HOW 05*481 TAUGHT ME THAT THERE IS MINISTRY IN THE MESS

(Post by: Lilly Hobbs)

Today, October 7th, 2021 marks two years since publishing A Thousand Times Over. Two years ago today, I sat in front of my computer completely broken before the Lord, about to write a post that I had no clue would make its rounds through multiple churches in the U.S. and be sent through many other jail pods all across Texas. Our friend, Rocky, was in a Texas jail, we had just gotten back from visiting him, and God had given me the courage to write about our experience.

Now I sit in front of my computer again, broken before the Lord, still wondering what the purpose of this situation truly is. In late August, we received news that Rocky is back in jail.

I am unsure as to why, but I haven’t felt like the Lord wanted me to share this news, and what I have been learning. That is, until today. I haven’t even been able to bring myself to write him a letter yet, because I just don’t know what to say.

Believe me when I say that I’m not mad; that’s not the case at all. I know that sounds crazy, because my flesh tells me that I should be and that it would be way easier to walk away and forget about him, but I just can’t.

Disclaimer: This Jesus thing will really mess you up (in the best way of course).

We went to a conference this past summer that an evangelist named Stephen Manley was doing at his church, and I’ll never forget what he said in one of the evening sessions. He said, “The jail is the last place I would go if I didn’t have to.” I can’t explain how much God has used that statement to work on my heart, especially in this season.

I can personally testify that when God gives you someone to pour into and a place to do so, don’t be surprised if it’s the last person you thought of and the only place that’s on your list of places to never go.

For me, that was a Mexican dude from Texas now known as 05*481 (inmate number), and jail. But, you see, 05*481 has taught me that in the middle of a huge messy situation, ministry can still happen and that we cannot give up on people. The problem is that we aren’t willing to get our hands dirty and stay to support people when it gets tough.

There is ministry in the mess, and it’s time for the American Church to realize that “perfect” isn’t working anymore. Our “perfect” buildings, our “perfect” pastors, our “perfect” worship services, they aren’t working anymore.

Here’s the thing… The world wants to convince us that people like Rocky are just numbers such as 05*481 and that they are not worth our time to speak life and truth into because they are too messed up. I mean, they’ll just go back to their old ways, right? The American Church has bought and sold this lie, and I’m convinced that most have no idea that they have.

I included James 1:2-4 in A Thousand Times Over which says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” What a powerful verse!

God warns us that we will indeed face trials, and He also expects us to be in unity with one another. What a relief! God tells us that the trials and testing of our faith produces steadfastness within us. Why are we so afraid to be real and live life together?

I’ll be honest, Rocky chose, for about a year, to try to live life alone and without us because he knew we would tell him that he needed to get right with Jesus in order to fix his deal. That was really hard after helping him start afresh in January of 2020. However, when Rocky called my dad for the first time again a couple weeks ago from jail, do you know what he said? He said, “I need you.”

The 05*481’s of the world need us, y’all, and whether we want to recognize it or not, we need them too. God often uses them to show us what it genuinely means to never give up and for there to be ministry in the mess.

I’d rather sit with him in a jail cell, scared as I was, a thousand times over again than in church with someone who professes to have it all together but really isn’t living for Jesus. Let alone, think that they should actually go try to reach the lost and hurting outside the church walls. I experienced Jesus in that little concrete visiting booth two years ago more than I think I ever have in a nice, beautiful, clean, church building.

Without our 05*481, I wouldn’t know the value of not giving up. Who is your Rocky?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  (Galatians 6:9)

SO WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE?

= Are you tired of trying to keep everything “perfect”?

= Have you ever been surprised by who Jesus gives you to pour into?

= What are you going to do differently?

THE POWER OF PREVAILING PATERNAL PRAYER

(Guest Post by: Gerald Steele)

Yesterday my Uncle Frank was laid to rest. He was my mother’s youngest brother and he lived to be 99 years old. He was a retired pastor who lived not only a long, but a very productive life. As I reflect on Uncle Frank’s life, I think of the words of Psalm 92:14, “They will still bear fruit in old age, they shall stay fresh and green…”

Uncle Frank was a hero and mentor to me. He was a World War II veteran who was an Army medic in the historic Battle of the Bulge. He was a very gifted and successful pastor. However, Uncle Frank excelled in prayer. His day typically began at 4:30 a.m. He would pray in a disciplined way for a myriad of requests that included family, missionaries, and the lost.

