At a recent board of directors’ retreat, Chaplain Rodney Stilwell asked me to speak at Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries. I was humbled, yet extraordinarily thankful for the opportunity to share my answer to this question, How has volunteering and being on the board help deepen your walk with Jesus?

The response required some deep reflection and serious prayer. Yes, I absolutely believe this ministry has deepened my walk with Him. Below are the principle measures God uses in my faith journey from these three vitally important quotes:

Love is patient, love is kind…(1 Corinthians 13:4)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle… (Many sources)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice… (Hosea 6:6)

A tradition in my house (passed down from my mother-in-law) is each member of the family recites a bible verse after we pray over our meals. The above quote from Hosea is my go to verse that has been written on my heart. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus references this same verse after calling Matthew, the tax collector, to follow Him. Matthew invites Jesus to his home to dine and of course Matthew has many old buddies present. These friends had the same reputation as Matthew and were regarded by the self-righteous Pharisees as “sinners”. How could Jesus associate Himself with those of such ill repute? Jesus’ replies that healthy people don’t need a doctor and to go and learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6. He wants them to show kindness to one another, even those that may seem less deserving. In fact, none of us deserve God’s mercy but He freely gives it. This is why I am so thankful to be part of this ministry, I get to see God’s mercy up close and personal.

I see God’s kindness as He shows up in the lives of men that are changed during the 7 habits on the inside class that I help teach. There is a paradigm shift.  I have heard many inmates recount reconnecting to their son, daughter, wife, mother, and father after participating in this course.

They start the 10-week class skeptical and sometimes a bit cynical. Change happens in a beautiful, subtle way each week. The inmates become more attentive. They ask a question, which makes them more vulnerable, but also helps them understand the concepts. The next week personal experiences are shared. They help others in the class and share principles learned with fellow inmates and family members. The touching stories are when they share someone in their life has started to believe in them again. At graduation you see the pride in the inmate’s face as their loved one receives the certificate of completion he has achieved. You see hope again. That’s God to me – restoration and redemption. And isn’t this the very ultimate demonstration of kindness?

In summary of the original question, God has compelled me to be more kind to others which has expanded my heart. Just as my heart grew larger when we had more children, seeing God and his kindness enlarges my heart and kindness extended to others.  My walk with Jesus has truly deepened.

Bart Coan

Board of Directors

Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries