What a Little Obedience Can Do
The following is a letter we received around Christmas from an inmate. We get a lot of letters throughout the year, and I rarely share them, but I felt compelled to forward this one with those of you who pray for and support this ministry.
To Whom It May Concern:
Hello, and greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior. I hope this finds you in good spirits these holiday seasons.
My name is Jason, and I’m writing to you from an administrative segregation unit in Ione, California. I just got done reading a wonderful book by Gary Skinner: Plain Vanilla Wrapper. Wow! What a great book and a very powerful one for me. It was brought to me in a time I needed it the most. You see, I too grew up in a strong Christian home, and I always felt like I was called to the church. But somewhere down the road, I took a wrong turn and made some bad choices, and now I’m serving a 21-year sentence. At this point, I’m 45 years old with 13 years left to go.
To tell you the truth, I really failed myself, God, and all those that I love, and somewhere along the line, my heart just turned to stone. Recently, it became real hard for me to find any hope left. I have always been a happy, spirit-filled person, but lately I’ve hardly been able to stand on my own two feet. And this is why I’m writing from a segregation unit. I’ve run out of reasons to live anymore, to keep hope alive. By the time I get out, I will be 58 years old, no family left, no place to go home to, and no career to look forward to. And at that age I can’t think of what I can do to survive.
Going through all these difficult emotions, I recently asked a guard if he could find me a book to read, and I watched him go over to a counter and pick up a book off a shelf, and it just happened to be this book. And now, for the first time in a long time, I feel like maybe I could find a spark of hope once more.
Every word Mr. Skinner wrote moved me. And now I see this insert in the back encouraging me to reach out to his ministry, and so I am. I need a mentor to correspond with to help me try to figure out my life with. So I desperately ask you: will you please write to me? And help me find a way to soften my heart once again and figure out what God has in store for me? I will keep praying that I hear from you. God bless you all and thank you, Mr. Skinner.
Letters like these are always a surprise. When I first wrote the book, I did not have a plan of giving it away in prisons—that came later. I wrote it simply because I felt like I was supposed to. It never entered my mind that someday people who were really struggling in prison would read it and be encouraged to return to God and keep going in life. With this letter in particular, a few questions run through my mind.
How did my book get to that prison in the first place? I’ve never sent one there.
How did the guard know to give Jason my book? Had he read it and thought it might help, or did he just grab the first book he saw sitting on the shelf?
I guess the details of how and why are not important, but they are evidence that God is using this ministry to accomplish things in ways I hadn’t planned. And that’s a good reminder and encouragement not to plan too much, worry about the details too much, that all I need to do—all we need to do—is just be obedient to what He tells us to do. He’ll figure out the rest.