August 8, 2008
Friday, 8:08.08 p.m.
Letter #49: Spiritual Springboards
Greetings! As you can see by the time and date of this letter, I penned the opening at the precise moment of 8/8/8 8:08.08. Since it also coincided with the beginning of coverage of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, I set the letter aside and am resuming on Sunday afternoon. 🙂
Today’s lack of church services followed a drought of midweek services as well, despite a planned baptismal service for Thursday’s Hispanic service. Though it is an incredible let-down to not have an expected church service—these services being a major highlight of my week—the disappointments become catalysts for my joy and gratefulness for each day when I do get to participate in chapel services. Time spent in wistful talk of if-only and I-should’ve doesn’t really help me much. The constant ups and downs of life here can serve to help me, though, if I use them—either up or down—as springboards to let God teach me contentment, gratefulness, and patience.
I brought my daily devotional book* out to dayroom a few days ago, to make good use of free time after finishing my shower. A guy named Jonny stopped by where I was sitting after the little book caught his eye. He told me that he’d been doing drugs for his first two years in prison.
As part of a white supremacist prison gang, the Nazi Lowriders, he was involved in an altercation that landed him in administrative segregation (ad-seg) housing. In ad-seg, or “the hole” as it is called, referencing the hole punched into your ID card as your admission cost, not only are privileges severely limited, but reading choices are severely limited too. He was given the usual Bible, and a sympathetic officer gave him one additional book—the very same daily devotional I was given by an inmate on the yard while I was walking to church several weeks ago.
Jonny was so frustrated with his life that one day in his isolated cell, he threw the Bible the length of the cell, where it hit the wall and landed open, upside-down on the concrete floor. He told me that he picked up the little devotional and read how God told someone the lights of her car had been left on. Sure enough, she checked, and it was true. He told me that he figured that lady wasn’t any more special to God than he was, so he decided to put God to the test to see if He really exists.
Jonny asked God to tell him the exact page number of the Bible that lay sprawled open in the corner of his cell. He immediately wrote down the number that came to his mind and checked the Bible. The confirmation he received that day was a turning point for him. Not only has he believed in God ever since, but he’s given up many of his old ways.
Though Jonny doesn’t have a close relationship with God, that moment in the hole forever captured his attention that God knows about Jonny—and He cares enough about him to interrupt his life to make Himself known. Please pray: God has given me an open door to talk with Jonny again. I need wisdom to know what would be best to help Jonny grow in faith and in knowledge of God. I might be able to get him to attend a church service or read an informational pamphlet or booklet.
Recently, I’ve invited several other inmates to church services; a couple have come already, but there are others who would benefit from the services. I thought it was awesome that Mommy introduced me to a family she’d met while waiting to visit me. The inmate isn’t as into God or church as his praying family is, it was apparent, but I’m praying he’ll accept my invite to join me at church.
For most of the guys here who don’t go to church, they not only feel that church “isn’t their thing,” but they are convinced that other guys wouldn’t approve if they started going. As John speaks of in his gospel: “Even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of [others] … they did not confess him … for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42–43). Sheesh. What are these guys thinking? I mean, none of us have that problem, right? Surely no one I know has the problem of caring more about what others think than what God thinks, right? Riiight …
Please pray that God grabs some hearts around here—and there. 🙂
*From Faith to Faith by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland