber receptacle with a plastic spoon, by 4 PM. This makes the evenings seem even longer. There are 3 men and 2 beds in most rooms on this Tier – the 3rd man must roll out a thin bedroll and sleep on a concrete floor in front of a toilet with no lid. There is one metal (fixed position) stool in the room. The sound of shouts, curses, coarse joking and rap music fills the long cement-lined corridors.
In this humble, creative environment, OSWM, a Watchman for the Lord, talks with two cellmates about the Lord. He sits on the edge of an iron-framed bed while a new believer, a former notorious and violent gang member, sits on the rim of the toilet while the other man sits on the small metal stool. With cups of instant coffee in hand made with lukewarm water from the sink (a rare treat), the three men discuss forgiveness.
The first man, the ex-gang member, confesses that he has caused significant injury to more than 100 people. He has been in and out of several prisons in the last 12 years. He is 34 years old and struggles to keep from slipping back into violence and drugs (both prevalent here). The second man is broken and shares that today, ten years after his crime, he has not been able to forgive himself and wonders if God would want to, or could.
The discussion centers on God’s plan, power, and grace. All agree that the Bible is true and indicates that God’s power, mercy, and grace are beyond measure. All agree it is wrong to impose limits on God.
OSWM had been talking with the first man – the ex-gang member – over the last few days about growing in the faith, and smiles, as he hears him gently, tell the second man, whom he had first met only a few hours before, about how God had forgiven him and helped him to forgive himself.
The first man has yet to memorize one Bible verse, but his testimony is compelling and powerful. He encourages the second man who, only a few weeks before because of the nature of his crime, would have been treated as a “Hatfield” or a “McCoy” during their famous feud. In prison, feuds continue unabated, and savage assaults are all too common.
In the moment, the first man does not realize that his ministering to the second man represents a huge spiritual step forward. He, a man who desires to grow but struggles with violence, speaks peace and spiritual truth to one normally considered the enemy. Scripture is shared, a few tears are shed, and the Spirit moves.
OSWM commends and encourages the first man, who’s best spiritual step forward before today was to punch a metal prison door rather than a person with a similar charge and conviction. The second man received encouragement and counsel regarding how to find forgiveness through faith in Christ. It was evident the Lord was working in his heart, and that surrender would come soon.
The meeting ended with all of us sharing a passage from 2 Corinthians:
“Blessed be…the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us…that we may be able to comfort those who are…in trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Both men are considering how their life experiences might be used to help others. These wounded men, and countless like them, need prayer and encouragement, and for mature believers to help new believers in the baby-step toward becoming new Watchmen for the Lord.
Thank you for praying for those ministering to incarcerated populations, and for the IAAW ministry. Email your contact information HERE if you would like suggestions regarding ways to support prison outreach or the IAAW ministry.
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