Thursday, July 26, 2012

A "Thoroughly Converted" Man Reaches Out to the Needy

“So far this year, I made arrangements for 36 men to parole out of Illinois prisons and come to Wayside Cross for its residential program. It’s a Bible-based, Christ-centered program. We have 93 men in our residential program when it’s full.”

That's Tom Beatty talking about jail ministry, discipleship and aftercare programs. And, as always, he makes good sense.

“A lot of the guys are recovering from addictions but some are just learning how to live life on life’s terms without trying to escape through drugs or alcohol or sex. I would not have come here except that this option is available to them. I have been working at this long enough to know when men are released from incarceration and have nowhere to go, they get back into trouble.”

“If we don’t do something with these guys, we don’t have a leg to stand on the next time the garage gets burglarized, do we? We Christians have got to go into the jails and tell them about Jesus.”

Tom knows quite intimately the force of that last statement. For he himself was in jail in 1979 when he believed in Jesus Christ as his Savior, receiving forgiveness of sin and a brand new life.

“I was a drunk, a drug addict and a jerk. I mostly used marijuana and methamphetamines for years, but I would use whatever drugs that were available…[Then] Jesus Christ radically changed my life but it was necessary because I was radically out of control…”

It is vitally important to note, however, that Tom speaks with authority to the men in the jails not only because he's been there himself, but because that radical power of God unleashed in and through his life is very much in the present tense.

You see, Tom is an old friend of mine and I've seen his life and ministry, as they say, "up close and personal." As a jail chaplain, in rescue mission work, as a husband and dad, Tom has proven to be one of those "thoroughly converted" men who demonstrate that the power of God's grace is not just immense, not just holy, but also ongoing. Tom Beatty's testimony isn't just about the historic miracle of being born again. It's very much about the miracles that help him to live free in the here and now.

I too experienced a rather dramatic conversion in 1970 and the Christian organization with which I became involved frequently put me on the stage to tell my story. Those public speeches tended to be 80 or 90 per cent about shocking, titillating vices I had indulged in with a brief finale telling how I had eventually been saved, delivered and cleaned up.  But one night after hearing one of my talks, the late Ervin Butler (a wise, patient and loving pastor whose son had become a dear friend) told me, "Denny, don't ever be slow to tell people how the Lord saved you. And I'm pleased and proud of you for being so bold and enthusiastic in telling your story. But never forget that a Christian's true testimony should also be able to describe, honestly and with the same passion, what the Lord has done in your life in the last 24 hours."

That was an important corrective, delivered by a guy I trusted because of his long experience with God, his knowledge of the Bible…and because I knew he had my best interests at heart. And I have no doubt even now, over 40 years later, that Erv's counsel became part of the momentum in my life towards Christian activism -- taking Christianity not only as a thing of the past (my conversion) or a thing of the future (going to heaven), but also as a relationship with Jesus that is of the utmost relevance to the immediate present.

That's what I mean when I use the phrase "thoroughly-converted." And Tom Beatty is one of the extraordinary examples I know of that ongoing miracle. That's why he is such an inspiration to me every time the Lord brings him to mind -- as He did a couple of times the last few days. That remembrance prompted me to write him a quick note, to read the article from which I've quoted above, and to direct your attention to Tom's exhortations about jail ministries and aftercare which are always important for the Christian community to heed.

“It’s really simple. We talk to people about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one who changes people’s lives. He changed my life 31 years ago, and I’ve never been the same since. He saved my life. I’ve seen Him change hundreds, maybe thousands, of people since then.”

To learn more about Wayside Cross Ministries where Tom now serves, check out their website. To read more about Tom's history and motivation for men's ministries, this article from the Lincoln Journal Star (done when Tom was serving as a chaplain in that city) is a good one. And, finally, I include for Omahans links to the Open Door Mission and Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, two of the other extremely important organizations in our city which, back in the day, also benefited from Tom Beatty's involvement.

If you can't help Tom out in Illinois, I'm sure he'd be delighted if you can lend a hand or give a donation to either of these ministries.