This story is about the grace of God. About a poor boy in Ethiopia who grew up to live the American Dream--- but saw it turn into a nightmare. Who hit rock bottom and then discovered True Riches. Who would now rather be poor with Christ than have the world's riches without Him.
My friend calls himself "The Anonymous Prodigal." About 75% of this story is in his own words.
"My story began in a small Ethiopian town called Kewisa, which is located about 450 km from the capital city, Add's Ababa. This area is known for its poverty and illiteracy. Not many parents sent their kids to school and college because we didn't know where our next meal would come from. If we didn't work, we literally didn't eat.
Survival was a priority. In order to survive, children in my community must work around the house and help out with daily chores. Life was tough, very tough! On a GOOD day we would eat twice a day. Many times I only had one meal a day. We drank coffee when there was nothing to eat in order to suppress our growling stomachs.
As a child, my main obligation was to honor and be completely obedient to my parents. Whatever Mom and Dad said, "their will be done." To disobey is to bring disgrace to oneself and to the family. To go to college to earn any kind of academic credentials is a luxury only for the rich people. After all, life itself is a school, at least that's what we were told.
So, growing up as a young boy, life was tough, but that was normal. You looked around, and all you saw was poverty-- poor neighbors, poor kids, poor parents, poor merchants, poor priests, poor teachers. The only thing that wasn't poor was the land. I believe God blessed the land to be fertile, and it was.
As a six year old boy, I remember having this wild dream--- a dream to leave our poverty behind and come to the most civilized country in the world---AMERICA. I fanticized and day-dreamed about it. No matter how bad life treated us, I knew one day I would be coming to America---the Land Of The Free---and live the abundant life. I didn't know how or when, but the dream never left my mind.
I even went to my cousin's house and asked them to lend me some money so I could buy me a pair of rubber boots. (A luxury you could only imagine.) And they would crack up laughing and ask me how in the world I would pay them back. My response was very brief, "I would pay you back double when I go to America!" Well I never saw that pair of rubber boots until seven years later.
Through it all, I was very fortunate to have both my parents. Even though dad didn't really care about religion and the spiritual aspect of life, he did the best he could and gave us what he had. Sadly, he drank a lot and that is one reason we didn't have more money. He would beat my mom, my sister and I. I used to hate him. But I have forgiven him for everything because of what Jesus did for me. Now all I'd like to do is hug him and tell him that I love him and thank him for all the lessons he taught me.
My mother was an elementary school teacher and very spiritual. She truly fears and believes in the existence of God and the importance of an education. Since I was a child, she instilled in me and my sister to revere our spiritual leaders who serve the body of Christ. She taught me to strive to excel in school. I thank God for both my parents, especially my mom.
So as a six year old young boy, my responsibility was to go to school, help around the house, shepherd the flocks and submit to may parents in every way. At the same time, the dream of coming to America never left my mind---not for a single day.
After fourteen years of poverty, hard labor and grumbling, by God's grace my wildest imagination and prayer finally came to pass. I will never, ever forget the feeling of joy I felt the first day I sat foot on U.S. soil at JFK airport in New York. I put down all my luggage on the ground at the parking lot and raised my hands toward the sky and said, "Yes! Yes! Yes! I am here at the Land of the Free! The most civilized nation! No more poverty! No more hunger!" Tears of joy were rolling down both my cheeks.
As soon as I arrived in America, my priority was to continue my education, but due to circumstances, I couldn't. In order to survive, I had to get a job. I got a job at a 7-11 within 30 days of my arrival. I was 20 years old, and this was my first paid job ever! Thirty days later, I got a second job at Starbucks. A few months later, I was able to squeeze in a part time job at a restaurant. Some days I didn't sleep at all, I just drank coffee and went from job to job.
Back in Ethiopia, I was used to hard labor from sunrise to sunset without getting paid. So coming to America and occupying myself with three jobs and getting paid---to me, that was big deal. Simply put, I was living THE DREAM. I kept those jobs for two years. My mom and I were able to get our own place. We also saved up enough money to buy a car. What a big difference from riding a donkey to driving a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am! It was much better and faster and more comfortable as well.
Then as I learned to move around the city, make some new friends and communicate a little better, I summoned the courage to obtain my commercial drivers license. (CDL) I got a job as a Coca Cola truck driver. The new job provided me with enough finances. I decided to quit my other three jobs and stick with truck driving. Who would have thought that a shepherd boy coming all the way from Ethiopia, East Africa to the most civilized nation in the world would be making $55,000 in a year, just 7 years after coming to America? To me, that was miraculous.
As days turned into months, and months into years, the more I thought I was living the abundant life, and enjoying the enormous freedom America has to offer, the more I was forgetting where I came from. I felt distant from my innocence. I neglected most of the moral values I had been taught as a teenager, such as living a pure life without defiling myself, earning an honest living, always telling the truth, and respecting myself and others. Little did I know that freedom comes with responsibility---the more freedom, the more responsibility. I thought freedom meant to say and do as I wish, with no regard for others. So that is exactly what I did.
