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TROY: CALLED TO PRISON MINISTRY
His name is Troy, The "t" and "y" for me, and the "r", "o" and "y" for Roy. Troy was a biracial baby adopted by his young parents Rich and Carol who were serving the churches in Muskegon, doing community ministry. Rich had just been ordained to the ministry. They were extremely well motivated young people with a sort of liberal bent, and inter-racial adoption was the in-thing in the 60s. Our sons used to baby-sit Troy in those days.
Our ways parted and we had virtually no contact with Troy or his parents. All that we knew about them was good. But out of the blue we heard that Troy had gotten into bad company and was given this horrible sentence. Further news about Troy was not good either. Because of prison violations not even his parents were allowed to visit him. When once we spoke they hadn't seen him in four years. Troy was a tough customer. We often prayed for him.
But, wonder of wonders, last year his parents jubilantly informed us that Troy had undergone a radical conversion, and they showed us letters which utterly amazed us. The transformation was nigh unbelievable, but it was true. His letters were living epistles.
At that point I decided to get in contact with Troy and have been corresponding with him since. I was totally curious about what had led him to a life of crime and what he had done to receive such punishment without having killed anyone, and what he could tell me about the grace of God that changed his life. It has been an extremely interesting past year.
In the course of our correspondence I asked Troy to tell me the whole story. It took him twelve single-spaced typed pages to set it all out. I'll try to condense it into a couple of pages and draw some conclusions.
Troy attended the Muskegon Christian schools along with his younger brothers. He says: "For thirteen years I was raised as, and thought I was, a white child. I had no reason to think or believe I was any different than the members of my family."
One day, in about the sixth grade, that innocence came to an end. A friend asked why it was that he was black and his family was white. Though biracial he was very fair complexioned and he had never really noticed he was that different, and it hadn't mattered. That question shocked him to the core of his being. Suddenly he didn't belong to his family.
That was the turning point in his life. From that day he felt alienated and began to hold deep-seated resentment, toward his family and the world in general. His family felt the brunt of his emotional turmoil. He stole from them, fought with them, tormented them, and rejected them. Having lost his emotional strength he resorted to his physical ability to pursue a life of theft, alcohol, sex and drugs. He found life in the streets with people of his color. He was in and out of juvenile detention. His one goal was to get money so as to be financially independent.
Once, while in a half-way house for released delinquents he was invited to a Pentecostal-type revival service in which he underwent an amazing spiritual experience--profuse sweating in the pew, a coming forward, where he confessed his sins, all of them, a vision with a distant light and the figure of Jesus and a blacking-out that left him on the floor. He found himself being revived by the attending clergy. But instead of causing him to rejoice in deliverance, he left vowing never to come near a church again. It had been too much for him. And he returned to a life of crime.
During this time he found he was to become a father so out of duty he decided to marry the woman he had used in his lust. But by the time they were married he had another child on the way by a friend of his wife. Before a year had passed he and his wife had a second child, so he had a total of three children in one year. He was 19. And he was soon divorced.
But money is power and he had to have it so he set out on a life of crime. He, a girl friend and her sister and her boy friend, were living out a Bonnie and Clyde-style, interstate crime spree. They dealt in drugs and robbed whoever they could, especially other drug dealers. After a year they came back to Muskegon and planned a serious heist. It was in February 1995. Troy was 24. They would rob a jewelry store and if necessary, kill the owner. Mike had the gun and would carry out the robbery but Troy was the instigator and planner. He stayed in the getaway car while his buddies botched up the robbery, shooting the owner five times and leaving him critically wounded. They were arrested the next day, all plead guilty except Troy who swore he had no knowledge this was going to happen. He was tried and given a life term as a habitual criminal.
Troy was far from a model prisoner. He dealt in drugs in the prison, resulting in years of "no visitors allowed." Then he plotted a prison break that was discovered and was given a year in solitary confinement where he finally began to face himself. With nothing to do he began to seriously read the Bible. His mother continued to write him, assuring him of their love and prayers for him. But the turmoil he had caused in his parents' lives finally brought her to a desperate confrontation with her son in which she abjectly took blame for his wasted life in words too personal and private to reveal. At that point Troy was finally struck with the wickedness of his spirit and life, got down on his knees and, with great sobbing, confessed his sins and sought the Lord. And the Lord answered him in grace.
Troy has found a new life of witness to the gospel with his fellow inmates. He has become a virtual evangelist. Looking back on his life as one who believes in God's guiding providence, he even sees how his life of crime has equipped him to understand and relate to others who have lived that same way. He speaks with the authority of one who has walked in sin and found salvation. He has little hope of ever being released from prison. He has dropped his appeal. He writes: God sat me down one afternoon and asked me a question. "Do you trust me?" "Yes Father, I do." "Then give me your case and you do my work and I will see you through." And that is exactly what I did. I took all the materials relating to my conviction and threw them in the garbage. The Lord gave me my own personal mission field in exchange. What greater opportunity in this world is there than to work directly for God, to bring Jesus Christ to people who are going to die and be separated from God forever? There is nothing greater!
He is burdened by the fact that he cannot be a father to the children he helped bring into the world. He has tried to contact the jeweler whom he victimized in the robbery attempt, confessing his sorrow. To date he has not heard from him but hopes somehow to bring about some kind of reconciliation. He visualizes a reunion of the students at Muskegon Christian and inks of all the success stories. If he were there he would have his own "success" story--being called of the Lord to help saving the souls of sinners. And he believes the Lord has reserved a place for him at the reunion table. He also believes Jesus is in prison with him and he identifies with Paul who called himself a prisoner for Christ.
Troy hopes to write his autobiography as a witness to God's grace. In closing he writes: "I wish you well, and the constant observance of the grace and peace of our heavenly Father in his Son, Jesus Christ.
I'm wondering--would it be possible for Classis Muskegon to ordain him as an evangelist, to preach the gospel, baptize the saved and administer the Lord's Supper to the saints there gathered in prison? Why not?
(This article was published in the May, 2004, Christian Courier, a Canadian newspaper with a Reformed Christian perspective)
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