One day last week my mail brought a letter from a man incarcerated in one of Tennessee’s state prison units. He had read my most recent article in The Spiritual Sword concerning “Great Preachers I Have Known.” He is a member of the Lord’s church, the son of a former elder (his father resigned as an elder following the son’s arrest), and he owns the books and has read the sermons and other works of two of the preachers I mention in my article–Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and B. C. Goodpasture.
It is a touching letter. In it he writes: “I was 32 and out on my own when I got into trouble. I hate it so bad that my sin cost my dad something so dear to him. Both my parents are godly people. They did their best to bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I was rebellious and determined to go my own way. I take full blame for my choices and actions.” To his credit, the man did not claim that he had been railroaded or given a raw deal, but accepted full responsibility for his crime.
Elsewhere he says: “I am glad to see the issue of sound doctrinal preaching is being addressed. We don’t hear many sermons on sin and the certainty of hell… Preachers who only give sugar-coated ‘feel-good’ sermons need to read Galatians 1:10.”
The incarcerated brother had some questions for me. I have responded to his letter. Over the years, I have received several letters from prisoners who have read my articles in various publications, often many months after the publication had come from the press. Sometimes they would ask for books, always they had Bible questions. I have conscientiously tried to respond to each one. I know of at least one who was baptized as a result (at least in part) of my sending him one of my books which he read. Last year I was invited to preach in a meeting in South Georgia because a jail inmate had passed along one of my books to an elder and his wife who were faithful to visit and encourage him. The church where the man served as an elder ordered several copies of my book to study in their Bible classes.
Many years ago in Mobile, AL, I baptized a young man who was a resident of the county jail. He was brought to our building shackled and guarded by several deputies. A deputy stood at each end of the baptistery as I baptized him. He later was incarcerated at the state prison in Atmore. One of our elders and another member and I later visited him at Atmore, where I had been asked to preach to the inmates. I have never forgotten that during the course of my presentation the “hugest-est” rat (to quote the late Jerry Clower) I ever saw ran across the floor in front of where I was speaking. The inmates were not the least bit excited about it, obviously being used to such!
The brother who wrote me last week mentioned that the church of Christ prison ministry conducts Sunday worship services and Thursday night Bible study every week. He said: “I don’t miss services. These services are the highlights of the week for me.”
I am very familiar with “jailhouse religion,” and have been a sucker for it a few times over the years, but I believe the letter I received last week was from a penitent and sincere brother in Christ. When we write, teach, and preach, we never know who or how the message is going to touch the life of someone. Too, we should never underestimate the power of the printed page. I am pleased to know that good, sound, Bible teaching literature such as The Spiritual Sword is being received and read all around the world, including in prisons, and that souls are being positively influenced by such.
Jesus said, “I was in prison, and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:36).
April 12, 2011
hugh’s news & Views