He confessed to me, just several years ago, that sometimes he would awaken at 2:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep so he would get up and start his prayer journey for the day. His entire bedroom wall was plastered with photos, missionary prayer cards, and written requests. Uncle Frank did not hastily offer “a word of prayer.” He was old school, and he knew the reality of a “sweet hour(s) of prayer.” Like the great Apostle Paul, he knew the agony and reality of suffering “labor pains” (see Galatians 4:19) on behalf of those who were not in right alignment with God.

He was an intercessor.

Fortunately, our family was the object of Uncle Frank’s prayers. He had our missionary prayer card on his wall as a reminder. When my Aunt Betty, Uncle Frank’s wife, died in 2012, he told me he just wanted to get to heaven as quickly as he could. I told him that I was not going to allow that to happen because I depended on his prayers. He enjoyed a quick little chuckle, and he knew that the Father still had work on this earth for him to do.

His prayer ministry continued on for nearly another decade. Through the years, Uncle Frank partnered with Miriam and me in praying for the conversion of our son Joel. When Miriam (my wife) and I went to Brazil as missionaries, we had two small girls. Prior to embarking on our missionary journey, we had discussed the idea of adopting a baby boy. So, after six months of language school, the Lord opened up an opportunity to adopt our Joel David. He was only eight days old when he came to us. A few days later, at our annual missionary conference in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil we dedicated him to the Lord and his service. Joel’s boyhood and early years could be described as normal. He was an obedient and compliant child.

Joel was eleven years old when we returned to the States. During his middle school years, we began to notice some behavioral changes. However, we were not overly alarmed. But following his high school years there were some significant changes, and none were for the better. This even included some gang activity in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

By then, Miriam and I were living and working in Portugal as missionaries. Finally, when Joel was nineteen, he had an altercation with a fellow gang member and was severely beaten up. This too, was an answer to prayer. Not long after this experience he got a job and established some new friendships. But Joel still had other issues to be dealt with.

He had multiple live-in girlfriends. He fathered a child with a young lady who was not even a girlfriend, but rather just a sex partner for a few nights. Finally, in his thirties he moved into a long term, live-in relationship with a young lady. They lived together for fourteen years. Life seemed to be treating him, and her, well. However, after fourteen years the relationship ended rather abruptly. Joel was devastated. He began to experience depression and anxiety. This culminated in a phone call to me around 10:00 p.m. on a cold January night two and a half years ago. 

Miriam and I had driven up to Fort Wayne from Florida for my cousin’s funeral. In the phone conversation that I had with him that night, I sensed that he was in crisis mode, so I got up from bed and put on my clothes and drove through the freshly fallen snow to his place. He talked that night. He talked like he had never talked before. He expressed his fear and anxiety. He told me about a friend that he had reconnected with in recent weeks who had been texting Bible verses to him.  He wanted me to hear some of those verses, that basically dealt with the issues of sin and salvation. Actually, this friend was a man who was nearly 80 years old by the name of Pete. My response was, “Son, Pete is an answer to my prayers.” He responded, “I know that’s true dad.”

At that juncture, I asked Joel if he wanted me to pray for him and he indicated that yes, he did. I went over to couch and put my hand on his shoulder and began to pray. The tears were beginning to stream down my son’s face as I prayed. When I finished, I said, “Son, it’s your turn to pray.” He said, “Dad, I don’t know how.” I asked him, “Do you want me to coach you?” He said, “Yes.” At that point in time, I basically helped him pray a prayer of repentance.  And repent he did! He put his face down on the coffee table in front of him and sobbed, totally broken. After it was over, I returned to my daughter’s home where Miriam and I were staying. I told Miriam that it was one of the most “ugly/beautiful” experiences of my life. Ugly, because tears and snot were dripping everywhere. Beautiful, because I watched a gorgeous butterfly emerge from a cocoon, a life redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

A week ago, Miriam and I had lunch with Joel and his new girlfriend. Before we ate, I called Joel’s new girlfriend by name and told her that we had a practice in our home of saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the food before we ate our meal. She said, “I know, because Joel prays with me all the time.” Wow! What an affirmation! Joel continues to climb. Recently he’s landed a real good job with Pepsi Cola. I have had the joy of discipling him from a distance. We text each other almost daily.

The moral of this story, in the words of Jesus is, “Pray and never give up.” We need praying fathers like never before. Uncle Frank, who had to prevail in prayer for some of his children, taught me this lesson.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! If you by chance have children who are not following Jesus, make prayer for them a priority.              

SO WHAT IS YOUR RESPONSE?

= What valuable lesson has your father/man in your life taught you?

= Have you experienced the power of prayer in your own life?

= What are you going to do differently?