98: Words Behind Bars

98: Words Behind Bars

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Words Behind Bars

A great vision is always birthed from a great burden.

~Dave Ferguson

I just mailed out another letter to a prisoner — the fourth letter I’ve sent this week. Three years ago I didn’t think twice about the men and women behind bars.

Then, my coach and mentor, whom I have known well for thirty-five years, was arrested and imprisoned. My husband Jamie and I were thrown into the world of prison families. The shock was unbelievable. It’s an invisible, silent community. Nobody talks about it. Families bear the burden alone.

Jamie and I knew that we would stay beside him, believing in him. He had walked faithfully with us for three decades; we would walk with him. We started writing letters. As a pastor, Jamie began to visit Coach at the county prison. I wanted to send him something that would brighten his heart in the midst of this dark, cold place. I pulled out my photo of daisies and used Photoshop to add Philippians 4:13 across it. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I printed the 4x6 photo with a white edge, tucked it in my letter and sent it.

Coach’s next letter expressed how deeply my photo touched his heart. I created another verse-photo; then another, and eventually we started referring to them as WORDpictures. Other inmates began requesting them. They hung the WORDpictures on the walls of their cells with toothpaste. They sent them to their family and friends, because now they had a gift to give their loved ones. Prior to going to court, one inmate said, “This one went to court with me last time, and it’s going with me again tomorrow,” referring to the Joshua 1:9 WORDpicture I had made: “Be strong and courageous.” The next week we opened a letter and out fell five beautiful toilet paper roses that were made by an inmate. This man created art and beauty from the one thing he had. I designed a WORDpicture from those perfectly sculpted flowers that he made without a hint of tape or glue, added the verse, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” and sent the WORDpicture back. Coach couldn’t even open a letter from us without inmates standing around him asking for WORDpictures as soon as he pulled them from the envelope.

A bigger story was beginning to unfold. The words in Hebrews 13:3 were now jumping off the page at me: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.” Continue? I just started! How had I missed that for all these years? I had never once considered a prisoner as anything more than… a prisoner.

Within the year Jamie, Coach and I began a ministry that we named Bound Together. We had the people in our church each adopt a prisoner and send him a Christmas card and a book. Our initial twenty-six men grew to more than 120 men and women, who now also receive a card on their birthdays and a letter each month. Coach is a vital part of the program.

Over 3,000 WORDpictures are currently behind bars. God escorts them right through prison security, razor wire, and steel and into the hands of these inmates who are hungry for Him. It’s humbling to watch God work through these little photos! Timothy hit it right on the mark when he said, “God’s Word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9). This morning we received two letters from prisoners thanking us for WORDpictures, and one letter asking, “How can I get more?” I sat down, wrote a letter, included a few WORDpictures, and walked it to the mailbox. Friends are beginning to send us stamps to help with the multiple letters we send per week.

Sometimes things come into our lives unexpectedly that change us forever. Prison has changed me. Prison has changed Jamie. It changes all the families that it touches. We are just ordinary people who waste time and give time, who spend time and take time, but never in a million years did we think that anyone we knew would do time.

I am beginning to understand how after spending years in prison, the Biblical character Joseph could say, “God meant it for good.” Coach agrees. His exact words as we finished our recent visit were, “There are more positives to this journey than negatives.”

He said it three times. For my benefit. He’s still coaching.

~Julie Overholser

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