Many years ago, I traveled to the Philippines to speak at a conference. I took the opportunity to meet many SLM missionaries and volunteers where they ministered. One visit took us to one of the most notoriously dangerous prisons in all the country. Our partner there, “Red”, a former high ranking mafia hitman, was a prisoner, put away for assassinating a political figure, but whose life was transformed by the Gospel through the SLM literature.
After his conversion he not only used the SLM literature personally, but also began to use it with other inmates. The response was so great, he actually started a Bible College inside the prison.
At first, I thought I couldn’t wait to see it. But as we drew near the facility, the reality of it set in more and more. The security searches, the size of the facility, the background knowledge that I had heard about began to make me feel more and more apprehensive.
We cleared varying levels of security which began to restore some of my confidence knowing how carefully and thoroughly I had been screened. But after the final screening and when the gate opened, panic began to come, particularly as the gate clicked shut.
I looked around at what frankly looked like a combination of any village city street with shops, sports, parks, and repair shops, fully equipped with tools for their trades. Attention quickly was drawn to me as a tall, blonde and clearly American entered the gates. Many were curious and they started to walk towards me when all of the sudden, a number of men rushed straight towards me and gathered around me and the others with me and announced, “he’s with Red, back off!” And though they still were curious and staring at me, these men ushered me to where Red stood. Together, we made our way to the church campus, which SLM helped fund on the inside of the prison.
In the church, when I had a break in one of my sessions, I asked one of the men about the response I saw to the mention of my being with Red. He told me Red was leader of one of the most dangerous gangs in the prison. When Red became a Believer, it was a big deal. He was greatly respected as the pastor inside and they truly believed of his conversion, but because of his past connections no one was willing to take a chance.
Even though that prison was filled with the Philippines most dangerous murderers, thieves, and criminals you can imagine, there was no where I could have actually been safer than walking along with Red.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me… Psalm 23:4
On many occasions, the path we take in life takes us through valleys that periodically become dark. Sometimes the dark is associated with some sort of evil, and sometimes it is dark because there is simply no light. But the psalmist quiets the fears many of us experience when the path through the valley gets dark. Even if it is dark AND dangerous or if the way forward is uncertain, we are with the Shepherd. He knows the path in the dark and in the light, He is ready to protect us against whatever lies ahead, nothing in the valley no matter how dark catches Him by surprise and we will make it through because He is with us and we are with Him. What could come in our way?
Do you find yourself on a dark path in a valley somewhere? Did you walk away from God to find yourself lost in that valley? We may feel lost in that valley but He isn’t. All you have to do is call out for your Shepherd to come alongside you and to guide you and be with you through this dark time. Remember, your Shepherd is always out looking for the lost sheep, all the lost sheep has to do is call upon His name.
Dr. Ronald J. Barnes Jr.
President / CEO