30 Sep “I was in and out of prison from age 11 to age 43…”
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” Luke 4:18 (NIV)
Man, you just never know how God will work through a men’s retreat! And the short story I share below is so wonderfully typical of the surprisingly unexpected ways God ministers through His people. In short, I’m going to briefly introduce you to three men, two of whom you’ve probably never met before – one an ex-con – but you’ll feel like you know all three of us soon enough. Let’s get started!
This was Bob’s first time coming to a Frontline Ministries retreat, yet he has been faithfully following Jesus for years. To say Bob came from a broken home would grossly understate his situation. As Bob puts it, he knew there would be trouble after his divorced mother married his “step-monster”, a man who proceeded to repeatedly abuse both his mother and Bob. As Bob reacted to his horrific home life, he soon landed in juvenile detention (“juvie”) at age 11. In a cycle that would repeat itself, upon being released, young Bob sized up his current home situation, recognized things hadn’t changed at all, so he proceeded to commit even more crimes – and then called the police on himself. Why? Because, sadly, he felt safer in “juvie” than he did at home.
As Bob turned 18, he was involved with a 17-year old minor girlfriend who eventually trumped up a story that he had raped her. In a flash, Bob was arrested, tried, and sentenced for statutory rape. Later conscience-stricken, the “victim” showed up at Bob’s sentencing hearing, confessing that she had completely fabricated the rape story because she was angry at Bob for a reason long since forgotten. She tearfully pleaded for Bob’s release, but to no avail: he was sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence with parole possible at 10 years.
Because of his “juvie” experience, Bob quickly adapted to prison life, finding connections to get both high and drunk on smuggled goods. “Everyone carried a blade,” Bob confided, “and there were various ways you could purchase protection on the inside.” To me, these stories equally shocked and sobered me to actual prison life.
As the 10-year point of Bob’s sentence approached, Bob met the parole board and was surprised to find his “victim” and ex-girlfriend – now a full-grown woman – there again pleading his innocence. When the parole board demanded that Bob confess his sin of rape, Bob refused…and they, in turn, refused to parole him. This same pattern continued at the 12-, 14-, and 17-year points of his sentence. Each time his ex-girlfriend professed his innocence, and each time Bob rebuffed the parole board’s demand to confess his sin of rape, a stalemate few would have predicted.
“I did not commit this crime; I refuse to confess to something I didn’t do – I’m innocent,” Bob explained to the parole board at his 17-year point. “I only have three years left, so I’ll serve those out in my innocence.” And so he did.
Just before Bob’s release at the 20-year point, “Megan’s Law” came into effect, and the parole board threatened Bob with additional prosecution if he didn’t confess to the rape. Finally cornered, Bob confessed the crime he didn’t commit, was released from prison, but he was tagged as a “Megan’s Law” offender. From now on, employment on the outside for Bob would be difficult. Yet, God worked through this detail and a slew of others in miraculous ways.
Bob’s life continued in fits and starts, and, as Bob succinctly put it, “I was in and out of prison from age 11 to age 43. Yet, through the help of several believing correctional officers and many praying others, God reached out to me in prison – right where I was – and said He had something better for me.” Soon after this, Bob surrendered his life to Christ and straightened out his life, and, in time, God blessed Bob with a beautiful wife and a son. I just LOVE God stories like this: Jesus in Luke 4:18 frees prisoners just like Bob – just like you and me! Now Bob shares Jesus with as many who will take the time to hear his miraculous testimony, and he praises God for his greatest joys: being a husband to his bride and a faithful dad to his teenage son.
Praise God for the miracle of a changed life in Christ!
This was also Larry’s first time coming to a Frontline Ministries retreat, yet he soon sensed that God had something big in store for him this weekend. Three years earlier, Larry had surrendered his life to Christ, but God recently had been challenging Larry to share his testimony, and the fear that regularly ensnared him. Larry knew quite a bit about surrendering and imprisonment: Larry, you see, is a correctional officer.
Larry works with guys like Bob all the time: inmates who frequently cuss (under their breath) at him, talk smack behind his back, and constantly try to mess with his head. Yet, several of the correctional officers throughout the system, including Larry after he confessed faith in Christ, would tacitly minister to the inmates, and Larry still to this day appreciates the mentoring several of his correctional officer co-workers have provided him through the years, men who would point him to Christ. But, from an earthly perspective, ministering to the inmates was slow-going, and change often times seemed long in arriving. As you can imagine, though, Larry increasingly felt it difficult to work with inmates so opposed to what he and his co-workers were tasked with doing. Gnawing at his consciousness was the shrieking doubt, “Is my work for God making any difference here?”
Larry arrived to the retreat, ready to obey what God was asking him to do, but he was a more than a little nervous to carry it out. Until Saturday evening when all that changed….
