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Darkness Has Not Overcome – Hope Behind Bars

By Mod31

I just came back from a retreat with juvenile hall boys this weekend. I always thought about writing about my encounters on these retreats, but they are too immense to be confined into words. At least for now, I don’t have the ability to articulate all that my heart experiences when it recognizes Jesus in the midst of intense darkness. But today I do want to share one story.

The picture above is really special to me. For one thing, it’s one of only a handful of pictures I have since we aren’t allowed to bring in cameras or phones into the facilities and we can’t capture the faces of the incarcerated boys (for good reason). But more importantly, in this picture is a special young man named Joshua.

I went to his funeral this day last year.

It was a surreal experience for me. He was in my small group on retreat, and though I only knew him for that one day I got a peek into the Lord working in his heart. How the walls slowly broke down. From the kid who was too cool for it all (“I’m only here for the food”), to opening up joking and laughing with me as he realized I understood the things he said in Spanish, to extending his hands over me and praying for me during Adoration. To poking me and asking me silently “How do I go to Confession?

I meet a lot of kids in this ministry, and a few stick out in my memory. He was one of them. At the funeral, I found out from another volunteer that when Josh was released, he got jumped out of his gang and started going regularly to Bible study to get to know Christ. He enrolled in community college and was learning the bus routes so he could regularly attend. He wanted to support his mom instead of causing her pain.

A few months later on another retreat in juvenile hall, I ran into another kid (also a special one who stick out in my memory) who was in the very same small group and knew Josh. Apparently Josh had a run-in with former rival gang members who didn’t believe that he had already left his gang. 

He asked me, “How do I go to Confession?”

It’s so sad to see the demons these kids face. Yes, they made awful mistakes in the past, and they are rough and hardened. But it isn’t easy to take the steps to rise above it, and even when they do the demons still insist on haunting them. I can’t imagine the struggle. It was tough enough battling my own demons, but their darkness must be so much more intense. I can’t even imagine.

But the more darkness I encounter, the more I am in awe of God’s immense mercy. Because the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

It’s a sad thing to go to a funeral for someone so young. But I am comforted that his soul was already experiencing healing when he passed away. And I continue to pray for his soul every day, along with all the kids who come and go in juvenile hall – past, present, and future. I see a lot of hope in their hearts. And I believe their desire to change is more genuine than in many people around me. But they have so many factors going against them. Please pray for them, too.


Do you have stories of God’s grace and mercy? Please share in the comments! The world need more of these love stories. We need to be reminded of hope.

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