Following Jesus

discipleship • the inner life • prayer
community of goods • faith • repentance

Following Jesus

Encounters: Melbourne, October 2012

October 1, 2018 by

It all began in the chapel of the Tamworth Hospital in regional New South Wales. That was where Paul’s brother found a copy of the book Why Forgive? as he sought solace in the wake of his father’s death a thousand kilometres from their Melbourne home. On his brother’s urging, Paul read the book and was immediately captivated by the stories of ordinary men and women who chose to forgive in the face of the most tragic circumstances and horrific victimisation.

painting by Ken Alexander titled Garden of Repentance
Ken Alexander, The Garden of Repentance

Realising the power of these stories to bring release and resilience to the inmates he regularly visited in Victoria’s worst prisons, Paul sought out the source of the chapel copy. Eventually supplied with two cases of books, Paul returned to Melbourne where he and other Prison Fellowship volunteers began using book studies and courses to utilize the transformative power of forgiveness to bring change “inside.” Six years on, that one seed has produced a crop of ten thousand (and counting) as copies of the book continue to enter prisons right across Australia and even to neighbouring countries.

Grace and I met up with Paul at a café in Melbourne within weeks of our arrival in Australia. I can’t remember what we ate or if we even got around to finishing our coffee. But I will never forget the mounting excitement as we swapped stories of inmates’ transformations through the use of Why Forgive? – completely unaware, before then, of the other’s identical use of this resource on the other side of the globe!

Friends of Dismas logo
Copyright © *Friends of Dismas*, All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The conversation rapidly moved from past to present with Paul urging us to attend Friends of Dismas – a congregation of ex-offenders and Prison Fellowship volunteers that had recently formed in the city’s centre. (As noted at on their site, “Dismas is the traditional name of the repentant thief mentioned in Luke 23: 40–43.”) What we found was more than an intimate gathering of twenty men and women reliant on the love and mercy of Christ. We found the embodiment of Christ himself. For Jesus promised his presence whenever and wherever two or three gather in his name. And his promises are true.

Though we live over a thousand kilometres north of Melbourne, we have returned to Friends of Dismas again and again. Why? Who would want to sit among people who have inflicted heinous injury to the minds, bodies, and souls of humans made in the image of God?

There are so many layers to this question. And to its answer.

We go because we understand these words by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that we first encountered in the book Why Forgive?:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them! But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said to a group of righteous men gathered around a woman caught in adultery. They were honest enough to silently walk away rather than feign spiritual superiority. How is it with us?

We go because we feel at home among broken people, and because Friends of Dismas have welcomed us as such. Six years ago, in that place of shared pain, it was not difficult to tell the others around the circle about our own son’s recent incarceration. And we did not need to show them the wounds we still carried; they saw them as soon as we entered the room.

We go simply because Jesus is there. That first Wednesday, Pastor Kevin Maddock read from the Beatitudes that initiate Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It was He who brought the good news to the poor – to those who know their need of God.

The apostle Peter tells us that love covers over a multitude of sins. Surely the number and severity of the sins committed by those in the room could only be described as multitudinous; but the evident love to Christ, to one another, and to the two strangers in their midst could only be described as vast and enveloping.

And so we joined in The Dismas Prayer that closes every service, knowing that Christ had reached deep into our wounds with marvellous healing power, through the love of his people.

Dear God
In your mercy remember me and forgive me for the wrongs I’ve done
Set me free of my deep fears and resentments
Melt the hard places of my heart, and
Allow me the grace to
Surrender this day to your loving care.
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About the author

photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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