A Total Stranger
By Billie Marie Zal
October is my birthday month and I am already receiving so many beautiful cards from my brothers in prison. One of them, from a young man named “Danny,” pictures a beautiful, deep blue sea. The waves are crashing upon the sandy beach, and there are words above it, “My World is a very special place . . .” and then I open up the card and on the next page are the words, “because I share it with you.”
I thought upon this card, and it’s message, and I recalled the day in March, 1986, when Christ - the living Christ - spoke to me and said clearly, “I WAS IN PRISON and you came to ME.” Then I looked again at the words on Danny’s card which said, “My world is a very special place . . . Because I share it with you.”
There is a message from God in this word, if those of you who read it will listen. Danny’s world - a county jail in Florida - is over crowded and under staffed. The food is rationed so that just enough is served to maintain each prisoner and not starve him. There is violence in the jail, hatred, pay-backs, anger. There is nothing for the men to do except lift weights. And in such an atmosphere the words haunt me, and should haunt all who name the name of Jesus Christ as our very own.
For how can this world in which Danny lives be a “very special place?” What makes it very special? Jesus Christ alone makes it special. The confinement is real. The rage and violence there are real. Hatred is the companion of these men. But there is something that transcends hatred, and violence and fear and deprivation of the body and soul, and that Something is the very Love of God, manifested in His Son Jesus Christ at Calvary.
Danny added a note to this lovely card. He says, “Dearest Billie, whose love has surpassed all words. A total stranger you were to me yet you loved me more than anyone else has. I wish you a very happy birthday and pray you have many more. . .”
Those words, “A total Stranger” took me back to the first time that I ever heard from Danny. It was in July, 1996, and such an angry young man wrote to me and said, “Jesus Christ never accepts MY phone calls, and He never sends me money orders for canteen, or a radio to listen to.”
My immediate reaction was, “OH YES HE DOES, Danny . . . You just never met anyone who LETS Jesus live so fully in themselves that they recognize Him in each one of you, because He did say, “I WAS IN PRISON and you came to ME.” And I sent Danny a letter and reminded him that yes, Jesus is real, and He touches hearts in prison through those who are so full of love for HIM that they will go to any lengths to express Him, no matter what it costs. It was Danny’s first encounter with the pure love of God, a love that asks nothing in return, and only invites the recipient to recognize its Source, and bow in humility and thanksgiving for so great a Savior.
What people today do not realize - yes, CHRISTIAN people who claim to know and love Christ - is that it takes time to make God real to any man in prison or jail. The heart and mind remembers the childhood - the abuse, the neglect, the abandonments, and cannot just let this all go in an instant. Rage has wedged its way into the heart of a child and it refuses to leave. It becomes a defense in a hostile environment and violence becomes its expression. And the vicious cycle continues.
I knew that it would take time for Danny. You simply cannot wipe out in a few months the memory of years that offered nothing but failure. Hope is a normal emotion in a little child-mind. But when that hope is destroyed time and time again, hope is lost.
Danny did get out on parole, thanks to another brother in prison who helped him find a place to go. But Danny was not yet READY for that commitment to God which would have given him the strength to make it. I knew it; I voiced my fears to him. But who could blame him for wanting to be out? I did not, nor did those here who also love him. And I prayed.
But imagine, here is a young man, suddenly out of prison after having been confined for the most part since age 14. There is no foundation in his life, except that which was laid by Wingspread and the love and prayers of the six of us here when he paroled out.
He got a job, a good paying one. He met a girl and somehow believed that they could make a good life together. And maybe they could have, except that if there is no foundation, the “city” is destroyed. And so Danny did not make it, and he is back in a county jail in Florida.
There is a lesson in all this. God, in His love, will go to any extreme to bring a person to Himself, if that individual has a spark of love for Him. He will permit you to be ill. The preachers today, especially those who make it big on television Christian broadcasting, insist that God never makes a man sick. They obviously have never read the book of Job. Satan had
to ASK for God’s permission to put that evil disease upon Job that all but consumed his body with sores. Satan also had to ask God’s permission to send a great tornado and storm, resulting in the loss of his sons and daughters and his livestock. So these preachers are living either in an unreal world, or they are afraid to admit that God can and does judge in order to bring someone to Himself.
Recently I heard a popular evangelist say that God does not want ANYONE to be poor. We are all suppose to be “prosperous” and have the wealth pouring in. Another lie! God, during the years that He trained me not to go to man, but to HIMSELF, for all my needs, permitted me to be very poor. I thank Him that He did.
I taught Bible studies in the homes of ladies in my neighborhood in a small Chicago suburb. I never asked for funds. Sometimes there would be a small bowl on the table where we sat, and before I left there would be a few coins tossed into it. I was thankful for the coins. If we cannot be thankful in little things, how can we resist pride when we have more than enough?
I also remember having an illness that almost killed me. I was delirious and had visions of huge walls of icy grape juice, like icebergs in front of me. I had such a raging fever that I clawed at the ice, and when I awakened I was so weak from dehydration that I could not speak; I could only whisper. This happened during those seven years of intense training in that basement room in Illinois that I wrote about in the message Tomorrow Comes The Song.
