During the Lenten Season, Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries has been focusing on the theme of forgiveness in all of our worship services at both the prison and the jail. Through the generosity of our donors and supporters, we were able to purchase a copy of Marjorie J. Thompson’s book Forgiveness: A Lenten Study for every inmate who desired one. Over 600 inmates received a copy of the book and joined us in our study on forgiveness.
Each week, a chaplain led a brief devotion at all three jail services on forgiveness based on one of the six chapters in the book. Additionally, another chaplain developed an entire sermon on forgiveness for the evening service at the prison. Over the six-week period of Lent we experienced powerful healing moments of forgiveness as the men and women came to grips with their own need for forgiveness (from God, others and self), as well as their need to forgive those who had hurt them.
One Sunday evening I had the privilege of sharing a message entitled “The Freedom of Forgiveness” based on Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. I challenged the nearly 100 men gathered in the chapel that evening with the realization that FORGIVEN people ought to be FORGIVING people. Those of us who have experienced Christ’s forgiveness bear a responsibility to offer forgiveness to others, and in so doing, we free ourselves from the prison of bitterness.
At the end of the message, something beautiful and unscripted took place. One of the volunteers who had come to sing with the choir from the visiting church that evening stood up to share his testimony. He opened up about his family and shared that one of his daughters had been killed by a drunk driver – less than three miles from her home. He also shared that through much prayer and conversation, his family agreed to forgive the man responsible for his daughter’s death. They even met with him during the trial to share their forgiveness to him. Since that time, the family has remained in contact with their daughter’s killer while he is serving his prison sentence, and they write him every Christmas.
Can you imagine the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit as this volunteer stood in a prison chapel, surrounded by inmates, and shared his story of how he forgave the inmate who took his daughter’s life? This was an impacting moment for everyone in the room – including the chaplain! However, before the men could muster up a round of applause for this monumental story of forgiveness, the volunteer stopped them and said, “I’m often asked how it is that we can forgive our daughter’s killer, and my response is that it is only through the power of Jesus Christ!”
This man, and his family, were the living epistle that brought Jesus’ words and my sermon off the page and into the hearts and minds of the men. They are true example of the freedom that is available through forgiveness, and I know that there example helped to free a few men who are still in prison
-Chaplain Tejado Hanchell