What to you give a man for Christmas? A man who doesn’t have much. A pair of green shorts, a green T shirt and a pair of sandshoes. He has food, a bed and a small room which he’s looked into 16 hours a day and sometimes for two days in a row. He’s lost his freedom. So what do you give him to celebrate Christmas?
Michael Wells, an Anglican chaplain at a prison in Sydney, was having some trouble accessing the men in H Block. It was a difficult area of the prison. Another chaplain had told him it would be too difficult to start anything there. He should not even try to go there. With no access to a chapel or a room, Michael tried to be there to talk with individuals. He tried to run small groups under one small outdoor covering, surrounded by a hundred men. But the routine of H Block was such that Michael never knew what to expect each time he went there. Would the men be locked in their cells? Or outside. Would they be called away? Or at court? It was all ad hoc.
He got to the point of giving up. Maybe it was just too difficult. Realising that he wasn’t always there at the best times for the men, Michael decided to show one or two what to do to lead a small group in prayer and simple Bible study. Michael was off sick for a couple of weeks. When he came back, he found thirty men had been gathering each day to pray and to read the Bible.
The officers can be nervous with such a large group meeting together. It can be a time to pass contraband around, to make plans for nefarious deeds, to recruit, to standover. It can seem threatening to other inmates. So one afternoon an officer came to tell the men they couldn’t meet anymore. The men were upset, but had just read and discussed from Matthew 5 to ‘pray for those who persecute you’. They stayed calm and prayed for the officer. The next day they were told they could continue meeting.
These meetings, at times whenever the men can get together, have been life changing. Both officers and inmates speak of a significant change in the atmosphere of H-block. Reading from Titus 3 that they need to ‘submit to rulers and authorities’, the inmates discussed whether their treatment of officers would honour Jesus.
One inmate spoke to an officer he had been giving a particularly hard time and apologised for his behaviour. He named specific things he had done and asked for the officer’s forgiveness. Now, this is something you just don’t do in prison. The officer didn’t know how to respond. Embarrassed and feeling very awkward he just told the inmate to go away.
What do you give a man who has nothing for Christmas? You give him the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. You give him the opportunity to pray with others who know only too well the hard time he’s going through. Then you stand back and watch the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the most unlikely people.
Any Christian can give a life changing gift to men like this. Pray for them. Pray for our chaplains and the people they minister to. God is doing mighty, life changing work.