Often the success of our faith based dorms is measured in statistics such as numbers graduated and recidivism rates lowered. But an even better measure is the transforming power of Jesus Christ in individual lives. Such is the story of Joe __________, who came to our dorm in January 2012, a couple of months after he accepted Christ, and who achieved two graduation certificates from our program. Recently Joe sent his testimony to one of our volunteers, Ellery Buchanan, who has kept up with Joe for the last several years. Here is Joe’s story.
On August 8, 2003, I was called to the Chaplain’s office and was told by my mother that the night before my little brother’s life had been taken. It was as if my heart had been hit with a sledge hammer and broken into a million pieces. The indescribable pain soon turned into anger, rage and hate. I vowed to deal with the person responsible for those emotions, whatever the cost.
Three months later I was released from prison and went looking for that person. I was informed that the person had fled the country, and I would have to wait. While I waited, I pushed all the anger and rage deep inside me to hide it from my family. I tried to function that way for awhile but soon those unresolved issues burst open and it took my family and me down a valley of misery. Along the way I got entangled in the thorns and thistles of drugs and alcohol. I was in way over my head and out of control, with no faith. I lost hope and ended up on the wrong side of the law.
On August 25, 2011, I was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 25 years aggravated and sent to prison.
In November 2011, I committed my life to Jesus Christ and asked God to take away this poison that was killing my soul. I was told that the unforgiveness in my heart was destroying me and keeping me distant from God. I made a decision to forgive the men responsible for the death of my little brother. In time, my heart was being repaired and I could feel peace that surpassed all understanding which could only come from God.
God began to orchestrate a way to test my heart. I was moved to another unit and, while on the rec yard, I approached my friend who was in conversation with another inmate. As I listened to the conversation and the testimony of the other man, I realized that I had come face to face with the very man who had killed my brother. Those old emotions rose up inside of me and I asked the man if he knew who I was. He said he didn’t. I told him I knew who he was and that he was the man who had killed my brother. I will never forget the look on his face as he backed away from me.
I stared at the sky with tear filled eyes for what seemed like hours. I felt paralyzed. Then I heard a still voice say, “Joe, you have forgiven.” I turned to the guy and told him that I serve Jesus Christ and that I have forgiven him. I stood up and shook his hand and told him not to worry about me doing him harm.
Later that day, in the chapel, I was led to pray with that guy. I told him that my Father, who is in Heaven, would forgive him for what he had done if he would just ask. We joined hands as he asked God to forgive him. He embraced me and told me he could feel that burden had been lifted from him.
At that moment I realized that God had used me to set that young man free of unforgiveness. I learned that Christ in me allowed me to show the power of God’s love and mercy. To Him be the glory!
Perhaps you are holding onto unforgiveness as well. I can assure you that God is able to deliver you from that bondage. In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says, “For if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
I wanted to share what Jesus has done in my heart in hopes that you may know that God can deliver you from whatever you may be dealing with. Forgiveness is key to your relationship with God and others. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Forgiveness may not be easy, but with God all things are possible.