Quietly Changing Lives
Most of you know the details about my background. I was an atheist and ex-convict, and Yvonne was a pastor’s daughter (Clyde Groomer). It took time, but Yvonne eventually got me to speak with a pastor named Euell Atchley, who then led me to Christ. That brought us to a church in Sunnyvale, California and our new Pastor Darryl Retzer. Through Darryl’s Bible classes, as well as Yvonne’s pushing, I grew in Christ and in HIS word. (Darryl is about to retire from Loma Linda. God Bless!)
Yvonne and I married and moved to Aptos, California, transferring our church membership to Soquel. We then tried every job the church had to offer, all the while devouring God’s Word. It soon became apparent that the job God had for us was Prison Ministry, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We became a non-profit organization thirty years ago, and over that time I have preached in over 400 churches and we have put on Prison Ministry programs in that many churches as well. God has certainly blessed us every step of the way, and we have especially been blessed because of all of you.
I was a youth leader and taught the Bible in prison, while at the same time continuing to learn from God’s Word. Soon Yvonne and I both became full time Chaplains at Soledad Prison and we were both ordained. Yvonne started a Remedial Reading program, teaching inmates to read and learn about Christ.
We also started a Dress Out Program, providing free clothes to inmates who were released with no money. It began when an inmate asked Yvonne if she could help him - he was being released in a couple of weeks and had nothing to wear. Yvonne promised she would try. (Never make a promise to an inmate that you don’t intend to or cannot keep.)
Thanks to Pat and Lee Grady, Yvonne received clothes from ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), and was allowed to provide them to the inmate to try on prior to his release. After he tried them on he found Yvonne to thank her and pay her. She said she would not accept money, but told him, “Come to the Chapel for one of my services.” He did, and later joined one of our churches.
Another inmate, a big guy, heard about this and also asked for clothes. Yvonne asked what size he needed. He said he didn’t know but would find out. The next day he brought Yvonne a bunch of string pieces that were measurements for all his sizes. Word spread, and this service continued to grow. We received a lot of string over the years, and provided release clothes for over 150,000 inmates.
We try very hard to start each day at “The Foot of the Cross.” We also try very hard to share Jesus with as many folks as we can, and as a result we always receive a blessing.
A few years ago Yvonne and I put on a series of Prison Ministry programs in North Carolina. Sunday morning we were advised to leave the area as a big storm was coming our way. We started out pretty rapidly, and when we got near the state border we stopped for gas. We were told the road was closed until the storm was over. A farmer told us if we the took side roads for five miles we could get back on the freeway, which we did and sure enough we got on the freeway. There was a lot of snow, but it seemed drivable until we hit black ice and ended up in the center of a divider. When the car stopped we looked all around, but there weren’t any other cars in sight in any direction.
After a couple of hours the snow quit, but we were stuck. A full tank of gas and a whole lot of prayer got us through it. All of a sudden the snow stopped and almost as quickly the sun began to shine. We could see for a mile, and there were still no cars and no traffic, just a whole lot of snow. The next thing we knew an old GMC pick-up was parked on the highway next to us. A bearded man got out and offered help. He took a rope and attached it under the rear of the car. A steady pull and we were facing back in the direction we had been going. Snow was all over the car. I got out to clear the windows and thank and pay the man who had helped. There was no truck, no man, no foot prints other than mine, no tire tracks anywhere. God is so good!
I thank the Lord for His Word with regards to rebuking publicly so others will fear.
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” 1 Timothy 5:19-20
Under the Lord’s direction we have moved a lot, and have served as interim Pastors at four churches. We’ve spoken often on radio and television, and helped the North American Division form a Prison Ministry Association to add credibility to Prison Ministry. We have transferred our Church membership twelve times. It took us awhile to get to the Pastor, as shortly after we moved here our youngest daughter was murdered by her husband who then killed himself and their dog. To say that we, our board members and leaders in our Church were shocked is an understatement. Pray for this man, please.
