A Christmas Story

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I have read of many churches celebrating Christmas with Pageants that include an actual baby portraying the role of ‘baby Jesus’.  Our first child Ruth, was born December 12th, 1981 and was chosen to be ‘baby Jesus’ for our church’s (Reba Place Fellowship) Christmas Eve service.  Last year, our grandson, Charlie, born on Oct. 19th 2008, was chosen, also at Reba Place Fellowship.  But in prison no such ritual exists.
 
 I wasn’t even thinking about babies being in Christmas plays back in 1972.  This was yet another year in prison the difference being this was my first Christmas as a christian.  The Christmas service held new meaning for me as we sang the traditional Christmas Carols bringing with it a hope for a new life with a redeemed future.  Christian volunteers were apart of our service at the U. S. Medical Center for Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. 
 
As our service wound to completion a cry was heard.  The faint whimpering of a baby.  My first thought was that I wasn’t hearing what I thought I had heard.  I had been in prison for many years and had never even seen a baby inside of a prison (not counting my infrequent times in the visiting room.)  But there it was again, a baby crying.  Someone, a volunteer,  had brought their baby into the service wrapped in a blanket unnoticed by the guards.  I then thought, there was our ‘baby Jesus’. 
 
The parents of the yet unknown child were the children of an older couple (Lloyd and Nita Colbaugh) who had only a few years previously began their ministry to the prison.  Even the great-grandmother (Mom Carter) was a volunteer and had played a significant role in my own conversion, telling me that God had a plan for my life. 
 
Life would go on and the incident of ‘baby Jesus’ coming to prison would fade to a memory, until the baby grew up and now is known throughout many countries far and wide as acclaimed singer/songwriter Sara Groves. 
 
I hope this story adds to your appreciation of the life of Sara and her family.
John C Thomson
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Lloyd’s Musings (from prison)

We haven’t been sharing accounts of what’s going on in the prison here for the past couple of weeks because we haven’t been there! Nita spent almost a week in the hospital, and is only slowly regaining strength—an ulcer turns out to be at least part of the problem. I’ve had a taste of what ‘home care’ is all about. We are thankful for every gain and every prayer!

I resist most pleas to forward stuff. But this one touched my heart. Our dear friends Marcae and Nick, missionaries to India, have a sweet child who is “Fragile X”. (If you’re
not familiar with it, give it a ‘Google’.)  Her care has  necessitated  dramatic changes in  Nick and Marcae’s  plans.  This morning  we received this  email from Marcae.  Please read it. Sense the passion and love with which she implores us to join her. I think the last time I did this kind of thing was when I sent John Ashcroft a letter about prisoners.

Lloyd

Here’s Marcae’s appeal:

President-elect Obama has promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would sign as President is the “The Freedom of Choice Act.”
This is incredibly dangerous legislation. It would eradicate state and federal laws that the majority of Americans support, such as bans on:  Partial Birth Abortion, requirements that women be given information about the risks of getting an abortion, only licensed physicians can perform abortions, and parents must be informed and give consent to their minor daughter’s abortion. FOCA would erase these laws and prevent states from enacting similar protective measures in the future.

It grieves my heart that this legislation is even in minds of people. I am as opposed to abortion as one can possibly be, but even for those who might feel abortion is justified in some cases, surely everyone agrees that a minor girl should not be allowed to go through this procedure without parents even being aware. The nurse at Grace’s [Marcae’s older daughter] elementary school cannot even give her a Tylenol without getting my physical presence in the room. Yet we are proposing for a child to undergo an operation without a parent’s knowledge?  This is crazy.

Life is precious, not just of the unborn child but of the mother. These lives must both be protected, nurtured, and loved. When I look at my precious daughter, Hope, and think that if the doctors had known about her condition beforehand, they would have counseled me to kill her, I feel sick to my stomach. Doctors have told us that if we want to have more children, they can test me so we can abort the children we don’t want (i.e., another child with Fragile X). I wanted to scream at these doctors. Do they even realize what they are saying about Hope’s value by comments like that! We are not supposed to judge people by the color of their skin (and I say a hearty amen to that!), but this election seems to point that it is okay to judge people (babies) by how intelligent they are, by how many appendages they have, by how much “work” they might entail . . . God forgive us for our arrogance, pride, and selfishness. Children are a blessing from the Lord, period. Period.

Please pray that God will change Obama’s heart. Please pray that FOCA will not be signed into legislation. Please pray that the body of Christ will extend arms of love and not just judgment to women who are pregnant, pray for God’s love to penetrate men and women’s hearts to reveal the beauty of the life within.

And please sign the petition.  Ask others to sign.  Write your state legislators.  Contact your local pro-life agencies and ask if you can answer phones or support women in need. 

