“The Value of Life”

During World War II, German Nazis imprisoned about 7 to 8 million people, mostly European Jews, in 22 concentration camps. By 1945 they had murdered about 6 million of the inmates. Some were killed by firing squads, others died of starvation or as a result of experiments performed on them by German doctors and scientists, and most died in poison gas chambers.

When Allied forces liberated the camps in 1945, they found them littered with thousands of unburied dead, and the majority of the survivors were suffering from disease or starvation.

Major camps included Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Natzweiler, Gross-Rosen, Stutthof, Lublin, Hinzert, Bergen-Belsen and, for women, Ravensbrück,

German law at the time legally considered Jews as “not fully human.” They were classified as a “sub-human” species. Legally speaking, they were “non-persons.”

If I went hunting and I saw a bald eagle and shot it, would I be guilty of killing a protected species? Yes. Would the law punish me if I were caught? Yes.

Who decides that I killed a protected species? The government. What makes a bald eagle a protected species? The law. Who makes the laws? Other men. How do we determine that a life has value? Who makes that decision?

The German opinion in 1933 said that Jews were not human. The German government was stronger than the Jews and their opinion prevailed for many years. But it was not right.

Article I of the Constitution of the United States of America stated that African-American’s counted as only three-fifths of a person. This was not repealed until the 14th Amendment in 1865. So, before 1865, could I say that African-American’s were not fully human? Would it be right? No.

Here is the truth: There is only one opinion that matters in relation to you having value…God’s. People who do not believe in God can’t offer any objective reason for saying that they have value as a human being. Everything is subjective – one person’s opinion against another person’s opinion – and the strongest person’s opinion wins. Subjective means I believe something because I “feel” that it is right. It is my own opinion.

However objective means that we are not dealing in opinions or feelings. We are dealing in facts, pure and simple. No-one objects when an animal kills another animal. When a wolf kills a deer, it’s no problem. Without God, we are no different than animals.

The Bible says…

Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

God created man and breathed the breath of life into him. Man is God’s creation.

Isaiah 45:12 I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

God saw fit to create man in his own image and likeness. God made us. We did not make God. God is not a human idea! He is a universal truth.

A man once said that God made man in His image, and man has been trying to return the favor ever since! I believe that our biggest mistake is to try to make God like us, instead of us trying to be more like God. There are groups of people who build whole doctrines on the belief that God is like them. God is black or God is white or God is yellow. All for the purpose of making God so like them, and so unlike someone else.

May I tell you that I do not care what color God is? If the Lord God Almighty is black, then PRAISE THE LORD!!! He is my God!!! If the Lord God Almighty is yellow, then PRAISE THE LORD!!! He is my God!!! If the Lord God Almighty is purple, then PRAISE THE LORD!!! He is my God!!! And if the Lord God Almighty is white, it doesn’t matter to me. I am no more like Him than if He was black, or yellow, or purple. PRAISE THE LORD!!! He is my God!!!

I do not serve a white God. I do not serve a purple God. I serve a LIVING GOD!!! I will serve the Lord with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind. My eyes cannot even conceive of His beauty. I cannot imagine. I will not dare to compare myself to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! I am content to be called His servant, and blessed to be called one of His sons. That is enough for me.

I believe that man has value to God, because he saw fit to create us. He did not have to, but it pleased Him.

Genesis 1:27-31 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

God said that everything He had made was “very good.”

Revelation 4:10-11 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

We were created for His pleasure and to bring glory to Him. There was no second class of people in this creation. He made man and he made woman and he instructed them to multiply. Every man, woman, and child on the earth came from these two people. Every black man, every white man, every red man, every yellow man. The same bloodline. God gave life to us all.

Acts says He “made of one blood all nations.”

Act 17:22-26 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

Make no mistake; you are special to God. God did not make any mistakes. Because you have sinned, does not make you any less important to God. He sent His Son to redeem you. His Son died for each of you. If there is anything in your heart that judges another man’s worth, put it out! Do not think any less of your fellow man than God does.

Jesus gave two commandments…

Mark 12:30-31 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

I can’t truly say, “I love you” if I look down on you or think you are less than a man. Followers of Christ, love each other, care for each other, think well of each other. Do not separate yourselves for any reason. Each of you is precious to God. He has loved you since before you were born. And since we are precious to God, we should treat each other that way.

We are one people. One bloodline. One family. One body of Christ. Show the world the love of God through the love you have for each other.

CHHS Student Encourages Others Through Story of Forgiveness

Tristan Ziannis, left, and her mother Kelly have been sharing their family's story of forgiveness in public lately to help others coping with similar circumstances. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

This story was written by Emily Sparacino and published on May 2 in the Shelby County Reporter and it highlights the family of a formerly incarcerated man. This well written story is one of love and forgiveness and is well worth reading. I recently did a podcast with Kelly Ziannis which will be shared next month on this website as well as on Itunes, Stitcher Radio, and Soundcloud at “Detention to Redemption.


Chelsea High School senior Tristan Ziannis has been particularly busy the last few months with school, softball and preparations for college in the fall.