One thing we have found in working in prisons all these years is that there are so many different religions with so many different beliefs. God said it, we believe it, and that’s good enough for us. This is why, if you have an opportunity to hold a church service in prison, work it out so that it is an “All-Faiths” service. We are always saying, do not let your doctrine be a barrier but a bridge to Jesus. Teach the truths that get us into Heaven, not keep us out. Make your letters to inmates about what Jesus has done for you, and what He can do for your Pen Friend. If you want to share about your particular religion, bring it into your friendship slowly. Build the friendship first, then they may listen when you talk about what the Bible says to you.
My name is Hector and I’m in prison for a long time. I grew up in Los Angles and the lifestyle of the inner city. Both my brother and stepfather are in prison. My dad was shot in front of me when I was two years old. I have been in and out of trouble but have managed to break away from the gang lifestyle here in prison, not easy. I have become friends with a couple of Christian inmates and they have tried to direct me to be free with Jesus. I sure am willing to try. Another also really tried, but his background was too strong and the gangs got him back. He died in prison very young.(Sadly, this is all too common.)
I must say there are a lot of people who do not understand prisons or the souls that are incarcerated in those prisons. Don and I have attended two police academies and they train you very well on what to do and what you are not allowed to do. We then attended in-service training on a monthly basis, which is the training usually received when working full time at a prison.
It is so hard for me, having grown up in the Church and having very Godly parents, to believe how some people can be so judgmental. They need not only our prayers but the agape love. We pray that minds and hearts will be opened to what the Holy Word says!!
• Paper – something we can hold in our hands.
• Sunshine – something from God that warms us in the coldest of places.
• Paper Sunshine – something that warms someone we don’t know and perhaps some one we will never meet until Glory.
I don’t know if any of us are aware of the darkness some of the inmates we write to really are in. The cells are small with little or no creature comforts and a cacophony of sounds and smells assault them on a daily basis. Nothing is ‘normal’ in jail and the life the inmate once used to know is soon but a fleeting memory.
Having spent time in jail away from my family, I truly know what the gift of paper sunshine is. I remember standing in the breakfast line early one morning. On the table was spread all of the mail
– and there really wasn’t that much. When my name was called, the guard said, “You’ve got nine letters.” The guy in front of me turned and said, “What have you got – a bloody fan club?” I said, “Yeah – I guess I do.” I was one of the truly blessed guys while in jail if that’s even possible! Friends from home kept my spirits up while I was away.
When the cell door opens, it could very well be the highlight of the day as the inmate has access to the yard where God’s sunshine warms them. It could very well be the highlight of a lifetime for an inmate to receive their first paper sunshine letter. I pray that as you write your friends behind bars, your pen and computer ink cartridge will be blessed beyond human understanding and take a very long time to run out of ink.
We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open His door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand – out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory. Standing tall and shouting our praise. Romans 5:2 (The Message)
— Someone who’s been there to walk the walk
Here’s a letter I want to share with you:I would like to thank you for all you have done for me. I was incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Corrections for three years. Now I’m home. You connected me with Brittany. She has become my best friend and a major rock in my life. She has encouraged me to keep moving forward. I know she was sent to me from God. When I was feeling down, her letters would come with encouragement. She would always send scriptures that seemed to fit my situation to a “T.” God bless Brittany and the both of you. I know He has so much in store for my life. Keep up the good work, you’re changing lives. Sincerely, Jeff.
We recently received this from an inmate who
was released. I was touched when I read it for
multiple reasons; this is why I love doing what we
do. Seeing lives changed by the grace of God.
Every day we try to become better people. But
how can we help someone else become a better
person? God has a map drawn out for each and
every one of us. You can make the biggest
difference in a life. Always remember a simple
smile can make the biggest difference.
A smile costs nothing, but gives much-
It takes but a moment, but the memory of it usually lasts forever.
None are so rich that can get along without it-
And none are so poor but that can be made rich by it.
It enriches those who receive,
without making poor those who give-
It creates sunshine in the home,
Fosters good will in business,
And is the best antidote for trouble-
And yet it cannot be begged, borrowed, or stolen,
for it is of no value
Unless it is given away.
Some people are too busy to give you a smile-
Give them one of yours-
For the good Lord knows that no one needs a smile so badly
As he or she who has no more smiles left to give.
— Author Unknown