I’ve copied the link below. I am sorry if this is not worded the best–my fingers are trembling as I type, because it just pains me to even think of one more child dying, of one more woman feeling such pain, of God’s heart breaking over his gift being rejected. God forgive me for my inaction.

Marcae

P.S. It is really easy to sign and access the website.   http://www.fightfoca.com/2008/06/23/thank-you-for-signing/

Lloyd’s Musings cont.

Lloyd has been visiting the same prison for near 40 years. He and his wife, Nita, have ministered to 100’s of men over the years of the saving grace of Jesus. Mom Carter, Nita’s mother also visited the prison and led a bible study and participated in an outside prayer group for the men inside. Sara Groves, Lloyd and Nita’s grand-daughter also have ministered to the men over the years first having attended a Christmas Service when she was 3 months old. No, that is not a misprint. Below is one of many musings Lloyd has written of his encounters with the men over the years. The names have been changed to protect the men’s privacys.

Hi!

Sunday morning the Men of Faith inmate choir sang a praise song that moved me to tears. We’ve heard it many times through the years, sung by various versions of the choir. It was not the song that brought the tears—although it was stirring. It was the chapel clerk, sitting on the electric piano bench.

He often sits at the piano while the choir sings so he can control the mikes. Just before the song he had started a pre-recorded piano accompaniment. He often sings along, sometimes quite expressively, waving his arms and keeping time with his head. Now, at the end of “I Sing Glory…” he spoke. “The piano was played by Bruce. When he recorded it for us, he only asked one thing. That each time we play it, we pray for him.” He bowed his head and prayed for Bruce, wherever he is.

Bruce was an inmate several years ago, when we had a different choir and a different chapel clerk. He was young, sort of bumbling in his manner, hair never quite in place, glasses giving him a geekish look. He loved the piano. He and the chapel clerk talked of getting together when they got out and ‘making it’ in the gospel music world.

That recording on the piano is our memorial to Bruce. I have no idea where he is or what happened to his music ambitions. I can’t help wondering. We said ‘Amen’ to that prayer with all our hearts.

Sometimes it seems we stand there in the chapel watching a never-ending torrent of the self-wounded flow by, year after year after year. All we can do is speak a word, grasp a hand, and then they are gone.

A long time ago we mounted an effort to help ex-inmates get established in churches. We made wide appeals to churches to join us. Perhaps we didn’t do it right, for there was little response. Now a carefully organized effort is being made again through a program called the Jericho Commission. Please read about it on the website: http://jerichocommission.org/

We want the Bruces out there to keep “singing Glory!”

Lloyd

Lloyd’s Musings

 

Followup:

So after my disheartened survey of the world, (yesterday's email) what 
do I think we should be about as Christians? First, recognize we are
 all 
failed sinners, now redeemed. (If Paul was chiefest, as he claimed, we 
step in next!) Then be doing all the good-deed stuff certainly: feeding

the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the prisoners. Not being 
concerned about what we'll eat or drink, or what tomorrow will bring. 
After all, we are working in a harvest field, the field is ripe, and 
that's where we should be concentrating our efforts. And 'harvesting'
 is 
not necessarily taking an offering!

Jesus last command was to go into all the world and preach the Good
 News 
to every creature. He didn't say "Spread democracy." Nor "Establish
 free 
market economies." Nor "Protect our oil interests." He said nothing 
about reforming human governments—the 'Principalities and Powers. No 
"Kick out Caesar". No "Put prayer back in the public schools." Nothing 
about WMDs or illegal immigrants or where borders should be drawn. He 
did say "Love your enemies." "Do good to those who persecute you and 
despitefully use you." He said, "Buy a sword." But then He said, "Put
 it 
away."

If we were about all the things He told us to do, the Christian 'loaf' 
in America and everywhere else would be rising. We'd be the leaven.

Would Christians have tough times? Sure. We'd be persecuted. Scorned. 
Have our failures thrown up to us. Laughed at. Put to death.

Follow the Leader!

Musings from a Christian Prison Volunteer

Hi!

I've told you about Don before. Tall, thin now, as he has been ravaged 
by disease. His arms are distorted by huge knots where various veins 
have been needled for dialysis. He's not a handsome guy, but he can
 have 
a 'glow' about him. Sometimes he only stays for half of our two-hour 
Yokefellows session. When I see him with his Bible open, flipping the 
pages slowly, I usually call on him. Sometimes he encourages. Sometimes

he has spoken as a prophet with calls for repentance and predictions of

revival. Lately he has been more subdued, and last night he removed the

happy face that glows, confessed his deep hurt, not only physical, but 
mental, spiritual.

"I come to meetings and I put on this happy face and this smile, but I 
don't let you know how I'm hurting. I called home and found my daughter

has been expelled for using marijuana. I've talked to her, prayed for 
her, scolded her, pleaded. But I'm not there. I'm in prison. Sixteen 
years I've been in. I'm no authority figure for her. She needs a strong

daddy.

