Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why I Visit Jails

Merry Christmas. Pastor Hank with you today.

When I was young, long before my call to pastoral ministry, I had a good friend. I'll call him Jake. Jake and I grew up together and were friends since kindergarten. We did everything together. In the summer we threw the baseball and in the winter the football. We dreamed together about growing up to be fireman. We were as close as two boys could be. Then, just as we were entering junior high, Jake's mom and dad began to have marital problems. They were divorced when we were in eighth grade. Jake was devastated. It was the first time I ever saw him cry. We would have long conversations about what it was like not having his dad at home.

Our lives changed in the spring of eighth grade. Jake allowed distance to grow between us. He found new friends at school that were a part of a gang. Before I knew it Jake and I hardly saw each other at all. I ran into him one day at the bowling alley and we began to have a long discussion about the bad things that was doing with this gang. I was so afraid for him and tried to tell him to stop doing these things. Jake listened but I sensed he wouldn't change. Then on the last day of school the police showed up at our school, and I saw something that changed my life. My lifelong friend was being handcuffed and ushered out. No one should ever have to watch his friend be handcuffed.

Over the next few years Jake was in and out of juvenile detention facilities. I lost track of him but never forgot how much my heart hurt when I saw him in handcuffs. In high school I began to sense a call to pastoral ministry and enrolled in Bible College when I graduated. Four years later I graduated from college and took a role as an assistant pastor in that college town. One of my new responsibilities was a monthly visitation to the local jail, where I led a Bible study for some of the inmates. On my third visit I was entering the open common area when I looked up and locked eyes with Jake. Not sure that I can adequately relate the mixture of emotions that I felt. Jake tried to pass me by and not acknowledge our past connection, but God wouldn't let that happen.

I stopped Jake and engaged him in conversation. I asked him if I could visit him and he said it was okay. Over the next year Jake and I reconnected and something miraculous began to happen--not in Jake but in me. I began to experience levels of compassion that I never had before. God began to open my eyes to the pain in the world around me and in Jake specifically.

Jake was released from jail after that year and has experienced much success in his life. But I never felt a release from this ministry. Since that time I still visit jails and prisons once or twice a month. I have established relationships with several men and find that gift of compassion renewed each time that I visit with them. I hope I am a help to them. I surely know that God has used them to help me and teach me a few things.

Posted by ~ Bailey Truitt @ 7:00 AM
Can't say I've ever been in a jail. Don't think I'd be very comfortable. But I have no doubt your kind of work is needed, Hank.
Posted by Anonymous r.j. hager : 7:56 AM
Jails can be a great place for a person to think. Not much else to do in there. I think it's a great time to introduce people to the Bible. And the folks in there really need to hear the life-changing gospel message.
Posted by Anonymous T. Betz : 7:58 AM
Eleven years ago I was in jail. I did some dumb things as a young man. A chaplain visited, and I started reading the Bible. Then attending the jail's Bible studies. I found what it meant to be a Christian in that jail. The time changed my life. Today, like Pastor Hank, I volunteer my time as a visitor to jails, leading Bible studies.
Posted by Anonymous L.B. : 8:00 AM
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