Ziannis, 17, is nearing the end of both her impressive career with the Lady Hornets and her time as a student at CHHS. Like her classmates, she has plenty of excuses to keep her extracurricular activities to a minimum as graduation approaches.

But Ziannis has been far from selfish with her time outside of the classroom and away from the softball field lately. Extenuating circumstances with family members have landed Ziannis in a supportive role, and recently, she started speaking publicly about some of the experiences that have shaped her childhood and changed her family.

Ziannis said she hopes her story helps others who are facing similar circumstances.

Trials and time

Kelly Ziannis, Tristan’s mother, was 4 years old when Kelly’s father moved out of their home.

His life began unraveling when he returned from the Korean War, and alcohol and other factors surfaced.

“Things got worse after he came back from war,” Kelly said.

When Kelly was Tristan’s age, her father went to prison for murder.

“I testified against him,” Kelly said. “That kind of broke our relationship for quite some time.”

Kelly moved on with her life and eventually had her only daughter, Tristan.

She allowed Tristan to speak with her grandfather on the phone, and Tristan was well aware of the circumstances that led to his incarceration.

“She understood what he did at an early age,” Kelly said.

They sent him clippings of newspaper articles about Tristan’s softball games periodically, and he and Tristan spent much time talking about “ball and God,” Kelly said.

“I talked to him a lot on the phone,” Tristan said.

Then, after one of Kelly’s nephews died in a car accident, Tristan asked her mother if they could visit her grandfather in prison.

“I had never taken her to see him,” Kelly said of Tristan, who was 7 at the time. “She asked me to take her to prison to meet her Papi. I asked her why, and she said he was sad, too, and he needed a hug.”

Kelly agreed, and 10 years after last seeing him at the trial, Kelly took Tristan to the St. Clair Correctional Facility for what would be an emotional meeting.

Without having seen him in person before, Tristan ran straight to her grandfather and hugged him.

“He cried, and I had never seen him cry,” Kelly said. “At that point on, my forgiveness (for him) started then. He got saved the next day. He said that she (Tristan) was forgiveness in its purest form.”

Letting go

Kelly’s mother moved in with her and Tristan about five years ago to recuperate from shoulder replacement surgery.

She has always been involved in Tristan’s life and is a fixture at the softball field, affectionately known by Tristan’s teammates as “Nana.”

“My mom has been a godsend, a rock,” Kelly said.

In September 2015, Kelly’s father called them and said his cancer from a decade ago was back. At 81       years old, serving a life without parole sentence, he declined to undergo treatment.

Two weeks later, Kelly’s mother had a massive stroke.

In the weeks and months after, when they weren’t at work or school, Kelly and Tristan split their time between her mother and father, logging several more visits with him in the prison infirmary before he died in mid­February.

Tristan described the last visits as “family times” during which she gained a strong sense of the man he  was apart from his shackles and tainted past.

“I actually really liked him. He was really smart,” Tristan said. “He was very sweet. I liked him more than I expected.”

Kelly said the news of her father’s illness solidified her love and forgiveness for him.

“When I got that phone call, the one thing that was there is I knew I loved him,” she said. “We took an    entire lifetime and crammed it into five months, and that was for her (Tristan) and for me. She never gave up on him.”

Kelly’s mother also granted him forgiveness in the process.

“They talked on the phone, and he apologized, and they said they loved one another,” Kelly said of her    parents. “I had never heard that in my life, and neither had she.”

A platform worth sharing

Several weeks ago, Tristan seized an opportunity to share her story with children and adults at Village     Springs Baptist Church in Remlap.

Pastor Glenn Bynum, who works in prison ministry and knew Kelly’s father, invited Tristan and Kelly to     speak to others –particularly children  that might be grappling with issues related to a family member in prison.

Tristan’s approach to talking about her grandfather is open and honest.

“It’s never been anything that I hide,” she said. “I think some people are more particular about it and don’t want to say anything. You shouldn’t want to keep it a secret because it is what it is.”

Although the entry process and security checks for visitors at the prison can be scary for someone who has never been, Tristan said she would have regretted not visiting her grandfather.

She also talked about forgiveness as a means to having a positive relationship with someone in the same situation.

“Don’t be discouraged,” she said. “I think forgiving is big. You can’t change it, and they can’t change it either.

“I don’t like holding onto things. If you hold onto it, you’ll miss out on something.”

Tristan and Kelly recently participated in a podcast called “Detention to Redemption,” and hope to continue sharing their experiences through different outlets in the future.

Tristan’s plans after graduation May 24 are to start at Southern Union State Community College in August and eventually transfer to Auburn University. She wants to work in family counseling, she said.

“She’s very successful,” Kelly said of Tristan. “I don’t know what we did to raise her right, but I’ll take it.”

