I learned about life from prisoners

EVER SO OFTEN, our Lord Jesus Christ cited live examples of Christ-likeness from the most unlikely sources: persons least likely to be respected by God.

One day while dining with respected religious leaders, Jesus was approached by a prostitute who had intruded into their private meal. As the woman smothered his feet with tears and his head with expensive perfume, Jesus turned to his horrified hosts and gave them a lesson on the joy of being forgiven.

On another occasion, Jesus told a story of two men praying in the Temple. One was a respected religious leader, the other a “sinner” or offender. The religious leader recited his many good deeds, while the sinner simply pleaded with God for mercy. Jesus pointed out that the sinner eventually left the place more justified than the religious leader.

Summarising his respect and love for “sinners”, Jesus told a gathering of religious leaders that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter God’s Kingdom ahead of them. As it was in the time of Jesus, so the trend of “sinners” having priority in God’s Kingdom continues in our day. Not only that, but God is using “sinners” to show us the way into God’s Kingdom.

In this and the following two issues, I shall share lessons on the Christian life that I learned from prisoners. In this issue, I will share lessons learned from a man who served God to the end.

John was a murderer and felt deep revulsion for the hideous act he had committed. He saw himself as sub-human and a worm, and had difficulty accepting that God would forgive him. But God worked steadily in his life, eventually convincing him that he had been forgiven. Even so, John felt that he had wasted his entire life, and that it was too late to redeem the time.

I challenged John to ask God to make his life count. Initially John was sceptical, but subsequently agreed to pray about it.

Several weeks later, John began writing letters to his children individually. He wanted to express himself more intimately to them and to go beyond the usual pleasantries, and to leave a lasting legacy for them. He prayed fervently before each family visit, asking that God would make each visit count for God and for his family members.

John’s ministry expanded to writing to old friends and distant relatives. He even gave wise counsel to a nephew who was seeking direction for life. He also began to comfort other inmates. A foreign inmate related to John how John had given him courage to face challenges when he returned to his home country. By the end of John’s life, he had ministered to more people than many of us have in our life time.

John taught me that effective and compassionate service for God and to men cannot be restricted by one’s past, nor by time and space. He had killed his victim in a cowardly fashion; he was confined to a cell in the heart of the prison and had little access to anyone except his closest family members; and he had a limited time to live. Yet John allowed God to make his life count despite the limitations.

From John, I learned that the God of boundless love enables us to live and serve beyond our perceived boundaries.