“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind and set the oppressed free. “ Luke 4:18, Jesus citing Isaiah 61:1
Since I first came to New York City in 1979 to care for the homeless and street people of Times Square, much has happened. I could give you a miraculous accounting of continued and powerful intervention of the Lord’s work in our lives over the years. But if you follow my monthly devotional, you understand some of what has happened. Yet in the midst of many tears, much joy and life-changing experiences, I have at times felt drained and tired and discouraged. Recently, a seemingly sorrowful intervention ended up encouraging me and reminding me of the Lord’s powerful love for us.
I was introduced to a man named Craig some 27 years ago by my longtime pal, Bobby Muzikowski. (Founder of the Chicago Hope Academy, a Chicago Little League and author of “Safe at Home.”) Bob and Craig ran together in high school; but Craig took a detour, got involved in rough stuff, and was sentenced to two life sentences for capital crimes. I visited Craig in prison, continue to do so and stay in touch, and through God’s amazing grace, Craig not only came to faith in Christ, but has been a consistent friend to his fellow inmates, helping them also to understand God’s mercy and grace. He has led Bible studies inside the prison for years. Periodically, I will get a knock at the door and a guy will introduce himself as one of “Craig’s guys.” Craig and I speak frequently and I visit whenever possible.
So the other day, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sorrows of life (my great-nephew, Jarret Vartanian, age 28, was tragically killed on January 6th), Craig called me. “Hi Brother, I’ve been transferred to a new prison because there was no heat in our wing. The only thing they allowed me to take was my KJV Bible, and what a blessing!” He proceeded to quote the Psalms, bits and pieces of Romans and a portion of the Gospels. His excitement was not just contagious, but inspiring. Here’s a guy in prison for 27 years with a very bleak future, who was encouraging me and celebrating God’s love. (He may get paroled in 13 years.)
His chat with me was invigorating and purposeful and a deep reminder that we need one another in the Body of Christ. We can serve and love Christ no matter where we are, no matter how dark our situation may be. St. Paul wrote some of his most powerful epistles as he was waiting in prison. Nelson Mandela, after 16 years in prison, discovered Christ. He then persevered and grew in faith during his remaining 11 years in prison. The Lord is at work in silent and wonderful ways. And for a moment in my own hour of need, a guy who loves Christ and loves me was a vehicle of great grace to remind me of the love of Jesus in an awesome, poignant way!
Closing our conversation, Craig reminded me, “Beejmeister, there are lots of people in terrible prisons of their own making--addictions, bad choices--but they just don’t see it.”
Yours in Christ,