As the bus I was riding climbed the hill and passed the first security checkpoint, the prison facility surrounded by two rows of high barbed wire fence loomed into view. The area between the fences was patrolled by two security guards in sharp blue uniforms, their badges gleaming in the afternoon sun.
My destination was the unit for the criminally insane, a maximum security complex on the grounds of the New York State mental hospital. A week earlier our Jews for Jesus office had received a phone call from a patient there. He said he was a born-again Christian, and he wanted one of us to visit his unbelieving Jewish friend at the institution. This would be the first time I had ever ministered inside a prison.
Entering the prison, I passed through the checkpoints and was searched for sharp objects or weapons. I had to be escorted into the visiting room by an armed guard and was then seated in view of a closed circuit television camera that monitored all visits.
The man I had come to see was an Israeli. Born in the Middle East, he had come to Israel after the 1948 war. Some time later he had come to the United States, where he had lived for twenty years or so. As we talked, he expressed a deep longing for real meaning to his life. He regretted having left Israel. All he wanted to do now was to go back. But he also longed to know the God who had made him. He said, I do believe that Jesus is probably the Messiah, but who’s right? Who can know?”
“Have you prayed—talked to God?” I asked. “He’s someone you can always talk to.” I explained that we should not be afraid to pray to God for answers, but that in addition to praying, we could also read what God has already said in the Scriptures. I gave him a Bible, which first had to be thoroughly examined by a security guard.
In the midst of that visit a thought gripped my heart. I felt that I understood the meaning of Isaiah’s words written so long ago: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD…” (Isaiah 61:1-2a).
Jesus proclaimed those words in the synagogue. Now I felt that he was saying them again through me, as I was his hands and feet and voice to that prisoner. The man was not only physically a prisoner in a concrete building. He was a soul held captive in a despairing mind—confused and misunderstood in a foreign country, where he felt lost. He was a captive to the world, and a captive to the sinful nature that had led him to where he was that day.
Yet it was a joyful experience for me to bring him the news that Jesus wanted to give him spiritual liberty, and that with it came the promise of a new Kingdom of mercy and compassion. There he would not be an alien, and he would be understood and cared for by his Maker.
After my visit, as the bus made its way down the hill towards Manhattan, I thought of the words of Hebrews 11:13-16: “…not having received the promises but having seen them afar off,…(they) confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth…But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.”
Please pray for this prisoner that he will reach out and accept the freedom and the forgiveness and the heavenly home that Jesus offers him.