Worthy of God’s love

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Many of these kids have never been told they are good, that they aren’t sinners. In fact, one day a minister from a fundamentalist church heard me tell a group of them that they are precious children of God. And she said to me, “Where do you get off telling them this?

I was raised to think I was a sinner and never felt good enough for God, so I never really felt a close relationship with God. It was such a freeing experience finding Christian Science and learning that I was loved by God, and discovering who God really was. That’s what these young men and women need more than anything.

One thing I’ve learned—you don’t go into these facilities and preach.

 

 

Worthy of God’s love

By Becky Barrett-Alford

From the November 2011 issue of The Christian Science Journal

* Photo courtesy of It Gets Better

For decades, ever since Mary Baker Eddy asked her secretary to begin holding Christian Science services at a local jail in Concord, New Hampshire, Christian Science chaplains and others on institutional committees around the world (approximately 517 today in the United States alone) have been volunteering countless hours in local jails, prisons, and mental health facilities. They are the unsung heroes among church workers—those whose unselfish care for their neighbor often goes unnoticed or underappreciated among other “church work.” With the support of branch churches, many of which supply Bibles and Christian Science literature to the facilities they serve, these volunteers bring the comforting and healing message of the Christ to people in great need. These workers’ efforts to include the men and women they minister to in the larger church community truly exemplify the spirit of a “church unconfined.” To honor their service, make it more widely known, and help prosper it, the Journal will continue to publish regular reports on institutional work around the globe.

I think everything we do in our life is part of our branch church work—nothing is segregated from it. That’s especially true for the work Christian Scientists do in institutions.

Before getting into Christian Science, I’d always been active in youth organizations and helping youth in trouble. In about 1992, shortly after I began studying Science, I joined a local branch church and began visiting prisons and other facilities. I felt this Science had to be shared, and I’ve been visiting men and women who are incarcerated for about 20 years now.

In my city in Texas, there’s a facility for young people from age 11 to 17 who have broken the law. They remain there until they go before a judge, at which time they are either released to return home or to foster care, or sentenced to a juvenile facility or prison. On the fifth Friday of the months having five Fridays, I visit for an hour.

Many of these kids have never been told they are good, that they aren’t sinners. In fact, one day a minister from a fundamentalist church heard me tell a group of them that they are precious children of God. And she said to me, “Where do you get off telling them this?” I explained to her that I wasn’t telling them that their behavior was always good, or excusing their behavior, but that, spiritually, we are always perfect and can never be less.

I was raised to think I was a sinner and never felt good enough for God, so I never really felt a close relationship with God. It was such a freeing experience finding Christian Science and learning that I was loved by God, and discovering who God really was. That’s what these young men and women need more than anything.

One thing I’ve learned—you don’t go into these facilities and preach.

Recently, on a day I was scheduled to go to the youth facility, I first spent two hours at our church’s Reading Room studying and praying. I worked with this statement in Science and Health: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” ( p. 494). And I considered the story of Hagar in the Bible. Abraham was forced to send away Hagar and their child, Ishmael, as a result of his wife Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar. After departing, Hagar and young Ishmael wandered around in the desert. When their water supply ran out, she put her son under a shrub, and walked away and sat a little way off so she wouldn’t have to see him die.

Then, the Bible says, she “lift up her voice, and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is” ( Gen. 21:16, 17). That alone led me to believe that whoever I talked with would hear what he needed to hear directly from God.

That night as I humbly asked God to do my talking for me, I walked into a cell holding seven young men and a guard. I asked if anyone wanted to pray or wanted to discuss God. Only one man raised his hand. We walked to the back of the room, and then turned around and noticed the other six had followed, each with his chair. We formed a circle, sat, and held hands to begin with a spontaneous prayer.

Now, praying aloud in front of people is my least favorite thing to do, but the most beautiful prayer came from my lips, so I knew God was there and had an interesting evening planned. The first thing I asked them was what God was to them, and what I heard from each was that God was someone to be afraid of and was definitely hard to please. None of them felt worthy of God’s love.

We talked about the concept of God being Love, Truth, Life, Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Principle. Then I asked each of them what they were good at doing, and the answers ranged from football, drawing, and soccer, to comedy. I told them the qualities they expressed while they engaged in these activities were from God. For instance, football involves grace and strength, and art certainly requires creativity.

The comic asked how humor relates to God, and we all decided that humor brings lightheartedness, which is a quality of God, or Soul. When I asked if he felt good when he was making people laugh, he assured me he had a good feeling. I told him that was the same feeling one gets when he knows God.

We turned the conversation to how many times they had been in the facility, and all of them had been there before. I asked them if they loved being locked up and they said no.

I then asked why they had returned. “Before you did what you did that got you in trouble, was there a thought that you shouldn’t do it?” I questioned.

They all said yes, there had been a thought or a warning of some kind. I told them that was God speaking to them. As I glanced around at each of them, I saw they all knew what I was talking about. There was no personal preaching or lecturing, just an open discussion about God and about their dreams and goals.

Before I left, they decided to start a gratitude list and add to it daily. When I got up to leave,  I noticed the guard had moved his chair closer so he could listen.
I know that God was speaking to us all that night, and my heart was filled with joy and gratitude as I left.

2 thoughts on “Worthy of God’s love

  1. anonymous

    There is an authenticity and sincerity in the author of this CS article. This is why they responded positively to her.

    If love like this was at the helm we would reach so many more.

    God bless Becky Barrett-Alford.

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