Counting Time or Making Your Time Count?
I have a much loved friend and brother in the Lord who has been in jail for over 15 months. He is a recovering crack addict. We have been very close. For a year he spent ever Sunday with me. I would go get him from rehab bring him to worship services and then take him home with us. We would study the scripture all afternoon until he had to be back in time for curfew.
He had previously been in prison convicted of possessing drugs with the intent to sell. Currently, he is awaiting trial on an armed robbery charge with a gun. That charge is obviously very serious because it is a felony and he is a convicted felon charged with using a gun in the commission of a crime. Thus, he is considered a repeat offender. If convicted on both charges, I think it is a mandatory 25 years to life. He is 37 years old.
He is self-taught. He never graduated from High School and quit school at 13 or 14. He is 6' 1" and a handsome man and well-built. A man of great physical strength. He actually studied himself into obeying the gospel as a late teenager. He can quote whole books of the Bible from memory based on the KJV. He is an excellent preacher. He has preached for us numerous times at South Jacksonville and other places around Jacksonville.
I wasn't surprised when he was arrested this last time (though I didn't know for what) because I knew he had relapsed into his habit again. At the time of his arrest, I was trying to get him back into rehab. I saw him at his worst, even when he was *extremely* angry with me for confronting him. However, while I knew how strong he was and that I would be no match for him, if his anger ever turned violent, I never once feared for my life, or thought for one second he would harm me. I knew him that well. So, this armed robbery with a gun charge against him is very troubling for me. He claims he is innocent and I believe him.
There is a reason for giving you all his background. After he was arrested and incarcerated I waited about 3 weeks before I went to see him. I wanted him to detox and get sober before we talked. When I went to see him I knew immediately he had detoxed and was sober. He was smiling from ear to ear to see me. Normally, we would have hugged but such was not possible this time because there was a glass between us.
As we spoke on the jail phone, for the first time since his arrest, he thanked me for coming to see him and told me how much the church at South Jax had meant to him over the previous 3 years. He apologized profusely being clearly penitent, acknowledging his failure and disappointment, in letting everyone down but mainly because he had let God down. I then asked him, if he was reading and studying his Bible and he said, "Yes sir!" and continued, "Brother Bill I am not here counting the time, I am in here making the time count. I have Bible classes going with a couple of the men in here." My friend and I always finished our visits with a prayer, which either he would lead or I would. This visit would have been right before Thanksgiving in 2014.
Fast forward to this past December, a little over a year later and after several visits, studies and prayers. He is continuing to tell me he is teaching and converting people. I asked, "Are most of the inmates from Jacksonville?" He answered, "Yes and said they are looking forward to worshiping at South Jax and meeting you." I asked again, "So they have been converted?" He said "Yes sir, and they are committed, brother Bill." I was intrigued, "Where and how did you baptize them?" He replied, "In the shower." I shook my head and asked, "How did you do that?" As he gave me that grin, for which he is noted, he explained, "We got a 50 gallon plastic garbage sack, filled it full of water with 2 or 3 of us holding the bag. We put the man in it on his knees. When the bag fills up with enough water I put him completely under, baptizing him for the remission of His sins." I confess at this point I had grown silent and the tears were welling up in my eyes. He went on to tell me, "Brother Bill, I had to do something. We were studying and when they were convicted of their sins, one of them cried and begged for me to find some way to baptize him. And, the garbage bag is the only thing I thought might work. So we tried it. Of course, what we soon found out was we had to triple the bag to hold that much water to baptize a person. I have baptized 3 men so far and some others are waiting to get out and come to South Jax to be baptized by you." Again, he grinned and said, "But they are so bothered by not being baptized, I don't think they will be able to wait that long."
The other day sitting in my office he called me, as he does once a week (normally on Sunday at 3 pm) but he waited to call me on Monday this week. He usually has some questions over something he has been studying and we discuss that. Something was said that made me say something about him having 5 or 6 in class and he said, "Oh no brother, I have 15 to 20 men in the class I teach twice a week." I said, "What?!" He began to tell me about the class and that it begin with just two or three of them (the ones he baptized) and now those three are teaching and bringing others to the class.
(On a side note, I am just waiting for the Duval County church of Christ to be established, location John F. Goode Detention Center, ha! ha!).
We had to hang up because his time was up on the phone, but he said "I am going to call you right back." A few minutes later my phone rang and it was from the Duval County Jail and so I accepted the call. A voice on the other end said, "Brother Robinson?" I said, "________ is that you (I didn't think it was my friend at least it didn't sound like him)?" The voice on the other end said, "No sir my name is ________ and I am Christian. I am a member of the ekklessia of Christ and am trying to follow Jesus according to the New Testament. I am indebted to brother ______ (my friend in jail) who patiently taught me the truth of God's word and baptized me." He said just a minute there is another man here who wants to talk to you. A similar but different conversation repeated itself with two different inmates telling me of their conversion and how thankful they were to learn from brother _______. Needless to say, once again I was speechless and near tears.
Today, on my visit to see my friend in jail, he was telling me how he had converted one of the men I talked with on the phone. The man he converted was raised a Jehovah's Witness and his mother is very devout. My friend admitted to me that he didn't know much if anything about Jehovah's Witnesses and he wanted to know what they believed before he studied with this man. So he put in a request through the chaplain's office for someone from the Jehovah's Witnesses to come visit him. One of their teachers came to teach him. He didn't argue with him, he just listened and made notes of what he said. The Jehovah's Witness teacher gave him a copy of the New World Translation. My friend would go back after each class to the Jehovah's Witness inmate and say here is what the Bible says and here is what the Jehovah's Witnesses teach. After several weeks of this the man could see the error of Jehovah's Witnesses. Then my friend taught him Jesus Christ, according to the truth of the Scriptures. He also told me today that they sing and study every night together.
I know this is long. I also know if you read this whole thing, your heart has been lifted, rejoicing in the word being shared by my friend, even though a prisoner in jail, he gladly proclaims the good news - our freedom in Christ. Yes, prisoners in the Duval County jail are finding that Jesus Christ came to set the captive free.