"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. (Luke 6:27 NRSV)

William Willimon tells about a group of church women who were looking for a service project in their community. They wanted to share God's love. One of the women suggested that they might do something at the local jail. The other women quickly agreed.

Their community, Pine Mountain, was a favorite gathering place for thousands of high school and college students, who flocked there on spring and summer vacations. There they drank, sunbathed, and caroused, and a good number of them would run afoul of the law. The antiquated little jail at Pine Mountain was always filled with unfortunate youths awaiting bail or fines. One of the women of the church suggested that it would be nice if they would make something for these young people and others in the jail. The women decided to make up toiletry kits, containing such personal items as a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and a piece of candy to make their stay a little bit brighter.

The women were somewhat taken back by conditions in the jail. The first thing that impressed the women was the sheer number of prisoners--at least thirty a week. One of the women discovered that the city collected over a hundred thousand dollars a year from its jail operations. The women were also shocked with some of the jail's procedures. There was no distinction made between older and younger prisoners, or between first time offenders and repeat offenders. One of the women stood up at a church meeting and said she was beginning to feel that "our city jail is a disgrace." "It's doing more to encourage crime than to stop crime," she said.

The more time the women spent helping unfortunate people in jail, the more they saw things they did not like. They saw things that few citizens of Pine Mountain had seen. They noticed the attitude of the police toward their work. They saw signs of excessive force being used on prisoners. They heard rumors of money changing hands in order to get people lighter sentences. They did not like what they saw one bit. That was when the trouble really began.

A group from the church went to share their concerns with the jailer. "I knew we were asking for trouble when we let you women stick your noses into things," the jailer told them. "You women ought to stay out of what is none of your business," he advised. "What goes on here is really none of your business," he said. "Why don't you stick to church work and leave the legal work to us."

"This is church business," shouted one of the women as she pounded her fist on his desk. Eventually, an investigation was launched. The jailer resigned. And gradually things changed for the better. Christ is counting on us to make a difference in love.

Loving God, help me to love and make a difference for those who do bad things. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Ron Newhouse

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