Do you even take ex-felons?”
I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and the question came from a teenage girl on a chair in front of me. She was just a kid. Still had a baby-face and a childish look about her. Her voice seemed halting. Almost scared of the answer I’d give her.
It was one of my first experiences with Youthful Offenders and juveniles behind bars and they had been so open and trusting of us. We talked around the world about the Bible, Christian living, redemption and grace. They were endeared to our hearts at the end of those four days.
Somehow, they seemed like frightened little children…asking for acceptance and guidance and purpose. They wanted something different. They wanted something real. The Jesus they were encountering was different than they originally thought. It seemed to surprise them. Almost as much as this gal’s question surprised me.
Maybe they thought Jesus wanted cute, put-together girls with pat-answers and perfect stories. Maybe they thought their wounds would scare Him away.
It had been my privilege to sit with these precious girls and open the Word with them. To dispel the myths of Christianity one and a time. To present the real TRUTH and healing their hearts longed for. For once in prison, it felt like we were all in my living room, curled up talking about life like I do with the teenagers who visit me at home.
But their hunger was different. It was more intense. More palpable.
After a few days of “getting into their world” I sat with this 17-year-old who had a prison sentence hanging over her head and listened to her story. She had plans when she got out…plans that she hoped could involve traveling with me and presenting truth across the United States. I smiled at her zeal.
Then I saw a cloud come across her face. She looked deep into my eyes and asked in a timid voice… “But, do you even take ex-felons?”
The question made me choke up inside. She didn’t know. She couldn’t believe that she would be worthy of someone else’s trust or could minister to others with a checkered past.
I looked at her square in the face and smiled. Before I could answer, her friend sitting next to her nudged her. “You don’t know? Of course she takes ex-felons! Why do you think she does this?!”
The gal asking me looked back at me with a curious gaze. “Yes, I take ex-felons. In my line of work, being a felon doesn’t discredit you, it qualifies you.” She smiled with a new-found freedom. “Tell you what, keep in touch and when you get out, we will talk.”
“But friend, you need to know…the most important thing is that JESUS takes ex-felons. He died to make your past just a stepping stone…not a label that you have to wear for eternity. He loves ex-felons.”
She walked away with a pep in her step.
I wanted to say more. I wanted to hug her firm and cup her scared, little face in my hands and assure her that her story was redeemable. I wanted to tell her she was beautiful. To hold her by the shoulders and look square in her eyes and say, “Yes, Jesus takes ex-felons.”
At what point did we start making people believe that their past was unworthy of love or their stories unredeemable? Everywhere I look in Scripture, I see broken lives that Jesus chose ON PURPOSE for His glory. In fact, He rarely picked the virtuous for His plans. More often than not, He went to the slums and picked the most unlikely candidate to fulfill His purposes.
Maybe we should start believing that Jesus takes the messed up and gives them 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th chances. We should start living like we are Jesus to a broken world, looking for a redo on their bad choices.
Jesus takes ex-felons, y’all. We should too.