It is interesting the requests that are made after the story of forgiveness after Jon’s death is presented – the issues that prisoners wish to talk to me about – somehow, they must feel I can relate and conversely, they say they can identify with me in some manner. One such incident follows.
A Christian prisoner who had been attending our weekly bible study at what was the Straits Correctional Facility signed up for the Keryx weekend. He was a very mild-mannered man – quiet, peaceful-appearing. As we know from Alice In Wonderland, though, things are not always as they appear. Such was the case with this man.
It is surprising what issues people are hiding. People may appear very content, at peace, with no issues that are percolating, over either the short-term or over a period of many years. Our church culture, to some degree, can be so that a person can have the sense that to express these issues to anyone would be a matter of shame. We don’t do a very good job of enabling and encouraging people to deal openly with topics such as arise here, and going further, allowing people to obey James 5:16.
The Saturday session arrived and nothing seemed different with my friend. After I made my presentation which included the story of Jon’s death and forgiveness, my friend requested some time and we were granted some time and place to talk. The Keryx weekends at that prison are conducted in the prison gymnasium, with tarps stretched across the gym at various places to serve as ‘walls” of sorts, dividing the gym into “rooms.” In the center is the room used as a chapel and around the edge of the room are some metal bleachers. We sat on one of the metal bleachers.
The conversation was very generic and he didn’t appear to have any real issues, until he became very quiet. He started to squirm – literally. Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead and this was all within 30 seconds. I said nothing. The bleacher started to rock a little as he squirmed. Then all of a sudden, “POW!!” He punched the metal bleacher with everything he had and it made this very loud noise – VERY loud – a noise that rang through the gym. The chaplain popped his head around the corner of the trap and said, “Everything OK?” I said “Yes,” as the man got up and started to pace around the room. I walked over to him and he just wanted to be alone. I asked the chaplain if we could go into another room where we would be behind a closed door and he said he would take care of it, which we did after a few minutes.
This man was in his late 40′s. The issue? he had been hiding it for 40 years. When he was about eight years old he and his friend of the same age were invited to a bible camp by a man. They got permission, signed up and went. They became friends with this man who took great interest in their lives. Too much interest. The interest quickly turned sexual. The man molested my friend and his friend for two years. At bible camp. At Christian gatherings. The shame and fear turned to anger as my friend grew up. The anger bubbled for 40 years and finally came out in the furious punching of the bleacher.
By the time the day ended, after our service focusing on forgiveness, my friend had forgiven the man. The next day, when he returned, I asked him how he had slept. He had told me the day before he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in 40 years. He said, “I slept straight through the whole night. It was great.” Praise God.
The power unforgiveness holds over a person is incredible, even for the Christian. Praise God for the grace given to this man, even after 40 years of torment. Praise God.