I’ve been a bit of a downer till this point. But I’m not a pessimistic person. In fact, I’m hopeful.
I see “the powers that be” on their knees when I read about judges who rule with grace. I see those powers literally crumbling when I read about the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, defending those on death row and challenging unfair treatment in prisons. I sense the powers releasing their grip on my hometown when I meet with my friend Josh Spickler, a former public defender whose work directing Just City in Memphis is transforming lives.
There is hope that the powers will be redeemed (Col 1:15-20).
I’m especially confident of this when I spend time at HopeWorks. HopeWorks is a local non-profit “providing hope and jobs in Memphis.”
The majority of students who go through the 13-week HopeWorks program were formerly incarcerated. The students receive job training, counseling, and spiritual direction, and are placed in internships. They are fed a meal every day, and they laugh and joke with staff and volunteers. It’s a supportive environment.
I wish Kalief Browder could have attended HopeWorks.
HopeWorks believes that every person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done. We’ve seen how “the powers that be” in some prisons operate under a very different premise.
Ron Wade, one of the elders at the church I serve, directs HopeWorks. He was a major player in hosting the 42nd Annual National Jail and Prison Ministry Workshop here a few months ago. To see Ron in action is to see the powers running in fear.
Not because Ron is intimidating. In fact, he is our smallest elder (physically speaking). But he is a man of deep prayer. A man of both conviction and compassion. And a man of singular focus. He does everything in his power to ensure “the powers that be” release their grip on former inmates.
For example, beginning in January, Ron and his team will launch HopeWorks inside a local prison facility—the first time the program has been able to confront the powers that be on their turf (rather than simply serving the incarcerated after their release). Not satisfied, Ron has also launched a Sunday morning worship service at an additional prison facility in the area. Twice a month, you’ll see Ron there shaking hands with inmates. They tower over him, but he just reaches out his hand and smiles.
Of course, some will fall through the cracks. But it’s not for a lack of prayer or a lack of effort on Ron’s part. It is just that the powers still have fight left in them.
I saw this myself a few months ago as I tagged along with Ron to one of those Sunday morning services. Beforehand I sat with a group of inmates. They were talking about some frustrations with various guards and policies. I probed a little deeper.
“Eric, you have to fight for everything in here. If you don’t fight, you don’t survive,” one told me, with a grave look on his face.
The power of violence does not just dominate prisons far away. No, it is still at work in at least one prison not more than a few miles from my home.
I’m prayerful that more people in our churches—people like Ron Wade—will “struggle” against these “cosmic powers of this present darkness” in prisons around our country (Eph 6:12).
As they do, I believe the fight still left in those powers will fade once and for all.
Header image: Jar (). Liberation. November 2, 2014. Retrieved from flickr.com. Some rights reserved.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.