The first time I met him, he was standing near the church entrance greeting people. He must have recognized me as a newcomer because within minutes, he was telling me his life story.
“Hi, I’m Jimmie and I just got out of prison.”
As an introvert, I listened quietly and walked away a bit bewildered. When I drove home that evening I couldn’t help but think about him. He was a happy, lively and carefree guy, and you would have never guessed that he had spent years in the state penitentiary.
It has to be the grace of God, I thought to myself. And in my heart, I prayed that he would make it. Having participated in a letter-writing prison ministry, I knew the odds of him making it in society were slim.
I soon found out that nearly everyone in the 800+ member church knew Jimmie or about him. Once at a church picnic, I saw him playing in the field with some guys. Off to one side, three boys huddled and one of them pointed at Jimmie’s legs, which were completely scarred. Soon they were laughing.
Jimmie also noticed and he came over to them and knelt on one leg. I could imagine him telling them how when he was a young boy, his older brother had kicked a can of burning gasoline on him … that there was no love in his home, only fighting and hatred.
The boys listened and soon all were playing again. Instead of being a freak to make fun of, Mr. Jimmie had become a friend.
Surprisingly to me, Jimmie did make it. And over the five years we served at church we became friends – but I kept him at a safe distance.
My best friend, who went to a different church, came to visit once and told me with lips upturned that he looked at me differently. Even if she had been right, not once did he ask me out. And I could understand why.
Aside from our love for God, we had little in common. At the time, I was working on Capitol Hill, living in a studio condo and driving a brand-new sports car. And rather than show any of my scars, mine were kept well hidden in my heart.
By the time my 30th birthday rolled around, I had given up on my dream of getting married and having children of my own. My prayers for a godly husband had gone unanswered. I’d grieved the loss and had several sessions with God, where I let him know how angry and disappointed I was.
Peace finally came when I accepted that perhaps for me, God had a different plan and that I could trust Him whether that plan included a husband or not. And I decided to make most of my life as a single woman.
Later that year, I organized a small group of single adults from our church to go on a short-term mission trip to central Europe. The trip fulfilled two life-long dreams I had – working with orphan children and going to Europe.
Not once did it occur to me then that I would end up permanently living there and that God who is faithful in all ways — the one who makes all things beautiful in His time — would bring my husband and give me three amazing children.
Two years after that first trip, I quit my job, sold the sports car and moved to a quaint, picturesque town in the Czech Republic as a single missionary.
Forty days after my move, Jimmie showed up with a refurbished laptop that a friend had sent for me. He said he heard God’s call to be a laborer in the mission field. It just happened to be through the same mission agency and in the same country where I was!
On a starry fall evening, 30 days after his arrival, he asked if I would like to go for a boat ride there at the lake next to the mission base. I said yes.
Thirteen years ago on a rainy May day, I walked down the aisle looking at him and he at me and tears of joy filled our eyes.
And I would do it again.