For the sake of all the new men that are writing faithfully to us, I thought I would share some history and some info about how this ministry came into being.
We all moved here from California in 1970 and settled on these 40 acres in Northwest Arkansas. We call it Baca Mountain. I had no idea what Baca meant at the time; had I known I might have run in the other direction because it means “a place of tears.”
It has been that, a place of many tears. We have all suffered the loss of loved ones here, but the beauty of this place and knowing that God had chosen it for us always sustained me. We have a forest full of wildlife, a gorge which runs wild when it rains, and caves and rocks big enough to climb. It’s truly a beautiful place.
We all came to know Billie Marie Zal many years earlier in Illinois. She had a ministry of Bible studies in homes. Personally I was drawn to this ministry because of her life and how she lived her words. I haven’t seen that in very many people. During all the years with Billie I came to know what I had always suspected - that there was much more to Christianity than the “sinner’s prayer” and going to church on Sunday.
We had some very tough years here. In the beginning it was hard to find work and we were dirt poor. And there were more problems than I care to enumerate here. But we survived and I think we’re the better for it. Today I think back fondly on those days and how God literally worked miracles to keep us all going.
In 1986 Billie was called by God to go and visit county jails. She walked in and told the men that she was there because Jesus had sent her. She had a loving spirit and most people gravitated to her as she taught about God. Later she often took me along and I have such sweet memories of the dayroom visits with a group of men, all as different from each other as anyone can be. Yet there was a unity and love in the room, and of course that was the Spirit of God.
As time went by these men were sentenced and sent on to various prisons. From those prisons they wrote letters, kept in touch, and introduced others to our ministry. Billie had always written a teaching newsletter (she did this every month going back to the (1950’s) and that
of course continued. She was a very talented writer and later published a book called “The Fabric of Our Lives.”
During the early years we talked about having a halfway house, but we were very naïve, not realizing what all was involved in that kind of endeavor. Several prisoners did come and stay a few weeks, or long enough to get a new start in life. But it takes a certain commitment to God to live here and to be a part of this life. And no one had that desire, or so it seemed.
When we moved here we were more in number that we are today. My son Mark grew up here and left when he was old enough. My daughter Penny and her husband also lived here for several years. They moved to Oklahoma. Many other people passed through our lives, some users, some who did us great harm. All left us with a lesson well learned and another chance to thank God for His many ways of teaching and disciplining those that are truly His children.
Billie was promoted to Heaven in 2003, and Ed, Shirley’s husband also left us for a better world in 2011. There are now just six of us: Brian and Gail, Rodney and me, Shirley, who is now alone, and of course, Jay the bachelor.
This ministry has always been supported by our own money, income we work for at various jobs. To give money is against human nature, and it is definitely against my nature, so I never blamed anyone for not helping us with the ministry. But the facts are it does take money. There are many expenses beside the obvious: paper, ink, printing, and postage.
I’m always so glad when we receive a little tithe from one of the prisoners. Not because of the money, but because it shows a Spiritual growth. In fact, when Rodney and I read the letters together it gives me such joy to see a true awareness and recognition of God’s control and power over the circumstances in a person’s life. This is our reward, to know there is Life out there. Dr. Scott use to say that “you cannot be a Christian without being a giver. God is a giving God and if His Spirit is in us then we will also be givers.” I agree.
This has been a tough year. I don’t know that it’s the toughest we have seen, but we didn’t expect to see Brian have a stroke which has turned both him and Gail’s life upside down. It’s been only 3 or 4 years since Brian fell off the ladder and broke his leg. That required a serious
operation and a long recovery. Not many years before that he had 2 back surgeries.
Whether these are just “acts that happen in life” or whether they are attacks by the devil, we must remember that God allows it all to happen. We have the book of Job to prove that. God is our Father and as such He tests, corrects, and refines our character. And that testing and refining of character will affect every person who lives around the person being tested in the first place.
As an example, when you were locked up in the county jail or prison all of your friends and family were affected by your being disciplined. How they handle your incarceration will in the end show what kind of character they have.
Today Gail is the most deeply affected by Brian’s stroke, but it will also be used in all our lives for the better. I know that because I know God’s ways. That’s how He is. He has an eternal plan. This world is temporal but God has eternity in mind, the ultimate triumph of a wise and loving God in His unseen contest with satan over the souls of men.
I wonder how many of you believe what we read in John 14:1. Jesus speaking: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Before Jesus left, He promised that He would not leave us as orphans (John 14:18) but would give us a “Helper.” The word in Greek means one called alongside to help, a comforter, the Holy Spirit. When we sin the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s indwelling Helper to help in his ignorance and convict of sin and bring repentance.
So we are not alone. You all know what an advocate is. You all have had an attorney, someone who pleads your case, a defender, intercessor. The Holy Spirit makes intercession on your behalf and so does Christ.
So with the help of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we will continue on as we have for all these years, with the faith that the God we have trusted will not fail in His care of us today.
This is just a little something I thought was interesting and maybe you all will find it that way, too.
A few years ago there was a lot of interest about the lost ark of the Covenant, the ark Moses built for the tabernacle during the 40 years they traveled across the dessert. One of the movies made about this was called “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Anyway, in Jeremiah 3:16 you will find the answer to where the Ark is NOT located: “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, it shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore.”
Can we say for sure that it is not on this earth anymore? It leaves a question, but in Revelation 11:19 it says, “Then the temple of God was opened in Heaven, and the Ark of His covenant was seen in His Temple.” That’s where it will be for sure one day.
Prayer Requests for August, 2012
For Michael Small’s step-mother Suzanne (Illinois) who is being treated for vision problems.
For Frederick Gray’s Mother (Oklahoma) who just lost her best friend.
For John Crutcher (in Oklahoma) who is still in need of a liver transplant.
For William Holland (Joliet, Illinois), for favor with the courts.
For Willie Harper’s friend, Ellen Watson (Illinois) that her back pain goes away.
For Willie Scott (Grady, Arkansas), for a better job and a transfer to medium security.
For Earl Oswalt (Taft, Oklahoma), who just put in a parole packet for Texas.
For Rodney Bracken (Menard, Illinois) who is having problems with his short term memory.
For Dennis Martin (Lexington, Oklahoma) who is having blood pressure and heart problems again.
For Anthony Grayson (Shawangunk, New York), that his health gets better, and that he finds legal assistance.
For everyone at Granite, Oklahoma. A lot of the older guys have recently been transferred there and are in shock.
For Dolly Meneses (Illinois) who just had surgery.
For Jimmy Huff (Colorado City, Texas), for health.
For Mike Long (Larned, Kansas), for health.
For Willie Clark (Iowa Park, Texas), who wants to be transferred closer to Houston.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For Frank Williams, Jr. (Death Row, Grady, Arkansas). He is still waiting on a ruling.
For Freddie Lee Lott (Dixon, Illinois), to keep his healing and stay cancer free.
For Robert Heffernan (Grady, Arkansas), that DNA evidence will prove his innocence.
For Youcef Nadarkhani who is facing execution in Iran for being a Christian.
For Pastor Scott & her ministry (The University Network) in Los Angeles.
For all of us at Wingspread, especially for Brian and for Gail. Brian’s stroke affected Gail in a big way and has dramatically changed her life as well. Of course she doesn’t complain, but the rest of us see that there is a lot of stress in taking care of Brian, trying to work, and keeping things together, in general. She needs prayer for strength and peace.
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