The Importance of Family (Prison Family Night Update)

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Family is important, but in today’s society families are beset by divorce, the absence of parents, imprisonment, breakdown of authority, and a host of other problems. The concept of family is extremely important in the Bible and was introduced in the very beginning, as we see in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” God’s plan for creation was for men and women to marry and have children. A man and a woman would form a “one-flesh” union through marriage (Genesis 2:24), and they with their children become a family, the essential building block of human society. Families are building blocks that impact society and society impacts our country. So an ideal country is not only build by government but also each and every family member.

Recently I was again reminded of this importance as we had “Family Nights” at the prison in which I serve at. This was the first time that the men inside of our Faith/Character Based Honor Dorm had a family night since November, 2009. This night was a reward to those men who had stayed out of trouble and had chosen to live in a more structured lifestyle. It was a night where their family members could join them for a 4 hour visit and eat all the Pizza, snacks and cookies that they can. It was a night where they could be together as family! Many things happened during these family nights that brought tears to my eyes, tears of sadness and tears of joy. I saw children hanging out with their daddy’s, wives with their husbands, moms with their sons, dads with their sons,  sisters with their brothers, brothers with their brothers, grandma’s with their grandsons and even grandchildren with their grandpas. I also saw many who sat and ate their pizza alone with no family. The anticipation each night was evident as the men waited in the visitation area for their family members to arrive. You could see by the looks on their faces who was expecting family and who wasn’t.

Each evening I made a point to walk from one table to another and talk to the men and their families. One guy eagerly introduced me to his grandmother and sister who had driven several hundred miles to see him that night. Another man introduced me to his wife of 50 years, another introduced me to his five year old granddaughter, and another introduced me to his mom who was sitting on a wheelchair whom he had not seen in six years. Each table was busting with excitement and conversation, each family was back together for this one night.

As I looked at what was happening before my eyes I was reminded how important it is to nurture and protect our families. For those who had no family visiting them it was just another night of loneliness, another reminder of that devastating moment in which they lost their family. Some lost their families due to the crime they bad committed, some families had given up on them, some of the men had been incarcerated long enough that all their family had died and others were separated by the distance between them.

Friends, a true family is the one and only place where your life begins and love never ends. You may have lots of people in your life, but family is your blood and they are the people who accept you for who you are, who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. Love your family!

ReNew Hope 2016 Testimonies

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Each year on the last week of January, We Care Program does an event inside of prison which is called ReNew Hope. This event brings volunteers, music groups and evangelists from all over the United States to participate in spreading Hope (the good news of Jesus) throughout the Alabama prison system. This year we had 11 volunteers that went daily into the prison that I serve at for one on one evangelism. They visited the men inside the Faith Based Honor Dorm as well as participated in several chapel events including the showing of the movie, “War Room.” Each night the group of volunteers were joined up by an evangelist and music group for the service. While not all went as planned and we had several hiccups along the way, I still received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the inmates and how they were affected by the week. I wanted to share with you two letters that I received from men that were affected by the ministry that week. These two letters came from men that live inside of the Faith Based Honor Dorm.

“The ReNew Hope Revival could not have come at a better time. Our camp had been going through a lot. We needed our batteries to be recharged and what a blessing it was to have our guests here to accomplish this. From the testimonies, music, and sermons the Holy Spirit was there. The feeling of what was wanted and could be had, kept the feeling of hope running. Everyone’s expectations were centered around Christ and the fellowship was fantastic. Each music group was unique and empowering!  On the last night of the revival we were blessed by having Lynda Randle and her husband Michael.  She really lifted everyone up with her music and we feel so blessed to have had them here. We are looking forward to the next ReNew Hope!”

“My first We Care Crusade was in 1992 but cut short because I went home after the first day. I was locked back up on Christmas day 1992 and back in the prison system. I have enjoyed the crusades every year since. A few years ago it became ReNew Hope which is fitting and each year this event continues to bring us hope while locked up inside of prison. The music is the very best and this year we were blessed once again. The last few years the volunteers weren’t able to visit the dorms but this year was special in the fact that the volunteers were able to visit us in the Faith Based Honor Dorm. These visits from the volunteers were encouraging! It would be nice if this could be twice a year. Thanks to all who give of your time each year to make it all happen. Please accept this following scripture as my gratitude for all you do for those of us in prison. Jeremiah 3:15 “Then [in the final time] I will give you [spiritual] shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and true understanding.”

The Testimony of Joseph Colini

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Joseph is a friend of mine that I met while he was incarcerated inside Belmont Correctional Facility in St. Clairsville, Ohio. The picture above is from Sunday, September 20 2015 when I had the privilege of preaching at his church in Cleveland, Ohio. The following is his testimony.

My biological father cheated on my mom with women, and when my mom found out that my dad was cheating she divorced him. My mom brought me up in a poor city and apartment complex. I was chocked, slapped, beat, and abused by my kindergarten teacher. After months of abuse, my mom finally got out of me why I was so afraid to go to school. My mom, who was an alcoholic, went to the school board and got the teacher fired.
My mom’s third husband, who raised me and my brother, was Atheist/Agnostic. I was raised and preprogrammed to make fun of Christians and people who believe in God.

Growing up as a little boy, I was told by family and friends that I was a good boy. However, I was told that my two year older brother was a problem child and trouble maker. Around the age of eleven my brother often persuaded me to get into minor trouble such as egg houses, break windows, get involved in petty theft, and throw rocks at cars. At the age of fifteen my brother begged me to do illegal drugs with him. I told him no at least fifty times. Then one day he asked me to at least watch him do the drugs and after giving in I said yes. But it was never in my heart to do the drugs I just gave into his pressure. He got me in his bedroom and told me just to take one hit of weed. I told him no but he kept asking me so loud that he woke up my mom and she heard that he was trying to pressure me to do the drugs. I never could understand why she left us alone after smelling the drugs burning and hearing him beg me. Deep inside I wanted her to pull me out of his bedroom because I was afraid of the drugs. Finally, I gave into the pressure of my brother and smoked marijuana. After that first experience with drugs I had a new identity. I was accepted in the world of drug users, plus the void in my heart was temporary filled with drugs. I started doing acid, shrooms, crack a few times and cocaine. I tripped on acid for eight hours non-stop every other day for one year. I burned my arm each time I did acid. I had lighter burns and blisters all over my arm. I started seeing demons everywhere, forgot who I was, I forgot my name, and I lost the ability to speak. My brain was so burnt out I was not able to hold intelligent conversations.
One vivid memory I had of being on acid was the time the drug dealer was high on acid himself, and he was cutting all the paper acid in different shapes. Me and my friends thought the acid could be fake so we all consumed ten whole hits of acid each. I blacked out for awhile then when I became partly aware of what I was doing, I realized I was punching a brick wall. The two friends I had with me tried to pull me away from the wall when they realized my knuckles were all bloody and shredded up.
At the age fifteen I shaved my head bald and got into rap music. I broke into people’s houses, robbed people, stole police cars, took my gun and shot up people’s homes. Finally I broke an old lady’s fingers to get drug money by stealing her purse. The cops found me walking down the side of the road and arrested me. I served one year in the Department of Youth Services where I fought everyday. When I was in the juvenile prison, I went to a Christian church a few times and it made me feel good but I did not understand what it was about and I did not know what was going on. I did not understand what the preaching was about. I remember going back to the jail cell and laying on my bed and this weird powerful presence came into me and it flooded me so much with a vibrating buzzing sensation that I never had experienced before. I had never went to church and I had never read the Bible before other then to smoke drugs out of the Bible pages and mock God believing that he was not real. But somehow I believed the vibration feeling I got had something to do with God. I never told anyone about it and kept it to myself. Even if I wanted to tell someone it was such an amazing and weird thing that happened to me that I wouldn’t even be able to explain it. 
After I did the one year of prison, I begged my mom to go to church with me and she took me to a service.The next Sunday I begged my mom again to go to Church with me and she never did. Then I gave up also. I figured if my mom did not want to go there then there was no reason to go anyway. I started hanging around my old friends who wanted me to get back into drugs and I told them no way. One night when I was over at a friend’s house with several men and two girls, a girl began focusing on me. I ignored her but at the end of the night I ended up going to a hotel with her and a few friends and committed fornication. The next day all my friends praised me and worshiped me saying I was a player because she chose me out of all the guys. I quickly built up a reputation of being a player, womanizer, and ladies man.
I was in and out of jail from the age fifteen. I went to four different state prisons. I started taking steroids and selling the steroids making 90% profit on each drug deal. I was the only person in my city who was able to get the drugs. I also held a good job as a union carpenter making $21.00 a hour. 

