I came home after a long day and was ready for a nice dinner with my wife (Kristi). She greeted me warmly and said dinner would be ready soon. I sat in my favorite recliner and turned on the local news broadcast. I suddenly sat up and sighed out loud, "Oh my!"
Kristi heard my sigh from the kitchen and came in and asked what had happened. I just pointed to the television screen and said, "That was my former student, *Jeremy" (*name changed for confidentiality; I have his permission to share his story). The news broadcast showed his picture and told the sad story. A young man had been arrested for fatally striking a pedestrian with his car while she walked on a portion of the city-wide trail. After the news story ended, we joined hands and prayed for the victim's family and for Jeremy. When I finished praying, Kristi looked up at me and said, "You are already planning to go to the jail to visit and share the gospel with him, aren't you?" I nodded in affirmation and thought back to the last time I saw Jeremy.
I have taught special education off and for 10 years (before, during, and in between pastoring several churches). I was Jeremy's elementary special education teacher while he was in 2nd through 5th grade. I spent a lot of time with him, teaching him social skills, de-escalation strategies, and sharing this saying: "The choices I make are the choices that make me." The last time I saw Jeremy was at the end of his 5th grade school year. His mother called me when he graduated high school to thank me for my impact on his life and to have Jeremy thank me.
I remembered that I had prayed for him daily when I was his special education teacher. All those prayers and the compassion I had for this little boy, who was now a man, welled up in my heart. I thought of a passage of Scripture that talked of Jesus' compassion for the multitude in Matthew 9:35-38,
"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
When Jesus saw these multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them. Jesus saw the harassed and helpless people as sheep having no shepherd. The word "harassed" can also mean troubled, bewildered, or despondent. The word for "helpless" is also "prostrate" or "thrown to the ground." The two words are near-synonyms that stress man's helplessness without God.
Jesus looked at the crowds following him and referred to them as a field ripe for harvest, but the laborers to bring in the harvest are few. Jesus commanded His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. These laborers must warn people of coming judgment, call them to repentance, and place their faith in Jesus Christ. Many people are ready to give their lives to Christ if someone shows them how. We are to pray that people will respond to this need for workers. When we pray for something, God often answers our prayers by using us. I knew the Lord had prepared me to go and tell Jeremy the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Since Covid, many local jails have canceled in-person visits and now only allow kiosk or Zoom visits. Our local jail had just begun to let clergy make in-person visits. I called and set up an appointment to meet Jeremy on a Friday afternoon. I walked into the jail and gave them my ID and personal belongings. The corrections staff led me back to the visitation wing. I sat and patiently waited in my glass portion cubicle to visit my former student (age 24), who I had not seen in over a decade. I sat down and wondered if he would even remember me. The guard escorted him into the room, and Jeremy stared at me for a few seconds. (He later told me he was expecting to see his Public Defender). He then had a big smile and said, "Mr. H, is that you?" I replied, "Hi Jeremy, yes, it is Mr. H. I have a few more gray hairs than the last time you saw me in elementary school."
We sat down and started to get reacquainted. I shared about my family, my ministry, and how I had retired from teaching a year ago. I heard his story of hardship and helplessness over the past several years since he graduated from high school. He had been working different temp jobs and struggling to make life work. He had several misdemeanors and other charges and was trying to get his life together when this tragedy happened. He was living in his car with his girlfriend at the time of the accident. Soon after, he found out his girlfriend was pregnant, and now he is a dad.
I asked him about his church background, and he said he seldom attended. I asked him some spiritual questions, and we started talking about his situation and the gospel of Jesus. I asked him if he remembered the saying I had in my classroom when he was in elementary school. I started it by saying, "The choices I make…" and he finished it by saying, "…are the choices that make me."
I told him he could not change the past but could choose to change his future. I shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. I quoted Joshua 24:15, which says:
"…then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
I asked him if he wanted to repent of his sins and choose to follow Jesus. He agreed to make this choice to receive Jesus, and as we fist pumped on the glass partition together, he prayed a prayer of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
He was arrested in May and has been in jail since that time. He recently agreed to a plea deal, and his sentencing was today (December). I have been making regular jail visits for the past several months for Bible study, encouragement, and fellowship. I also talked to the jail chaplains to follow up with Jeremy and help him.
I visited him a few days before his sentencing date to pray with him. I asked him if he knew what Jesus' name meant. He said he did not. I shared Matthew 1:21, which states:
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Jeremy smiled and said, "Wow, I did not know that Jesus means God saves us from our sins. Jesus saved me and is changing me. Thanks again, Mr. H, for visiting with me, telling me about Jesus, and encouraging me to make the best choice I have ever made."
Merry Christmas, Jeremy, Merry Christmas!