Grace Perspectives/Altered Lives
By Steven Clark Goad
His Name Is Manuel
Manuel, born into a violent slum, fatherless, his bed a “living room” floor, abused, abandoned, unfed, neglected having been taken by an aunt for medical attention at age 4 after being discovered near death, found himself at age 12 alone on the streets of Los Angeles, a gang member. Tender-hearted and sensitive, frightened by “scary” movies, horrified by anger and violence, the gang life was difficult for him.
Retreating when he could, he’d sit alone to think and cry. He committed crimes (never violent) to survive, and did jail time. One day Manuel agreed to drive a friend to the mall to steal a car. The friend, later, was arrested for grand theft auto and Manuel was arrested as an accomplice. Because of the “three strikes” law, he received a life sentence, and remains in prison to this day, 17 years later.
Two years after he entered prison he met Jesus Christ and became a child of God. He says, “Ever since that time, my life has never been the same. I have a reason for living now in spite of these prison walls and fences.” Manuel subsequently attained his AA degree, many certificates, plus a BA in ministry. Active in chapel, witnessing and teaching others about God, this once depressed and hurting man, is at peace, treats every person with love, always has a smile and a good word for everyone, and is admired and respected by other inmates, as well as the prison staff.
While Manuel won’t have an opportunity to go to an initial parole board hearing for a number of years (a board which approves only 18% of those it reviews and rarely on the first application), he is peaceful. Manuel will tell you that, whether in prison or out of prison, he is joyful to serve the living God. He told me just recently, “I am more free inside this prison than most others who are outside on the streets.”
Nancy’s mother tried, unsuccessfully, to abort her. Mom’s boyfriends were legion. She received no religious instruction while growing up. The only time she heard the name of Jesus was at Christmas. A school chum invited Nancy to church when she was 14. A caring congregation loved her into the arms of Jesus. Today she is a marvelous Christian mother, home-schooling her three children, with a devoted husband who is a deacon in the church.
He was driven by an agenda. He possessed a brilliant mind and was highly educated. But he had one single flaw. All he could think of was how to terrorize those who didn’t think as he did. As a religious zealot, he actually attacked those he felt were not true believers.
Engaged in murder and other terrorist activities, his life was full of zeal to annihilate the offenders. He was driven by a fanaticism seldom observed. But Christ changed all of this for the man. He even took on a new name. No longer known as Saul of Tarsus, he became the apostle Paul, a true believer of the very faith he had so eagerly despised.
Her Name Is Linda
Linda was born to a formerly Christian mother, whose commitment was so weak that she actually gave up her faith to marry. The father, once a Catholic, was a self described “agnostic” by the time Linda was 2. He felt any kind of “indoctrination” wrong and that children should grow up without any religious instruction and “decide for themselves,” not realizing that with no instruction whatsoever, the child is flailing with no understanding of what or why or how we are here.
Linda told me, “Dad spent all of his time climbing the corporate ladder, which entailed numerous moves around the country. He didn’t spend time with his family at all. He attended no recitals, no back-to-school nights, no school functions, no picnics, no family vacations. He wasn’t even present for the birth of his two daughters.”
By the time Linda was in 4th grade her dad was already a weekend alcoholic, his own God-free approach not working any better for him than it was for his daughter. Mother, though kind hearted, taught Linda and her sister nothing about God. Linda felt alone, was always the “new kid” in school since her father moved a lot with each promotion.
At age 14, in another new school, Linda was introduced by her new, and unsavory, “friends”, to marijuana, pills, alcohol, LSD, mescaline and , by age 15, sex. “Without direction, I really didn’t know what was right or wrong,” she said. Her naturally sweet and loving nature made her a poor fit for her new lifestyle. She was always unhappy, frequently suicidal and unaware of how to change her situation.
The answers (free love, the hippie manifesto, tripping on drugs) offered by her “friends” weren’t satisfying her longings. But what else was there? No alternative had been provided. She maintained a D grade point average in high school, being so overcome by depression she could barely function.
Enter Jesus. A visit during high school to an aunt and uncle she saw infrequently initially introduced her to Christ. A job just out of high school put her in frequent contact with a girl who called herself a Christian and who began witnessing to her. Slowly, she began to think to herself, “There must be more to life than this”. At age 21 she started actively searching for God and for Truth.
Every weekend found her at a different “church”. She listened. She watched. At the church of Christ she was offered a series of Bible classes, which she accepted and attended faithfully. After sobbing through a number of “invitations” she knew she truly believed, accepted the grace of God and was baptized. Today Linda is an elder’s wife with her own ministry. She has raised God fearing children, has overcome the adversity of serious personal health issues and is known for her kindnesses to others. She is not afraid to die because of the faith she has in the God of heaven and his amazing Son. “If only I had known about the Lord when I was a child,” she reflects.
His Name Is Jake
As a prison chaplain I met Jake on the yard. Tattoos covered his body. Redheaded Jake and his older brother, ages 6 and 7, straggled behind Mother. In front of the store, Mother stopped short. “Jake,” she said “Wait right here until I get back,” and left with brother. Jake waited. After hours, he went inside the store for help. A neighbor lady drove him to his former home. The place had been deserted.
The next door neighbor simply raised Jake as her own. While poor, she was rich in kindness and love. Early on, Jake was tagged “special education” which followed him throughout all his schooling. Finally, he dropped out. At age 25, living in the “projects”, having little in the way of education, a paucity of self confidence, and a wife he loved but couldn’t support, he made some consequential decisions which led him to a prison cell facing a life sentence.
By age 35 he had lost his adoptive mother to cancer and had been deserted by the wife he adored. That’s when he met Carrie. She taught GED classes at the prison. When she first met Jake, he advised her that he was “too stupid” to get his GED. Carrie knew better and told him. At first, he didn’t believe her. Yet he started taking serious interest in his studies. He worked and struggled, finally passing that GED after five attempts. He even began taking and passing college courses, which he continues to do, with Carrie’s support and encouragement.Most importantly, Carrie witnessed to him about God. Soon an initial curiosity blossomed into a love and a commitment. Now studying his Bible, attending chapel regularly and completing Bible studies sent to him by Carrie, a sad and lonely boy is being transformed by the love of God and hope into a positive and productive man. Even a recent "10 year denial" at a parole hearing, while upsetting to Jake, didn't put him off his recently acquired determination to succeed! He reads his Bible every day. A work in progress. To God be the glory.