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Small Beginnings Inside Prison

We all have to begin somewhere.


We had just wrapped our Returning Hearts Celebration at Burruss Correctional Training Center. The day was more perfect than we could ever hope for or imagine.


I didn’t sleep well the next two days; I wasn’t quite sure why. My body and mind were exhausted, but I couldn’t seem to find rest. I wanted to cancel my horticulture class the following Tuesday at Burruss, but God kept telling me, “Show up. I’ll do the rest.”


I made the drive down. One of our horticulture students, Torrence, had participated in our Returning Hearts Celebration three days prior.


If there’s one thing you should know about Torrence, it’s that he’s brilliant. For one of our weekly book reports, he read “Nostromo” by Joseph Conrad. He has multiple master’s degrees and I’ll be quite frank – it’s really intimidating to have him in the classroom because he can fact check me in about 0.01 seconds and call me out if I’m wrong.


As he entered the classroom, he paused and extended his hand. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you for what you all did for us Saturday. My daughter told me ‘It was the best day ever.’”


I thanked him and told him, “Torrence, it was so cool to see you be a dad.”


He replied, “Yeah, well, it’s what I’m best at.”


We don’t know what sort of ramifications Returning Hearts will have for the 22 children who attended. We don’t know how many relationships will be repaired, how many kids will go on to be doctors, or lawyers, or preachers, or how many hearts will come to Christ. We can’t quantify how the dads, or guards, were positively changed that day.


What we do know for certain, however, is that it was a small beginning.


And the Lord loves small beginnings.


“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” - Zechariah 4:10


As we walked out of Burruss that Tuesday, my mind and body felt exhausted, but my soul felt renewed. Less than 24 hours later, we were at the Atlanta Transitional Center, helping to host a program called Money Talks with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. Twenty-eight men sat in front of us; 28 men who were there to learn about credit and investing and saving. They were there to learn how to get their financial lives back on track. They wanted to break generational cycles of poverty. Forty percent of children with an incarcerated parent live in poverty; no parent wants their child to grow up poor. Panelist after panelist shared personal stories of failures, of successes, of financial security and stability. For an hour and a half, the entire room was captivated, diligently taking notes and nodding along.


Later that evening, a student at Emory was at the Center to lead a workshop on value-based investing. The next day, I was at Metro Regional Youth Detention Center teaching guitar to incarcerated young men. Grace was burning Little Readers DVDs, Chaplain John was driving all over the state ministering to the fenced-in flock, Fred Eason was leading art classes, Lucy Fugate, Patti, Laura, Elizabeth, and Fondi were teaching quilting, Yancey, Sandra, Kay, Rachel and Jeanne were leading Bible studies and art lessons, Chaplain Omar was meeting with a young man who was about to begin a two-year prison sentence, Andrea was at a residential substance abuse facility in Nashville filming women for Little Readers, Matt and Adrienne were providing free trauma-counseling, and Sarah and Immanuel Anglican Church were painting and praising the Lord inside the razor wire. I’m not even going to try and recount the many inmate-led programs going on at the same time.


Small beginnings. Big impact. Thanks for making it possible.




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