From the Charis President: Cliff Johnson
Each of us has his or her own unique concept, or mental picture, of witnessing….of being a Christian witness.
I grew up thinking about witnessing as going out on a crowded street and telling somebody about Jesus. That mental picture has always been challenging for me. I’ve discovered – through trial and error, and monitoring my comfort level – that I’m not good at that kind of witnessing.
This morning (April 8) I read the Upper Room essay about Pahliwe, a South African woman who lives in a homeless shelter “who knows the Bible and is devoted to Jesus Christ.”
The UR’s Link2Life box said “To see a photo of Pahliwe, go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog”
So, I went there, and up popped a photo of Pahliwe. Wow! What a smile! She is black-skinned, beautiful, and her smile says (to me….and I’m certain, to others) that she knows Jesus and loves everybody she comes in contact with.
Pahliwe’s smile caused me think about being a witness in a different light. Can people tell by my smile that I know Jesus and love everybody I come in contact with?
Can people tell by your smile that you know Jesus and love everybody you come in contact with?
That might be a good prayer to pray every morning: “Jesus, give me a smile today that tells people I love you and I love them.”
Whom God Calls, He Equips:
Looking Back on Charis #40 at MCF Shakopee
By Reo Uran, Lay Director
I had to settle in my head that “whom the Lord calls, He equips.”
He equipped our whole community. From the beginning, we were too involved with other things, and weekends, and initially we all had to pray about it, realizing the Lord was probably not calling us.
As we all “took it to the Lord,” we came to realize it wasn’t about us; the Lord had His eye on 36 precious weekenders whom He wanted nurtured into His kingdom.
Our team, over-committed as they were, now came on-board. But it took another two weeks to get new leadership for the team. We just kept trusting and calling, and eventually two wonderful assistants came forward, along with one seasoned veteran, and God had whom He had called.
We could never get the entire team together until the last weekend of training. Folks were that busy.
The Lord said, “Keep it simple. Get back to basics. Here’s the theme: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
We discovered the basic truth of scripture: It’s the three legs of the stool. Discovery: “I am the way.” Christian spirituality: “I am the truth.” Action: “I am the life.”
“Apart from me, you can do nothing.” We needed the Christian community to carry out His plan.
Learning the new adjusted schedule and how tight we had to keep it was drilled into me as we started putting it down on paper…or should I say “on computer!” Oh my, me in cyberspace. Nobody told me that Macs don’t talk to PCs. I started sending out letters of invitation only to discover that no one was getting them! “What do you mean I have to PDF them? What’s a PDF?” The learning curve for this retired person is not what it used to be (or maybe never was). I needed community more than ever. I “told the Lord” that He’d gone too far initiating me into cyberspace. PC users were trying to help a Mac user using their vernacular. So I prayed a lot and, through much trial and error, got through most of the documents, schedules and emails. Then again, maybe some of you are still waiting to be invited on the team!
It was every part of the community coming and working together, contributing their gifts to bring about God’s incredible miracle of an almost situation-free weekend. We were blessed and so were the weekenders. They were fabulously eager to learn and to understand Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
Through all the incredible personal talks about what it takes to live the life in Christ, these girls were ready to make some powerful changes in their lives. Seven gave their lives to Christ and received him as their personal Savior. Others were ready to pick up and renew their faith in a living Christ.
The closing was one of the most in-depth confessions of faith and desire for a new life that we’ve ever witnessed. No silliness, just deep desire to know Christ more. We were dumbfounded. The Lord was indeed with all of us throughout this weekend.
One of our invited guests was Senator Gen Olson who legislated and got passed the IFI Prison Fellowship program in Minnesota. The insiders gave her a standing ovation as several of them were, or had been, in that program.
It was also Chaplain Berg’s last Charis retreat. Following a teary speech he received great praise through tears from the team, the Fourth Day community and the insiders. We have been blessed by his servant’s heart for this community. We praise God for His faithfulness to His people.
And a Good Time Was Had By All ……. The Charis Grand Reunion
By Maret Ryan
We came together on Sunday, April 22, at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville to celebrate what is so special about the Charis ministry – the community of dedicated volunteers who live the Gospel message and have a heart for those in prison.
With fine food and fellowship in abundance, over 90 volunteers gathered to listen to testimonies from three exoffenders, one of whom even led the chapel service. It’s not often we see the harvest, but on this day it was fully present in the messages from Pastor David Hibbison, Violet Johnson and Jerry Hrbek. Their lives, since being released from incarceration, are a testimony to the redeeming power of Jesus!
More Grand Reunions will be held in the future, with the location moving each time to different geographical areas. Perhaps you, or your church, would be willing to host such an event? If so please contact President Steve Ricker.
Waiting for the Harvest: Maret Ryan
If you had driven down to the prison at Waseca in October, past miles of rolling farm land, you would have seen acres and acres of crops being harvested. The hard work of preparing the fields long over, the seeds planted and grown, the crops now fully mature – all that remained was to bring in the harvest.
