Christmas in Jail

I'm Eric Metaxas. Today on BreakPoint, we hear Chuck Colson tell about a beautiful Christmas Day, behind bars. Please stay tuned. Chuck Colson Bessie Shipp was spending Christmas in jail. A slender black woman, Bessie was watching her life slip rapidly away. Though she had not been sentenced to death by the state, she was under a different death sentence: Bessie had AIDS. I met Bessie that Christmas Day in a North Carolina prison for women. I had come to give a Christmas message to the inmates there. The atmosphere was glum. The small crowd that gathered to hear me preach was somber and subdued. After the service, a prison official said, "Do you have time to visit Bessie Shipp?" "Who's Bessie Shipp?" I asked. When they told me, I confess, I was taken aback. This was several years ago, and I had never visited an AIDS patient. And yet, just the night before, I had seen a television story about Mother Teresa and the AIDS patients she was caring for. How could I do anything less? "I'll go," I said. We walked down a narrow corridor, and a heavy door was opened to reveal a small, dark cell. There, sitting in a hard-backed chair was this tiny woman, wrapped in a bathrobe, shivering in the cold. To my surprise, I saw a Bible on her lap. After chatting a few minutes, I came right to the point. "Bessie," I said, "Do you know the Lord?" "I want to," she replied softly. "But I don't always feel like He's there." And her voice trailed off. "Would you like to pray with me to know Christ as your Savior?" I asked. Bessie looked down, twisted a Kleenex in her thin hands, and finally whispered, "Yes, I would." So we prayed together in that cold, concrete cell. And Bessie made a decision that would change the rest of her short life: She gave it to Jesus Christ. Only days later Bessie was paroled. Friends and prison officials had been trying to get her released for a long time. But the timing was providential. She stayed long enough to meet Christ, and then she went to her home as a new Christian. A short three weeks after her release, Bessie contracted pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. A Prison Fellowship area director visited her and found her spirit strong to the end. "These are the happiest days of my life," she whispered. "Because now I know Jesus loves me, and you all love me, too. I'm in the Lord's hands." Two days later Bessie died. She went to meet the Savior she had accepted only a short time before, on Christmas Day, in a cold prison cell. When Jesus came to earth, He wasn't born in a grand palace. He was born in a dirty stable that reeked of animals, with mice scurrying underfoot. And Jesus still comes to us wherever we are. Not only to warm, well-lit homes, but also to run-down tenement buildings and gray prison cells. So wherever you are, why don't you ask Him to come to you? And He will do it. Just like He came to a young woman dying of AIDS in a North Carolina prison one cold Christmas Day.  


Chuck Colson


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