Offenders can change

Tired of crime

People have had enough of crime. Enormous amounts of money are spent on protecting homes, cars and other possessions against criminals. We are all trying to suppress the fear that crime is creating. We complain that criminals get away with it too easily. We complain about our police force and the courts. We complain about what is happening in our prisons. Our perception is that criminals are having a great time in prison while we, the victims of crime, come off second best.

Why do people commit crimes and make life so hard for us?

The answer to this question is not so simple. It is easy for us to say that people are lazy, dishonest, do not want to work, etc. Is this really true?
The experts like criminologists, psychologists and social workers tell us that there are many reasons why people commit crimes. Crime is a complex phenomenon. Every criminal can tell his or her own life story.

Experience has shown that many criminals come from dysfunctional families. They come from our communities. Many of them are people who have been hurt somewhere along the way, and have ended up on a road of self destruction because of circumstances and wrong friends. When we add the fact that there is a direct connection between the use of alcohol and drugs and crime, we will understand that it is not so easy to explain why people commit crimes. Criminals are people, people with families and friends from our communities.

According to the Bible we are all sinners by nature. If it is not for the grace of God, we might also have ended up being a criminal. Understanding this is helping us to look at criminals with a different eye.
It is only when you sit down and talk to a criminal that you come to understand that the person sitting before you is a human being. Someone with his or her own story. Someone who could easily have been your child, husband, wife, brother, uncle, aunt, father or mother. In our prisons there are old people and young people, poor and rich, educated and illiterate, white, brown and black.

Should we judge them?

There is no way to justify crime, but to reject the criminal is quite another matter. In spite of all our understanding of criminals, we may never defend what they have done. The damage that crime does to others is too major for that. The economic loss, the loss of lives and the emotional trauma that crime causes are reason enough to condemn it.

What can we do?

What does the Bible say?

There is plenty we can do for those who make themselves guilty of crime. When we read the Gospels, we will realise that Jesus reminds us that He considers involvement with people in prison as part of his followers’ compassion (Matthew 25). When Christ dies on the cross, it is one of the criminals who receives the first pardon. We can continue and remind you how Moses, who had murdered an Egyptian, could still stand in God’s service. Paul, who had been an accomplice of Stephan’s death, became an apostle. The Book Philemon tells us about Onesimus who became a Christian in jail and was returned to society and to the other Christians. The answer to the question, What can we do? is: Be a Christian and react as Christ expects you to.

Become involved in a meaningful way!

The fact that we as Christians have a responsibility towards criminals is true, but how to become involved meaningfully is another matter. I would like to make a few suggestions:

Be an informed Christian who does not join in the complaints about crime. Make a meaningful contribution in discussions with friends and in church. Christians seek the truth and do not spread half-truths or untruths about crime and criminals.

Pray for the people who are in prison. The walls of the prison cannot keep God’s love out. In fact, God wants to change people’s lives.

Visit the members in your community, your family and friends who are in prison. Show them that you still care.

If you cannot visit someone, write to him or her. When you are in prison, you depend on visits and letters for contact with the outside world. A letter is a sign of hope, a sign that somebody is remembering you.

Pray for the ministers and church members who are involved in ministry to prisoners. It is not an easy ministry. Prisoners can be very manipulative. They can be hard. They don’t trust the church. We are looking for people who, with a heart full of love and lots of patience, will be able to walk the road with a prisoner. Pray for them that they will be able to make full use of the opportunities there are of ministering to prisoners.

Pray for the staff who works with the prisoners. A prison is a hard place and it affects the people who work there. It is easy to become just as hard as your environment. Let us pray that the Lord will equip every staff member for their task, and also use them to lead prisoners to Jesus. Perhaps there are people in your neighbourhood who work in a prison. Speak to them. Pray with them.

Support church members, family and friends in prison. They are our brothers in jail. You love them but don’t talk about them. Family members are often ashamed to confess that they have someone in jail. Families suffer financially and emotionally. They need our Christian love and support. Perhaps they need transport to prison for a visit. Perhaps the mother and children need counselling to be able to adapt. See what you can do. Become involved.

Become involved in crime prevention in your town. It is better to keep people from going to prison. Find out about the organisations in your town that are involved in children who clash with the law. We can make a difference.

We all need to work hard to restore biblical values in our societies. Let us take hands, in our families, our schools and churches, to promote values like respect for others, honesty, humility and compassion. Let us rediscover the worth of hard work, and of seeking justice, reconciliation and peace. Jesus taught these values to his followers in Matthew 5:1-12. He gives it to us, as fruit of his Spirit working in us – see Galatians 5:22-23. But we need to start with ourselves, we need to witness by living these values – as light and as salt – in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).

Hebrew 13:3: Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners . . .

Matthew 25:35-36: Jesus says: “for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”

Share this post