In Charis, we often talk about the Parable of the Sower and we remind ourselves that our job is just to sow the seeds; the fertilizing and harvesting will be done by others. As volunteers, we see inmates come and go and are often left to wonder, did we make a difference? Did we do good work here? Were we faithful to God with all our efforts? We have come to realize that Charis is a ministry that requires faithful waiting.
But once in a while we get a glimmer of God’s Grace through the words and actions of the inmates. The God of the Harvest shows us with breathtaking certainty that He is alive and present in the darkest of places. And all we have to do is be faithful in our waiting. The following comments from a former inmate show us that indeed the harvest is coming.
“One of the defining moments for me was when I went through the Charis retreat on June 1-4, 2006. The weekend showed me that God had always loved me and he forgives me. When I admitted my mistake and humbly asked for God’s forgiveness, He forgave me. God doesn’t worry about how “bad” I’ve been, he wants me to leave my wrongs before him and allow him to remove them. He is truly a loving and forgiving God. Understanding that God listened and forgave helped me to forgive myself and forgive others. How I came to this understanding was through many great volunteers that God had put in my life during that weekend. I was surrounded with understanding and comfort and inspired by their stories. It was comforting to know that no matter how dark and painful my circumstances had seemed, there were generous people to help me focus on the good that will come out of this, instead of the hopelessness I sometimes experience.” * Excerpted from the MCF Shakopee newsletter, The Reflector, written by former inmate Marla Thao.
This inmate took advantage of the educational opportunities available during her incarceration and left prison with a paralegal diploma, an office support certificate and ASIPS-Administration Support/Computer Software. She also worked on her emotional health, completing work in Victim Impact, Parenting with Purpose, Personal Empowerment and much, much more – a commitment to living her life as if it mattered! Good will come of this!
Oh indeed, the harvest is coming!
Wednesday Encouragement...Is it real?
Reflections from a Charis Spiritual Director, Pastor David Brown:
Grace and peace friends.
I was privileged to spend the past weekend at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault with 24 other "outsiders" participating with 47 "insiders" on a Charis weekend. Charis is the Greek word for grace. The intent of the weekend is to bring the grace of Jesus to the lives of the men inside the prison that they might experience for themselves the grace and love of Jesus.
For 12 hours (8 am to 8 pm) Friday/Saturday and Sunday the "outsiders" leave their world behind and enter the world of a correctional facility. We are only in one building for the whole time, but the guys bring their world to us. The razor wire is very visible all day long from the windows of our gathering area...as well as the officers, cameras, "count" (three times each day the men are counted to make sure everyone is where they need to be) and other reminders that we are in a place where freedoms we on the outside take for granted have been taken away from those on the inside.
Each day is structured around a series of talks and table discussions about Christian faith and living. The talks are given by both lay people and clergy (I wish there were other ways to identify us!). One of the highlights of the weekend is a special dinner that is served to the men (never happens in prison) and has placements and decorations in the room. This doesn't seem like a big deal to us, but to the guys it is very powerful. The best decoration is a bouquet of real flowers (they NEVER see these!) arranged in the shape of a cross.
On Saturday night I led a time of worship where we were giving and receiving forgiveness. We had brought the flowers in to our "community room" after the dinner. Part of the worship called for us to write down the people we needed to forgive, the people we needed to ask for forgiveness, and things we needed forgiveness for...and then lay them down at the foot of the cross.
As I was watching the men lay these lists down at the cross, I noticed one man stopped, looked closely at the flowers as if to ask "are they real?" and then leaned forward and took a big whiff. A look of wonder and satisfaction and joy came across his face as he walked back to his seat.
And the thought occurred to me..."is it real?" Is the forgiveness God offers real? How would I know?
As we were leaving that night, I was talking to the officer at the desk. I had spoken to him earlier in the day about his life and family and faith. He looked me right in the eye and said "you guys are really making a difference here." I said, "how do you know?" He replied..."I can see it in the guys. The way they walk (straighter), they way they talk, the way they smile. All of their body language says a change has happened!"
Toward the end of the retreat I invited those that hadn't been baptized in the Christian faith and had made a decision to follow Jesus to meet with me in another room. 12 of the 47 guys came. At least half had had no experience with Christianity. One guy said that he had been in the wicca religion for the last two years but he now knew a freedom in Jesus he never believed possible.
Sunday evening many guys gave testimonies as to how their hearts and minds had been changed during the weekend.
I know the forgiveness of God is real. I know that it is life changing. It has happened to me. And it continues to happen in places like MCF-Faribault and all across the world. People see it. People experience it. People know it.
If you have been asking that question, as many are, "is God real?"...I want to encourage you to keep asking...and keep looking for signs. Keep talking to people and ask them their stories. In thousands of places and in thousands of ways God's grace is being poured out in Jesus, forgiveness is offered and received and lives (and the world) are being changed for good.
God bless you richly in these days as you look for the real deal.
Seeking to recover original church DNA: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...all the believers were together and had everything in common...they gave to anyone who had need...they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people."