The above is a quote that concluded a testimony in such a succinct and stark way that it stayed with me for a long time after the telling. It made me think about the small things we do as Christians, the little acts of kindness that allow people to see Jesus in us.
It was my boyfriend who told me the story; of his friend who was in prison and had been left alone. I currently have a family member in prison and it’s only now that I realise just how lonely the experience is. Those who receive regular family visits are the lucky ones: for a lot of inmates, the only visitor to pass by their door is the police guard; the only time they talk to people is when they’re in their cells, whether it be an argument or an impassioned wail: if there’s no one outside kind enough to wire money to their prison account, they’re poor. The only way to make money is to do jobs inside the prison (with salaries starting from around £1). These are needed to purchase the most under-appreciated necessities: toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap….
Then there’s the lack of ‘outside’ time; in the ‘harsher’ prisons, the weather is a myth. You’re unaware of the rain; you’ll be released having missed blizzards, tropical storms, monsoons and biting chills; heatwaves…. the draft from the window and the tiny swirls of dilapidation left by dust motes in the sun are the only traces of natural life you get. Imagine being in a place like this, against your own will, and no one you knew on the ‘outside’ could be bothered to give you a call?
It’s a well known adage that one only knows their true friends when they’re going through a struggle. I suppose that, whilst the prisoner stares at the cell walls, their eyes tracing the assaulted escape attempts of prisoners past, they’re able to reflect in their loneliness and desperation; of all those friends they had way back when who were always there for a laugh, but the moment a member of their arsenal was gone, they quickly found a replacement at the artillery store.
Like my family member, my boyfriend had an acquaintance who had been in a similar situation. In prison and alone. His ‘boys’ were no longer there. The person who sent him money and letters was simply an ‘acquaintance’: my boyfriend. When this man was released, he simply said:
“You were the only one who was there for me. Even though I don’t believe in your God, if you ever tell me something I’ll listen to you before anyone else”.
The only reason why this guy was able to say such a thing was because he saw something different; a trait of Christ. It’s a powerful testament for any Christian, anyone who loves God, to look into their everyday actions and see if the people around them would be able to identify the Christ in them. We can’t all be in a position to rescue a baby from a burning building, or be stoned in the Middle East for our faith, or make it into the public domain and publish books about our life in Christ, but we can help a struggling person with their shopping; spot a lonely person at the bus stop on a chilling winter’s day and offer them a lift home; say “good morning”, volunteer, become a mentor to younger people we know; simply tell people we know to be struggling with life that we’re there to hear their vent. And smile. A genuine smile given to a person who never receives them is like ambrosia: something heavenly. The best stuff. It’ll keep them going.
When people see the genuine care you have for humanity, they’re more likely to inquire about the One who placed that care in your heart.