Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
Two weeks ago on “BreakPoint,” I shared with you the crisis facing this nation’s criminal justice system. With half-a-million prisoners being released each year—two-thirds of them re-offending, 50 percent of them being re-incarcerated—we are discovering that we simply must be changing the hearts of criminals.
Thankfully, Christian volunteers are stepping up to the task of mentoring inmates. And faith-based programs, such as Prison Fellowship, are discovering innovative ways to bring Jesus into the prisons. But there is still a question, and it is one that may—unfortunately—hit you where you live. What do you do when crime meets you?
I came across an amazing story the other day that reminded me just how much being a follower of Jesus can shape the way you face what you hope you never have to face: a thief at gunpoint. Maybe you saw the story, too.
Ninety-two-year-old Pauline Jacobi had just finished loading her groceries into her car at a local Wal-Mart in Dyer County, Tennessee. She got in her car, and a moment later, a man climbed into the passenger side. He said he had a gun and that he would shoot her if she did not hand over her money. What she did next did not involve pepper-spray or martial arts, but it did save her life and may have saved his.
Pauline calmly refused her would-be robber three times. Then she said, “You know, as quick as you kill me, I’ll go to heaven and you’ll go to hell.” Then she told him that he needed to ask God for forgiveness. “Jesus is in this car,” she said, “and He goes with me everywhere I go.” Jacobi said that the man looked around, and then tears began to come to his eyes.
For 10 more minutes, Jacobi shared with the man. Finally, he said, “I think I will go home tonight and pray.” But Jacobi told him that he did not need to wait to pray; he could pray now.
Then Jacobi, voluntarily, offered the man all the money she had on her, 10 bucks, on one condition—that he not spend the money on whiskey. After that, the man kissed her on the cheek, got out of the car, and walked away.
You know what really impresses me about this story is how this woman’s faith informed her in this moment of crisis. She was not using her faith to save her skin. It was simply a faith that was so close to the surface, she could not help but respond from it. Her audacity could have very well led to her death. But the beauty of it was that even if it had, she knew her Maker and had a secure future hope.
Is your faith so close to you that in the time of ultimate testing, it rises to the surface that quick? Or if you have been the victim of crime, is your faith informing how you process that experience, how you think about forgiveness, how you think about justice, and how you hope for restoration?
We live in a fallen world, a world in which crime is a tragic reality. We cannot control always when or how it may visit us, but we can be ready with a faith fit for any trial — including that one.