I find it amazing that every day I walk past invisible people. I see them, I know they are there, but in truth they are invisible because I choose to dismiss them without a single thought or emotion.
Who are “Those People”? Well, this Sunday was a great opportunity for me to consider who “Those People” are.
On Sunday a small group of us who work together to serve God in the world of prison ministry and the reentry of the men and women we faithfully serve inside of California prisons, joined together to celebrate the graduation of a man who by all measure has been an invisible person, even to all of us who were there to “celebrate” his graduation. Let me begin a couple of years ago.
A couple of years ago a man, incarcerated, came to the prison church seeking a change in his life. He had spent several years inside of prison and he knew that if he did not fully surrender to God, completely give his life to serving Jesus Christ, he would never see freedom again. With total surrender he committed his every breath to Christ, and as his journey began, he found himself enrolling into a unique seminary program named TUMI. This college level seminary program did it’s intended job by molding a man into a servant whom the Father could proudly say; “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
Immediately upon his release from prison he faced the harsh reality of a world who refuses to see “Those People.” Parolees, ex-cons, people who are invisible because we choose to ignore them and pretend they are not really there…
There was no home for this man, no immediate job, no friends who he could trust, no finances to assist him, and his parole agent placed restriction on him which effectively made him a man doomed to fail and return to prison. At every turn, he ran into an insurmountable wall. But this did not stop this amazing man. Despite the barriers, regardless of the fact that he had to survive with nothing at all, he chose to trust in God and be obedient every day. He believed and he prayed.
One day a man met him and listened to his message of faith. This man had stopped and actually “saw” this invisible person, and he offered him a job. He was such a hard worker that soon the man offered housing as part of his wages. Over time a deep friendship was founded and this man was amazed as he watched this man of God begin a ministry of his own. It was not long before everything began to smooth out, but then tragedy struck, and he was stabbed by one of the people he ministered to, and he laid in the hospital, all alone, no visitors, once again invisible… He had become one of “Those People” who we choose not to “see”.
Once he had been discharged from the hospital he went right back to work and jumped right back into serving God thru his ministry, and any other form of service God placed in his path.
Undeterred, he continued to climb up out of the pit of obscurity and stabilized. He began the work of reconciliation with his family, and his ministry grew in leaps and bounds. He enrolled into his seminary so he could complete his education, and this is why we were gathered on a beautiful sunny day. This was the day of his graduation.
Many people were present, speaking big words of friendship, love and accolades for all the work this man had done to find himself standing here before us all. But did these people really “see” him? Or, was he just one of “Those People” we all know, who we all speak well of when we are standing there with them?
When it was this man’s turn to speak to the gathered crowd his words should have been stinging to us all. He spoke of his frustrations of not receiving help, of being left alone to make it without support, and even when he was in the hospital his frustrations had gone out in a group text only to be returned with silence! But then he began to speak about God, how God had never abandoned him, how God had never once failed to support him, to provide for him, to care for his family when he could not. He spoke with a gentle voice of a man who knows what is like to be one of “Those People” who is treading water with only one hope, and that one hope is Jesus Christ.
And as I listened, really listened, he spoke of love, of grace, of compassion, and how he could relate to the prophets of old who were abandoned by friends and family as they served God. This moved me profoundly, tearing my heart in two as I realized how many time I have failed to even see my brothers and sisters in Christ because they are one of “Those People’.
So what am I sharing with you in this story? A question: Who is it you do not see when they are standing right there in front of you?