by Johnny Allen
How do we deal with the diversity of crime or levels of crime? It is a messy ministry, no doubt – but I just believe and trust His Word. One of the scriptures that helps me the most is 1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This verse is modeled every time we enter a prison. It was modeled in my life. It is the tangible outworking of the love of Jesus and His love for us that heightens my own level of expectation every time I enter a prison.
I had a man who came to visit me at JCCC tell me that the hardest part of ministry to offenders was to be patient. He wanted to see everyone saved at once. Now I see his passion!!! I have to remember to be patient/patient enough to understand who they are and where they are in life as they enter into chapel services. Each one is different, as was I, and usually comes with lots of baggage, I sure did. An offender is forced to confront hard issues. They want answers and the reply “Brother, I’ll pray for you” isn’t the one they want to hear. I lay awake a lot after our services, picturing the faces of men I know who are hurting, broken, confused, lost and I try to think what else could have been said. In truth, I know it’s God who does the real work, the conviction a man gets, but I always want to make sure I’m doing well with what He has entrusted me to do.
With offenders, the struggles are real, like I said before – you are put in situations to confront hard issues. As I was writing this I was reminded of a man who asked me one night, while I was incarcerated, one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. I’m not sure I even answered it. But he asked, “Johnny, is God really Sovereign? Is He really a loving God? If so, where was He when my young neighbor murdered his wife and unborn child in front of his 14 year old daughter?” Back to 1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things.” And I also know that all things do work out for the good for those who love God – these things work together according to His purpose. He is God, He is Sovereign and you and I will never figure it all out this side of Heaven. Can I answer that question to satisfy this man today? Nope. Does not knowing change my perspective of God? Nope. I just keep growing, keep trusting, and keep loving. I do know this – or I believe this for myself – that ministry can be messy, questions can be hard and I surely don’t have all the answers and I’m not supposed to.
Sing for the King services are a mixture of celebration, joy, and hope but they also have a small measure of life’s messiness sprinkled in and that reminds us daily of our total dependence on God. We step into the chapels in faith, where we try to bring absolutely nothing of our own that’s life changing and we rely on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word – in the message, in the worship, in the testimonies and when we do that, we can fully experience what “Christ in me” really means. We have an awareness that we are powerless on our own to make a difference. All we can do is allow God’s love to work in and through us.
What we want to leave the men with who are coming out of prison is to totally depend on God; trusting and living fully in that love in obedience to the One who paid their ransom and set them free. That’s all.
Whom the Son sets free is free indeed. John 8:36
I was going to stop here but I shared what I had written with a man I work with and he asked this “Do you think it bothers people that you guys are in constant fellowship with murderers, thieves, convicted sex offenders, sinners of all kinds? What about the victims of these horrific crimes?” I want you to know the victims are never forgotten. They are very dear to our hearts. Our hopes are for a changed life that produces no more victims. The victims of my old life are still there and I am very respectful of them, so many have forgiven me but I know today that I am not creating new victims.
I feel obligated to share what Jesus has done for me. If I truly belong to Jesus, the One who welcomed Paul, the thief on the cross, and Mary Magdalene into His Holy Kingdom and countless others, then I have to share the Good News with everyone I come into contact with – at Walmart in Warsaw or in the prisons across the state of Missouri and let them know – NO ONE IS EXCLUDED.
When we step out in faith and love and extend the grace we have received to the incarcerated we are joining with Jesus in His radical work of redemption. Who better needs Jesus than those in prison? They can’t hide their sin, it’s public, we (the men in prison and myself) didn’t go to prison because we were saints, we’ve been caught in our sin and we know it! And when we, the church – Jesus people, go to where Jesus is working and share His wondrous works, we will encounter His transforming presence and power in ways that will fuel our faith and bring Glory to His Name. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Through it all, the good, the messiness, the questions, the uncertainties…I know this and it will never change…at the end of every day, whether I answer all the questions or whether I fall or succeed at my calling….I know that Christ is still my reward.