As we sit sipping our drinks in the noisy coffee shop, I am intrigued by Julie’s eyes. Intelligent and enquiring, there is an elusive look that speaks of life and all the associated experiences – expected as well as unanticipated – that come our way on this journey. The threads of joy and of pain; of hope and loss; threads that make up the fabric of life. Julie is a new donor to Prison Fellowship, and was glad to meet with me and chat over a coffee and get to know the ministry.
Straining above the loud chatter around us, it becomes apparent as Julie talks, that she has been impacted by the prevalence in the news lately of the tragedy of many people worldwide who have died while in custody. Julie had been left with a profound sense of disillusionment coupled with powerlessness to make any meaningful impact. She has always been acutely aware of the devastating impact of the effects of ‘the cards that some people have been dealt’ in life.
“The deck is not always fairly stacked,” Julie says softly, and her heart of compassion is evident as she goes on to speak of a man from her church who displays the impact of clearly having ‘done it rough’ in his past.
It was while attending her church one Sunday that Julie had noticed a Prison Fellowship brochure pinned to the notice board and had felt compelled to remove it and take it home to find out more. As she read through the edition of Set Free, she had been moved by the stories of the lives of people incarcerated and paying the consequences of their decisions. But with this came a new awareness; the realization that although they were confined to prison now, the stories of these inmates spoke of the paradox of a sense of freedom while being confined to prison.
A freedom which they had never experienced before.
As we sip our coffees, Julie reflects on her own life; on her own spiritual journey, one which for a long time was nothing more than religious formality. In many ways, its own kind of prison.
She shares her own life-changing experience of an unmistakeable encounter that came with comprehending the truth that she was truly loved by Jesus; valued by Him; treasured by Him. “I discovered that Jesus loves me and everything else is peripheral. He is the ‘core business’”, she says. She speaks of the painful ways in her life that she had been made to feel ‘less than’, living with coercive controlling lies that implied ‘you will never be good enough’. Lies that were exposed on the day she encountered for the first time the compassion, patience and love of Christ that said, “You are loved enough that I would die for you.”
The circuit breaker.
Julie explains that on reading that Prison Fellowship magazine, she no longer felt powerless to address the inequity of the lives of those who perhaps have been victims themselves through life circumstances. A reality which very few who having grown up in a privileged environment, can authentically identify with.
She knows from her experience that the Christ of Isaiah 53, Who although perfect, said not a word when unjustly accused and condemned, is the voice for each of us. “If He can change me and give me a voice, He can change the lives of those who have ended up in prison. But they need to hear about Him. We need to be empowering those in prison to hear this message. It is the only lasting and effective way of breaking the destructive, imprisoning, repetitive circuit that just keeps going round and round.”
She had pinned the notice back on the church notice board the following week … and knew her way forward to make a difference.
Julie is now an ongoing ChainBreaker donor and also gives support for various other programs, as she is led. She knows the meaning of ‘my chains are gone I’ve been set free’ in her own life. She is determined to be a part of making this a possibility for those on the inside and breaking the circuit of reoffending.
A possibility for all who hear the message of the boundless redeeming love of Christ.
As we prepare to leave the coffee shop, I am again struck by Julie’s eyes. And I now realize that reflected there, is in fact the irrepressible essence, of hope.
Yvonne Smuts – Staff Writer