June 22, 2011
As I mentioned in my April letter, we are now studying the Gospel of John on Thursday nights at the Brig. Right now, we’re in the middle of Chapter 5, where Jesus asserts his deity and his authority to Jews who have just expressed an intention to kill him. This all started because Jesus healed a man who had been lame for a very long time. He told the man to pick up his mat and walk, and it was unlawful for him to carry his mat on the Sabbath.
The newly-healed man, surprisingly, ends up playing tattle-tale on Jesus—an odd response for one who has been so sick for so long and is now healed. But it gets him off the hook; the Jews’ hook, that is. But not Jesus’s hook. Jesus tells the man to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” What could be worse than 38 years of being an invalid? I am not inclined to speculate.
As we were studying this passage at the Brig, we did speculate as to what eventually happened to this man. Did “something worse” happen to him? Many of the people Jesus heals end up being great evangelists for the Gospel. Others just go about their business as if it’s no big deal.
The men at the Brig who attend the Bible study tend to be the great evangelists. They recognize that Jesus went to a great deal of pain and trouble to purchase their salvation, and they are disheartened by the many prisoners around them—including many who wear the name “Christian”—who go about their business as if it’s no big deal.
In the past week, I’ve spoken with two Brig “alumni” who’ve experienced persecution—and not from non-believers or nominal Christians, but from church leaders. After his release from the Brig, Jeff in North Dakota visited the church his wife had been attending while he was incarcerated. After attending a few weeks, he was asked by the leadership not to come for a few weeks while they decided what to do. Apparently, one of the church leaders had googled Jeff’s name and learned things that led to this action. Jeff and his wife are now in a different church. They did not await the leadership’s decision.
Tom in Seattle tells me his church sometimes excludes him from events he’d like to participate in. He’s been with these people for three years, and there’s never been any trouble. He finds himself constantly having to win people’s trust, even when he’s done nothing to break that trust.
Although Jeff’s and Tom’s experience in churches is not unusual, it is not the norm. Many churches are, in fact, at another extreme. That is, they’ll ask a young man who became a Christian during his time in prison to help with the youth group, or lead the worship team—even while he is still on parole. And many churches accept ex-offenders for what they are: sinners saved by the wonderful grace of Jesus.
Inside the Brig, those long-awaited changes I’ve been writing about for so long are beginning to happen. Last week, the women were moved to the new facility; that is, down the hall about 300 yards. It is now clear that the long-term plan will be to keep the women and men completely separate—they will not even have worship services together. I realize that this may seem a bit strict, but it will, in fact, make life easier for everyone who follows the rules.
The next step will be the arrival of inmates from the three other Brigs in the Southwest that will be closing. All of these inmates will be male, and probably half of them will be Marines. When this transition is completed later this year, the Miramar facility will house more inmates than any other facility in the Department of Defense system. It will continue to be the only facility for females.
These kinds of changes make everybody tense—commanders, guards, counselors, administrators, and inmates. Tempers flare, and that usually means an inmate suffers consequences—no matter whose temper it is that’s doing the flaring. Even the most well-behaved Christian inmates end up on LOP (Loss of Privileges). And Bible study is considered a privilege.
So please continue to remember the prisoners as they endure this time. Pray for their families: wives, parents, children. Brad has been told that his appeal has been approved, but the necessary review will probably take six months. Bruce and Joe continue to wait for a residence to be approved—even though they have both been approved for parole. Arthur has been battling a painful case of shingles. Eric finally heard from his wife after six months of silence. Eric writes a Bible study for his wife and sons and sends it, along with a personal letter, every day.
We serve a loving and faithful God. I give Him thanks for your faithfulness in prayer and financial support.
Grace and Peace,