July 17, 2016
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #444: Businesstry (making it your business to minister)
This is a big day for me, a day I’ve looked forward to for the last several weeks. I had other pressing things to write home about before now, so I just waited until now to break this news to you. I want to introduce you all to a very significant person in my life, but to do so properly I need to take you back six years to events that took place in my second year of prison. (And for those of you who are praying that God would eventually bring a godly woman into my life, that isn’t who this is. So, keep praying.) 🙂
While I was at Salinas Valley State Prison in 2009, I found out that a friend of mine was getting out, and he had nothing to his name. I asked my mom to get him clothes from a thrift store to parole in, and within days, Bryan had a set of clothes and he was free. I never heard from him after that.
A year later, an acquaintance of mine, Sammy, was due to parole in three weeks. He, too, had nothing. I met with him several times about a business he could work in with a friend of mine who was willing to take him on, and when he paroled, Sammy cut off his monitoring bracelet and never contacted me again.
Two years after that, a close friend of mine, Philip, became my cellie, and I began mentoring him and spent hundreds of hours teaching him a sales business. He led worship with me, met my parents at visit, and even sent out an occasional letter alongside these letters. He got out, went back to drugs just weeks later, and cut off contact with me. These experiences deeply affected me.
For the next number of years, the last four, I changed my approach. I still encouraged guys and taught them from a college course on business, but I didn’t commit vast amounts of time and resources toward their success. If I felt that I could help someone in a practical way, I did so myself, without involving my friends and family. Some cellies of mine got to meet my parents at visit, and my parents offered to pick up two of those when they paroled, but for the most part, that’s it. I’ve never connected inmates with friends of mine or family of mine, and I began to see my in-prison ministry recently as one of preparation rather than tangible, get-my-hands-dirty type of help. In fact, the most recent close friend of mine to parole got absolutely zero help from me besides getting his credit fixed, even though I knew he’d be homeless. As a professional welder, he’ll do just fine.
When I arrived at this prison, a place full of “short-termers,” guys who are on their way out the door, I assumed that I would be doing a similar type of ministry as I’d been doing, but now I’ve begun to understand that God wants me for so much more, and I’m excited to be a part of it. My first indicator that things were going to be different was when I ran into my dear friend, David, again. He plans to use me to help him relaunch his business.
The next indicator was when I first met Art, one of the elders at church. A friend of mine told me Art used to be in the financial sector, so I approached him to see if we could meet sometime. (I like to be around smart people so that I can learn from them while hoping everyone else thinks I’m smart, too.) We couldn’t make our schedules collide, since he is housed on B-side, and I was housed on A-side at the prison. Then, the morning after I was moved to my new dorm on B-side, I woke up to see Art on the bunk right next to mine! We both said that we were pretty certain we could find a way to meet now.
Over the next few days it became increasingly obvious that God had put Art and me together. In fact, I am convinced that my entire move to this side of the prison is so that I can work with him before he paroles in January, and I know that Art and I meeting is one of the key reasons why I needed to leave La Palma—something I did NOT want to do and would have NEVER chosen for myself—to transfer to dorm life here at Golden State.
The first meeting Art and I had was truly incredible. With backgrounds that look nothing alike, God has used prison quite similarly in each of our lives to get our attention focused on Him. Art’s four years of prison have been spent studying the Word and preaching, but he has also headed up the Christian ministry here for nearly two years before changing the structure to a plurality of elders so he can mentor others in church leadership. I gave Art a detailed assessment of the current state of the church ministry here, and the elder board gratefully received it and immediately implemented some of my ideas.
When Art told me about his experience in business, it was as if he saw it to be permanently in his past, with ministry replacing his former career choices. I told him my vision to see God raise up men with skills, so that when they get out of prison they could establish forms of gainful employment for other inmates to eventually benefit from. Like me, I believe Art had to get right with God in order for his true gifting to be best utilized. Thinking God would never use him in business if ministry became his vocation, I explained to him the concept I coined years ago, “businesstry”—making it your business to minister.” The look on his face was priceless as it struck him for the first time that God fully intends to use the brain, the skills, the experiences—all of it—for His purposes in ministry, through strategic business ventures. We both shed grateful tears for God’s direction.
Over the past several weeks, thanks to amazing friends and family, we’ve done lots and lots of research and planning together. Lord willing, we’ll be launching a business soon after Art paroles. Meanwhile, we’re busy serving in ministry together while we are faithful with the time God has put us together. Please pray for clear direction, discernment, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as we labor together.