Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)
25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
That was the response I received from a corrections officer as I was being escorted across the compound on my way to attend the weekly prisoner gathering early in 2012.
This arose as the officer took me across the grass instead of walking on the sidewalk and I had commented that I had been coming in for 15 years and that the prior week had been the first time I had been allowed to walk on the grass (which is against prison policy) and now this was the second time in two weeks I had been escorted in that manner. The officer then asked me, “How long did you say you’ve been doing this?” I said, “Fifteen years,” which elicited the response above.
The officer then asked me if I knew what “these guys” (prisoners) are like and I said I understood what was meant. I tried (in the 15 seconds we had left) to explain what I do and why I do it and the response was just, “All I know is that when I’m old and don’t remember much, I’m going to remember some of the things I’ve seen here because they’ll never get out of my mind.”
Not having been a corrections officer of member of prison staff, I cannot pretend to know what she has seen in her time at that prison – which she said was almost the same as my fifteen years (at that time) of volunteer service.
Yes, many corrections staff see us as “Bible-thumpers” and “do-gooders.” That’s OK. If they are as yet unregenerate, one could expect nothing less and I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner. It’s just a fact. They – if unregenerate – cannot understand why we do what we do there. Yes, one cannot deny that some prisoners feel that same way as we hear the mocking comments from prisoners who may be walking on the same sidewalks we walk or from prisoners well across the prison yard.
Several years ago I had occasion to have a conversation with an officer who had been one of those who checked us in every week. That officer happened to mention that some of the prisoners who attended our study mocked us (volunteers) after we left. Whether it was said truthfully or just to get a rise out of me, I don’t know, but my response was, “I don’t care. As long as they’ll let me, I’m coming in here.” The officer then responded, “You know, that’s exactly the attitude you should have.”
Then I told the officer, “I know some of your colleagues aren’t too wild about us coming in here, either.” “Yeah,” she said, “you’re right about that. There are some who wish you guys would just go away.” The officer was a little taken aback when I said, “Well, I don’t come in here to make the staff happy. I come in here because I have a message to bring and I’m coming as long as they let me whether the staff likes it or not.” Her response? I was then the one surprised.
“That’s exactly the attitude you should have.”
Unbelieving staff members cannot understand why someone would do what we do. The comment in the title – “Do you think you really save anybody here?” – is a common one, whether spoken or not. That’s OK. We go there to proclaim a message. We’re not the ones who bring dead people to life. We’re the ones who proclaim a message which Almighty God uses to bring those dead people to life. We understand we are inconvenience to them – officers have to walk up to half a mile in escorting us in and out and when it’s below zero and the wind is howling, that’s a long walk – for both of us.
We indeed don’t save anybody in there – but we proclaim the message of the One who can – and does – save, and He saves to the uttermost.