His face long, his eyes spoke clearly of the hardships he had faced. There were lines in his brow that only suffering can bring. His skin was dark, stained by hours of labor in the sun. He looked so very tired. He sat quietly and handed two papers to me.
He had just been released from prison, where he had served ten years for murder. The first two years of his sentence was spent here in Manila in a maximum security prison that carried harsh punishments and hard physical labor. Then suddenly, without warning, he was transferred to a prison on an island far away from Manila and his family. I know the anticipation prisoners feel as they wait each week for their one visit. Imagine being completely alone for 7 years… not seeing his children or his wife.
Upon his release, he was given fare to come to Manila.
Arriving with only the clothes on his back, he found that his family had moved back to the province, another 10 hours north. In despair, he had wandered the streets asking God to help him find a Christian to help him. He pulled his little New Testament out of his pocket with a smile and explained how a Pastor had taught him about Jesus when he was in prison.
Desperate to see his 5 children, he asked if there was any way we could help. He had a gentleness and peace as he talked. We were moved beyond words. We fed him and talked some more, then took him to the bus and bought a ticket to the province. As he climbed the steps, he turned and hugged Kuya Henry, (one of our staff) his eyes full of tears.
Can you imagine… not seeing your family for 7 years? They would have been his only reason for enduring the hardship of his punishment… the only inspiration. The faces of his wife and children engraved in his mind. To expect to come home to find them, and they are gone without a trace. Left with no one and nothing, a convicted criminal, he must start on yet another journey to find them. Oh, to walk a mile in this man’s shoes.
At a time when it is so easy to be discouraged, we have seen fruit of another man’s tireless labor to bring the gospel to the forgotten and rejected in the prisons. Every Saturday, we go to a jail at the south end of Manila and visit men from Escopa, the community we have worked in for more than 6 years, who are incarcerated there. We share Jesus and pray with them, bring them rice and when we can, supplies.
Jesus had a reason for telling us to minister to those in prison. There is hope even for the murderer to change. Jesus died for them, too. He can soften their hearts and mold them as easily as He can you and me. I am humbled by His grace and mercy.