Let’s call him ‘Rick’. We met him at a small midweek meeting in his prison. He listened attentively.
It surprised me. This hard, scarred, tattooed skinhead, with a cocky cockney accent, did not strike me as one who would be serious about God. I don’t know why I reacted like that – for we have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of similar inmates sit in rapt attention to the gospel.
My talk was over. I had urged the men to turn to Christ. I closed the meeting with a prayer for those who had shared particular problems.
While waiting for other inmates to arrive from the different prison wings, Rick had told me he was up for a serious crime that he had not done. How many times do we hear that?
Often we think what we like, but say nothing. Sometimes we wonder; sometimes we worry; and occasionally we are convinced of a prisoner’s innocence – but not without evaluating the facts. After all, I had been a criminal lawyer!
But Rick, quietly adamant, half-whispered to me that this particular high profile crime was ‘not my style’. True, he had been in deep trouble before, and had got what he deserved. ‘You do the crime – you get the time’, he explained.
So, when I prayed for Rick, I asked that justice would be done. Straight after he eyeballed me and said, ‘I didn’t like that prayer, Gerard’.
‘Why not, Rick?’
With rugged honesty he volunteered, ‘Look mate, I didn’t do this one, but if justice was done, I’d never get out of this place!’ What a conversation followed!
I found he was highly intelligent and seeking God. Underneath that hard exterior was a man who craved forgiveness and meaning. We discussed the death of Jesus on the cross for guilty sinners, the need for real repentance, and the assurance that follows true faith in Christ.
He wanted to know if Christ had really risen from the dead, and I sent him a book on the resurrection that I had written. Some months later an SOS letter arrived. Would I visit him personally at another prison where he was held, pending trial?
He insisted that he was not looking for free legal advice, but had a personal problem. Through a most helpful chaplaincy, I arranged a pastoral visit, giving me opportunity to speak freely with Rick.
He thanked me for the resurrection book and asked if someone had ghost-written it for me! ‘When you speak, you’re right down to earth’, he said, ‘but that book is intelligent! It’s got words in there that you don’t use in here’. No comment!
Rick said he was seriously weighing up repenting and turning to Christ, when he heard that the Archbishop of Canterbury had failed to ‘chuck out of the Church that “gay” bishop’.
This bothered him. ‘If I become a Christian, I don’t want to join their church and make people think I agree with them’.
I assured him that becoming a Christian means trusting Christ, not following a bishop or archbishop who act contrary to the teachings of the Bible. He seemed relieved.
I urged him to repent of his own sins rather than focusing on the sins of others, and to ask Christ to take control of his life as Saviour and Lord.
Rick has a great sense of humour. He needs it! ‘Tell you what, Gerard – I’m going to write to that Archbishop bloke and ask him to make me the bishop for burglars.
‘If that other bloke can be a bishop and carry on with his sins, why can’t I become one and carry on with mine? After all, didn’t they stone them for that in the Old Testament? They didn’t stone burglars, now, did they?’
I told him that his logic was inescapable! If and when Rick is converted, I anticipate a powerful new preacher in apologetics! Please pray for Rick.