God’s powerful words in maximum security

CHRISTIAN LIVING | David Pettett & Trevor Cairney

Tuesday 29 September 2015

The prison referred to in this article is a maximum-security prison and the prisoner’s name has been changed.

Andy sat at his sewing machine watching the chaplain walking through the prison workshop. He stopped and spoke to one or two men. Andy watched. The chaplain came closer. “Hey chaplain,” Andy called, “tell me about prayer will you?” The chaplain looked a little surprised. Andy was not a man he had had much contact with but he knew that Andy had been doing it tough lately.

“Yeah,” Andy continued, “I’ve been praying and praying and praying. And nothing’s happening.” Andy had been born in Australia but was from a Vietnamese background and nominally Buddhist. “Yeah. I’ve stopped wearing my Buddhist amulets. I’ve given up. What do I do? It’s like there’s no god to hear me. I just lie on my bed all night wondering if anybody cares. Blokes I thought were my best mates have turned on me.”

Shortly after, the chaplain baptised Andy in the prison chapel. Two of his mates stood with him as he declared his faith in Christ.

The chaplain began, “Well, from a Christian perspective it’s about a personal relationship with Jesus.” Before he could go further Andy leaned forward and, almost poking the chaplain in the chest with his finger, said, “I want that!”

They spoke over the next few weeks. The chaplain explained that God rules the whole universe and at the same time hears the prayers of even the most destitute person. He went on to share that ever since God made himself known to his people they have told of his goodness from generation to generation. Andy listened to the chaplain tell him that though this world will pass away God will last forever and his people will be with him into eternity.

As the chaplain explained how God had raised Jesus from the dead, conquering sin and death and opening the way for eternal life, Andy sat head bowed and with tears in his eyes saying, “I want that.” Andy wanted to give his life to Jesus and to take part in the resurrection.

Shortly after, the chaplain baptised Andy in the prison chapel. Two of his mates stood with him as he declared his faith in Christ. God began to answer his prayers. God had brought powerful words to bear fruit in Andy’s life.

For Christians, motivated by the words of Jesus, there is an age-old dilemma of how to faithfully take the gospel into areas of the public sphere in a way that respects the outcomes desired by government and private institutions that have their own agenda. Unlike preaching a sermon in church, a chaplain in a public hospital or prison does not own the space. They are a guest. Often a valued guest, but a guest nevertheless. When you are a guest, disrespecting the host is never a good idea.

In Psalm 102, the fleeting days of human life are set in the context of God’s timing and his power to speak words of life. Powerful Words is the theme of a conference for chaplains and others interested in pastoral theology and care that took place on Saturday 26 September, jointly run by Anglicare and The Centre for Apologetic Scholarship and Education (CASE). 

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