Although Zach attended many different churches growing up, he never considered himself a believer.
Having experienced abuse as a child, Zach said that he “couldn’t reconcile what [he] had experienced with what [he] heard about God as a child in church.” He wrote, “My pain drove me to seek relief in many unhealthy ways, and my desire for revenge against the individual who abused me led me to do things I deeply regret. It took me reaching the point where I felt I had nothing to live for in order for me to turn to God.”
When he was twenty-three, Zach tried to end his life by driving his truck off the highway. Sitting on the side of the road, he felt God speak to him. “He told me to stop hurting myself with the things I was doing,” Zach said. “He told me that He had sent His Son to heal me and for me to come to Him to be made whole.”
A few months later, after purchasing a Bible and starting to read it, he began looking for a church home. On the first Sunday, he found friends to go to a local church with him. Feeling ignored by the congregation, they decided to attend a different church the following week.
The next Sunday morning, his friends bailed on him at the last minute. Running late for the service he had planned on attending, Zach decided to go to a church closer to home, which he had passed by many times. He arrived just as the service was about to begin and was greeted at the door by a church member.
Unlike his experience at the first church, Zach felt immediately welcomed. “Others took the time to introduce themselves and showed interest in me before and after the service,” he said. “They invited me back the following week, and I knew I’d found my spiritual family home.”
After a few months of attending the church, he professed his faith and was baptized.
“Unfortunately, the consequences of my past sins and criminal behaviors caught up to me. I was sentenced to a term of ninety-seven months in federal prison,” Zach told us. “Thankfully, my church’s love and support for me never wavered. During my time in prison, I’ve heard countless stories of people who were turned away by their church upon their conviction. This makes me especially grateful to my church family for exhibiting the love which Christ commanded we have for one another.”
Knowing that he needed Christian community and encouragement during his incarceration, Zach filled out an enrollment form for Crossroads not long after he began serving his sentence.
“Since I cannot currently study with my home church, these lessons help me to stay in the Word and better understand the Word. I can see how much I’ve grown spiritually, and I look forward to opportunities to help others understand the Bible through our small Bible study group here,” he said. “Due to COVID, we’ve also been forced to create our own church services, and I’ve been blessed to work with the other believers and to deliver messages from time to time.”
Zach is grateful for the way Crossroads encourages his spiritual growth. “I really look forward to learning even more in these studies,” he said. “I rejoice in being made to better serve my role in God’s Kingdom.”
Many people struggle with the same things Zach did—reconciling life experiences with God’s character and finding a receptive church home. As you ponder Zach’s story, we ask you to consider how you are creating welcoming spaces in your faith community—spaces like Zach’s second church—that demonstrate love and care over judgment. How can you make your spaces safe environments for people on the margins of society who need community?
Crossroads seeks to bridge this gap by empowering churches to show the love of Christ to men and women in prison so that they, like Zach, can discover their roles in God’s Kingdom. If you’d like to join us in bringing hope and encouragement to those behind bars, consider signing up to be a mentor or donating to Crossroads.