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Recalling Our Roots: Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center

The Christian family is mourning the death and celebrating the life of Chuck Colson. And like most families, we here at Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center are grieving together, laughing, looking at old pictures and videos, sharing stories about our leader, our mentor and our friend who has gone home.

But we’re also taking time to recall our roots as a ministry family. And those roots, thanks to God’s grace in Chuck’s life, are deep and strong, and they reach back to the dark days of Watergate.

As Eric Metaxas related yesterday on BreakPoint, the media get it wrong when they say Chuck had a “jailhouse conversion.” When Chuck Colson entered the Federal Prison Camp at Maxwell, Ala., he had already given his life to Jesus Christ. In fact, Chuck always said it was his faith and his Christian friends that sustained him.

One day, shortly before his release, Chuck was confronted by a large prisoner named Archie. "Hey, Colson,” Archie roared, “You'll be out of here soon. What are you going to do for us?"

With Archie glaring down at Chuck and other prisoners waiting to hear his response, Chuck said, "I'll help in some way. I'll never forget you guys or this stinking place."

Archie yelled: "Bull! I've seen big shots like you come and go. They all say the same things while they're inside. Then they get out and forget us fast. There ain't nobody cares about us. Nobody!"

Well, now, nearly 40 years later, Prison Fellowship stands as a testament to Chuck’s promise to Archie and hundreds of thousands of men and women like him. Chuck never forgot the least and the lost, and nor will we.

Back in the 70s and 80s the nation’s prison population was exploding. And as Chuck visited more and more prisons — some 600 of them in his lifetime — he could see the fruits of cultural decay. Most of the men he met behind bars came from broken families, grew up without fathers. He saw the results of addiction and greed. And it was then that he decided to call the church to reform the culture, launching BreakPoint and eventually the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Remember, unlike a lot of us, Chuck wasn’t raised in the church. He didn’t grow up in that comfortable, safe spiritual-greenhouse atmosphere many of us did.  No, he was an outsider with a burning zeal for Jesus. He banged on those greenhouse panes, rattled the sanctuary doors, called us to get out of the pews and bring the Gospel and the Christian worldview into every area of life.

Chuck’s three final efforts to rouse the church — the Manhattan Declaration, the Doing the Right Thing series on ethics, and the Breaking the Spiral of Silence conference — were typical Chuck Colson. His optimism was boundless. He knew that God is sovereign. Because he himself — the former White House hatchet man — had been transformed by Jesus, he knew that every man, woman, and child made in God’s image could be as well.

Chuck never gave up. And, rooted in that optimism and faith, neither will Prison Fellowship nor the Colson Center. Stick with us! And join Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet on BreakPoint as they, with an occasional assist from me, continue Chuck’s work to equip the church to engage the culture.

Publication date: April 26, 2012

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