Over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation’s communities. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year. But what if I told you that most of them are still not free even though they are not living in a cell anymore. They are still prisoners to their addictions, their broken relationships, and their past.
So what is it that we can do to enable them to experience freedom? What are the ways that we can be a part of the life change for the men and women that have been in prison? I believe that these are a few questions that we need to be asking ourselves especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. Here are a few things that I have learned over the last couple of months from spending time with the men and women of our city that have been released from prison:
- SEE THEM AS A PERSON – They have already spent a great deal of time where they were seen as a number and not as an individual. They carry with them not the identity as a person but the burden of what they have done. That means we have the opportunity to see them not as a number and not as crime but as a person. Here is a quote that I have been thinking about: “Always pray to have eyes that see people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith in God.” I believe that we have the possibility to be a part of the change of someone who may still see themselves as a prisoner. One of the things that I believe is important for some of us to remember is this: “The only difference between them and us, is that they got caught.” Just a little food for thought.
- TALK TO THEM NOT ABOUT THEM – I have recently had the opportunity to spend some of my time with several men and women that have been recently released from prison. It has opened my eyes to the fact that many of them still have a hard time talking with people that they feel can either do or take away something from them. They are constantly aware of what people can and will mostly say about them because of there life choices. So I make a point to talk to them, to look them in the eye and find out who they are and what is happening in their life. It is building on the first thing as seeing them as a person and then talking to them and not about them. If more people were willing to talk to returning citizens we just might gain some understanding of who they are and what is happening in their lives.
- CHOSE TO HELP NOT HINDER – This is where I am amazed at the hardness of some people’s hearts and the depth of the fear that they have for the unknown. People will unfortunately automatically think of a person that has been released from prison as the worst person they can think of in this world. But the truth of the matter is that many of these individuals are people just like you and me that have either made a choice or have been involved in a situation that has lead them to being in prison. (Think about Martha Stewart she is a felon.) So why not see how you can help them? Why not see what you can do to enable them to see that they don’t need to go back to where they have just came from. I am fortunate to be able to work and be with an amazing group of people that are doing just that, choosing to help these men and women and not to hinder them. The place and people can all be found at the Second Chance Center a place where the decision has been made to help returning citizens experience lives of success and fulfillment.
So what are you doing to help make men and women that were previously incarcerated feel free again?
7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.Romans 6:7 (NLT)
Over the weekend I had the amazing opportunity to spend some time with a group of amazing people that are working towards not going back to where they had come from. You see each of the individuals that were sitting in the room had all in the recent days, weeks, and months had been released from prison. These were men, women, young, old, and of ever different ethnic origin. As I sat there among them and heard the organizations leader speak to them about next steps and what they needed to do to stay out of prison and experience a changed life I was deeply moved. It was when I heard many of them share about the voices in their lives that they needed to stop listening too if they were going to stay out of prison that I became emotional. I heard them talk about their own voices, they talked about family voices, and they even talked about voices from being in prison. But each one had a voice that they needed to leave behind so that they could move forward in a life that was to be changed and headed towards healing.
I was then reading the book of the Acts and reading the story of the healing of the beggar at Solomon’s Colonnade in chapter 3 and 4. The story of the beggar took my mind back to the room of people that I was with this weekend. Here is why, the story of the man who spent most of his life lying in front of the colonnade must have heard the voices of the people walking by call him all sorts of names like beggar, cripple, worthless, and many others. But then came two men that would turn things upside down by asking him if he would want to be healed? The hurting and disabled men responded by saying yes. Then the lame beggar that could not walk began to run, dance, and leap because of the healing power of the name of Jesus Christ. His life was changed in a moment.
But what about those voices, what about the names that were still possibly ringing in his head? They were all replaced with one name, Jesus. You see that man had his life changed by Jesus, the names that he be called most of his life were replaced with Jesus, the voices that had called him lame and beggar were replaced with the name Jesus. Even the religious leaders that were trying to stop the name of Jesus couldn’t stop that;
14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. Acts 4:14 (NLT)
Because of what Jesus had done in the life of this man there was really nothing they could say. That is why I was so moved this weekend. I know that for those that were sitting in that room there is a voice that will and can change the lives of those people there, and it is Jesus. So on that day I was able to stand in front of those people and tell them about Jesus and that there is a family of people that love them and care for them even if they don’t know them yet and it is Jesus bride, the church. I pray that the voice of the people that are following Jesus called His church will be so loud that those that are coming out of prison can’t only here the voice of Jesus.
What are the voices in your life that are challenging you from hearing Jesus? How are you being the voice of Jesus to the people around you that are struggling?
So while I was looking through my Facebook feed the other day this is a video that was posted by Larry Leith from Tokyo Joe’s. (By the way I love their food and I love the culture that they have created for their business.) It is a great little coffee shop that is located down in Colorado Springs just an hour from where we live here in Aurora. The whole idea of the video is that people would go and visit other coffee shops in the area because of the community that has embraced them and by doing so end up with a free drink at Loyal Coffee. They are calling it the “Dis-Loyality Card”! What an amazing idea!
Here is where this video took me though – the church community. Isn’t this what we should be doing as the church? Letting people know that the community of faith is here for each other and build a community that is for the city not just ourselves? I was recently a part of a conversation about two churches in a community coming together for an event that helps grow leadership for both the city and the communities of faith. It was going to be an exciting opportunity to see the KINGDOM of Jesus respond in a way that would be a huge influence in the city. Well unfortunately one of the churches was not willing to partner in this endeavor because the building where the event was being held was not good enough for their people. Are you serious? The building is the reason that these two churches couldn’t come together to make a difference in the city like never before?
What if we decided to have “Dis-Loyalty” Sundays where we encouraged the people of our churches to go and support another church in the community? What if we called them BIG KINGDOM Sunday’s and we showed support for the big kingdom of Jesus?
What do you think about the coffee shop idea? What do you think about the BIG KINGDOM Sunday idea?