Tonight's article is again penned by my dear friend, Joe Widick. Joe taught with me at Friendship Christian School in Lebanon, Tennessee and later became the high school administrator. I was blessed to teach his three children and even teach with one, Lane, here at WCS. Joe is married to the lovely Elaine and serves full time as an elder and minister with the Maple Hill Church of Christ. Continued prayers for me, please, in Vietnam!
In the early 70’s I was asked (not sent) to go to the State Prison and teach a class. It seems that because I was teaching teenagers in a school setting, they thought I would be OK with teaching hardened criminals in the State Prison. For some reason, I said yes I will give it a try. I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t think if there would be dangers to deal with. I failed to realize that Sunday came every week and every week I would be in the prison. It didn’t dawn on me that I couldn’t pick up the phone and call mom or dad and tell them that their child was not behaving. These were men who had murdered people, committed armed-robbery and other heinous crimes. It was however one of the most rewarding works I have ever been involved with. I stepped outside my box of comfort to help give hope to those who seemed to be hopeless. The lesson that I learned helped to shape my life and to give me a different perspective on matters. Most if not all the men in my class came from a terrible home life, my home was stable. The men really didn’t know what love was and even though someone might have said “I love you” they really had no grasp of what that consisted of. One of the things I tried to do during my tenure of teaching at the prison was to encourage the men to grow in their understanding of Jesus, and as they grew in that knowledge to make certain that they shared the good news of Jesus Christ with others. I remember the first time I met James. He looked younger than me. He was facing 18 years in prison for armed robbery. As we talked I asked why he had chosen to come to our class. He told me that Charles had invited him to come and out of curiosity he came. Charles was the oldest member of the class and had been in the prison since 1952. He was not leaving, he had murdered his wife. He was baptized at the prison and had taken very seriously his commitment to the Lord. During the three years that I went to the prison, we had many who came because Charles took the time to invite them.
Do you remember the command given to the people of Judah when they were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar? The Lord told the people; “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands...that you may be increased there, and not diminished” Many times we face some limiting circumstances. Whether it is the result of our failure, or through no fault of our own, we can “go” through it or seek God’s strength to “grow” through it. The challenge of every confinement, whether in a prison system or set of circumstances that has built up barriers, we need to continue to increase rather than decrease; to grow and not diminish. I am convinced that the Lord’s goal is to give us “a future and hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Maybe we all need to step outside our box of comfort or complaint and start trying to grow again.
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