I prayed that God would give me a group of Christian guys to hang out with. I was looking for friends who would share a common belief in God and in Jesus Christ and wanted to live a life that reflected those values. For much of my life that prayer went unanswered.
Growing up I found that church was not the place to find friends. Most of the guys who were active in attending seemed more interested in the busyness of the church. They ushered, maybe attended an adult Sunday School class and sat with their families during the services. Before and after church, conversations centered around politics, sports and cars.
There were the guys who ushered every Sunday and who lit the candles on the altar. They were interested mainly in that narrow sliver of their spiritual life.
But they were not interested in talking about their faith and how it applied to their everyday life. There was no sense of mission or purpose.
I found it hard to work in very secular environments and to maintain my faith in a God who loved me and who wanted me to reflect that love in my everyday life. The distance between my God and me grew wider and wider.
Then through some incredible circumstances I ran into a guy named Ken. I was in my forties. We were in a Bible study together when I heard his story. As a young newspaper reporter, I covered a crime he had committed. For him, it was the beginning of a period that saw him going to prison as a teenager and getting out as a full-fledged man. Inside a prison cell, he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.
When I heard his story and remembered who he was I was truly amazed by the change in him. I was also somewhat skeptical. He and I spent the next couple of years having breakfast together once a week. I spent a lot of time trying to determine if he was real. And he was.
He was asked to share his story with guys in the prison where he did his time and he invited me to go with him.
It was hard to say no to a friend and it was an attractive offer to do something that would provide fodder for coffeeshop conversation the next day.
We went to a chapel service at one of the most challenged prisons in the state of Michigan. I was expecting to find a bunch of knuckle-dragging guys who had a chromosome or two twisted the wrong way. I found guys not unlike me, but who had sinned in a way that got them into prison.
It was the beginning of a life-changing journey that saw me going into prisons all over our state and making friends with guys who had numbers behind their names, rather than designations for college degrees earned or for professional certifications.
There were no pretenses in my prison experiences as we sang "Victory In Jesus." We talked about everything involved in daily and eternal living. And we looked to the Bible and to Jesus for the answers.
This was a key piece in my growing closer to God.