But ironically, the more I indulged in this so-called freedom , the more I felt shameful, unsatisfied, empty within and lonely. And what is more, I started developing both physical and psychological sicknesses.
I came to the point where I asked myself why I wasn't satisfied. I was generating more income than I ever dreamed of. I indulged in all kinds of sensual pleasures, ate as much as I wanted--like there was no tomorrow.
I was living my dream. But why wasn't I happy?
By God's grace, when I found out what it was that caused dissatisfaction, fear, low self-esteem, and depression, I was already behind bars. I was serving a 14 year sentence in a Federal Institution, for armed robbery and the use of a fire arm.
After 16 years of living in America, 9 of them in prison, I finally began to realize that the freedom people in this civilized nation cherish IS NOT TRUE FREEDOM AT ALL. True freedom can only be found through the redeeming blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I also began to realize that the so-called freedom people cherish is the "freedom" of sin!
I know I can't redo my past. I know that the God I serve understands what it means to be human--He made this clear by becoming flesh through His only Begotten Son, Jesus. I also believe that He understands that "to err is human," and I am foolish, hard-headed, and the king of mistakes!
But I also know that all my guilt and regrets are being washed away by the Redeeming Blood and I have now become a New Creation! As a new creation, my prayers and supplications are that I might have the strength and the courage NOT to make the same mistakes again. And also to "Not lead me into temptation, but deliver me from all evil."
I have found through all my mistakes and failures that the True Riches are found in Jesus Christ. I lost all my earthly riches, but the riches I have in Jesus are secure and lasting! I lived the American Dream but it turned into a nightmare. I tried many sensual pleasures, but they did not satisfy my craving for God. I ate all the food I wanted, but was still "hungry." I had more money than I ever dreamed of having, but I was still poor.
And when I look in other people's eyes who are chasing the same things I did, I see the same emptiness and loneliness that was in me. I am not judging them! I only wish for them what I have found.
By His grace, I will never trade my peace for any earthly dreams. I would much rather go back to Ethiopia and be a poor shepherd boy again---with Jesus--- than live the American Dream without Him.
So here I am, sitting behind these walls, hoping and planning to go back to Ethiopia to my old profession as a shepherd boy. I no longer desire the American Dream. I just want to live a simple, faithful life for Christ. He must increase but I must decrease. I want to do the best I can to live an innocent and pure life---without defilement. Of course there is nothing I can do without my Redeemer and Savior---Jesus, but I'm very confident that I can do all things through Him.
I encourage everyone who is reading this, if you've not yet found this blessed assurance and healing in Jesus, seek Him with all your heart. If you do, you will find Him. Read John 3:16.
May all the glory and honor be to God."
The Prodigal Son, Mr. Anonymous
Super Bowl LII
Today is a very important spiritual holiday. The high priests and high priestesses of this religion are busily preparing for the occasion. Worshippers around the globe will be giving their total attention to the proceedings.
There will be priests on the field. They will be the finest specimens of male physiology. They will be displaying their prowess in bodily ways. They will be dressed in the shining robes of their religion. There will be priestesses on the sidelines. They will be displaying themselves to enhance the worship experience. They will be dressed in very little. There will be a half-time show of who-knows-what.
It will basically be a body show. The brawn and beauty of the species will be showcased in the most watched spectacle of the year.
And people, who otherwise seem decent, will waste hours of precious life watching human flesh display uncivilized and risqué behaviors. People who, otherwise seem to possess wisdom, will surrender hours at which they would revolt, if a Church service or a prayer meeting would dare to last so long.
But maybe that is the attraction to this worship experience? Sports is, after all, the perfect religion. No smoke and mirrors. No sleight of hand. What you see is what you get. There is no hypocrisy. Either the ball went through the hoop or it did not. Either it was fair or it was foul. When the bell rings, it is over. The score board does not tell lies.
In all this hedonistic show of flesh; real substance is sadly missing. The jolts of the gladiator contest are there but any enduring legacy is not. The allurements of the bodies are there but lasting value is sacrificed.
Where is the real/true religion? The real worship of a real Man whose body was also displayed – displayed for all the world to see. The Man who began the real and true religion to call real men and real women to serve Him, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Where is that man? The Man who never wore a Super Bowl ring but wore a crown of thorns. The man who was despised and rejected by the masses but will someday wear the crown as King of kings of all the Universe.
Can we worship both? Can we worship the priests and priestesses of this world AND the high Priest of the real religion? The high Priest whose body was also displayed? The high Priest whose body hung on a cross for all the world to see and to mock and to jeer. The high Priest who died that we may live. Can we have it both ways? Will He allow us that duality and duplicity? Will He share His space in our heart with the lust of a world that has rejected Him?
Many people will watch the Super Bowl. Many knees will “bow” at the shrine of this religion. Someday, the Bible tells us, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” I will not be participating in this religious event this Sunday.