After I was caught cheating on my son’s mom and was kicked out of the house. I moved in with one of the women I used to live with. After three months she got sick of the way I treated her. She asked me one day if I minded if she brought a guy home and I told her you can because I do not love you and we’re not together and you’re free to do as you please. She got very mad because she was hoping I would get jealous and she realized I did not care. After I left the apartment that night she started drinking beer and called the police on me and lied saying that I had raped her. The next day my son’s mom called me on the cell phone and said that the detectives were looking for me and had a warrant for my arrest and that I was accused of raping someone twice. Soon after her call I received another call from a guy identifying himself as a detective saying that he had to speak to me about a rape. He told me he wanted me to meet him at the police station and I told him I would be there in a few minutes. I figured it was just a mistaken identity. I figured as soon as they saw me they would realize they had the wrong person and they just made a mistake with the names. I figured they would let me go and apologize. On the way over to the police station I called all the different women I was having fornication with and asked if any of them knew anything about someone who was mad at me saying I raped them and no one knew anything about it. I called every girl but the girl I lived with because she was obsessed with me and would have done anything for me. When I arrived at the police station they arrested me. I asked them, “who said I raped her?” They said the girl’s name and I was shocked. I said “I live with that girl!” The cops informed me that she had said that I had moved out a month ago.  They set my bail at a quarter of a million dollars. I could not believe this was happening to me and I could not believe of all people the girl I lived with did this to me. They told me I had 2 counts of 1st degree felony rape, 2 counts of 2nd degree felony kidnapping, 2 counts of 3rd degree felony intimidation, and 2 counts of 5th degree felony GSI. I was facing 8 felonies and a punishment of 45 years to double life in prison.
After a few months of trying to prove my innocence to everyone I became weary and worn out. My uncle referred a Christian lawyer to me. The Christian lawyer came to visit me to see if I would hire him. He told me that if I gave him my Ford Explorer XLT he would be my lawyer. So I gave him the car for his services. After a few months of the lawyer owning my car I asked him to show me some work that he has done for me. He never showed me any motions that he filed for me or any work. Then I caught him lying to me and when I asked him about the work he filed for me he swore curse words at me. So I fired him and the other lawyer that I had also hired, took all the money in my bank account and ran. I was sitting in jail, facing 45 years to double life in prison with no lawyer and an extensive criminal history. At that point I decided there was no hope for me and I had no reason to live. I lost all my money and material things that I worshiped. The women I had fornicated with turned their back on me. My family was stealing from me and I did not even love myself. I had totally failed at life. I was so sad and depressed I wanted to die. I planned on killing myself. I had so much pain that I could not bare to live another day. I devised a plan of suicide. 
The day I planned to kill myself, I was so depressed my face actually was sagging. I had a few minutes before I planned to die and I walked over to a big black older Muslim man. I told him what happened to me. He looked me in my eyes and he said, “I believe you, I believe you did not do what you said you did not do, I believe you’re innocent and you need to fight for your life, fight for your case, and stop taking medicine and get right with God whoever you know him to be.” I heard what he told me but how was I supposed to get right with God because I did not even know if God was real. I was raised to make fun of Christians and if God was real God had to hate me. God would never love someone so bad as me because I had broken an old lady’s fingers, sold drugs, shot peoples homes with my guns, stolen police cars, committed fornication, smoked drugs out of Bible paper, and had 2 babies killed by abortion. If God was real then He hated me.

When I went back to my jail cell determined to kill myself, I slammed the cell door behind me and fell to my knees. After I fell to my knees tears started pouring out of my eyes. I yelled up in the air and said God if you are real you know I did not rape that girl, if you are real you’ll help me right now or I will kill myself. If you help me right now I swear on my life I will serve you the rest of my life. If I do not serve you, you can kill me dead any time. I stood up and saw a Bible that an inmate left behind. I opened up the Bible having never read the Bible or knowing any of the stories and I randomly opened the Bible to Genesis 39: the story of Joseph. When I saw my name in the Bible I was totally amazed and then when I saw how Joseph was falsely accused of rape just like I was and thrown into prison by Potiphar’s wife I was totally shocked. I immediately got goose bumps all over my body.Peace and joy flooded my whole body. I went from pure depression and wanting to kill myself to flooded with joy, love, and peace immediately. Even though I had never experienced this overwhelming sensation of God’s presence before, I just knew in the depths of my heart it was God. I knew God was real in spite of all I did and I knew God loved me and had a plan for me. I was so excited to find out that God was real, that he loved me, and that my hope now was no longer in money or material things but in God. God proved himself to me in so many different ways that he was real. I was so excited and full of joy and peace that God became more important to me then the possibility of doing 45 years in prison to double life because I knew for a fact God would work it out for me. 

I forgave those who lied on me and hurt me and asked Jesus to forgive me for all my sins and He did. All my past sins are covered under the holy blood of Jesus Christ. I even forgave myself and I had no more guilt and no more shame. I was flooded with peace, love, joy, hope, and life in Christ. 
Shortly after God changed me the girl who said I raped her came to visit me at the jail 8 times (which the jail kept record of), started sending me money, writing me letters, sending me sensual pictures, and tried to drop the charges. However, the state picked them up and said they would put her in prison because she lied so she had to press charges. Also the courts would be liable for a lawsuit for keeping me in jail and being innocent of the charges. All of a sudden the courts offered 6 months. I told them no, I wanted them to totally drop the case. I was mad because how can they think I was guilty of a nasty violent rape and deserved 45 years of prison and then make me a deal of only 6 months just so I can go out and rape more people. I believed they knew I was not guilty and she was lying or they would not give me 6 months. During this time the judge ordered me to be evaluated at a mental institution for competency to stand trial and my grandmother hired another lawyer on my behalf. After 10 months of fighting the case my new lawyer told me just to plea guilty to the felony 4 gross sexual imposition and do the 2 years of prison with time served and move on with your life. My lawyer explained to me even though I had Exhibits A all the way to Exhibit Z there is no guarantee the judge will allow the exhibits of evidence into the trial. My lawyer explained that it is the judge’s discretion and some evidence proving my innocence may not make it to the trial. At that time I was weary of fighting and just gave up and took the new deal.
When I went to prison I did not know the order of my months, I could barely read, I did not know how to multiply or divide. I failed my GED test 3 times but refused to give up until finally I passed it. I read the Bible for 8 hours a day. I went to 9 church services a week and was in the church choir in prison. After I got out of prison I become a deacon for five years at my home church and was licensed and ordained as minister on 12/30/07. Now I am the Pastor of Old Brooklyn Christian Church and also minister at jails, nursing homes, halfway houses, mental institutions, funerals, different churches and on TV and radio. God even allowed me to give my testimony inside a prison in the Philippines and preach in a church in the Philippines. I graduated college as an honors student and made the deans list four times. I am now a dual licensed Optician, with two college degrees. I have not smoked, drank, had fornication, swore, stole, or committed crimes for over 10 years, and it is all because the Holy Ghost gives me power to do everything I do in the name of Jesus Christ. For him I live, move, and have my being.

