March, 2003 Wingspread
I WAS IN PRISON AND YOU CAME TO ME
By Billie Marie Zal
The steel door clanged shut behind me and I stood alone--next to the "bull pen," clutching my Bible. I had no planned "program," and no instruction in my recent call from my Father in Heaven to "go---into the prisons and He would meet me there."
Margaret had asked me before I left, "Aren't you scared? What will you say?
Do you have any idea of how to reach these men?" My reply was, "No. I am just supposed to go because God said so, and I am going."
And now I had walked into the jail in an Oklahoma county and "the walls of opposition" literally fell down. A man sat in that "bull pen," and he looked up, surprised, to see a lady with a Bible smiling at him.
"Hello, "I said. "God told me to come here, and tell you all about Jesus, so here I am. And I want you to know that God loves you no matter what."
The man stood up, smiled, and said, "DO I EVER NEED YOU!!!!" Then he explained; he had a small saw mill just outside city limits and he had been pulled over by police officers. His driver's license had expired and they brought him to jail. He was cut off, no one knew where he was, and he needed to have someone call home. I took down the number and got help for him and he was out the next day.
But before I left him, I said, "I didn't come here just by "accident" or"coincidence." God Himself sent me here, and this is your opportunity to begin to think on your life---where you are heading---and where you will spend eternity. Jesus Christ made a way for you to be saved, and I will be praying for your salvation."
God goes to great lengths to touch a man's soul, and I believe this moment was the time for this particular man to begin again. I don't "push for a decision," that is obnoxious and repulsive to an unregenerate mind. But God offers this glorious new life and it is up to the individual to reach out and receive it.
After speaking with this man, I walked on down the hall toward the individual cells. It was a terrible jail, dirty grey walls and dark and dingy. But Jesus had thrown out the "bait" of His Love by what I had told the man in the bull pen, and the men were curious as to who I was, and why I was there.
I smiled as they reached out through the bars and began to talk. Some of them grinned sheepishly at me, like they would if their Moms caught them doing wrong. But I am no better or worse than any one of them, and I began to tell them of all the things God had done in my own life, and how He led me to that very place.
There were questions--many questions--and in that Book which I held close to my heart was the answer. When I came to the last cell, one of the young men had covered up, pretending to be asleep. (I knew he was faking it). So I began to talk to his cell mate and suddenly he threw aside his covers and began to argue "doctrine" with me.
"Look, Bob, (he said his name was Bob), I did not come over here to argue doctrine. I know who I am and who God is, and I obey Him, and He sent me here whether you believe it or not. But you will never get to know Him as long as you have an excuse about doctrine. If you don't want to talk, just go on back to sleep."
Well, the other guys all grinned and Bob blushed and from that moment on, he was one of my most intent prisoners. His cell was dirty, filled with trash, but the next week when I arrived it was spick and span and he and his cell mate had combed their hair and wore clean clothes. The Lord Jesus Christ was visiting, within my heart, and they made Him welcome.
That was my first experience with the prison ministry to which God called me on a bleak March day in 1986. But as the weeks flew by I began to see that in the jails and prisons where few Christians care to go are "jewels" of gold, silver, and precious stones. It's like a mine---you go down, down, down and suddenly you find a core of precious gems or of silver, or of gold, and you begin to bring all this treasure out into the Light and then they are ready to be chiseled and put through the fires of refinement, and made into glorious objects of great value.
This is how I see God's prisoners. And I knew that I would never back down nor give up on any of those who contacted His Love in our life here.
I went on to another jail and found dear friends. Again, the ‘walls fell down flat" and I walked right into the day room of a county jail in Oklahoma and sat down at one of those tables that are built into the floor. The cells all opened into that small day room and I was not afraid. At the table where I sat was a young man reading a magazine. He was obviously uncomfortable and he finally looked up and said, "What are you doing here? I have killed someone."