"I've spoken to you and read scripture. But now I just need your love 
and your prayers, because I'm hurting, more than just physical."

Except for the prison time, we volunteers could have made some of the 
same pleas. All around the circle, volunteers and prisoners alike, were

hurting people. So we stood and gathered around Don. He took both my 
hands. He gripped them hard, very hard, never letting up the whole time

we prayed for him and for others. Various ones prayed, and a number 
requested prayer. I motioned to Barry, an older man who has never come 
into our group, to come over. We have seen him pacing up and down the 
hallway, listening. He had told us of his burdens, his pain at other 
times: a deceased wife, children who need him. He has obvious emotional

problems. We prayed for Barry.

Standing just behind me was Meredith. He is a large man with an Afro. 
His voice is so soft it seems to be muffled, coming from some distant 
inside! Our volunteer Leta was watching him as we prayed for Don. She 
quietly asked him if he 'had a word'. He said yes and she nudged me. We

were awed as Meredith laid his hand on Don and prayed. A long, intense,

and beautiful prayer. This man who was always silent, whose longest 
speech was usually "Hi!"  and soft at that, was now eloquent, tender, 
quoting Scripture appropriately.

Please don't misunderstand. Sometimes our sessions are boring. Nothing 
seems to be happening. People walk in and out. And beyond the chapel 
doors are the 1,170 who never join us. Some are sick. Some dying. Some 
don't care, preferring to watch TV, play cards, or sleep.

But we left last night saying "Thank You, Lord."

Lloyd

Prisons to Restore Purged Religious Books

 By NEELA BANERJEE

Published: September 26, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — Facing pressure from religious groups, civil libertarians and members of Congress, the federal Bureau of Prisons has decided to return religious materials that had been purged from prison chapel libraries because they were not on the bureau’s lists of approved resources.

Related

Critics Right and Left Protest Book Removals (September 21, 2007)

Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries (September 10, 2007)

The bureau had said it was prompted to remove the materials after a 2004 Department of Justice report mentioned that religious books that incite violence could infiltrate chapel libraries.

After the details of the removal became widely known earlier this month, Republican lawmakers, liberal Christians and evangelical talk shows all criticized the government for creating a list of acceptable religious books.

The bureau has not abandoned the idea of creating such lists, Judi Simon Garrett, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. But rather than packing away everything while those lists were compiled, the religious materials would remain on the shelves, Ms. Garrett explained.

In an e-mail today, the bureau said: “In response to concerns expressed by members of several religious communities, the Bureau of Prisons has decided to alter its planned course of action with respect to the Chapel Library Project.

“The bureau will begin immediately to return to chapel libraries materials that were removed in June 2007, with the exception of any publications that have been found to be inappropriate, such as material that could be radicalizing or incite violence. The review of all materials in chapel libraries will be completed by the end of January 2008.”

Only a week ago the bureau said it was not reconsidering the library policy. But critics of the bureau’s program said it appeared that the bureau had bowed to widespread outrage.

“Certainly putting the books back on the shelves is a major victory, and it shows the outcry from all over the country was heard,” said Moses Silverman, a lawyer for three prisoners who are suing the bureau over the program. “But regarding what they do after they put them back, I’m concerned.”

The bureau originally set out to take an inventory of all materials in its chapel libraries in an effort to weed about books that might incite violence. But the list grew to the tens of thousands, and the bureau decided instead to compile lists of acceptable materials in a plan called the Standardized Chapel Library Project. The plan identifies about 150 items for each of 20 religions or religious categories.

In the spring, prison chaplains were told to remove all materials not on the lists and put them in storage. The bureau said it planned to issue additions to the lists once a year. In some cases, chaplains packed up libraries with thousands of books collected over decades. Unidentified religious experts helped the bureau shape the lists of acceptable materials, which independent scholars said omitted many important religious texts.

Ms. Garrett declined to elaborate on how the re-stocking of the prison libraries is progressing. She said the effort “is beginning immediately,” but she would not say when it would be completed, which titles are being kept off the shelves and the specific criteria being used in such decisions.

Bob Moore, director of prison policy oversight at Aleph, an advocacy group for Jews in prison, said the lack of detail and transparency about how the lists are determined continued to trouble him.

“This is a positive step: it means they are not throwing the baby out with the bath water,” he said of keeping books on the shelves for now. “But our position is there should not be a list of what should be on the shelves, but what shouldn’t be.”

Mr. Silverman said he had not yet spoken to the bureau, and the bureau has not posted its change in any public forum. The return of the books would “go a long way,” he said, to resolving the lawsuit. But he added, “I remain concerned that the criteria for returning the books will be constitutional and lawful.”