Witness to a Watching World

Twenty-seven years ago, I went from one of the most powerful jobs in the world, as special counsel to the president of the United States, to prison, where I worked in the laundry. I couldn't have imagined the path that God was opening to me, as a new Christian, or that he would lead me to found a ministry to prisoners. Well, today, that ministry -- Prison Fellowship -- is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. It's now in eighty-eight countries. Imagine! I was a pretty good political organizer in my day, but never could I have orchestrated the miracle that God raised up from the ashes of Watergate. It all began one morning after my release from prison in 1975. I'd just gotten up, and I was still a bit groggy. But suddenly pictures began to flash in my mind -- images of prisoners, their faces alive with hope, reading the Bible and praying together behind prison walls. I knew then that God wanted to turn my prison experience into a ministry to other prisoners. The idea was to take inmates out of prison, disciple them, and then take them back to lead Christian fellowships. Great idea! The problem was that it was utterly impossible, humanly speaking. I went to see Norm Carlson, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He was cordial enough at the beginning. But, as I talked about what I wanted to do and then asked permission to take inmates out of prison, he was scowling. I knew there was no way that he was going to say yes. But then God moved in the most surprising way. Carlson told me about his visit to a federal prison the previous weekend. On Sunday he'd gone to chapel. And he was surprised, during the service, to hear an inmate praying for him. Jabbing his finger at me, he asked, "Why'd he do that? I'm the guy keeping him in prison!" "Well, Mr. Carlson," I said, "he did that because he's a Christian. Christians are taught to pray for those in authority over them." Carlson looked at me. And then slowly he smiled. Then he nodded and said, "All right, Mr. Colson. I'll sign that order. We'll open the prisons for your program." I could hardly believe it. But since that day twenty- five years ago, I've seen the same pattern over and over. God takes the powerless things of this world to work his powerful, eternal plan. Think about it. The prayer of an unknown inmate God used to touch the heart of the very man with the power to open the prisons and launch this ministry. And it's been that same thing over the past twenty- five years. From the beginning, God has led us in surprising, seemingly impossible ways. He has used the most unlikely people to touch the lives of millions, and to extend his kingdom. Today, Prison Fellowship has some 50,000 volunteers taking the gospel to those behind bars. Another 100,000 at Christmas time reach 600,000 children of prisoners. As we look back over these twenty-five years, I want to thank all of you who've volunteered with us, who've prayed for us, and who've helped us financially. You've been the means by which God has worked this miracle, drawing tens of thousands of men and women to himself . . . and you still are God's instruments to do this. So thank you for all you've done, helping others to see how God makes his kingdom visible to a watching world.


Chuck Colson


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