"I don't care what you have done," I replied. "God, my Father in Heaven, has sent me here with His Word to let you know that there ‘is no darkness where He cannot find you.' So do you want to talk about it?" And he did. He told me in detail about his life, his family, his wife and baby, and on that day he bowed his head and asked God to have mercy upon him and let him one day go back home and take care of his family. You could have heard a pin drop. A prayer from the heart stops tough men dead in their tracks and there is no defense against Almighty Love.
Years later, I heard that he had indeed gone home and he and his family were faithful members of the little Indian Church they attended. He had killed in self defense and was set free.
Then one day, I met "Grover." It was at that same county jail, and Grover was an older man with grey hair and bright blue eyes. He was accused of some pretty awful things but declared his innocence and whether guilty or not, I again told him about the release of our spirits when we are born again, of God. I shared my own personal testimony of how God saved me, a supposedly "good Christian," when I was neither good nor a Christian.
Grover was won over not to me---but to the very Love of Christ within me, and he would always wipe down one of the little tables, put down paper towels and say to me, "Will you have a cup of coffee with me, ‘'this?'" Grover had a speech impediment and "Sis" always came out "this." I called it having a "tea party" and we would sit down and have our coffee and talk about all the things that made us who we are. Sometimes Grover would invite some of the other inmates to share our tea party, and it was such fun. I ignored the condition of that cup---black with coffee stains and questionably clean---I was having a tea party with my brother.
In that place God also sent me to a man named "Jessie." He had been in the Job Corp in that town, and one night all the guys got together in a dorm and smoked pot. When the officers came, poor Jessie got "caught with the goods" and was taken in.
(The others "fled.")
On that day--the day I met Jessie--I thought as I walked into the day room that the guys were looking a little sneaky. Poor Jessie was standing over in a corner, crying. I walked over to him and asked, "What's the matter? Did someone hurt you?" He was shocked that I even spoke to him and he said, "I got picked up at Job Corp housing and these guys in here told me I will probably get ten years or maybe more.....I don't have nothin' and I can't call home, and I ain't gonna make it for ten years."
Everything became very, very quiet. By now my brothers in that place knew very well that I did not tolerate unkindness to another inmate. Then Jessie said, "I ain't got no soap and no tooth paste and nothin'. I don't got no money to buy it to clean up."
Now I knew why the guys had looked "sneaky." They had done a job on poor Jessie and had not told him that he could ask for tooth paste, soap, and towels and he would get them.
I didn't say a word, but I turned and looked at each guy and as I looked, each guy just "wilted." The first to "give up" was a man who was charged with multiple murders (later acquitted) and he came over and handed Jessie a small bar of soap. Then the others followed----he got tooth paste, towels, even some "treats." God had touched their hearts and through my own eyes, they saw Jessie's HEART.
Then I took Jessie aside and said, "I am going to pray for you now---you are NOT going to get any time, and you are going back home to ‘Shiprock, New Mexico.' God has a plan for your life and you will make it."
Jessie had no faith but I had the faith for him. He was to go up for a hearing to decide what was to be done with him within the hour and as I prayed, he cried some more. He was sure he would never get out.
When they came for him, I settled it with the other guys. "Aw, Billie, we just wanted to have a little fun....we didn't mean to hurt him, and we would have eventually shared with him. But he believed everything we said, so it just went on from there..."
"Having fun at someone else's expense is hurtful and mean, and you guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves......now when Jessie gets back down here, he has to know that you are his friends. You have been through this before, but he hasn't and he deserves your friendship."
In a little while (after Grover and I had our tea party) Jessie came back down. He looked dazed and then when he saw me, he seemed as though he thought I was an angel or something. All my requests to God on his behalf (while he was crying) were answered. Not only did Jessie not get any time, but the Judge made sure he had money for a bus ticket HOME to "Shiprock, New Mexico."
All the guys patted him on the back and congratulated him and before he left, I heard that they made sure he had enough treats to last him for the trip back home. I was so proud of them and because they saw that I was proud of them, they became proud of themselves. Jesus had reached out, touched the hardened hearts of these men, and given them a glimpse of what Love is, and how it frees the soul from the power of meanness.
