February 9, 2012
Thursday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #212: A Front-Row Seat
I thought about opening this letter with this sensational phrase: “The most amazing blessing I’ve ever received since coming to prison nearly four years ago just happened to me this week.” But then I thought better of it, figuring you wouldn’t believe me. After all, more than 200 weekly letters have expressed some fairly incredible blessings I’ve received to date. Some of you, praying for my early release (the Rapture, more likely!) or for a wife (double imprisonment!) would get your hopes up at such a statement.
Well, I’d love to be free, and God has given me a desire to marry (here’s a shout-out to all you grannies out there: I turn 50 just after my scheduled release date, so you can fight over me then), but those days will come. Better by far is to have a life today with meaning, purpose, and tangible fruit! Let me tell you how God has used your prayers for Soto, the young man I recently led to the Lord … his growth in Christ is the best blessing ever.
Nearly every day this past week, Soto and I have set aside time to meet together to study the Bible. Sometimes it’s while we are all out in the pod’s dayroom, waiting to walk to the chow hall. Other times, we meet when most of the guys go out to the yard and the dayroom is quieter. With the tables usually filled with groups of inmates playing card games, dominoes, or chess, we go and sit in relative seclusion against a wall, sitting on the floor.
At first, the assignment I gave Soto to read a little bit every day didn’t happen. The Bible I’d given him to read, my own copy of my favorite version, the New Living Translation, though in modern English, wasn’t easy to read. So I found a simpler translation for him in the chapel library, and he can understand it much better.
Right away, he began reading the daily Bible in a Year portions along with one chapter of Proverbs each day. When we meet, he reads aloud from Proverbs and tells me what he gets out of it. I’ve encouraged him to ask God for wisdom to understand His Word, which he does every day. And each day, I’ve seen him tangibly grow in wisdom and understanding.
I’ve never had this kind of front-row seat to someone’s growth in faith before. I’m in awe of all God is doing. Soto has spiritual insight, he applies Scripture to his own life, and he can already feel the change God is making in his heart. Even more evidence that God is at work can be found in all the opposition Soto has faced already, all because of his newfound faith:
- An officer, opening Soto’s cell just so he could dash in to grab his Bible for one of our Bible studies, remarked to Soto: “The Bible, eh? You know that it’s bad for you, right?” He was dead serious.
- A couple of other young, image-conscious inmates approached Soto and said they had noticed him sitting with me, reading the Bible. They asked him what in the world he was doing reading the Bible (it’s not “cool” to be open about it, though I often find out about those who never go to church yet read the Bible—privately). Soto simply replied that he was trying to change his old ways and do something positive by learning about God.
- One guy, whom Soto said he’s known for a while, told him he needed to stop studying the Bible immediately, that he “shouldn’t be doing that stuff.” Soto told the guy that he didn’t care—he knows he needs to do this. When I mentioned that some friends don’t give good advice, Soto smiled and said: “Obviously, someone who tries to turn me from God isn’t a true friend. I can tell that God is working on me and He is helping me. I pray to Him and I ask Him to help me learn more about Him. I also thank Him for you. I’m never giving up, no matter what anyone says to me.”
Thank you for praying for Soto! He goes home in only a few months. To my own shame, I never talked to Soto about his need for God when he was in my pod for a year in Florence, and not for the first seven months here. What time has been lost!
I pray to be more faithful with future opportunities … and that I would be as bold as Soto … or the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work … of telling others the Good News about the wonderful Grace of God” (Acts 20:24).