Today’s DS Castings guest blog was written and shared by Jeff Bowman, pastor at Muskegon Heights Temple UMC
Today I was saddened by the news that my friend Jerome is scheduled for departure two days earlier than expected. I along with some others at Temple were planning this awesome goodbye surprise and now we won’t get that chance. Instead we talked and shared memories, exchanged contact information, embraced and prayed together…. vowing to see each other again, real soon!
I wish I could tell you a lot about my friend. I wish I could tell you that our histories go way back and that we share years of lasting memories, but the truth of the matter is I have only known my friend for a few months…sixty-five days to be precise…but who’s counting? My friend is counting! You see my friend was sentenced to sixty-five days at the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program (KPEP) Muskegon facility. KPEP offers residential and non-residential programs for adult offenders who need more structure than regular probation provides but where extended jail time is not judged necessary. KPEP is a program that helps transition offenders back into society…It’s an opportunity for a second chance.
I’m certain you have heard the acronym thrown around at Temple. The staff at Temple and MAP are notorious for referencing these crucial helping hands as the “KPEP guys. It seems only fitting that a place such as Temple would become a refuge for those seeking a second chance. It is not unusual that on any given day you may find 3-4 KPEP guys busily working at Temple, MAP and Supper House. I am so proud to be the pastor of a church that demonstrates deep grace and who understands the essential human need for love and compassion that makes second chances at life a possibility again. In the language of the Church we call this Resurrection.
Despite what you might have heard or have been taught regarding Resurrection…it ain’t pretty! Think about it for a moment? Last week I discovered an old flip-flop down by the stream at the parsonage. It was buried in the dirt and I had to work to free it from its grave. Finally, up from the grave the flip-flop arose…but it was covered in dirt…hardly admirable. Temple people aren’t afraid of a little dirt. The silt and dirt are representative of the hardships and struggles of life. The tears of injustice comingle with the grime of survival on the streets. Everybody has a story to tell…a history that cannot be lost or forgotten. Here at Temple, resurrection often comes with dirt on its face! Salvation is not sanitary…it claims sinners often at the outcry of the so called saints.
My friend Jerome arrived at Temple with lots of dirt on him. He shared with me that he has a rap sheet that begins at the age of nine. He has been in and out of correction facilities since he was a child. He has committed crimes of violence, dealt drugs, and stolen to survive. He admits that he was not a good person and that he rightly deserved the punishment he received. Sixty-five days ago Jerome with all that dirt on him was assigned to do community service work at Temple. Ms. Brenda quickly took him in under her wing not her famous chicken wings…of course those too. She affirmed his gifts and talents as well as his commitment to work hard. It wasn’t long before he had gained the respect and trustworthiness of the entire building staff. He was being requested and entrusted with responsibilities that made him feel human and whole again. He was becoming a respected role model that the other KPEP guys looked up to. Jerome was emerging from a dark and deep past, he was being transformed by a power and force that he could only identify as “this place.”
Jerome, although a captive of the system himself, was set free at Temple. In his own words he describes how serving nightly at Supper House, he realized that the LORD was real and present in people. Until now he had always believed in the LORD…but now he knows the LORD is real. Jerome connected and bonded with the folks at Supper House because many of them share the same dirt. Suddenly he was feeling compassion and love for total strangers who were mysteriously becoming relational friends. These spiritual things puzzled him and he would often bop into my office to share his take on things and enlist my thoughts and prayers for him.
A week before his release date and his return to Grand Rapids, Jerome came to my office and shared ─ for the better part of an hour ─ his story on how Temple changed his life. He wanted to share his story and tell you (the Temple congregation) in person on Sunday morning what a blessing Temple is to the people of this community. He wanted to tell you how much it means to the people that you don’t let them down…that you are always here for them and care for their needs and well-being.
Jerome was filled with excitement and joy when I suggested that I would contact KPEP and arrange for him to share his story with you on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the system has rules that prevented the authorization of such a grace filled moment. Jerome was disappointed by the denied request and couldn’t understand the restraints of something so positive. In his words, “I have a story to tell and maybe my story can help someone else.”
Today we all said our goodbyes and shared our remorse for a departing friend. Jerome will be missed but we will continue to tell our stories of how God worked through him and changed us. We are thankful for our time together at this place called Temple and always humbly grateful for God’s gentle reminder that resurrection comes with dirt on its face.
Jerome promised to keep in contact and pledged that he will one day return to tell his story. You know how that goes? Keep in mind that spiritual transformation is a lifelong journey with many twist and turns, bumps and bruises. John Wesley reminds us that we are a work in progress. We are going on to perfection. All we can hope is that our friend never forgets his story and graciously shares it wherever he goes.
How has Temple transformed your life?
How have you encountered God at Temple?
In what mysterious ways has God been working in your life?
What’s your story and who needs to hear it?
Our story IS God’s story!
~ Jeff Bowman