Student shares how God has redeemed his life behind bars
Every week, we receive fragments of our students’ stories within their questionnaires, lessons, and letters. When something they write touches our hearts, we occasionally reach out and ask them to share more of their story. Recently, Daniel H. responded by sharing this letter with us. We hope his story encourages you as it did us.
Here is Daniel’s story in his own words:
Thank you for reaching out to me with your letter. And thank you for your work. Crossroads has a very important and impactful ministry, and I want to thank you for your role and [for] allowing God to use your gifts in mighty ways. . . .
I was born and raised in the Church. Not only was I there every time the doors were opened, but by the age of twelve, I had my own set of keys and often was the one unlocking and locking those doors. My parents were nurturing and loving, and my church was dedicated to teaching and preaching and living out the Gospel.
At a young age, that church called out gifts in me and let me use them to serve. They saw a call on my life I did not realize until much later.
Around age ten, I realized my need for a Savior and accepted Jesus as my Lord. From that point on, I continued to grow in faith and stature and service.
My call to ministry emerged with time. By college, I founded and led campus ministry groups. Summers were spent serving at youth camps. The local church hired me as an intern.
Pretty soon after college, others helped me fully see my calling to vocational ministry. I accepted a call to serve the church where I interned during college. I served there [for] ten years.
During those ten years, I grew in many ways. I served on a wonderful staff, got engaged and married, went to graduate school and earned my master of divinity, and had three children. I served in a very fruitful and fulfilling ministry.
However, in my last two years, my mom died, my wife struggled with postpartum emotional issues, and three of our five pastoral staff retired, quit, or were fired. Pretty soon, I quietly carried grief, sorrow, and pain, which morphed into resentment, anger, burnout, and isolation.
I felt no safe place available to process and unload these burdens. Instead, I felt everyone needing me to help with their own heavy yokes.
So, I quietly fell into temptation and sin. I found momentary happiness that led to deeper shame and despair.
Well, that all ended with my arrest by the FBI in the church parking lot. The “picture-perfect” life fell apart for all to see on the evening news and newspaper front page. In one flash, I lost all freedom, career, house, truck, and presence with my family and friends. Eventually, my wife divorced me.
I hit rock bottom in a solitary cell in central VA. I had shed all the tears in my body, felt like a total failure, and felt abandoned by most of the Church. At that moment, I felt the weight of all I had lost. Then I sat on my bunk and saw the next Scripture I had been reading—a psalm. I do not remember which one, but I do remember the way He spoke to me. He told me, “I love you. You fell, but you are not a failure. I’ve got you.”
That moment—two months into my incarceration—started the rebuilding process in me.
I came to grips with a lot of the pride, self-reliance, and stubbornness that led me down my sinful path. I watched God rebuild me piece by piece—reusing the good pieces and throwing out the junk.
Still, I felt sure God could never use me in ministry again. I was sure that opportunity was squandered. But God’s Spirit spoke to me on that, too, once again revealing my vicious pride. He said, “If you really think your sin is bigger and stronger than My call, you better check My resume again.” All of a sudden, Scripture became a sixty-six-book testimony of comebacks and second chances to me.
Jonah 3:1 wrecked me beautifully one day. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” What?!
On this journey through my season of incarceration, I have learned much about patience, receiving and giving grace, trust, faith, and the beauty of the real Church.
God completely answered [my] prayer by sending me to a prison FAR from home but right where I can serve Him. In a snippet from what could be another whole story, on my first night in the dorm where I live, the dorm church leader said, “We have been praying for YOU, and now you’re here!” He was leaving within a few weeks, and the church had been actively praying for a leader, and the Spirit immediately told them it was me.
I am so blessed to serve the body of Christ here—teaching, preaching, praying, counseling, and leading music. It is the most fruitful season of ministry yet. People from across the compound try to get in our dorm for the church here. People from other prisons have heard about us before they arrive. God is doing beautiful things with a bunch of broken federal felons here.
Correspondence studies have played a large part in my spiritual journey. In county jail, I came across resource lists with studies, including Crossroads. At one time, I did twelve-plus studies from different ministries. They helped me pass time and stay in Scripture. When I got to prison, I whittled down to the three I found most meaningful. These three did more than pass time; [they] aided my reflection and growth.
Out of the three, Crossroads stands out as my favorite. The two things that stand out are the reflective questions and personal letters. With my background, I can do most of the fill-in-the-blanks and true/false without cracking the Bible. But I get fed from some of the further reflection. And after feeling quite used and abused by the Church, the notes—though anonymous and sometimes copy/paste—renew my hope in the Body.
God is doing a wonderful and marvelous work in me. He is renewing my mind and spirit, refreshing His call on my life to ministry, and restoring broken places and relationships. I trust that He will see me through to completion in the Spirit.
The devil, the prowling lion, found a hole in my fence and caused a lot of devastation in and around me. However, though he won that small battle, the war will not go in his favor. “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light” (Micah 7:8).
Thank you for allowing me to share.
If you would like to join us in offering encouragement and hope to people like Daniel, consider becoming a Crossroads mentor or making a donation to help more students experience the redeeming love of Christ.
Sign up for updates!
Get news and stories from Crossroads Prison Ministries delivered straight to your inbox.