"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." (1 Corinthians 1:27).
It became clear after his April 21 death that Chuck Colson's life doesn't make sense to a lot of people. Why would a man with his experience, education, and connections devote his life to working with prisoners? He was a lawyer, a Marine, a leader of men, a political savant, a talented writer and gifted speaker with a story to tell and the best contacts in the world. He was disgraced and hated by some for his connections to President Richard Nixon and Watergate, but he was a hero and loved by others. He could have had any number of lucrative careers even after his seven months in prison.
As someone who has recently made a similar journey, perhaps I can offer some insight. Working with prisoners doesn't sound glamorous to begin with, but the reality is even less so. Filthy mouths, questionable morals, hardened hearts, abused and addicted bodies and minds-this is humanity at its most raw.
But prison strips away the trappings of this life, revealing some basic truths hard to see from the outside. Prisoners aren't so different from the rest of us. They are human. They make mistakes. They need grace. Actually, the biggest distinction I saw during my time with prisoners is that they invariably recognize their need of grace while most others live under the illusion that we are "good enough." Many prisoners I speak with instinctively understand their separation from God, the total inadequacy of their works to correct it, and their need for a redeemer.
What prison makes especially clear, and what Colson devoted his life to proclaiming, is that there are only two distinctions among people that really matter: those who know and seek relationship with Jesus Christ and those who don't. God is not a respecter of persons, neither was Colson, and neither should we be. The worship arising behind prison walls sounds just as sweet to God as the prayers from the church pews.
Like most of us, Colson wouldn't have chosen this path for himself. But being a follower of Christ means we don't choose our own path. God has a different value system than we do. He values the life and soul of every individual, from the president of the United States to the hardened murderer on death row. And He prizes most our dependence on and trust in Him. Colson's life testified to his realization of those truths long after his seven months in prison were a distant memory.
The ministry Colson founded, Prison Fellowship, has extended the love of Christ and the good news of His forgiveness and grace to prisoners in thousands of prisons across the country and around the world. Reaching out to "the least of these," yielding his life to Christ, and demonstrating true Christianity in a way that is as rare as it is powerful, Colson was a hero for our generation.
While many have criticized his achievements in recent days and questioned his ministry, let's take up his mantle, follow his example, and let God lead us to greatness not as the world measures, but as it will matter in eternity-where Colson now receives his greatest reward.
-John Albaugh, former chief of staff to Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Oklahoma, pled guilty to felony charges in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, served four months in a halfway house, and has now started a ministry to help ex-cons re-entering society in Colorado Springs, Colo.