From this ministry in the jails, and all the personal contact visits, I was taught by God's Spirit that deep within each man's heart there has to be SOMETHING that responds to divine goodness and mercy. A man needs respect and once it is given, it causes that man to begin to think of a new kind of life, and IF he wants to pursue that thought, then he eventually comes to a spiritual encounter with the God of heaven and earth. And God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is revealed to him and he is forever finished with the "old man," and receives a brand new life. I've never given up on any one individual with whom I have shared the very Love of Christ. And I won't give up.
Eventually I began to visit the prisons and time after time, I saw God's Spirit touch hearts wherever I went. When I sat in the visiting rooms, I would often pray for those who came to visit their loved ones. I remember a wonderful elderly couple whose son was in for life without parole, and their faces shone with pure joy when they caught sight of him. They were both infirm, but Love strengthens us and the hugs and kisses he got were full of God's strength. He sometimes talked with me after they left---each supporting the other in their weakness--and he told me that he had been born again and it was his parents' acceptance of him even in the worst of his sinfulness which had given him the reality of God's Love. His face flowed with joy as he spoke of Jesus and His Love.
Rules were not strict in those early visits and I would meet so many people. I always took enough money so that everyone could have treats, and we'd sit out in the yard and it was truly "family." If I saw a youngster who seemed especially rebellious I would silently ask God my Father to break the power of rebellion in that youngster's heart and set him free.
Once on "Kite Flight Day" we visited and were able to have home cooked food and meet the families of those we'd known through previous visits. It was such fun. I remember a man named "Carlton Evans." He sat and told me about his life. He was from England, and he'd done so many "bad things" that he couldn't stay in this country, he had to go back to England. I spoke seriously of what lay ahead for him, and how if he truly wanted deliverance from HIMSELF, then God would give him deliverance.
I will never know if he made it or not; but after all these years, his name comes to my mind as I pray and so God has not given up on him yet, wherever he is.
So many people "look down" on us here for "caring about prisoners." They are the losers. These men do not need people to come in, sing a few "rollicking songs about Jesus," preach AT THEM, give a few testimonies about how good God is, and then "PRESS FOR A DECISION." God doesn't press anyone for any kind of decision. He lays it out before us--in His Word--and we either believe Him or not, and we either want Him to be our Authority or not. But if we don't want Him, then He lets us go. After all, He is GOD and we are but puny individuals whom He had the mercy to create and then give us a chance to get out of sin into salvation and eventual Glory. He doesn't have to beg anyone to believe in Him, to receive the gift of His Son's life, to give Him money, He is God. And everything belongs to Him, Satan is the intruder and for a little while He (Satan) will have His day and drag people to hell. But the day is coming when God's Kingdom will come on earth and that will be that.
I thank God for every letter I have written, for the books, for the money orders that we have been able to send out to those whom we know have nothing. Our only sorrow is that we are unrecognized by those individuals who should love us for Christs sake and help us in this tremendous INDIVIDUAL work in a man's soul. The masses will make a big noise and make a big show of how God supplies "millions" and they will sing and clap and shout and fall out on the stage floor. But will they ever truly know God as these men in prison know Him? I think not. Jesus says that those who sin most, love most. And these men in prison KNOW what sin is, and once delivered from its power, they love the most.
I thank God every day for these wonderful years and I remember with such love those who have gone to be with Him and who wait for our arrival!! I remember Bobby, whom I teased about his smile---his teeth were like a set of piano keys---and we would laugh and rejoice when we talked. He is in Heaven now, having been sent there by an execution a few years ago. I remember Roger Dale---so loving and kind, and so thankful that he had friends here, on our mountain. I can't remember his ever having a bad word to say about anyone or anything and he, too, was executed and before he left he painted me a picture of my favorite scene---Jesus on the Road to Emmaus with the disciples who did not recognize Him until He broke bread with them and THEN their eyes were opened. He wrote to me on the back of the painting and told me how he loved us and would never forget us. And I remember Earl, whose last call to me was filled with Thanksgiving and praise that soon---on that gurney, alone---he would be "absent from the body, present with the Lord."