Testimony Of An Incarcerated Brother

My testimony is like so many other behind these walls. Some even in society could identify with our testimonies. We all have our weaknesses, challenges & failures. We all have gone astray much like the prodigal son. Though our stories stem from the same source of chaos known as the devil and his lies, our stories are yet unique. Our stories are success stories in a seemingly story of one failure after the next. I write this as a man who has nothing to boast of or to be proud of other then that of God.

I killed a man who was a friend of mine at the age of sixteen. The story is that I was told by a thirty-six year old man to go out and kill someone for gang rank. Though it came out that I was not a gang member, the story I suppose still sticks. Everyone ( including myself) would have never believed that I would shoot someone, My case was an accident. Nevertheless that was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Though I know that I am a new creature in Christ, I still have a hard time forgiving myself for what I have done, the pain I have caused to so many others, The ending of another’s dreams and hopes. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy. Christ had to suffer endless hours of beatings and pain to bring forgiveness to mankind.

As a child I had always prayed and talked with God as if he were right in front of me. Sometime along the path of childhood I found a false sense of independence. I began to think I knew best. The greatest thing I lost in growing up was my sense of dependence on God. Such as when a storm came I would seek God to keep us all safe. When I got older I no longer paid much attention to the storm. As a man I now am relearning to have that dependence on God once again.

I grew up in a military family. We moved constantly. I have no childhood friends because of our constant movement. Each time I would have to readjust, seek ways to fit in. I wanted popularity, acceptance, etc that eventually led to doing drugs, going to crazy parties, stealing cars, all just to fit in, to be held in high esteem by my peers. My parents were both in the medical field, Because of their long hours of work I had a lot of free time I would make bad use of such times, I would throw parties or go out and do whatever, I had never officially been in trouble before with the law, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t do stuff to go to jail before hand. I was a stupid, stupid teenager. I look back in disgust on my past, I had so much promise and threw it all away. But even if I had succeeded and I didn’t know God I was still doomed anyway.

I didn’t immediately come to God after being locked up because I was so resentful at God. When I shot the gun that terrible night I was in a car when I did it. I got out of the car and got into another car with a couple of girls. One of the girls asked” what happened back there, I think someone got shot”. I began to cry, pray and beg that no one would be hurt. I got home and my mother told me that some friends of mine came over and said that a friend of mine just got shot. I was later arrested and while in county jail waiting for trial I begged God for a chance to get out one day or to give me the death penalty, anything but life without parole. I received life without parole. I wanted to die, I began to cuss God and declare my great hate for Him. I begged for death over and over again. I began to learn witchcraft and Alister Crowley’s version of Satanism. ‘persecuted Christians in here. I would call them names and talk about how stupid they were. I began to study evolution so that I could use that to show that God didn’t make us. I would also educate myself in psychotherapy (Sigmund Freud) to challenge these Christians. I hated God so much. Then one day someone told me that I didn’t hate God, I laughed, He said” you would be glad to be hit by a bold of lightening as long as you know God was listening to you”. He further said that I just want to know if God ever heard me or cared for me. When I laid down that night I knew he was right. I was like a child who blamed his parents for every thing that was going wrong in fife and I threw a temper tantrum just the same. The truth was that I wanted God in my life but I was too afraid because I didn’t know if I could depend on Him. If I could trust him. I had to learn to forgive myself and I had to learn to forgive Him. I know that sounds strange but I did. Since then it has been a constantly developing relationship. It’s a love affair. I have fallen in love with Him. I am no longer bitter or extremely resentful toward myself. As I have said I am still in the process of forgiving myself for my crime. I have a sense of purpose and hope in my life. I finally have direction. Where there is lack of vision the people will surely perish. Also I have had to learn to stop being so selfish. I still struggle here, but I was privileged to be able to work on hospice for a long time and give back to life. I watched many men wither away and die in here. It is a sad thing to watch men die in here. But I am grateful to have been able to take care of them before they did die.

I have learned in my few years in life that dependence on God is the greatest of gifts we receive, where we have a daddy who is so intimate, so caring that He wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives. We become like children who before we do anything we look to make sure daddy is there to protect us and watch over us, to provide us with all that we need. He has taken good care of me since my incarceration. A sixteen year old in prison has no chance. He has protected me from men who have tried to kill me and much, much more. Then He gave me a great gift in being able to play music for Him. I have always loved music. I used to play a little when I was a kid, but smoking pot caused me to stop. Loving God caused me to play. God is a blessing and He loves to bless. I am still growing in Him, I’m sure it’s a lifetime process. What I find ironic is that it is actually a fun process. I conclude by saying thank you God for second and third chances, for never giving up on me and loving me even when I didn’t love myself.

