Miracle at Rikers Island

  As Christians, we know that no one is beyond the reach of Christ. But if we're honest, most of us have to admit that every now and then we come across someone that we just know will never become a Christian. And that's exactly what a Prison Fellowship volunteer named Sherry thought when she saw Shelby -- a bizarre-looking prisoner at New York's Rikers Island Prison. Sherry was working with Operation Starting Line, a multi-ministry effort to bring the gospel to every prisoner in America. Musicians, athletes, comedians, and volunteers go behind bars to perform and witness God's love to the most hardened hearts imaginable. Prison Fellowship has been joined in this by Navigators, Walk Thru the Bible, Campus Crusade, Billy Graham, and others. Well last month, Sherry was part of the team that went to Rikers Island. The atmosphere was tough. The day was suffocatingly hot and the men showed little interest in the program. Many were playing basketball, lifting weights, or talking. But "as usual," Sherry recalls, "When the Lord does something great, it's always in an unlikely place." As the men filed into the yard, Shelby caught Sherry's eye. He flaunted his homosexuality as he walked past her. He was wearing makeup and a jumpsuit open to the waist. He had done everything possible to make himself look like a woman. Sherry recalls that as he sashayed past her it was "as though he were saying, 'I'm happy the way I am, and nothing you can say will change that.'" The team sang their hearts out and slowly the crowd began to thicken. Sherry spotted Shelby swaying to the music and thought to herself, "He'll be the last one to listen to the message today." After the music, team members gave their testimony and explained the plan of salvation. Shelby listened intently -- even moved closer to the speakers. When the inmates were invited to pray the sinner's prayer, Sherry was shocked that among the repentant sinners accepting Christ, there stood Shelby. Afterward, she had a chance to speak with him. He told Sherry that for many years he had lived as a woman, but standing there in the yard praying, he felt a physical change come over him. "Sherry, please pray for me," he begged as she turned to leave. You can bet she will. And Shelby won't be left on his own. Through Operation Starting Line, he'll receive spiritual mentoring and career counseling. OSL also works with local churches to match inmates with volunteers once they leave prison. These volunteers help inmates find jobs and continue in their spiritual growth. It's a lot to ask for volunteers to come into the prisons to do these things; but we know it's worth it. One study showed that inmates who took part in ten or more Prison Fellowship Bible studies were sixty-six percent less likely to return to prison. Pray for the volunteers of Operation Starting Line as they spread this ministry across the country. And pray for the prisoners as well. Some of these inmates are so cold and tough on the outside, but just like Shelby -- desperately yearning and tender on the inside. We know that God can convert anyone. And we know that he does his best work in these kinds of places. Conversions like Shelby's are a witness to the power of the cross to soften even the hardest and most defiant sinner.


Chuck Colson


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