Why We Go to Court

Neighborhood Ministries > Why We Go to Court

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a young adult (age 36) who is in prison. He is four years away from completing a twenty-two-year sentence. He is repentant and reflective, and for the first time since this long incarceration began, he is seeking God’s help. His heart was hard for so long, and his trauma has been overwhelmingly in control of everything. Trauma from childhood suffering and abuse and now the long years in prison. This young man grew up in our ministry and lived in my home for many years due to his mother’s instability and alcoholism. He was loved, resourced, and prayed for. But he committed crimes, often. I have flashbacks, on occasion, of showing up in jail to take him home, talk to his probation officers, or speak to the chaplain. The last crime that got him this sentence was very terrible. For that crime, I went to every court date, even the ones that were only for scheduling. Sometimes there were people with me, a few times I was the only other person besides his sister. I was there to say to him, “you are not alone”. “The consequences of your actions will be hard to bear, but always know you are seen and loved”. When the sentencing hearing happened, we were overwhelmed with sadness. Sin and its consequences are hard for everyone to bear, including the one who is called the pastor.

I have been to more court hearings than I can count, hundreds, easily. I go because I love the person on trial, and in other cases love the people bringing the accusations. Some of these cases are infamous, some hide in obscurity, and some are in the newspapers. We go to court to sit with the loved ones who are part of our church, to sit with the ones who have been abused and offended, and in a few cases with the ones whose lives were ended by people we love. Sometimes we sit and pray, sometimes I am asked to speak on someone’s behalf and sometimes we bring testimony. All of this participation comes out of the love of God in us for the one who is in trouble or who has caused trouble. This is the grace and mercy of God alive in us, but also, we are bearing testimony to the grace and mercy of God himself for all of us.

Another story. There is a young man who grew up at Neighborhood, who we literally saved his life, both figuratively and in real time. He went to prison, got out, then committed a heinous act and went back to prison. He risks being put on death row, now. I meet with his lawyers, telling the stories of the times we saw him flourishing with a future and a hope, “he wasn’t always this way”, we say. When his trial comes up to keep him off of death row, I will be asked to testify.

I am almost seventy. I have endured countless lengthy prison sentences of those people who grew up at Neighborhood; I write letters, visit them, pray for them and in this day and age email them. I put money on their books so they can write me back or get some special food. When they get out of prison, we are there to greet them. In fact, on more occasions than I can remember anymore, the first thing they say they promised to do once they got out was to come to church. And they do.

Forgiveness is God’s work. He forgives sin. All sin. I try to follow Him with this God heart in me. Forgiveness, however, does not condone sin. Our presence in court shouldn’t be misunderstood in any way as complicity. But neither are we the judge and jury. For the bible says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

Prayer is also God’s work. He is always changing lives and it’s a site to behold to be with those who have allowed themselves to be given into the hands of a loving God. I have seen miracles.

We forgive, we pray, and we wait patiently for changed lives. Until then, we go to court in anticipation that God has arrived there before us.

 

Kit Danley

Founder and President

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