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“You want me to work with criminals?”

American Idol judges and the audience learn that appearances can be deceiving.

I actually thought I was going to become a lawyer, but God had a different plan. I loved to debate in school.  In a Grade 8 History game playing the role of a member of parliament from the Northwest Territories of Canada with only two seats I got the most money for projects. Okay, so it was really based on the I’m going to keep talking until you give me money method. The truth be told I think they gave me the money so I would not go into a 20 minute history lesson decrying how little help northern Canada gets. But that’s another story.

I would get bonus marks in Grade 12 English for being able to prepare impromptu debates in under five minutes. My grandmother said I was gifted by the Lord in forming arguments, in stating my position on a given issue.

After high school I needed work experience. I applied to 13 different government ministries for a government-subsidized job experience program. I was sure I read the Lord right that I would work for the attorney general’s office in a clerical role and work my way into law school.  I thought my Lord was leading me into a career as a lawyer involved in family law cases. God closed that door and all the others except one.  God’s clear direction came.  Kevin, I want you to work as a counselor trainee for The Salvation Army under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of Corrections.

Uh um, God, You’ve got to be kidding! I’d be working with people who are criminals. They have broken the law and some of them have hurt people real bad. Anything but that, Lord.

I went to my interview on a Friday bound and determined I would say I was too frightened to work with criminals. I was prepared to mess up my interview royally. No way was I going to risk my physical safety working with criminals.

It was the weirdest job interview I have ever gone to. The Director of the halfway house called Bunton Lodge started the interview. “Kevin, do you like butterscotch tarts? I just got back from Knob Hill Farms with them. What’s your favourite sports team? What do you like to do in your free time?”

Heh! This is not how I was taught a job interview was supposed to go. Funny. Hmmm. I never anticipated that question in all the books I read on job interview preparation. Heh, book author. You didn’t include that crucial job interview question, “Do you like butterscotch tarts?” I want my money back now!:D

Then, the interview question came I was convinced I would blow. “How do you feel about working with people who have broken the law?” This was my golden opportunity to ruin my chance of being hired. “I don’t have experience with this, but I’m more than willing to learn.” Okay. Who got a hold of my tongue? I didn’t say that! Oh, my goodness. I did say that!

The Director smiled approvingly. “I’d like you to start Monday.” There was a long pause before responding. I was recovering from the shock of what I said. I responded with timidity and surprise. “Okay. I’ll see you Monday.” I shook his hand and then left. After finally being outside and taking a deep breath in and exhaling my first thought was this. What the heck did I get myself into?

I was only supposed to be at Bunton Lodge three months, but ended up being there three years! This would begin God’s journey of discovery for me that these men who broke the law were in desperate need of God’s love. They were human-beings who said or did the wrong thing or got in with the wrong crowd. They were crying out to be loved, to be valued.

God taught me that I needed an attitude adjustment. I was no better than any of them. I am a sinner saved by grace. I could have made one wrong decision like them that would have landed me in jail or in a half way house. The Bible is clear on the point that none of us are righteous(Romans 3:10).We are all deserving of judgement, of hell itself, but God loves us too much to leave us without hope. He sent His one and only Son to die for ME,  YOU and all of us.

I could say this message is meant for others, and no doubt it is. Yet, I feel God has been speaking to my own heart through it to show me how far He has been leading me and all the lessons He has taught me about loving all people.

If God should call you to work with people whom society deems to be the worst of the worst, the dregs of humanity, reflect upon the prejudicial attitudes I wrote about. I thank God He loved me enough not to leave me judging and labelling these people as criminals.

For those who would criticize and say that people who have broken the law are scum, I share with you that I knew a man who was regarded as one of the toughest gang members. He had multiple run ins with the law. Then, the Lord put a stubborn Christian in his pathway who refused to give up on him. Week after week he would visit this man. The gang member would call him every foul name you could think of. The gang member even accused this faithful man that he was simply doing his feel good deed.

Eventually, the gang member’s resistance was broken. He accepted Christ and went on to graduate high school in his mid twenties with top honours. And guess what? The new babe in Christ went on to become a minister.

A story like that should teach us that God doesn’t make junk. We are not the labels so many like to give us. We all blow it. We all get it wrong, but God in His awesome love for us forgives us and calls us into His tender and compassionate arms of love to be embraced, valued and accepted.

Can we do anything less than that faithful man who was a witness of Christ’s love for the gang member who became a minister?