My Thoughts Surrounding the Holidays

  
Many are gathering in the next couple weeks for the holidays. It is one of the most celebrated times of the year as thousands travel by car or by plane to spend the holidays with their families. During this same time each year there are also thousands of men and women that are incarcerated, shut away from their families due to the mistakes they have made in their lives. These men and women will not have the privilege of gathering with family. The holiday season doesn’t bring much change to their daily routines as they continue to serve their time behind fences with razor wire. 

While many that are incarcerated will try to be festive for the holidays, some lay silent on their bunk beds, trying to recall memories of childhood Christmases. Past and distant images are awakened of family and friends gathered around the table laughing and eating, then later relaxing and exchanging gifts. Scenes from television commercials of festive settings, whether it is a couple or family, in a park, sitting in front of a fireplace with snow outside up against the windows, or the view of the ocean surf from the beach or a hill top, reminds them of their desire for closeness with someone special and the excitement of watching their children opening their gifts. 

Many prisoners try hard to keep their mind off the length of their sentence and the crime they have committed, but rather waits to receive word from home…though some messages will prove painful. A solemn air hovers over the prison. Try as they may to keep them away, dark clouds of failures, mistakes, regret and remorse over crimes committed that have separated them from freedom, bring salty raindrops in the form of tears. During this season many who are incarcerated are normally pretty hard on themselves. Disgusted with their current situation they often feel overwhelmed by hurt, anger and brokenness.

At the men’s facility that I serve at, I have found that during this season men are also more receptive to the Gospel! The Gospel offers them hope when all else seems hopeless. The love of Christ penetrates deep into their hardened hearts like no other love they have ever experienced! The holiday season though a sad time of the year for those who are incarcerated, can be a life changing time for many. So as we gather this holiday season I want to encourage you to remember those who are incarcerated. I would like to ask you to pray for these men and women. Though they are paying the price for their mistakes, they are also human like us. Their hearts hurt just like our hearts, their need for love is no different than ours. Pray that they would look to Jesus for the void they may be feeling. Pray that they would experience the love of Christ in their hearts and be forever changed! 

Testimony from the Recent Kairos Weekend

The following is a short testimony of one of the guys that participated in the recent Kairos weekend at the prison that I serve at.

I was delighted and excited when I found out that I was selected to attend Kairos. I had heard a lot about Kairos for years, but never had been chosen to attend. My time spent at Kairos inspired me so much. I felt overwhelmed with the volunteer’s love that was showed to me and the other guys and the Spirit of the Lord was definitely present throughout all the talks that were shared. It was encouraging to have men from outside of the prison sharing their life stories, their accomplishments and failures both really touched my heart. I felt the Spirit of the Lord come over my life which I never felt before.  Each session was truly inspired and I hated for the weekend to end. The love that was showed to me and the other guys was more than I could comprehend. I cried more tears this weekend then I have in a long time. As the result of this weekend I feel more at peace with God and I am going to keep the faith as I go on in life. I want to share what God has done in my life with those around me here inside of prison and someday with those on the outside.

Christianity vs. Islam

Last week 717 Muslims died during a stampede in Saudi Arabia during the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Mina. When I read about this I couldn’t help but wonder of the importance of such a pilgrimage and what would cause these people to trample others? If we look back over the years this is an reoccurring incident. In 1990 a stampede inside the Al-Ma’aisim tunnel leading out from Mecca towards Mina and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims. In 1994 a stampede killed at least 270 pilgrims, in 1998 at least 118 pilgrims were trampled to death and 180 injured in an incident on Jamarat Bridge. In 2001, 35 pilgrims were trampled to death in a stampede and in 2003 another 14 pilgrims’ were killed. While in 2004, 251 pilgrims were killed and another 244 injured in a stampede and in 2006 at least 346 pilgrims were killed and 289 more were injured. When I look at these numbers it saddens me to think that each one of these numbers represent people who have died and went to hell.

In my studies I found out that this annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj, is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. It must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult male Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’aba, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit that provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal and also serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when Muslims believe people will stand before Allah.  To every Muslim that was trampled last week and in the years past this is why they traveled thousands of miles to participate. It is of great importance that they fulfill the obligations of Allah in order to be saved.

I must tell you that I am thankful that I do not serve Allah, but a God of grace and mercy. A God whose love is not a response to our goodness, but in spite of our lack of goodness. A God who proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). But even more than dying for us, God the Son rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and He offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by His grace through faith in Him. The apostle John wrote, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). His love for all people is unconditional.

