Yesterday I was on the phone chatting with a friend who is about to embark on a ministry to ex-offenders. He asked me if I could send him some stories of transformation which he could relay, in order to encourage his supporters. Since then I have been thinking about God’s work in many of the folks I have had the honour of serving, and in doing so I rejoice at the goodness of God.
In the past few weeks I have got to know D. He called out to God from his prison cell several weeks ago. “God if you exist, please help!” D. believes God answered that prayer and now he is seeking God and a fresh start at life. He has little background and knowledge but is a most absorbent sponge for the Good News of Jesus his Saviour! He has shared with me some of the concerns which he normally would ‘bottle up’. We have prayed together. It is early days for D. and it is tremendously encouraging to see his rapid progress.
Years ago I met M. His parole officer thought M. was a throw away person. She attempted to get him named a Dangerous Offender and see him locked up forever. M. was indeed a scary guy but he has made progress. He remains free some 10 years later. He has been on spiritual mountain tops and some deep valleys. Lately he has gone through a tough time with some major setbacks but looking at the whole trajectory of his life, we thank God for his work in the life of M. and we know He is not finished yet!
I first met D. 15 years ago as he attended a class I was teaching on the Book of Romans. D. loves Jesus and is utterly unashamed to tell people about him. He has also done at least two “bits” (served two prison terms) in that time. I used to be puzzled by this seeming contradiction but I have come to understand. D.’s life was like many of the people in our church pews who proclaim Jesus as their Lord, in that the lordship of Jesus made no practical difference in his life. For the average pew filling Christian this ‘practical atheism’ is less evident. D.’s background led him to a life of practical atheism which was much less socially acceptable. D. has come to realize this and has made a fresh commitment to follow Jesus in every aspect of his life. He knows that he has much to learn and unlearn. I am hopeful and indeed encouraged as D. seeks to ‘hang out’ with me several times a week. He does dishes, sweeps, and cleans toilets, exhibiting a new servant heart. He is determined to never return to his old ways.
K. had spent over 25 years in prison. He robbed his first bank as a pre-teen. He decide one day to “become a citizen” by this he means a subject of the Kingdom of God. With this decision and a reliance on the power of God to do what he could not, he has learned a new way of living and a new way of speaking. He is a dramatic illustration of the transformative power of God. People who meet him would not guess at his background. He has become a new person, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. K. has become a valued partner in the Street Hope ministry and a tremendous pal to me personally.
O. came to Saint John as a very angry guy. My first conversation with him was trying to dissuade him from “tearing down this whole place!” Over time O. began to calm. He began to help once a week painting or cleaning at our Street hope chapel. Then he began to come to our Spaghetti and a Western, and then our worship events. He began to share his Church background as a young man. He began to respond to the Gospel. He is no longer on parole and holds a regular job. He remains as a volunteer and attends most of our events. The change has been dramatic!
There are more stories, space does not allow for their telling. Not all are so positive but as I reflect back I thrill at the marvellous power of God to transform sinners of whom I am chief.