“Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.” (2 Chronicles 36:23)
In 1977, I was introduced by a dear friend from my work in Kairos Prison Ministry to a ministry for incarcerated youth called Epiphany. Similar to Kairos, the program is structured around three-day weekend experiences that show participants the redeeming love of God.
After a year of hearing my friend’s heartwarming — but more often heart-wrenching — recollections of the youth he encountered on these weekends, I finally committed to working as a team member for an upcoming Boy’s Epiphany Weekend.
What I found there tore at my heart even more than the Kairos Death Row Weekends that I had worked.
The words, actions, and looks of despair coming from the 12- to 18-year-old young men sitting before me reminded me of the depths of darkness of which John speaks in this Sunday’s Gospel: "And men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
The weekend progressed. At our team’s evening wrap-up, members gave praising reports of the Holy Spirit at work among the young men.
With no promise of time off or special privileges for their participation, gradually they began to form relationships with the team, asking questions about our faith walks and challenges.
Each following morning, we heard from their dorm counselors that they spent time sharing with one another about the events of the previous day and even in some cases with those in their units who were skeptical.
“But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God” (John 3:21).
At the close of that first Epiphany experience, I heard a response that I was to hear from many youths on these weekends — sometimes as a statement, and other times as a question.
That response was to the effect of, “Had I known of this Jesus, the just judge presented to me this weekend, rather than the vengeful, hateful God, I might not be here.”
Or sometimes, “I wish my parents had helped me to know that I could really speak to God in prayer, and to trust him without fearing him.”
Their heartfelt expressions helped me to understand the promise of redemption, healing, and forgiveness that Christ spoke of to the Pharisee Nicodemus in this Sunday’s Gospel.
What if we could build a system for our youth that would call forth the “truth” in them and begin to nurture it? Could we then affirm to them a God who is loving, yet just in his judgement of our shortfalls?
What if we could present to the counselors and corrections officers this just and loving God as the strength and power to undergird the treatment and care of all their charges? To, yes, “love one another,” especially the least among us, as Jesus does?
Let our prayer this Lent be this: that God may mend the broken hearts so that they may once again learn to love with the love of Christ.
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