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Lessons from Prison

In January 2014, I began serving as Executive Director of The God of Hope Ministries here in Austin. As you know, ours is a ministry focused on discipling incarcerated men and women in two local prisons. Our principal venue is in “faith-based dorms” or living units in which we teach Bible, spiritual disciplines, and life skills from a Christian perspective through large group instruction, small group discipleship, and one-on-one coaching. God has taught me two big lessons through this experience:

First, life is (humanly speaking) a roll of the dice. Many of us, I included, were raised in stable, middle-class families with good discipline in the home and with opportunities for sound education up through college. Because of this, we find ourselves able to repeat that cycle with good families and careers of our own. And we tend to think our success was all due to our own hard work and skill. Yet many grow up in poverty stricken areas with absentee parents (especially fathers), a lack of discipline in the home, neighborhoods controlled by gangs and drugs, local schools that don’t teach, and, consequently, a life without hope. So many of these populate our prisons. And we glibly judge them by saying, “Shame on them for winding up in prison.” Yes, life can be a roll of the dice.

But the second lesson I learned is that our great God can bring redemption and hope to even the least of these. Jesus said of Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because … He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives … to set free those who are oppressed [including those in prison]” (Luke 4: 18). This is what we see every day in our faith-based dorms. Prisoners who have known nothing but rejection and poverty discover that God loves them, that God gives real hope through His Son, and that their lives are precious in His sight (and in ours, too). And many of them are teaching me humility, courage, and confidence in Jesus Christ. What glorious evidence of God at work!

Bill Laughlin