This is a news letter from one of the missionaries we support at Grace Tab. It’s one of the few newsletters that I actually enjoy reading. Mike ministers to prisoners. With my own son in a prison, I can easily connect. I couldn’t resist passing this news letter on to you. It gives you a peek into a very dark and dangerous world. Pray for Mike as he ministers to prisoners, guards and their families. I know personally how important it is to have Godly ministers working in the prison system. Thank you Mike, for answering this call of God to go into the dark places of our world.
Newsletter from Mike Strehlow
I think I understand why Jesus wept.
We know the story, told in chapter 11 of John’s gospel, of how Jesus received word that his friend Lazarus was sick, and that by the time Jesus and His disciples made it to Lazarus’ home, Lazarus had not only passed on, he was four days in the tomb. Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary separately went to Jesus as He arrived and each tearfully said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then, as neighbors looked on, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He had no apparent reason to weep; He knew He would soon revive Lazarus, and that grief would turn to joy. Still, Jesus wept.
Yes, Jesus was Jewish, and it was culturally proper for a Jewish man to openly grieve a friend’s death. But I think there was more to His tears than sorrow.
Now to Fountain Correctional Facility, September 2016. One of Fountain’s officers had worked a shift across the street at Holman Correctional the week before, and was on the scene when a fellow officer was murdered by an inmate. The officer told me all about it, everything that happened. He’d been there. The murdered officer had been on cafeteria duty; he refused to let an inmate have a third food tray, and the inmate’s reaction was to stab the officer. Days later the officer died in the hospital. The officer and his killer were both African-American, if that matters.
Plainly, the guard I talked to was in a bad place. All of Fountain’s officers were. They all wore black and blue ribbons for the funeral nobody wanted to go to. After telling the guard I would pray for him and for the deceased officer’s family, I went to the chapel.
At the chapel, I found about half the chapel worker inmates shaking their heads, and kind of laughing. When I asked what was up, they told me that as we spoke, there were about 30-40 gay inmates having a meeting on the North yard of the prison. They were holding this meeting to standardize how much to charge for their services.
On the day a family man who left behind a wife and three children, a decorated military veteran, who was murdered because he wouldn’t let an inmate have three trays of food… “Killed over French fries” was the way another officer put it… was to be buried, on that day the gay prostitutes at Fountain decided to unionize.
I know that most inmates are not killers. I know that most inmates are not gay. I know most gay inmates are not prostitutes. Many inmates are fervent Christians, men whose lives have been completely transformed by Jesus. I’ve spent countless hours ministering to and with them, so I know this and more.
But what I don’t know is how my face looked that morning in the chapel after hearing that last bit of news. It must have been pretty serious, though, because a couple of the chapel workers sobered up noticeably and started to minister to me. I pretty much went through the motions for the rest of that day. It was a hard day.
Why did Jesus weep? In John 11:33 and 11:38, most Bibles say that Jesus was “deeply moved” as He approached Lazarus’ tomb. The Greek word for “was deeply moved,” ἐνεβριμήσατο (enebrimesato), appears in Scripture where someone is responding sternly (Mark 1:43, 14:5). That word could (perhaps more precisely) be translated “was extremely agitated” or “was indignant.”
“Indignant” means “expressing strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, insulting, or base” (Webster’s). What was it about Lazarus’ death that made Jesus agitated and indignant rather than merely sad?
I think that Lazarus’ death made Jesus indignant because death is the worst thing sin did to our world. God didn’t make the human race with a “sell by” date; if not for sin, Adam and Eve could be alive today (!). Jesus had/ has God’s perfect perspective; to this day He alone sees the true price we pay for sin, both in this world and the next, because He alone knows what this world could have been, if not for sin.
The horrible senselessness, the wrongness, of an officer dying for nothing and 40 gay prostitutes living for nothing, hit me, just a little, like Lazarus’ death must have hit Jesus. A little of that same wrongness hits me every time I have to inform an inmate that his wife, mother, or child has passed. Or when I hear that an inmate, who has spent thirty or forty years locked away from parents, wife, and children, died in the hall and was buried on prison property.
Jesus reacted to demon possession, sickness, and death the way you or I would react towards a pusher if he got one of our beloved children addicted to his drugs and dying of AIDS. Anger is Jesus’ response to works of the devil. But Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (I Jn. 3:8) and save sinners (I Tim. 1:15). His love for us, His INDIGNATION at what sin has done to us, was what put Him on the cross. Praise be to Jesus for His tears, and praise be to God that we have a Savior like Jesus Christ!
In the twelve years I have been doing this, a lot has changed here in Atmore; I have to come up with a new word for ‘busy’ about half the time. But God is good. Look for my letter this Christmas. Thank you all for giving me the privilege of being Christ’s ambassador to prison inmates. God bless you and yours this holiday season.