How could I possibly know that God, Whose love is brave, permitted these trials in my life that my faith would become more precious than gold to Him? How can anyone know that God lets us be poor, be sick, be hungry, and be thirsty, unless it happens to them? Why else would His Son have said to the disciples, “I WAS HUNGRY and you took me in. I WAS NAKED and you clothed me. I WAS SICK and you visited me. I WAS IN PRISON and you came to me?”
Who on earth was He talking about, if it is not HIMSELF in our brothers in prison to whom we minister? And how can we ignore - if we love Him as He deserves to be loved - the needs of our brothers who so often have no one, no letters, no cards, no Christmas, nothing.
And so society has turned its back on Jesus. Taken up with the lust of the world, the prosperity preachers have succumbed to one of satan’s biggest lies of all, a strong delusion: “We can have it all right now. We deserve it. We don’t have to be sick. We don’t have to be
poor. We don’t have to lose anything. We are the King’s kids and we can have it all. Let’s drive our Rolls Royces and build our mansions and live like kings. It’s ours!”
Like the Prodigal Son, believers who are members of our Lord’s Body left behind here on earth until the sound of the trumpet calls us up to Him, those who name His Name want their “inheritance” now. And the Word of God is tossed aside; the Apostle Paul’s Gospel is swept under the carpet, and men and women desecrate the very centerpiece of the Church, the Cross of Jesus Christ.
For if we do not recognize our position down here now - the fact that we are pilgrims and strangers on this earth, which is under the domain of satan - then we could very well be like the virgins who were left behind when the Bridegroom came “at midnight” and they had no oil in their lamps and missed Him.
If anything interferes with our fellowship with God, we do not deserve it. If wealth is coveted, we do not deserve it. If relationships come between us and our obedience to God’s will, we do not deserve it. If we want success, we miss the mark, because success is of the world, and we are not of the world. Our only success in this life would be His Mark of suffering upon us, our having lost all things that we might obtain the fullness of Jesus Christ within our mortal bodies. THEN others might be able to see who He is, and what our future can be.
God, our Father, never removes anything from us without giving us His loving comfort, His fellowship, and His promise of eternity with HIMSELF, if we trust Him. He never punishes us. He chastens us, and there is a big difference. Chastening is a form of correction and if it hurts, then we need to take notice as to why the chastening has come, and get rid of the cause.
Giving is never giving unless it hurts and costs us something. King David confirms this when three of his mighty men broke through the ranks of the Philistines to give him his desire, which he expressed when he said, “Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate. . .”
But when they returned David realized that these men had hazarded their lives to give him that drink of water and he said that he could not and would not drink of it, but he “poured it out unto the Lord.” When I was not fully matured in Christ, I thought he should have drank it. But now, I would do the same thing. We cannot and must not take advantage of those who
love us and cause them to take risks just to satisfy our physical needs. If we perish, we ALL perish together for His sake!
This is the pattern for the Church - the Body of Christ - and no evangelist can change that pattern, for it is eternal in the heavenlies.
Christ comes to each of you, then . . . a “total stranger . . .” and if you will take time to think of Him, and what He became on your behalf to set you free, you will bow your heart to His authority and nothing really will ever matter again. Love will have found you. A “Total Stranger” will have won you. May it happen to you and may you be eternally secure in the knowledge that this life is short; that eternity is real. And you will not have to spend it in eternal separation from such a Love. You will be “forever with the Lord.” My prayer is that God will give you the grace of Godly sorrow that will bring you to repentance and a brand new life.
I heard a flock of geese fly over our mountain today. I love the way they “honk” at each other, like they’re announcing a change of season. Or maybe its just the joy of anticipation of a new nesting place.
Amy Carmichael wrote a sweet poem many years ago, and the migration of the birds always brings part of it to mind: “The natural flight of a bird from its autumn nest, at the call of an unseen spring to the far off land that is nearer still than its nest, because it is in its heart.” And so the spirit of God draws us to a land which is in our hearts. “No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent Me draw him.” (John 6:44) And heaven should be nearer to our heart than any place on earth, if we long to be in the Father’s house.
We welcome Brian’s older brother, Terry, to our mountain. He moved here from Florida and is now settled into Brian and Gail’s old house. His wife passed away about two years ago, his kids are grown, and I’m sure life was lonely at times. Brian of course couldn’t be happier. He had not seen Terry for many years. He and Gail spent many hours cleaning up the old house and getting everything ready. Terry is also a tool and die maker, just like Brian. So Brian found Terry a job at the same place where he has worked for years. It’s been a big change for him. We had a bad cold spell the first week he was here, but hopefully spring is not too far away. And soon the temperature will be just like it is in Florida.
Terry took a bad fall yesterday. He was working with Brian and Rodney building stairs for our new deck. He is not accustomed to our rocky terrain and it can be dangerous just to walk around the mountain. Anyway, he put a gash in his forehead that took eight stitches to close. But Terry is not letting that stop him. He is back at work today.
