By God’s Grace

  This Easter I was in the Angola Prison. The very name brings a shudder to most Americans. It's the real- life setting of the book and movie, Dead Man Walking. Angola houses about 5,000 men -- seventy percent of whom have life sentences with no parole. Looking out over the razor wire that divides the prison compounds, I was reminded of Dante's phrase, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter through these gates." It is hope in the living Christ, however, that has brought me back to prison every Easter for twenty- five years. Walking through the cellblocks this day, I quickly discovered, however, that Angola was a much different place than it was during my last visit twenty-two years ago. The place was so bad then that Johnny Cash, who joined me in an evangelistic rally, couldn't walk through the cell blocks -- too dangerous. Defying the terrible statistics, however, many of the men this day seemed hopeful and happy. Murders have become infrequent. Unrest has been reduced, and the place seemed cleaner. I found signs of the Church everywhere -- mature Christian inmates, lots of Bible studies. What could account for this amazing transformation? As I talked with Warden Burl Cain, I discovered the answer. Warden Cain, a devoted Christian, came to Angola eight years ago. His entire approach to running this gigantic prison is based on a biblical worldview -- one that recognizes the intrinsic worth of every human being. One person, one program at a time, he began to restore dignity to these formerly hopeless men. The staff echoes his commitment. I asked one corrections officer why he came to Angola. "My pastor sent me," he replied. Another guard gave the same answer. Churches in Baton Rouge, I discovered, see Angola as their mission field. That afternoon I spoke to 2,200 inmates who packed Angola's rodeo stadium. "Jesus knows everything you've been through," I told them. "He was busted, turned in by a snitch, given the opportunity to cop a plea, beaten by the guards, and sent to death row." And then I asked: "Are you like the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus' robe, wanting something from God, or perhaps like those in the crowd who mocked him? One thief said, 'Get me outta here,' while the other said, 'You're holy; I'm guilty. Remember me.' What is your response to Jesus the Prisoner?" At the end of the Sinner's Prayer, I started to say, "Raise your hand if you accepted Christ." For security reasons we couldn't ask them to come forward, but as I prayed, I suddenly felt emboldened by the Spirit. "No," I said, "No hands. If Jesus could go to the cross for us, the least we can do is stand up for Him." I was overwhelmed to see hundreds of men boldly, even proudly, getting to their feet! This was the day, not of Dead Man Walking -- but of the Risen Man Walking! This is a time in American life when events seem overwhelming. People feel helpless, unable to change the course of life. But Christians ought never to feel helpless. We serve a risen Savior: There's nothing we cannot do with His help. Warden Cain and the Christians inside Angola prove that. What mission field does your neighborhood offer? Find out, and then go do it. As I learned during Easter at Angola, there's no limit to what God will do through those committed to serving Him. For more information: "Jesus, the Prisoner," Charles Colson's speech at Angola, Easter Sunday 2002.


Chuck Colson


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