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Overcoming natural instincts

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’

I BELIEVE I LEARNED MORE about the transforming power of God from prisoners than anywhere else. While I was trained in two seminaries, it was with prisoners that theology came alive for me.

What sacrifices does it take for us to follow Christ? For many of us, the price we paid for our faith is small; for some, we even prospered in our businesses as we became Christians.

But many former criminals who became Christians have no illusions about material blessings. Ah Kwong was a gang headman, earning tens of thousands of dollars each month through illegal activities. He rode in expensive cars, and commanded the awe and reverence of hundreds.

When he became a Christian he gave all that up. He took on a $1,000-a-month job as a menial labourer. Where once he travelled in luxury, he now had to deliberate on whether going anywhere was worth the bus fare. He could no longer stay in expensive hotels, dine lavishly, or spend extravagantly. Yet Ah Kwong is content and joyful.

Recently he was ecstatic when God answered his prayer for a 3-room flat to house him and his new bride. e secret to Ah Kwong’s willingness to forego the former pleasures is that he has tasted the love and goodness of God, and is determined to hold on to that at all cost.

“I had never before met a man who would risk death and still persist in telling the truth. at day I had a glimpse of what power the love of God had on people.”

 

I had never met Raju, but this man changed my life. I was then a fresh law graduate. I had attended Raju’s trial out of curiosity. Raju had killed his roommate who had been very abusive towards him for months. His defence was “grave and sudden provocation”, and there were many witnesses who attested to the fact that the abuser had daily heaped insults and abuse at him and making derogatory remarks about his mother.

Raju’s defence appeared strong and his victory imminent. What the prosecution did not know was that after strangling the abuser, Raju had left the house for several hours, and upon returning to his flat, found the abuser still alive. Raju strangled him again and this time made sure that his abuser was dead. is fact would have destroyed Raju’s defence; except that only Raju knew about it.

At the trial, Raju told the story as it had happened. His lawyer tried in vain to silence him. In the midst of the upheaval in court, I noticed that Raju’s Christian counsellor was seated near me. When I asked why Raju was destroying his defence by telling the court what the prosecution did not know, the counsellor replied: “Just before his trial, Raju told me that he has experienced so much of God’s love, he simply would not dishonour his Lord and Saviour by not telling the truth in court.”

I had never before met a man who would risk death and still persist in telling the truth. at day I had a glimpse of what power the love of God had on people.

Ex-convicts are often viewed with suspicion and are rejected. at is because few of us know their stories, and the price they have willingly paid to follow their Lord Jesus Christ. e Gospel writers selected just a few stories of persons like Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, and James and John the sons of under, to remind us that what is largely unseen are the sacrifices and courage of former “sinners”, who by their courageous devotion to their Lord, have become examples for future generations of Christians.

It is my prayer that our fear and suspicion of converted ex-prisoners will be transformed into a new-found respect for them and a willingness to learn from them as God’s models of sacrificial living for our generation.

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