I have had many experiences in my life. Some good bad, some not. I have met people who have effected me in many ways. What happened last Thursday was unique. Unprecedented. In over thirty-five years of ministry, I have had the opportunity to sit with many saints as they took their last breath on earth. While it is not something that I look forward to, it nevertheless is something that many folks have experienced in their life time. I have even tried to answer the questions that naturally come when one is knowingly entering their last phase of this journey. I have seen crises of faith, examples of hope, and even heard decrees of defiance.
What I have not seen, at least until last Thursday was a singularly amazing picture of submission in the face of apparent demise. Let me tell you the whole story.
As many of you are aware, several missionaries go to the local holding jail just outside of Granada. Think of it like a county jail. The place where those who have had a momentary lapse of judgement and those who are hardened criminals intersect. Some have just completed their initial processing and are awaiting their trial. Others have been convicted, sentenced, and held until moving into the prison system in Masaya. While still others might be serving out their less extensive time there at the jail. There are several different areas in the jail and we (all the missionaries and local church folk who come with us) all split up into those sections for ministry.
Typically, we sing a few songs, have a bible study, and distribute some food and coffee. Thursday was no different. Jesse, three short term missionaries, a local pastor, and my self went into one of the cell areas. Think of a concrete room about the size of a U.S. two car garage with anywhere from 25-40 men crammed into that small space. Cardboard boxes flattened on the ground substituting as beds and five gallon paint buckets in the corner as toilets.
For some reason, we didn’t do much of a verse by verse bible study, as we usually do. But all of us shared from our own experiences about our love for Jesus and how amazing it was that He loved us back and in spite of our mistakes, He longed for a relationship with us. Then of course, we told them how he longed for a relationship with them as well. While we always give an opportunity for the men to accept Christ’s offer of salvation and lordship, we often bring it as the last item after the study. Not in anyway an afterthought, but not always the thrust of the entire visit. Jesse was the last to speak. I could hear that he was winding up his remarks when I spied out of the corner of my eye someone who was intently looking at Jesse. I did not recognize this guy, so he must have been new. Then the question was asked…. “does anyone want to give their heart to Jesus today?” This guy’s hand shot straight up. Immediately. Determinedly.
Then something happened. The moment he was recognized and we said, “let’s pray together”, he clutched his chest. Believe me when I say, I have seen that look. I have even felt that pain. We all knew immediately what was happening. This inmate was having a heart attack. We asked for him to lay down and we summoned the guards. His cell mates were frantic. Yelling, screaming, even cursing at the guards to come to this poor fellow’s aid. The young man was on his knees, grabbing at his chest and telling us over and over and over again two things. “I am going to die.” And, “I don’t want to die without Jesus.” The guards were at the door by this time. Obviously worried. Whether it was genuine concern or the fact they didn’t want to lose a charge of theirs. I believe most of them were concerned. But this man kept repeating, “not before we pray”. Of course we prayed with him. He asked for Jesus to be lord of his life. He briefly smiled and then winced in agony once more.
The guards took him outside. He began to convulse. Scott, one of the other missionaries who happens to have a truck took our new brother to the hospital along with one of the guards. The last word we got was that he made it. Don’t know anything more. Will let you when I get more information.
But it got me thinking. I am just like that inmate. While I hope it is 25-30 years from now, there is one thing that is certain. I am going to die. If Christ tarries, there is no other way out of this planet. I don’t like talking about it. I don’t want it to be soon. But the reality is that we all will cross that doorstep to eternity. The good news is that just like my friend in the hospital, I am not going without Jesus. He understood it. He got it. He knew he couldn’t live or die without a relationship with God through His son, Jesus.
I hope you know that too.
Dios los bendiga