From the Front Lines of Prison Ministry
by Will Schmit
(Find out more about will by visiting our “about us”page at the very top of the site.)
Jorge got the letter from home no inmate wants to receive. She wouldn’t wait for him. She was through. The attendees found him with a torn string of bed sheets around his neck. The resulting lockdown prevented me, a volunteer preacher, from holding worship that following Sunday though it was weeks before I learned the reason.
At our next service we talked about John 10:10 ‘ The thief does not come but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.’ A fellow inmate, who knew Jorge’s condition, asked that we pray for him. Our prayer group gathered in a circle but before we began I confessed I had tried to harm myself with an overdose over a girl when I was in my twenties, long before I was saved.
Jorge had not been attending our service and I asked the group to invite him to meet with me as we had a lot in common.
The following week Jorge slunk in the back of the chapel and I stopped the reading to go back and introduce myself. I told him I was so glad he was alive because more people than he could imagine were waiting to hear a good word from him.
He looked at me warily as I led him to the front of the room and if I hadn’t squeezed his hand I’m sure he would’ve busted out a window.
I asked him if I could guess what was going through his mind after he got his ‘Dear Jorge’ letter and after he nodded I spelled out the despair, self-loathing, and desire for revenge that I remembered from my own trauma of rejection. I pressed down on his shoulders and neck with each pronouncement until he was bent down to the floor and asked the group to recite in unison
Matthew 11:28 ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I AM gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
I straightened Jorge up and turned him to face the group. I asked him if he was willing to do me a favor and memorize something for a week. With our hands on each other’s shoulders and our eyes locked I had him repeat the phrase, ’Learn from me for I AM gentle and humble in heart.’ Jorge stuttered through a swelling of tears and tried out the phrase a few times with the group echoing his efforts after each voicing.
Jorge collapsed in a front row pew as we continued to repeat the phrase over him. We concluded our service, we only have an hour before the guards come to close the building, by discussing that the enemy deceives us into self harm and that his tactic can be overcome by reversing the ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ theory with ‘Scripture In, Scripture Out’ therapy.
Every week for the next few months when Jorge comes to worship—he enters through the front door now—I ask him if he has a good word for the group and he stands clear and tall and says, ‘Learn from me for I AM gentle and humble in heart.’
Sadly things have not yet repaired with his wife, but Jorge did report he got a letter from his daughter, a first ever from her. She had stopped using drugs and entered re-hab because as she put it, “If my Dad can have a good attitude in jail because of Jesus and fellowship, then I have no reason to belly ache about my life on the outside.”
Jorge has gone on to increase his personification of Matthew 11:28. He says it is much easier to get across the yard knowing his burden is light.