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Letters that lift

Letters that lift

The long reach of grace.

On my walk, I look down and notice a single leaf laying on a pattern of tiles. It’s a striking image, one that makes me think of a solitary heart trapped within a maze. And that reminds me of the ministry I’ve gotten involved in.

HopeMail is an endeavor to brighten the lives of incarcerated men and women through a monthly mailing. It’s an 8-page newsletter, copied on office paper and folded in the middle (like a church bulletin) that contains teaching, Scripture, puzzles, art – a variety of content squeezed into every bit of space, all designed to brighten the day of a subscriber.

I’ve known Doug and Caroline Gregan, the pastor and his wife who created this, for many years. Recently, when they saw me post some sermon notes I had made, they asked if they could include the art in an upcoming HopeMail issue. The thought that my art could reach over a thousand inmates at once excited me. And it started me thinking more about this ministry.

I have been looking for small ways I can use my spare time to bless people. So, when Caroline posted on Facebook that they were looking for people to write personal notes to enclose in their mailings, I looked on their site to see what was involved.

The next morning, this verse was read from our pulpit:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison…” Heb. 13:3

I’ve had a few experiences with criminal justice. A friend once went to prison for a significant length of time (justifiably). I visited him there. I was once threatened with criminal prosecution for something I didn’t do. I’ve also had a crime committed against me.

So, I know it’s a complicated issue. I see in the verse that Paul doesn’t qualify which prisoners to remember. I assume he’s speaking of fellow believers who are being punished for their faith. But the command stands, unrestricted. Remember them.

This is why the leaf photo speaks to me.  That “maze” that surrounds the soul could be a chain of bad decisions and bad relationships that lead to law-breaking. It could, in some cases, be the complicated machinery of an unjust system that catches the innocent. For the purposes of writing a note of spiritual encouragement, it doesn’t matter.

These are spiritual brothers and sisters who need to know they’re not forgotten. And writing a simple note can help.

Of course, I can’t just write a simple note. It is in my nature to complicate things with art. But I’m atypical. (You knew that). As you can see in the explanation above, it’s just a short, one-page sharing of scripture and truth gleaned from it. There’s anonymity on both ends. And each month the writer gets a new set of subscribers. How many is up to the writer.

Caroline tells me that these Hope Notes are very meaningful to those who get them. But because of a lack of volunteers, less than half of the subscribers receive one.

If you’re looking for a way to extend the range of who you can bless, consider reaching out to Doug or Caroline through their website.

Lord, make us encouragers. Extend the reach of the grace you lavish upon us, so that we can lift others – even those in prison – to have hope in you.

Reader: would you take a minute right now and pray for ministries that work with the incarcerated? And pray that God’s power would be at work in the lives of those in prison.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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