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Monday, October 12, 2015

Welcome Home

Pocket Full of Quarters Journey 2015
Welcome Home

By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady

The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:20

The rest of the family had gone to bed and Deb and I were lingering and talking as we turned off the lights. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.

Two large armed men stood firmly with their feet apart. They wore all black and were decked out in body armor. My children say I have no filter but when Deb let them in, even I knew it wouldn't be prudent to ask them what would happen to them if they died tonight.

It had been such a holy and fun day. At 5:15 AM, Deb's family had gathered for prayer and Bible Study. Each stated their plans for the day before leaving for work or errands. One family member went evangelizing with me at Walmart and we led 8 people to Jesus.

As we all began to arrive back that afternoon, Shiloh and Deb's dog Peanut welcomed us home. Live praise music filled the house as family members prepared for the evening praise and worship service. The dogs frolicked in the living room as other family members laughed and prepared dinner. We sat to eat at their large dining table and joined hands as Deb's husband Steve blessed the food.

After dinner, we sat in the living room singing praises to God, accompanied by live guitar music. I presented a Gospel Conversation Workshop to enthusiastic listeners who asked great questions. We spent a few minutes playing with dogs and cats before finally saying goodnight and heading to various bedrooms.

The armed men standing at the door were a grim reminder that while God had forgiven and forgotten past mistakes made by Deb's family, the world had not.

"We need to see the men!" one said in an authoritative voice.

"I'll get them," Deb said. "They've already gone downstairs to bed. Cheryle, you might want to grab Shiloh." Turning to the men she explained, "We have a house guest so we have an extra dog."

"Good idea," I said, quickly leashing her. Even Shiloh had the good sense not to bark at men with guns.

Deb's adopted family members came back upstairs to sleepily face their probation and security officer's probing questions.

You see, a few years ago, my dear friends, Deb and Steve, felt God leading them to open their home and family to newly released sex offenders (SO's). I spent many hours talking with Deb in the early planning stages of this ministry and something she said has always stuck with me. She said, "Cheryle, most of society has given up on these men. There are no throw-away people in God's Kingdom." In spite of many concerns and objections voiced by family and friends, they were obedient to God.

The armed men were apparently satisfied with what they saw and heard because they left. I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath until the door closed behind them and I exhaled. The men went back downstairs and I released poor Shiloh from her leash.

To be accepted into Deb and Steve's family, prisoners approaching release dates fill out an application which is prayed over and reviewed by their Ministry Board of Directors. The ministry accepts born again Christians they believe are serious about starting over and need help doing so. Most of their adopted family members were saved in prison and/or active in prison ministries.

I've learned much about SO's during the growth of this ministry. Like most, I'd believed the widely quoted but false statistic that almost all SO's reoffend. What I've found out is that the statistic is a self-fulfilling prophesy and like most statistics, it is important to understand what it is really reporting.

The SO "reoffending" statistic includes those going back to prison for any reason. SO's go back to prison for reasons other than actually reoffending. Some may have drug or alcohol problems and return to prison for crimes associated with that. In Arizona, most SO's on probation are required to take lie detector tests. Any question, even questions unrelated to the crime committed, is fair game and if they fail or the test results are inconclusive, these men could be sent back to prison, which would mean they were included in the statistic as a "re-offender." Needless to say, SO's are nervous, which tends to cause the test results to be inclusive. SO's are required to meet regularly with their probation/parole officers and counselors, which they are charged a fee for. As you can imagine, SO's already have a hard time finding employment and this mandatory time during traditional work hours makes that even harder. If SO's get behind on these payments, they could be sent back to prison. If SO's can't find somewhere to live and become homeless, they could be sent back to prison because they are unable to register an address. Some SO's get so discouraged that they give up and "burn their ticket," which means they deliberately commit a minor offense like skipping a meeting just to go back to prison. Many working with them expect them to reoffend and treat them accordingly. The real statistic - ones who actually reoffend - is more like 30%, which I understand is still too high. The point is that SO's often come out of prison into a system set up for their failure.

I stayed in Deb and Steve's home before they opened their home to SO's. They are family to me. How much did I believe in the power of Christ restoring a life? That was the question I asked myself when deciding to continue staying there when I visit their city. Biblical heroes like Paul and David were murderers and God forgave and restored them. Was there any life that God couldn't restore or any sin He couldn't forgive? I'm in the redemption business and I'd better believe in redemption for all. Not only do I stay there, I make a point of going there and fully participate in their ministry when I'm there.

I wish you could see what I see in this home. I see a Christian couple who decided to make men most would consider unlovable, their beloved family. They drive them to appointments and finance their food, clothing, and transportation until they can do it for themselves. They help them find employment and navigate their way through the requirements they have to meet. They begin and end each day with prayer, praise, and Bible Study, continually encourage them, and gently rebuke them when necessary.

I see men broken by sin and thrilled to be fully restored by God. They treasure and guard their redemption and have spent so much time studying the Bible that their knowledge far surpasses my own. Their eyes glow with awe that Christ loved them enough to forgive them. They appreciate everything done for them and feel blessed to be where they are. They willingly share their testimonies and are serious about helping others meet Jesus. Instead of being bitter about the constraints, they accept what they cannot change and stay determined to live with the joy of the Lord.

I see a happy home where people laugh, share chores agreeably, pray for each other, and work it out when there is conflict. Not every resident has worked out but for those who embrace the love, life, and safety Deb and Steve offer, they soar "as if on eagle's wings."

Deb says that her family loves to hear the words "welcome home." She says it to them often. She even says it to me when I arrive at their home. I am honored to be part of their family. Heaven is our real home and when I stay with Deb and her family, I leave feeling as if I have had a taste of heaven.

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