A Grandmother’s Love

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Chain Gang by Sam Cooke

I left Paris this morning and drove to McKinney, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  I had the opportunity to speak briefly to a seniors group at a church here.  They turned out to be a missions-minded church, which was very encouraging.

Afterwards several people sought me out to ask more about my ministry in Europe.  Some of them also asked for prayer.  One in particular asked for more than prayer.

Sal told me about her grandson, who is incarcerated in a substance abuse facility.  She told me that before his imprisonment, God woke her up three nights in a row, telling her that she must warn Billy that he’s heading to hell.  Obviously that’s not an easy message to deliver.

Over the next few days she tried and tried to call him, but it seemed that Billy was avoiding her calls.  Finally she prayed that if she was to be obedient to God and deliver that message, then Billy would have to answer her call.  So she called one last time and he answered.

She chatted with him about his life and other family matters, then prayerfully she eased into the subject.  She didn’t use the strong language, but delivered the message truthfully.  The silence on the other end of the line told her that he understood.  A short time later Billy was caught, sentenced, and sent to prison.

In prison, Billy told his grandmother that he had found Jesus.  Since alcoholics and drug addicts are expert liars and manipulators, she didn’t believe him at first.  But over the course of the next few weeks and months, it became increasingly clear that this jailhouse conversion was genuine.

Sal told me that she wanted to send Billy some of my books to read.  She knew that they would encourage him and help his faith to grow.  But the prison authority doesn’t allow inmates to receive any books except those straight from the publisher.  So we sat down together and ordered him three of my books from the publisher.

Thus encouraged, Sal also asked me if I would take a moment and write a letter to Billy, myself.  Of course I said that I would.  I had actually met Billy once at a birthday party for his brother.  The birthday party was in a bar, and I had seen how Billy drank, so the news of his incarceration had not taken me by surprise.

I knew how an alcoholic handles the drink.  Many years ago I was the sole support for my family.  I was working a good job, but it was extremely stressful.  As a young woman who had drifted far from God, I handled the stress the only way I knew how: I drank to excess.  There were times when I was in no condition to drive, and I got behind the wheel anyway.  Only for the mercy and grace of God, I never had a car accident.  One day after a close call, I realized that I could have killed someone.  I completely gave up drinking for almost twenty years.  It was only after moving to Italy that I began to take a glass of wine with my meals—and of course not every meal or even every day.  Maturity helped me keep drinking from becoming a problem again.

Before moving back to Italy and into full-time ministry[1], I was invited to join a weekend prison outreach with Bill Glass Ministries.  I had never been inside a jail or prison before.  I was assigned to a women’s substance abuse facility.

The first day, when that gate was slammed shut behind me, I was terrified.  The women seemed unconvinced, and I left feeling like a failure.

The following day as I drove to the facility again, I remembered my experience as a drunk driver.  Suddenly I realized that I actually belonged in prison.  There was no difference between me and those women except that I had never been caught.  This time when the gate slammed shut, it didn’t scare me.  That day I saw 22 women make decisions to follow Jesus.  I’ll never forget the joy in their eyes when He took their sin and their pain and gave them eternal life in exchange.

I look forward to the opportunity to write to Billy and encourage him.  I’m sure that prison is not the easiest place to hold onto your faith.  Despite the success of my second day of prison ministry, there were other women who had remained aloof and even hostile to the message of salvation—and to me because I was there as an ambassador for Jesus.  The defeated enemy loves to kick you when you’re down, and he whispers all sorts of lies and discouragement into your ears.  That’s because he doesn’t want you to share that message of salvation with your fellow prisoners.

But prison is a great place to share your faith.  Every single one of those prisoners has hit rock bottom.  They know that they have made bad choices in life, and are paying the consequences for those bad choices.  There is nowhere else to look, but up.  They need the hope and help that Jesus offers.  And when they learn that Jesus loves them in spite of their bad choices, often they respond.

And this is the message that I want to share with Billy: that this is not the end of the road for him.  God wants to give him a total life makeover.  This place that looks like a dead-end is the place where God can give him an amazing breakthrough to a whole new life—a life more fun, more fulfilling, and far happier than he could ever have imagined.

He did it for me.  God is good!

[1] In 2010.

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