If you’ve made it this far, I think it’s pretty safe to assume you kinda know me. So, I’ll skip my back story and get straight to the point: God blesses me with opportunities to regularly minister to men:
- men who are hurting;
- men who are confused;
- men who are unemployed;
- men who wrestle with addictions;
- men who sometimes struggle in their relationships;
- men who grapple with their finances,
- men who are seeking answers.
In short, broken men just like me.
When Frontline Ministries Co-Founders Jim Carnahan and Nick Dilick invited me to minister a third time at their fabulous retreat, I couldn’t stop praising God – I was thrilled to accept! Now comes the part of the story where God brought Bob, Larry, and me all together….
See what God did when Bob, Larry, and Travis meet!
It was a Saturday night in September, a fitting end to a fantastic day filled with fellowship, food, and fun. If the steady rain falling outside our building was dampening anyone’s mood, you certainly wouldn’t have seen it on the faces of these men: we were here this evening to praise Jesus through sharing our testimonies about our own dads.
Men sharing personal testimonies? About their dads? What gives?!
Normally, if you can get a grunt, a groan, or at least a rolling of the eyes from some of us men, you probably ought to feel a little special: you warranted a response!
But this was no typical Saturday evening. God, in His graciousness, gave dozens of these men the courage, grace and tact to share stories about their dads that ranged from fantastic to frightening. Oh, if you could have heard – and seen – how these men so transparently and authentically poured out their hearts about their own dads. There was not a dry eye in the house. God was glorified!
And that’s when God brought Himself, Bob, Larry, and Travis all together.
Prompted by the Spirit, I looked over at Larry who faithfully – and bravely I might add – sat solo in the first row for each of the five sessions: I quietly called on him to share his testimony. And, while for confidentiality reasons I can’t share some of the details (what happens at men’s retreat, stays at men’s retreat!), I can share that Larry later explained that when I called on him, he was nearly exploding to share his testimony. The power of our God worked through this dear man as he fought to make his story known.
Afterward, Larry, Bob, and I, guided by God, all connected after the session. It was here that Larry joyfully explained how he and his fellow correctional officers often ministered privately through prayer and loving actions to inmates just like Bob. In fact, as they talked, Bob knew several of Larry’s co-workers and mentors! Yet, Larry often felt frustrated because he saw so little tangible change in the inmates. Climactically, it was here that Bob encouraged Larry and his peers to never stop praying, never stop serving inmates just like him, because God worked through correctional officers just like Larry to bring Bob to God’s throne of grace! Tears of joy all around!
In other words, at our men’s retreat and by God’s grace, Bob, an ex-con, was able to minister to Larry, a current correctional officer, in a conversation God prompted through my simple act of asking Larry to share his testimony. Only in God’s Kingdom could this “through the looking glass” moment take place – hallelujah!
In my 15+ years of ministering to men, I can affirm that attending a men’s retreat for the first time is NOT something most of us men do willingly. In truth, many of us men would rather submit to a root canal or admit we’re wrong or lost on the highway or something crazy like that. Yet, as you’ve witnessed here in just one special example – and there are a myriad of other similarly beautiful examples – God works through His people as they come together in Him. And a men’s retreat is a super place to meet Him and other men to grow deeper in fellowship with Him and others. Again, truly Jesus desires to proclaim freedom for prisoners just like us.
So here’s the challenge:
Men: Begin praying now about attending an upcoming men’s retreat. Whether it’s your first or fifth men’s retreat or it’s with your church or hosted at a local camp and conference retreat center, trust God to reveal His will for you here in prayer, Scripture reading, and godly conversation.
Women: Encourage your husband and your sons to attend a men’s retreat. My bride first accomplished this challenge back in 1997 through a sharp elbow to my ribs during a men’s retreat announcement between worship songs and later through soft words of encouragement after church.
God totally changed my life – and my life’s profession – through a men’s retreat just like Frontline Ministries hosted. And God can change your life as well!
A timely topic for your next men’s retreat
Our newly published book, A Faithful Dad’s Guide to Legacy and A Faithful Dad’s Guide to Legacy companion DVD, its accompanying 6-session small group DVD both available now at Amazon. There’s even a FREE app (Apple App store and Google Play store) to help you and your accountability partners accomplish A Faithful Dad’s Legacy Challenge: 12 challenges to help build your legacy on Christ.
Our guide seeks to address perhaps the biggest question us dad will ever ask:
What legacy do I want to leave for my family?
Through authentic experiences and biblical examples, A Faithful Dad’s Guide to Legacy will equip you to leave a lasting legacy your family will treasure. Pick up your copies today for the dads in your life, and, if you’re willing, share a good review for us at Amazon. God has called us to get the word out there that we dads can leave a lasting legacy for our family by faithfully following Christ.
Share your passion for Jesus with your family as you follow Him together!
On behalf of our board and serving Jesus with you,
Travis and Suzanne Zimmerman