I went to a memorial service a couple weeks ago for the passing of my Sister-in-law’s grandson, Christian. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was reminded of all the men in our prison ministry.
Christian had been born with a significant portion of his brain missing as well as a host of other issues. It was uncertain if he would live a year. The doctors have said that children with his condition don’t make it past 10 years. Christian blessed this earth for 10 ½ years.
I was surprised that the chapel was filled to capacity with faces I had never seen. The minister gave one of the simplest yet most beautiful declarations of the gospel I had ever heard, with the complete blessing of the family. His text was from John 14, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” He then asked if anyone would like to say a few words about Christian. I wondered if I should say anything, but what? I had never known much of Christian other than seeing him in the custom wheel chair that kept him slightly horizontal and supported his head. He would make noises I could not understand, and would occasionally look at me and all around with a wandering eye. I would try to talk to him, knowing that he could hear. The most I knew about this boy was from watching those who served him, especially his grandmother. From the day Christian was born, she took it upon herself to take the best care of him you could imagine. He was always dressed and clean, sported eyeglasses for his vision, and always had a good haircut. She would have constant conversations with him in front of us all, just like she was talking to you or me. And she would talk about him to others just like any other boy full of mischief. She did all this while constantly opening her home, serving us all with the best of food and company. I learned more from watching her than I have in a hundred sermons.
It did not take long for those in mourning to come forward to speak. His Father, through his tears, said “He was the perfect human, never told a lie or hated anyone. I wish I could have been more like him.” His mother (whom I am convinced Christian was a gift from the Lord to save her life), showed such great composure and strength as she spoke – I was surprised and very encouraged. And then, one by one, people stood up to tell of Christian’s impact on their world. A teacher (public school) talked about how all the other kids were so very blessed to see the joy and strength of Christian each day, and how they were able to serve him and see beyond themselves. The therapist stood to mention much of the same. But I absolutely lost it and started to weep when the bus driver stood up. To realize what an impact this boy had on that man. The honor of being able to serve the “least of these” became a treasure in this man’s life that no gold could match.
As the service came to a close, I noticed his coffin, full of all his companions. Kermit and Elmo were on the top of a loving mound of reminders of what this boy loved. A final song was played, and I tried to keep my laugh from being too loud as we listened to the Smashing Pumpkins version of “Landslide.” I thought to myself, “Yes, this is the real Christian, a 10 year old rambunctious boy on his skate board with torn jeans listening to punk rock.” I can see him now skate boarding on the greatest half-pipe in the universe made for him by our loving Father.
At the graveyard, as we were preparing to leave, I overheard his grandmother say that she should get back and prepare food for everyone, followed by a gentle rebuke of a family member that she always serves everyone else. That was so true. My wife and I with a few others went back to her house to try and help clean and set the food up. But despite everyone’s efforts, she could not help herself making sure we were all enjoying ourselves.
I learned some very important things that day. Our service defines who we are, it shapes our character. And the least of these are not a burden, but a holy gift from the Lord to bring out His beloved Son in us through our service. I kept thinking of that bus driver and how blessed he was. What a contrast to the rest of the world, who want so much to hide the weak – through abortion, institutions, incarceration, or just plain purposeful ignorance. The people at that memorial service embraced this child, never ashamed, never apologetic, and never more worried about the burden placed on them or the sacrifices they made in life. I could see Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, and I think I got the point, maybe for the first time.
You may ask, “What does this have to do with prison ministry?” I am firmly convinced that in America, we so desire to be a white washed tomb that we sweep anyone we don’t like under the rug – to hide from view. I know these men have done bad things and many need to be locked up to protect society. But by and large, these are souls who have become the “least of these” as all dignity and the stuff that makes a man have been stripped from them. These are men that Jesus loves as much as He loves Christian, and it should be our privilege to serve them as well. Johnny Cash sang that one of the reasons he wore black was for the prisoner who had done well past his time. I can attest that my Christian life did not begin until I began to serve them.
Has your Christian life begun? Are you avoiding the “inconvenience” of serving the homeless, the single mom, the pregnant teenager, the lost child, the ex-con, and the disabled? May I suggest you spend some time reading Matthew 25 and John 13? Pray that God will show you where to serve. Commit to Him the surrender of your life to serve Him. I promise He will answer that prayer. I promise you the joy promised in John 15:11. I am confident in this because He is faithful.
I am looking forward to spending some time on Christian’s heavenly half-pipe.
Danny Gette is a prison minister in Salem OR. He passionately believes in and teaches the complete transformation provided through the redemptive power of the Cross. When not in the prison, he loves spending time with his family and church. Find out more at www.psalm119ministry.blogspot.com.