By Lana Turnbull
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. ~ Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)
We’ve just come through the holiday season when charitable giving and volunteerism are at some of the highest levels all year. After all, the spirit of giving was all around us, it was infectious and there was no shortage of worthy causes to support. Whether we made contributions to a community food bank, chose an angel from an angel tree at the local mall, donated toys and books for disadvantaged kids, caroled for shut-ins, served a holiday meal at a soup kitchen or visited the sick in the hospital, there was plenty of need to go around. It felt so good to give. We think about the people who our gifts touched – the stranger, the needy, the sick, the homeless…the deserving. But, what about the prisoner?
Are we unconsciously judging who we believe is and who is not deserving of our charity? I don’t think so. Maybe it is just a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” By the very nature of incarceration, the people who populate our prisons are out of sight, out of mind, and out of the mainstream of our consciousness. It’s all too easy to forget about them, but they are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. They are neighbors or former coworkers, farmers or carpenters. They come from all walks of life and they are fellow children of God who, but for a mistake or many mistakes (some reckless, some gravely serious), are paying their debt to society. So what do we as a society owe them? How about the recognition of their existence and the belief in their redemption?
The New Year is a great time to think about what we want to do differently going forward. We make resolutions, we set goals, and sometimes we adopt new habits in an effort to improve our quality of life and hopefully, the health of our souls.
On your to do list for the coming months, as you are deciding what priorities to give your home life, your work, your faith, and how you contribute to your community think about what He would do. I believe He would remind us to love our neighbors, whether they live next door or behind prison walls.
Consider the largely untapped source of potential for creating better communities – prisoners and parolees – lives in limbo. Will they be lost or found? Learn how you can get involved in initiatives to support meaningful programs that prepare people in prison to come home as better neighbors. Look at starting a prison ministry program at your church. Help support programs to assist parolees in their reentry to society. Find out how you can help those returning to your community get the tools they need to succeed, like mentoring, substance abuse treatment, job training, and placement.
You will never know the impact you can make until you try, until you see the faces that were out of sight and hear the voices that weren’t heard – until you invite them into your mind and your heart. …
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. ~ Matthew 25:40 (NIV)