Do we make a difference?

If you’re like me, sometimes you wonder if anything we do ever makes a difference in anyone else’s life. This–I think–is especially true when we think about our church connections. Do we really touch people’s lives? In my best moments, I think we do…but still, sometimes I wonder.

This morning I checked my Facebook page just before heading out to a church activity–a meeting where we would be ordaining someone to a special ministerial office and where we would be talking about specific ways to be disciples. I wasn’t expecting anything particularly profound–just thought I’d see what my friends were up to.

Well…

I headed out to that meeting with tears in my eyes! A friend (and former coworker of mine) is in charge of one of the daily worship activities for our church worldwide–the Daily Prayer for Peace. It’s held 365 days a year, regardless of the weather, and regardless of how many people attend. Sometimes there aren’t very many. But the worship outline is also posted online for others who may wish to join in prayer at a time appropriate for where they live. Kristopher shared this story this morning:

In November of last year I arrived at my Temple office to discover a letter upon my desk. It had been mailed to me from a man who was living in a prison cell – a man who, because of his committed crimes, was counting down the days and nights on death row. In his letter he informed me that he had heard about the Daily Prayer for Peace ministry offered by the Community of Christ, and asked me if I prayed for ‘people like him’; people who had made mistakes and who had caused others pain. The letter went on to describe the hopes and fears, the regrets and the realizations this man had experienced during his life behind bars.

Not sure how and if I should respond – feeling inadequate and at a loss for words, I decided to send this man a hand-written , return letter, offering acknowledgements that seemed generic and disingenuous, coming from my spiritually green mind. – But, to my surprise, two weeks later, an otherwise usual Tuesday morning found me opening yet another letter from the same penitentiary. This time the letter included words of thanks and insights into the interests and hobbies that had kept this man going over the many years in his jail-cell abode. As it turned out, music was at the forefront of this man’s passions and through the decades, he had read quite a lot about instrumental music – particularly guitar.

Although he admittedly was no master, he told me that in his designated recreational time, he had become familiar with a few basic chords; G, D, and a minor – so, to my surprise, I did something that caught me off guard. Perhaps it was the Spirit prompting, perhaps I felt guilty – but, for Christmas, I decided to purchase and send this man a copy of the musician’s edition of Community of Christ Sings. I sent the books wrapped in holiday paper and included a brief message explaining this new church hymnal, and pointing out that the chords were included for most of the hymns – I encouraged him to use these books as resources to continue his guitar studies.

Over a month went by and I had heard nothing from the prison or the man, but then, in February, I received another letter and, to my surprise, this letter was composed in a tone so full of joy and hope. It was difficult deciphering the markings of a hand that was apparently full of excitement. Correspondence continued over the next several weeks – ambitions were shared, questions were asked, and an unlikely relationship was formed.

Two weeks ago I received another letter, this one containing a single question and an admission. The letter read simply: ‘Mr. Taylor, do bad people ever get to join the good people again on the right journey? My favorite is number 550 but I’ve messed up too much to be a pilgrim. Please pray.’

I served the Prayer for Peace service today as the musician and afterward was asked twice why I did not play the hymn that was posted on the Prayer for Peace webpage.  This past week I was informed that my inadvertent pen-pal had finally awoken to his last day and was executed for his past crimes. I learned this information as I checked my email just this morning and, in the midst of fighting back a slew of completely unexpected tears, I made a decision – I chose to play hymn number 550, We are Pilgrims On A Journey – for those gathered in the Temple, for myself, and for my friend. I am not a very smart man and I certainly have my days where I just can’t keep my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself – but I do know this much: Loving is difficult – accepting those we cannot fully understand seems impossible – but if we seek God, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to that love, and acceptance, and peace – in our being aware and responding, we are able to experience Christ; glimpse that divine purpose, if even for a moment. I am glad I chose not to keep my mouth shut, and I am grateful to God for connecting me to this man – for blessing me with ‘people like him’ – I am thankful that, for five months, I was able to fellowship with another Pilgrim on this Journey.

One of the songs we sang as we began our worship experience this morning was hymn number 550. I’ve sung it before and like the words–but this morning, I had a different perspective with that song. I had a face to put with it–not a face I could describe, because I don’t know the name of Kristopher’s pen-pal…but a face that represented my brothers and sisters who are pilgrims with me…who may have made wrong choices, but who are still God’s children and who ask us to walk together, being Christ to each other.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
here together on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I might have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

Words: Richard Gillard, alt.
copyright 1977 Universal Music-Brentwood Benson Publishing