When Crime Hits Home

Just a few weeks ago, Frances Belote, a devout 82-year-old Christian, asked a recently released prisoner a simple question: “Do you know Jesus?”

The ex-prisoner, William Spencer, hesitated before responding, “A long time ago I knew Him, but he’s not there anymore.”

Frances didn’t miss a beat. She said, “If you gave Jesus your heart, He hasn’t gone away. You have.” She placed her hand on Spencer’s shoulder and prayed for him to turn his life around.

Many Prison Fellowship volunteers have similar dialogues with prisoners or those just released from prison. But Frances wasn’t a volunteer, and this wasn’t your typical situation.

You see, Frances and her husband, Bob, had just finished lunch on July 13th when Spencer barged into their Virginia home—minutes from Prison Fellowship’s headquarters—and he was brandishing a gun. Spencer’s journey had begun earlier that day with a botched robbery. Another break-in, another hostage situation, and a stolen jeep later, Spencer had blundered into the Belote’s home.

He forced Frances and Bob into a bathroom, tied them up, and ransacked the house.

Frances, unaware that Spencer could hear her, dialed 911 on her cell phone. But Spencer did hear her, and when he broke down the bathroom door, Frances and Bob thought it was the end.

Meanwhile, Mary Lu Belote, Prison Fellowship’s controller, alerted the staff of PF to pray. Her grandson, 11, usually stays with his great-grandparents, Frances and Bob. By God’s goodness and grace, he wasn’t there that day. As PF staff prayed, God protected Bob and Frances and gave them supernatural peace.

Frances developed a rapport with Spencer. She offered him tea, fixed him cereal, and talked with him. As she did, he calmed down.

By the time hostage negotiators spoke with Spencer on the phone, Frances overheard him say, “This lady is kind of nice. She fed me and prayed for me.”

As Spencer continued to search for a way out, Frances and Bob reasoned with him and convinced him he needed to surrender. function fbs_click() {u=location.href.substring(0,location.href.lastIndexOf(‘/’));t=document.title;window.open(‘http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=’+encodeURIComponent(u)+’&t=’+encodeURIComponent(t),’sharer’,'toolbar=0,status=0,width=626,height=436′);return false;}

That’s when Spencer said, “One of you can go,” and Frances did. An hour later, and almost eight hours since Spencer’s arrival, he emptied his gun and turned himself in. Bob’s final words to him: “Take care of yourself.”

Frances and Bob demonstrated in every way the grace and peace that believers can have when they come face to face with the unthinkable.

But at Prison Fellowship, we yearn for situations like this to never happen. That’s why we’re so focused every day on reaching men and women while they’re in prison with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to help them change from the inside out, before they get out. And it’s why—with 700,000 prisoners returning to our communities every year—we strive to match a returning prisoner with a mentor, a church, and a job.

And as we go about doing what God commanded—visiting those in prison and sharing the good news—it won’t just make a difference in private attitudes, but in public safety. So that the next time someone like Frances and William meet, it can be across the pew instead of across the barrel of a pistol.

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