BTL Volunteer Writes Op-Ed in Houston Chronicle
Read the article written by Linda White, long-time BTL volunteer and victim advocate, here.
BTL Volunteer and Author of Restoring Peace Writes New Book on Prison Ministry
Kirk Blackard, BTL Board Chairman, long-time volunteer, and author of the Restoring Peace book used in the Bridges To Life curriculum has written a new book about volunteering with prison ministries.
Love on a Cauldron of Misery: Perspectives on Christian Prison Ministry is a terrific resource for anyone interested in prison ministry but unsure about what it entails. Blackard provides history and Biblical perspective about prison ministry, and utilizes stories from prison volunteers to illustrate the need for more volunteers in prisons. To order, click here.
Deborah Hartman, Central Texas Regional Coordinator, shared this wonderful story of forgiveness and God's Grace.
This is worth the read!
That you may know that I, the Lord, who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.
Melissa Ward is a BTL Victim Volunteer and Mario Ward is a BTL Graduate. Last year in Jan 2011, Mario Ward volunteered to participate in the Bridges To Life program at the Kyle Unit. By Week 5 Mario had decided that he was going to drop out of the program as it was stirring up too many memories from his childhood; memories that he had tried to block for years that were flooding back to him, making him extremely uncomfortable. Mario decided to come back one more night to the big group just to hear the victim speak but planned to drop out after that. As God would have it, Melissa Ward was on the schedule to share her story that night.
Melissa began her story talking about the family she grew up in-a family filled with domestic violence. Melissa was the oldest sister and it was her job to raise her 4 younger brothers. Melissa told about the difficult times but she also shared the deep love she had for her little brothers and how she felt that she was more of a mother to them then a sister. Melissa went on to talk about the abusive marriage that she eventually got into and then went on to tearfully talk about the night her little brother Billy was shot in the back. Billy had been working as a Security Guard at a Fina Gas Station in Waco, TX the night he was shot. Melissa told what happened to the best of her knowledge that night and talked about sitting with him in the hospital for the next 21 days throughout his painfully slow and agonizing death. Melissa also shared that even in his death, Billy, or rather her little “Bobo” as she had called him, had helped her to take the steps necessary to escape a life of domestic violence by making her promise him on his death bed that she would leave her abusive husband.
Melissa’s story was the very story that Mario had been trying to erase from his memory. You see, Mario was just 16 years old that night in Waco, Texas. He had been committing crimes from the time he was 10 years old. That night he was out with his older cousins and friends and was helping a couple of young kids get away from the store after seeing that they had stolen some beer. A security guard had come out and threatened the kids and the group started getting loud and threatening the guards. A guard pulled a gun and then before anyone knew what happened, Mario’s home boy shot into the crowd. The bullet from his 45 hit Melissa's brother in the back. Mario was only a few feet away from Billy when he fell to the ground saying, “I think I’ve been shot!” Mario knew at that instant that security guard would not survive and he relived that night playing it over and over in his mind for years. Now, 15 years later, in prison for drugs, Mario sat in the room with nearly 100 others listening to Melissa’s story…. his story.
The floor was opened for questions and Mario stood up behind me. With his deep booming voice, I heard him say, as many have said over the years, “That sounds like my story.” Then he went on to ask Melissa if her brother had been shot at the Fina gas station in Waco, Texas. I looked at Melissa as her eyes widened and slowly stood up to stand by Melissa for support. His powerful voice seemed to drive home the details of that horrible night. The connection between the two and the deep emotions emanating from both parties was heart stopping. The large group of volunteers and inmates sat silently as Melissa took it in and Mario recounted every detail of what he witnessed that night with tears. Melissa walked slowly over to Mario, reaching out to comfort him. She hugged him and told Mario that she had forgiven the man who shot her brother and that she forgave him too. The group watched silently as this reconciliation transpired before their eyes. BTL was real. These were not just stories on the TV; these were real lives and real deaths and real pain and real forgiveness unfolding in a really unusual place- prison.
Mario finished the 14 week program at the Kyle Unit and at the Graduation several weeks later Mario stood up to the microphone. He stood there looking out into the group, quietly looking at all the volunteers, staring. I felt a bit uneasy and I really didn’t know what to expect. The look on his face was hard to read…. Then with his amazingly deep booming voice that no words can really describe he began slowly…
“Who are you to come in here and tell me that you forgive me!?"
"Who are you to come in here and tell me that you care about me!?"
Then Mario began to literally beat his chest. His tears were flowing like a fountain! He just looked up to heaven and said “THANK YOU GOD!!! THANK YOU GOD!!!! …. OH JESUS ….THANK YOU JESUS!!!! He was so thankful it was frightening!
Mario emailed me last week and has been out of prison a year. He asked if there were anything that he could do to help others the way BTL had helped him. I knew it would be awhile, at least 18 months before I could get him into the prisons to speak so I contacted a friend who is a counselor at Pegasus School, a home for boys who need to change their way of doing things before they get much older and end up in prison. He and Melissa will be speaking to the kids next week!
As I think back to that night at the Kyle Unit, I am reminded of how God directed every detail of that meeting. I am once again in awe of His constant love, of His constant provision, of His constant and perfect coordination of events, of His perfect timing and preparation of hearts for that specific moment in time. God loves Billy, Melissa, and Mario so much that He took the time to orchestrate that night at the Kyle Unit, not only for them but for a roomful of others who needed to be reminded of God’s love and His deep desire to reconcile all of us to each other and to Himself.
As I thought more about this today, I knew there was no coincidence that both Melissa and Mario have the same last name, Ward. The more I thought about it I realized that not only do they have the same last name, but that they will be speaking for the first time together to children who are also known by that same name.
Austin area BTL volunteer Melissa Ward (last year's recipient of BTL's Patricia Stonestreet Victim Volunteer Award) recently shared her story of triumph over tragedy on the Heaven's Rain blog post. You can check it out here.