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To the Church Outside

By Bill Mothershed, A Brother in Christ at California State Prison-Solano


I have been sitting here in my cell for the past hour, moved in the Spirit to write to you, and resisting that call, questioning whether it is of God or my own ego. Who am I to write to you? I could tell you true stories of angels and demons behind bars, of heroes of the faith that you will never know, and you might be entertained for a moment, but that would just be my own ego speaking.

What is on my heart today is to presume to speak to you about your own children, because it breaks my heart to see how many of them end up in prison.

My father was a hateful, paranoid schizophrenic, an alcoholic with Vietnam issues. My mother was a rebellious sixteen year-old, who left home and allowed herself to be seduced by that man. Their idea of spirituality was to delve into the occult. It would have been a miracle if I had NOT ended up in prison.

What brings me to tears and confounds my mind is how many young men and women end up behind bars, who came from sane parents that took them to church, sent them to Bible Camp, and gave them a good home. I have spent a great deal of time talking to these young men, and there are some obvious scapegoats. Some fell into drug use, others into gangs; some were lured aside by “bad company”, and some into radical philosophies or religions.

But these were all secondary effects. The common root behind these outgrowths of evil was that these young men had somehow managed to be raised in the church without ever developing a real relationship with God. They were simply going through the motions.

True relationship with God through Jesus Christ was replaced with ritual. And this applies across the spectrum of Christendom. They learned the church, acted like everyone around them, but the God of Heaven and His Beloved Son had no real place in their lives or hearts. I am tempted to wonder whether they were merely reflecting the depth of their parents’ relationship with God.

You can take a child to church, but if he is not learning about God by watching God work in his parent’s lives, then he is merely learning empty doctrine that will never touch his heart.

What is truly heartbreaking though is the number of these young men who freely admit that their parent’s faith was real and obvious, but they simply never embraced their parent’s faith, never took it seriously. It’s not necessarily that they did not really become Christians, they just didn’t care. They did what was required of them, and then got back to what was more important to them.

The enemy used that spiritual void. He lured them, small bit by small bit, from indifference to mockery to disobedience to genuine evil. Paying no heed to the Spirit of God, not knowing or wanting to know His voice, they allowed themselves to be lured from the path of righteousness and into destruction.

They weren’t necessarily “bad kids”, and they did not always even want the evil they embraced. They were just lost and empty, never having taken their true faith seriously. But God does not abandon His wayward children. Eventually, He brings many of them to us, chastened, distraught, and suddenly forced to take their relationship with God seriously.

It is our privilege to help build them up, to nurture the faith that’s been lying dormant all of their lives. But it is so sad to see them come to this state, knowing from where they have fallen, knowing the unappreciated potential they cast aside.

I don’t know how to end this letter, having declared and mourned the problem. I don’t pretend to have a solution that is not obvious. You don’t need me to tell you how to parent the children that you love more than I do.

If your own faith is genuine, you don’t need me to tell you how vital it is to instill that same genuine faith in the hearts of your own children. Having been teenagers yourselves, you don’t need me to tell you that the true heart of a teenager is often, if not always, hidden from his or her parents.

All I know is that your children are on my heart today, the ones who are here with me now, and especially the ones who still have an opportunity to come back to a genuine relationship with God and hopefully will never meet me.

I just want to encourage you to make certain that your children’s relationship with God is true and deep and sure. I don’t want to meet them, but I’ll pray for them today

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