The Qur’an teaches that Allah loves those he chooses to love and hates those he chooses to hate. It appears his love or hate is in response to human behavior. “Allah loves not those that do wrong,” says the Qur’an (Surah 3:140), neither does he love “him who is treacherous, sinful” (Surah 4:107). “Those who reject faith and do wrong – Allah will not forgive them nor guide them to anyway – Except the way of Hell, to dwell therein forever. And this to Allah is easy (4:168-169). We can also read in the Qur’an that Allah is not truly personal, knowable, or approachable. The Qur’an depicts him more judgmental than gracious and it is considered blasphemous to “presume” that one can know God or claim any sort of close, personal fellowship with Allah. The Qur’an also teaches that Allah did not, would not, and will not die for you, nor would he send anyone to die for you. In fact it says that there is no need for Allah to provide a sacrifice for sin because ignorance of Islam, not sin, is man’s problem and staying away from major sins will automatically result in one’s “small” sins being overlooked by Allah (4:31).

So as we consider what happened last week we see a people who have been deceived. A people that understood what it meant to submit to Allah as servants and if they didn’t perform this ritual while they were able, that Allah might judge against them. While we can respect their submission which is also a Biblical aspect of our relationship with God, it is incomplete. As Christians, through Jesus, we know that we move from being servants to becoming sons and daughters. So friends, please take some time today to pray for these men and women that they would have a full revelation of the true God and His loving character. Pray that they will also understand that God desires for everyone to know Him as children and not as slaves. Pray that they would get saved, pray that they will be convicted of sin and know true repentance. Pray that they would experience God’s total forgiveness and thus be able to forgive others. And also pray that they would know the assurance of salvation through Jesus, something Islam can never offer them!

Wrestling with God

Wrestling with God is a real term for me, as the other month I felt a spiritual battle I have never experienced before! You see, I work in a very dark place (prison), a place where the devil has many men bound up in strongholds, a place where there are many pagan religions represented, and a place where much evil happens every day. As I enter this place everyday my prayer has always been, please Lord protect me from the evil here and let me share you in this place! But the other night this wrestling that kept me up all night showed me clearly that I had let my guard down and that I had allowed the Devils lies to secretly manipulate my thinking. My view of who I was and my view of who God was! I had left down my guard, the shield of faith and I now was operating on my own strength instead of Gods strength. During that struggle God brought me to the passage of scripture in Genesis 32 where it gives us an account of Jacob and his wrestling match with God through the night.

In Genesis 32 we see that Jacobs wrestling match was first and foremost terrifying. Terrifying in the fact that the Lord became something wholly different than anything Jacob had known before. At this point, at least, we can see the Lord was not wrestling with Jacob to have a good time; the Lord was Jacob’s opponent. Jacob was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. In fact, the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “grabber.” Throughout the course of Jacob’s life, we see him having multiple enemies—particularly in Laban. Jacob anticipated his older brother, Esau, as an enemy and was completely frightened by him. But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob. One can make the argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult. I wonder how many of us view God this same way? I did without really knowing it!

The Lord is our great physician, the great healer of our souls. He is our provider, the resting place, our righteousness and our victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can wrongly assume God is more for us than for Himself. But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours. And, like Jacob, we often use God for our own gain in life and our own wants.

In Western culture and even in our churches, we celebrate wealth and power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.
Now, in his wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God could not be used for his means. He discovered—quite suddenly—that the Lord is to be feared. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely. Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God and that Jacob was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is shown to be profoundly changed in his life from that moment on. Before the wrestling match, life’s circumstances had reduced Jacob to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived, and God had not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and Jacob was at his wits’ end. I’m sure many of us have felt this way before, for me it came after several great victories and then it seemed like all hope was lost, that all of a sudden I didn’t need God anymore not intentionally thinking that but allowing my actions to portray that. It was a time where I left my shield down because of the thought “I got this!” It was in my own strength that I had actually become very weak, I was nothing to the enemy as long as I was without God.

Frederick Buechner, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter in Genesis 32 as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”

A.W. Pink writes, “Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators agree—it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him that all important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.”

That’s one of the main points we see in this wrestling with God. Weakness is broken into submission, and submission is where there is strength—submission to God’s leading and God’s control, realizing that there’s nothing stronger or more determinant that this. Praise God, this wrestling brought me to my knees, I cried out to Him for deliverance realizing I had been placing my trust in mine own ability rather than His. God opened my eyes to things that I had allowed to creep into my Christian walk that were working against what He had purposed for me! In my weakness, He showed me His strength and renewed my fear for Him, my reverence for Him!

In Genesis 32, Jacob confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing.

What I have learned from studying Genesis 32 and from my own experience is that our lives are never meant to be easy. God has entrusted us as leaders, fathers, and Husbands with His creation and has purposed His will for our lives. Our wants, wills and desires are secondary to what God has for us, our wants, wills and desires have to die to God’s plan, His will for our life! This life that I live is not about me and my accomplishments but about God’s glory! Wrestling with God showed me that I was not capable of ever achieving anything in life without His leading, because I am just a hopeless sinner without Him! I also learned that as a Christian, despite my trials and tribulations, my strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Thank you God!
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