I don’t know why all the preachers on TV talk continuously about being blessed. It seems to me that when we take a step in the right direction and follow God’s teaching the devil loves to attack and create doubt as to whether we did the right thing, or not.
We have shared Dr. Scott’s teaching with so many people and have found to our surprise that the only ones who have any interest in it are the men in prison. Melissa Scott sent us several boxes of books written by Dr. Scott, so if any of you would like to receive one please write and let us know. We will be glad to pass them along as the prisons allow, and as we are not a large ministry which can afford to waste materials we don’t want to send anything unless it’s wanted.
Rodney and I have been reading the book of Jonah. Its an amazing little book full of so many truths. Many of you have doubts and questions. Dr. Scott use to say you need to put flesh and blood on these people. What he meant was put yourself there in the place where they were and feel what they must have felt.
Jonah typifies Christ as the sent One raised from the dead and carrying salvation to the Gentiles. God asked him to go to Nineveh and warn the city of coming judgment if they did not repent and turn to God. God was fed up with what He saw, just like He probably is today.
Jonah did not want to go, and I don’t blame him. This was a large city of a million people who were Gentiles, not Hebrew - in other words, foreigners. Excavations in Mesopotania have fully confirmed the statements of Jonah. The city was so large that it would take 3 days to walk the length of it. He could be killed by these lawless people. So he got on a ship bound for Tarshish, probably hoping that God would forget about him.
I think most people know the story of the storm and Jonah being cast into the sea and swallowed by a large fish. Everyone gets hung up on the fish. I don’t have a problem with a fish that big. There are many that large today. Whales have been found as long as 70 feet, well able to swallow a man. In the belly of the fish Jonah prayed and the words he used were from the Psalms, which shows that Jonah knew the word of God. Check your bible references for these places in Psalms.
The real miracle is that he lived 3 days and 3 nights and was vomited up ALIVE. And it was also a miracle that all of the people of Nineveh repented. Everyone fasted and prayed and turned from their idols to God. But the repentance of these people did not make Jonah happy. The words of judgment did not come true. His ego was at stake, and he sulked, wanting to die. Matthew 12: 38-42 confirms that this story is true. Jesus would not have spoken of Jonah if all of this had not happened.
Well nothing much changes with human nature. So it is today. Ministers are as a rule more concerned about their wealth, ego, and power, than about the souls of men and the destiny of a lost world.
I wish that all of you who study God’s Word had a Scofield Study Bible, but I think all bibles have references to other scriptures (found in the center of the pages), so those of you with doubts and questions need to look up all the scriptures which are referenced. God has not left us without footprints. They are all here, if we seek with all our heart.
Some of you have written and thanked me for my little notes. I thank all of you, because I feel so inadequate. Billie had such a gift with words, and I know that’s not my gift. But I want so much to share what God has taught me through the years. So I’ll keep trying.
Prayer Requests for February, 2008
For Robert Heffernan at Brickeys, Arkansas, for health, especially that he’ll be able to walk on his own soon.
For Freddie Lott, Joliet, Illinois, who is recovering from lung cancer, that he stays “cancer free.”
For Willie Scott, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who is recovering from prostate cancer treatment. His cancer is in remission.
For Willie Clark at Iowa Park, Texas, that he’ll be transferred closer to Houston near his family.
For Jimmy Huff, Loraine, Texas, who was hospitalized for a week after an accident.
For Robert L. Ross, Sr., Helena, Oklahoma, that the Federal Court will grant him a time cut. He also asks for prayer for his son, Reginal who has heart problems.
For Michael Small’s Mother who has a bad back and is in a wheelchair. Michael is at Menard, Illinois.
For Richard Taylor, Taft, Oklahoma, for healing of his sinuses.
For Anthony Grayson, Fallsburg, New York, who is preparing his appeal.
For Everyone at OSP, for peace, and for the spirit of racism to leave that place.
For Lonnie Burke, Mt. Sterling, Illinois, who is recovering from a stroke. He continues to get better.
For Mickey Miller, McAlester, Oklahoma, and for his family.
For Calvin Watkins, McAlester, Oklahoma, and for his friend, Linda Parker in Nebraska.
For Marlin Resinger at McAlester, Oklahoma, for an Interstate Compact transfer to Arkansas, to be near his family.
For Marshall Ellis’ parents, Robert & Ira. Robert has pancreas cancer and Ira has Alzheimer’s. Marshall also asks for prayer for his fiancé, Lucy & her family, who have health problems. Marshall is at Chester, Georgia.
For Ken Hogan’s son, Kris, who has left a halfway house and found a place of his own, that he continues to stay out of trouble. Ken is at McAlester, Oklahoma.
For Jerry Herring at Huntsville, Texas, who is about to be paroled. He wants everyone to know that prayers for a place to parole to have been answered. He’s going to a halfway house.
For Pastor Melissa Scott and her ministry in Los Angeles.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite nuns in Little Rock.
For all of us at Wingspread.
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