For years I have done ministry with people who have been incarcerated, people who have family members that have been incarcerated, and people who have been victimized by people who are now incarcerated. I’ve connected with people in ministry who are trying to break the cycle of crime and are sharing a consistent message and witness of hope. This work has helped me heal from the murder of my brother 15 years ago and has given his death a small measure of meaning for me. Although my involvement has morphed into something much different than it was in the past, I still have a heart for the ministries of justice and mercy. (You can see some free resources for this type of ministry here.)
It seems that the message is being shared by many others and has been received by many more! For this I praise the Lord. I also know there is much work to be done.
So, for all of you who are practicing the ministry of justice, for those who need the healing that comes from mercy, and for those who are in the place of emptiness, my prayers are with you.
Be inspired and be renewed by this message:
In the fall of 2008, there was an unusual high school football game played in Grapevine, Texas. The game was between Grapevine Faith Academy and the Gainesville State School. Faith Academy is a Christian school and Gainesville State School is located within a maximum security correction facility.
Gainesville State School has 14 players. They play every game on the road. Their record was 0-8. They have scored only twice. Their 14 players are teenagers who have been convicted of crimes ranging from drugs to assault to robbery. Most had families who had disowned them. They wore outdated, used shoulder pads and helmets. Faith Academy was 7-2. They had 70 players, 11 coaches, and the latest equipment.
Chris Hogan, the head coach at Faith Academy, knew the Gainesville team would have no fans, and it would be no contest. He thought, “What if half of our fans and half of our cheerleaders, for one night only, cheered for the other team?” He sent out an email to the faithful asking them to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send,” Hogan wrote. “You’re just as valuable as any other person on the planet.”
Some folks were confused and thought he was nuts. One player said, “Coach, why are we doing this?” Hogan said, “Imagine you don’t have a home life, no one to love you, no one pulling for you. Imagine that everyone pretty much had given up on you. Now, imagine what it would feel like and mean to you for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you..”
The idea took root. On the night of the game, imagine the surprise of those 14 players when they took the field and there was a banner the cheerleaders had made for them to crash through. The visitors’ stands were full. The cheerleaders were leading cheers for them. The fans were calling them by their names Isaiah, the quarterback-middle linebacker said, “I never in my life thought I would hear parents cheering to tackle and hit their kid. Most of the time, when we come out, people are afraid of us. You can see it in their eyes, but these people are yelling for us. They knew our names.”
Faith won the game, but after the game, both teams gathered at the 50-yard line to pray. That’s when Isaiah, the teenage convict-quarterback surprised everybody and asked if he could pray. He prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what just happened so I don’t know how or who to say thank you to, but I never knew there were so many people in the world that cared about us.” On the way back to the bus, under guard, each one of the players was handed a burger, fries, a coke, candy, a Bible, and an encouraging letter from the players from Faith Academy.