I am dedicating this week’s blog to Jeremy. He knocked on my door this week trying to sell some magazines and win some points that would get him some vague prize. I politely told him I don’t have time to read magazines. I only had my front door open a crack. I made up some excuse about having company from Costa Rica and trying to help the poor there, and he said “I wish you would help me.” I looked into the saddest eyes I have seen in a long time. I walked out on the porch and he began to tell me his story. I figured he thought he had found a “sucker” that might feel sorry for him, so I listened. He wanted me to know that he was homeless because his mother died of ovarian cancer putting him on the streets. Since he was in his mid-20’s I didn’t ask how long ago that had been. Jeremy said that the company he works for rounds up young homeless kids and puts them to work selling magazines around the country. They have a van and go from one city to another, state to state, and sometimes they don’t even know what city they are in. I asked him if they give him food and shelter and he said only shelter. They have to buy food from their earnings. They work them from 6:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night and the “Company” moves them around so they can’t get attached anywhere. The more he talked the more it seemed like the “Company” was profiting from exploiting of desperate young people.
Jeremy told me that morning he had decided to leave the “Company” and showed me the visible signs of abuse. Then he asked if I knew of a homeless shelter? I mentioned the Samaritan Inn in McKinney and phoned to see if they had a bed available. I began to talk about the Lord Jesus with Jeremy. I brought my son Caleb out to talk with him, and he gave his testimony of what the Lord had done in his life. Before long Jeremy opened up more and said he had felt the Lord really talking to him the last few days and he wanted to give his life to Jesus. Well, we prayed right there and we told him about repentance, being baptized in Jesus name and that the Lord wanted to fill Him with His Spirit, the Holy Ghost. It was truly a heavenly moment as we prayed for Jeremy. I believe his life is forever changed. We may never see him again, but I know the Lord will continue to put people in His life to help him along the way until he enters fully into the Family of God. I never did buy a magazine but I believe Jeremy got far more than he expected. All it takes is one touch of the Master’s hand to transform a life. We did give Jeremy a glass of apple juice. The memory I have of this young man is that he didn’t want to leave the temporary “shelter” of our family.
“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42
The word family elicits some emotional response in everyone. Having worked in prison ministry over 25 years, I’ve perhaps gotten a snapshot view of what family or the lack of family can do to a person. Many of the men and women we have been in contact with have been more or less forgotten by loved ones. In the beginning of their incarceration family members may try to keep in touch, but as time goes by the visits are less and less frequent. I know of some inmates who wait for months for a promised visit from family only to be disappointed because of a change of plans and hasty excuses. This leaves the inmate devastated. So the idea of family has a tremendous power on the human soul and in this article we are going to try to search out “Why?”
The first family was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were in communion with God on a daily basis. God is One and He was alone in creation. Since His nature is love, He created man and woman from His image so that love could be expressed and shared. We know God was alone before He created man, but was He lonely? That is a question many have tried to answer? I personally think He wanted to create someone like Himself to communicate intimately with, but on a different order than the angels. It didn’t take long for our famous couple in the Garden of Eden to fall from fellowship with the King of the Universe. As they were cast out of the Garden and away from God’s holy presence, loneliness and alienation must have set in between God and man. But the Lord had a plan of reconciliation that would be fulfilled thousands of years later through Jesus Christ.
Loneliness is a serious human problem. If left unfulfilled in a life through normal and healthy relationships, a person can internally escalate emotions to a point where an external outrage can occur. Isolated individuals need to emerge from their fortress of self-protection and be willing to be vulnerable in relationships. Family is usually the one place God intended for us to be safe. But is that always the case?
I grew up in a dysfunctional family. There always seemed to be tension between my mother and father, and my sister and I could always feel it. This caused me to grow up with a constant nervous tension. My sister and I never even knew what the source of tension was between them. I believe this type of hidden hostility is in many homes today and even though masked, children are still tender and unusually susceptible to getting a wounded spirit and thinking perhaps they caused the anger between their parents.
People are always asking “What is a normal family?” Well, once when I was about seven I was asked to spend the night at a friend’s house and for the first time in my life I entered into a “normal” family. They had 11 children. My mother could not handle two, but somehow this household was humming in harmony and love and everyone seemed to take care of everyone else. I also noticed that they prayed as a family and the Bible was not far from sight. They worked together, laughing and enjoying life as I had never witnessed before. I was amazed that they had room for one more person, but I fit right in. They acted as if they were delighted to have another person in their home. I was used to feeling like I was an imposition or bother so this was all new. It is amazing how childhood experiences can shape us. After that experience I felt I now knew what a “normal” family was and it was clear my family was not. What I experienced one night at that home caused me to long for a family like that.
[Me with 2 of my sons, Caleb and Clay]
Many, many years have passed and now I have my own family, 4 fine sons, and grandchildren here and on the way. We just found out a couple of weeks ago that Clay and Beth are going to have twins. What a miracle. To watch our family grow is such a joy. Although our families are separated by great distance now, we try to stay connected. There is always a feeling that one can relax when in the presence of one’s family. Our family loves us and knows us best. You have to be real with your family, and there is no room for pretense for they will see right through it. I’ve been talking about my flesh and blood family here, but God has extended my family far above what I could have thought or asked.
I have a church family at Emmanuel Pentecostal that is so dear. As someone once said, “We are doing life together.” We share the ups and downs, sicknesses, births, deaths, and pray for one another. One aspect of prayer is our connecting with God on behalf of our loved ones. So this idea of connection did not begin with Facebook. Facebook just tapped into a great human need that obviously wasn’t being met elsewhere.
Over the years of prison ministry, I have received letters from prisoners asking if they could be part of the Jesus Wept family. This always touches me because I know they are feeling something in our ministry that feels like the family perhaps they never had. We explain that everyone is invited into the Family of God. It is a terrible feeling to be separated from God. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) One thing I love about the Word of God is that there is never a problem without a solution. In this case, this admonition from the Lord can be repaired simply by repentance. He has commanded all men to repent. Repentance brings us back into the loving arms of Jesus Christ, our Father in Heaven.
[Picture of my son Clay and Pastor Arley Cano]
I took Brother Arley and Caleb to the airport Thursday to fly back to Costa Rica. I’ll sure miss them. Brother Arley and his church in San Jose are an extension of our family. While they were here we had some friends over and Bro. Paul and Bro. Jerry came for dinner. Bro. Jerry is like a son to me. We met Bro. Jerry at the Michael Unit Prison about 13 years ago at one of our services. What a remarkable person he is. Bro. Jerry was filled with the Holy Ghost while in prison and soon the Lord moved on his behalf and got him out and into Calvary Commission, Lindale, TX. He was on parole for 10 years and fulfilled every requirement in such an exemplary manner that he received a certificate of recognition from the State Of Texas Parole Board. Bro. Jerry has earned a college degree, is on staff now at Calvary Commission, and has made numerous mission trips to Mexico. Truly our “family” is growing and we are connected by a holy and heavenly Father.
[From left to right, Paul Malone, Pastor Arley Cano, Jerry Williams, Caleb and me]