(Excerpt from the newsletter)
Greetings dear Brother,
With everything that is going on in the world now because of this novel corona virus pandemic and the widespread disruption to everyday life I don’t know where to begin. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the others incarcerated in jails and prisons in Michigan, America and around the world. The spread of infectious diseases in prison have been a fact of life since the very first prison. Conditions involving confinement with limited access to hygiene products, personal protective equipment and medical care never have a positive outcome. In modern America no one ever intended that being sentenced to incarceration for a finite time in prison would result in significant damage to health or loss of life. It was not included in your sentence guidelines; it is an unintended consequence that comes about due to negligence or willful behavior on the part of those tasked with the responsibility of overseeing corrections.
There is a strong prison reform movement all across the country seeking to rescind or revise the laws, policies and procedures in the criminal justice system that have led to mass incarcerations at the highest level of any country in the world. There have even been a few cases where reform minded prosecutors have been elected to office. With the advancement of the internet, information is widely available and easily disseminated to large numbers of people who are in the grass roots movement for change. The reason I am telling you this is to let you know that many people know of your dire situation. While you may be experiencing feelings of isolation, desperation, and fear; I want you to know many people are working tirelessly to address the current situation in order to stop further harm or loss of life to one of our most vulnerable segments of society.
In addition to CCP Ministries I am also working with Freedom Dreamers Chapel, a new ministry that is in the process of launching monthly worship services, small accountability groups, and mentors in a variety of life areas including: personal finance, job skills/placement, and addiction. While not specifically targeted at parolees, providing a judgement free place to help returning citizens to worship and fellowship is a priority. As you can imagine, with the quarantine and social distancing measures enacted across the country we have had to postpone our upcoming events. However, the current world-wide pandemic is only a temporary phenomenon, not the zombie apocalypse. We continue to plan for the future even if we don’t know exactly what the future will look like. I tell you this to say that you also need to look to the future by planning and taking measured steps forward.
One of the best scriptural analogies that I can think of is from Matthew 14:22-33. The disciples are in a boat traveling across the Sea of Galilee and a storm comes up. In the midst of the storm they see Jesus walking on the water. Peter calls out and says, “Lord, if that’s really you call me to get out of the boat and walk to you on the water.” Jesus does call him, and Peter gets out of the boat. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink.” Jesus rescues Peter and asks him a simple question, “Why did you doubt?” Then Jesus helps Peter get back into the boat and immediately the wind died down.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”Matthew 14:22-33
Scripture says that Peter saw the wind. As I am sitting here writing this newsletter the wind has been gusting over 30 mph. I can see the tree branches sway and debris blowing across the ground. I hear the wind whistling thru the trees and causing the windows to shudder, but I don’t see the wind. On a body of water when the wind blows hard it pushes the surface of the water and creates waves. In a storm the waves can get whipped up and water can get blown off the top of the wave providing a visual indicator of wind direction and speed. I don’t believe that scripture is in error or that the translation is questionable. I think that Peter was so overwhelmed by his surroundings that his fear caused him to see things that weren’t there. After all Peter’s challenge to Jesus started with “if it is you” because the disciples thought they saw a ghost. When things really start to get crazy and your senses begin to get overwhelmed by all the information coming at you, it is possible for the mind to miss-assign information. This is known as Synesthesia and is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. The result could have been that Peter who was a fisherman by trade and used to being caught out on a lake during a storm was facing a situation where he was unable to process the information correctly in his mind.
In a similar fashion, you have plenty of experience with prison during “normal” times. Sure, a norovirus outbreak that results in a quarantine is bad, but a pandemic with an invisible killer like COVID-19 is not at all within your experience. The last major pandemic was the Spanish Influenza of 1918, and none of us is old enough to remember what that was like.
I really wish that Matthew had recorded Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question “Why did you doubt?” That is a million-dollar question and the answer would have been priceless. Why did Peter doubt? He was walking on water! A fisherman has a lot of experience when it comes to water, however no one in their wildest dreams would have thought it possible to walk on water, but he was doing it. He saw Jesus walking on water and then asked for an invitation to join him. I wonder if it is a bit like teaching your child to ride a bike. You hold the handlebar while they first learn to peddle, then when you think they are ready you let go and run along side of them. With your presence the child will continue to peddle and balance the bike, but when they sense you aren’t right beside them…into the ditch they go.
There are definitely times in my life when I feel I have the confidence of sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the task set before me and I go out and get it done. There are also times when I don’t have that confidence and the task looks like a burden too heavy to bear, so I shy away from even attempting it. The third situation is the one where I start out confident in the Holy Spirit’s presence, and at some point in the process, I feel like I am going it alone. I get really scared and begin to make a mess of things or freeze up and find myself unable to go forward. This is when I can most relate to Peter. I must cry out to Jesus to save me because I’m in over my head.
If you feel like you are in over your head, then I encourage you to cry out to Jesus. Notice that he didn’t calm the waves before helping Peter back into the boat. But Jesus saved Peter from drowning. So right now, offer up your prayer asking for help. Tell Jesus what you are afraid of, ask him to lift you up out of the water so you no longer feel like you are drowning. The storm may be raging around you, but you will be safe in the Savior’s arms. Seek his guidance to find your way back into the boat and trust Him to calm the storm.
You are not forgotten; I and many others are praying for your health and safety during these difficult times. The only advice I can give you is to wash your hands, keep your area of control clean, use a mask to protect your lungs if you can, and if at all possible stay away from anyone who is sick.
Your Brother in Christ