Over 28 years have passed since I walked into the Big Spring Federal Prison Camp to facilitate a weekly Bible study. I was totally unprepared for what I was about to experience. Standing at a podium, lecturing on some Biblical truth was not to be. It would, indeed, be a study...sleeves rolled up; point and counterpoint; give and take; back and forth...and extremely profitable for all who weathered the first volley.
In these first small study groups were three particular guys that befriended me and helped me learn my Bible. Let me insert here that I did not want to do this prison Bible class "thing." I agreed to it, more or less on a temporary basis and felt it certainly held nothing for my future...or so I thought. These three guys would, individually and collectively, change the rest of my life. I met Greg Carson from Kansas first. He was the orderly in charge of the chapel where we met and he showed me around. Greg introduced me to a fairly new guy from Seattle, Washington, Terry Read, a former infidel. Terry, in turn, introduced me to a newer guy just starting in the class, an ex-atheist, named Tomas Reyes, from Puerto Rico by way of New York.
Each of them had been saved while incarcerated. Each of them were fairly new Christians. What made them stand out was their hunger to study the Bible. Bible study seemed to absorb them and they seemed to absorb scripture. They weren't interested in my opinion; they wanted to know what verse was it in! They loved talking about what Christ had done, was doing and was going to do for them. Their zeal and dedication was new to me and it was contagious. Friday night became the highlight of my week. Tomas told me once after his release that he studied and prepared the whole week for our Friday night groups.
Here were three guys with diversified backgrounds; no religious background to speak of, who were affecting the entire prison camp. Jerry Scott, the prison counselor I worked with, can attest to what I am saying. They were released at different times to different places, but they all stayed in touch. Terry went back to Seattle with his new wife and started a criminal justice ministry. Tomas went back to Puerto Rico to teach in his church and work on his doctorate, which he attained. Greg stayed in Texas awhile, then to Kansas and Indiana working in mission work. Each of them had some bumpy roads, suffered some heartaches and shed a few tears along the way...but Jesus Christ remained their Saviour.
A few weeks ago Greg called to tell me that Tomas had passed away. A day later, Terry called with the same information; then Tomas' daughter called to give me the information. Tomas was in Puerto Rico, Terry was in Seattle and Greg was in Dallas, but their brotherhood centered around God's throne of grace. Tomas' reputation had been a bad one, but when Christ saved him he was one of the most soft spoken and kind men that I knew. I could not picture him being the guy they said he used to be. I got to meet his wife when she came to the states to see him. Later on he sent me pictures of his beautiful family. I did get to see him again when we had a "Con-Vention" in Dallas a few years ago. It was a joy to hug "Dr. Reyes" neck! It was a reunion of our Bible class that the Lord blessed us with for six years. Some of my greatest friends today were spawned from that class. Every Friday night we got together. We walked together through the loss of loved ones, divorces, heartache, sickness, sorrows and disappointments. Those times made us stronger.
The Lord called Julie Read home and gave Terry two little girls (ages 2 and 4) to raise and raise them he did. He home schooled them until high school. He was a full time dad and full time in prison ministry. He brought up two fine young ladies today. Quite a chore for an old drug lord, isn't it?
Greg is now residing in Dallas, married and doing well. Hopefully, he, Terry and I will get to visit when we have our LOOPS Board Meeting in Dallas next month.
Why am I talking about these guys when you do not know them and probably never will. Let me tell you why. Somebody went into a jail and told Greg Carson about Jesus Christ. Somebody else miles away went into a prison and told Terry Read about Jesus Christ. Somebody else had the courage to approach an angry atheist, tell him the story of Jesus and watch Jesus transform another soul. Who could have known that three guys from miles apart could get saved and end up in the same unit in a small West Texas town studying together. These were hard men that Christ laid His hand on and broke their hearts for others and each other. These were men who had been greedy and selfish, who cared only about themselves and profited off the trouble of others, who now sacrificed and gave of themselves to see people saved. What an "about face." What an one-hundred-eighty degree turn! Are they perfect? Not for a moment...and they would be the first to tell you that. Have they struggled with their faith? Yes, often...and they would tell you that, too. Are they still God's children? Yes, for all eternity!
It was an honor to have been associated with Tomas. It is an honor to be associated with Greg and Terry. We have some precious memories...and we are still making them.
Thank God for "jail house conversions." Praise God that some folks got some "jail house" religion!
Keep Looking Up!