I remember those who stopped writing and I will never cease to pray that their lives will be touched by the Master's hand, and be filled with His grace and goodness. I remember youngsters who grew up in unspeakable conditions in their homes and then went out alone, and gave in to drugs, and all that goes with the power of drugs upon the mind and heart. And I continue to pray for them. There is always hope.
I remember those who were "serial killers" who have been washed clean by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and who have inherited eternal life; a person who claims to be a Christian and still hates such a one does not know God and does not really believe in the power of the cleansing blood of Christ. When God changes a man's heart, it is changed forever.
I remember all the sharing of your lives that all of you have given to me and I hold this sharing as a sacred trust. I consider it a privilege to be your mother--sister--grandmother--or friend. God expects us to be whatever one needs in order to get to see HIM shine within our hearts.
And I remember the poems, the drawings, the sharing of God's Word that you have given to me. I consider all this my treasure and it comforts me in the dark "night of the soul" which comes to every individual who loves Christ above all else in this world.
These years have also helped me to become a better soldier in God's Army, and had I not known all of you and heard from you and received your letters, I might never have known how it feels to be in a prison cell, without the comfort of family or loved ones or friends. I do know. I know, because when Jesus called me on that March day in 1986, He said to me, "I was in prison and you came to ME...." If I wanted to be of service to Him, I would come into the prison cells WITH Him and somehow, by His grace, His Light shines through and touches each of you---cries with you----laughs with you----feels your failures and also your victories.
And so I thank Him for this wonderful privilege of being to you what He is. Somebody has to. Thank God it is the seven of us here, on this little 40 acre plot of ground on a mountain in Northwest Arkansas, whom He chose. And we love you.
FOR: My little brother, Steven Orr, who is at Diamondback CC at Watonga, Ok. as he copes with a parole denial. It is always so difficult to hope - and then be denied. But he is a strong Christian and with our prayers, he will use the next three years to grow up in Christ.
FOR: William "Pee Wee" Smith, who hopes to get help in selling his property so that he can have canteen draw in prison. Willie is at Lexington, Oklahoma.
FOR: Robin Harris and the prayer group as they study God's Word and grow in grace and knowledge of HIM. Robin is at Watonga.
FOR: Our little brother, Randal Smith, who has seizures, that God will heal him and he can feel good again. Randal is at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester, Ok.
FOR: Ken Hogan, at Oklahoma county jail, awaiting a hearing which will determine whether or not he returns to Death Row at McAlester. PRAY that God will show him favor.
FOR: Our brother, Wm. McAllister III, as he ministers to others in Danville CC, at Danville, Illinois. William is a great encouragement to us, and his prayers help.
FOR: Our brother, John Hooker, whose execution date is set for March 25th at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester, Oklahoma. John has the peace of Christ and he assures me that he will be in Heaven when we get there. "What a day of rejoicing that will be!!!"
FOR: Our brother in Christ, Don Hawkins, who was my very first prisoner when God called me to Wingspread. His execution date is set for April 8th and we know he will be "absent from the body, present with the Lord" on the day of his "graduation." Pray also for his wife, whose heart is broken, that God's Spirit will be her Comforter and her help.
FOR: James Bass' sister, Colien, who has a muscle disease. May she be totally healed. Also James asks prayers for the men whose death sentences were commuted at Menard, Illinois, as they adjust to population. They have not been well received and need our prayers.
FOR: Ponnal Buchanan's family and daughter, and for his electronic instructor, Ron Green. Mr Green has 2 types of cancer and needs complete healing. God works from Heaven when His Church on earth prays and Mr. Green CAN be healed.
FOR: Mr. Jerry Brock's total healing from cancer; he is a wonderful neighbor and he and his wife have been very good to the seven of us. We hold him up in prayer daily.
Meet Alicia,who's Grandpa, James Walker, is at OSP - McAlester. Please offer up special prayer for her total healing of any birth defects.
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