Someday I long to be among those who cast their crowns at the feet of the real Man – the God-Man. The Man who made Himself of no reputation but the man whose character is unassailable – the Man whose life is pristine goodness – the Man of God. The God Man – The Man who was willing to allow abuse without retaliation. The Man who died for me – and for you. The Man who brought and bought redemption. That will be real worship – worship that will last forever. I trust that we shall meet at that Spiritual holiday.
Greetings Dear Friends,
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the prayers offered up for my family and I this past year. And thank you for all the cards and letters. I wish it were possible to answer every one of them! If you didn't get a reply from me, I hope you can take this as a personal "Thank You!" I get so much mail at this time of year it's almost embarrassing. Many of my fellow inmates get little or no mail. So when I carry my stack back to the cell I try to hide it. (I'm not trying to discourage you from writing, keep the mail coming!)
This is Christmas Day, 2017. I'm sitting here at my favorite spot at the end of the hallway in Richmond Hall, right beside a steam pipe. The concrete floor I'm sitting on must have a pipe under it too, because the floor is nice and toasty. A ventilation fan is roaring just a few feet away, affording me the privacy of singing out loud or praying.
When I first got here this morning I was feeling rather gloomy.
I'm still here.
Last summer we found out I was supposed to go to a halfway house on Dec. 15 and be sent home on home confinement the same day or the next. I was ecstatic!
But I'm still here.
It was a bitter pill when I found out on November 1 that my halfway house was canceled due to budget cuts. We then went to a lot of trouble to apply for release straight from prison under an alternative home confinement program. Many people have been praying about this.
Nothing's happened. I most certainly am still here at FCC Petersburg, on Christmas Day, 2017.
Sorry, dear friends! It appears your prayers weren't answered.
I admit some tears were shed into my pillow one night.
Or... were our prayers answered? Is it O.K. with us to get a "No" from God? What is evidence of strong faith? Getting what we prayed for? When our prayers aren't answered in the way we wish, can we still be happy in God? Isn't that evidence of strong faith too?
I admit, it's been tough. I'd rather not stay here a single minute longer than needed!
As I sat beside that steam pipe this morning trying to nurse my rather gloomy faith, I thought of that wonderful hymn portraying Jesus' incarnation:
Thou didst leave thy Throne and Thy Kingly Crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me.
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
"Oh Come to my heart Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee!"
I realized that once again I had slipped into the all too common fault of focusing on circumstances instead of on Jesus. This world IS INDEED a gloomy place without God.
OH COME TO MY HEART LORD JESUS, THERE IS ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THEE!
Sitting there with my back to the prison wall, I realized I needed to claim the promise of Revelation 3:20 once again. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me."
Years ago, I learned this verse is not only for the sinner turning his life over to the Savior for the first time. The context indicates this promise is for believers who need a change of focus.
This promise is for those who are lonely and in need of a Friend. For those who are broken and weary of life. For those who are in various kinds of prisons.
In all my 52 years, there has never been greater joy than this experience of fellowship with Jesus the Messiah. We all know the pleasure of sitting down to a good meal with a dear friend.
This is the Meal of Meals with the Friend of Friends. It's a most delightful meal of Nourishing Milk and Living Bread and the best kind of Wine. And it's all Free. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
This Fellowship Meal "Brings Good News to the poor; heals the brokenhearted, deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and opening of the prison to those that are bound." (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19)
"Hey," I thought to myself, "I'm not in prison on this Christmas morning, I'm free!!" And I remembered that years ago I had given up my freedom to Christ. This means the Federal Government couldn't take from me what I had already given away.
THIS CHRISTMAS MORNING, I'M OUTA HERE! I'M FREE! If the Son makes us free, we are free indeed!
Jesus is the ultimate Psychologist. And He makes house calls anywhere in the world. if we answer to His knock, He comes in. He mends our broken hearts, and helps us sort through the shattered dreams of our lives. He pours healing balm on our disappointments. He opens our blind eyes allowing us to see things we've never seen before. He delivers us from our prisons, the things that bind us.
His Living presence is better than getting what I want. I would a thousand times rather be in here with His peaceful, loving presence than out there without Him.
"This is the Year of the Lord's Favor!" Jesus declared in that synagogue many years ago. With that He ushered in the Year of Jubilee when everyone's debts are canceled and the slaves are set free.
This is the Good News of Christmas.
Together, on this Christmas day, let us throw open the doors of our hearts to Him. THERE IS ROOM IN OUR HEARTS FOR THEE!
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804
Christmas Day, 2017
We've recently received this very disappointing news about Ken's release. We've been looking forward for a long time to having Ken home by Christmas. He was planning to spend about 3 months here in home confinement.
"Due to budget cuts to the halfway house processing my home confinement, I lost the home confinement time. At this point my release date is March 6 instead of December 15. We're terribly disappointed of course, but giving it all into God's hands, and plan to be happy anyway.
We're requesting approval for home-confinement through another little-used program. Please pray that the local and regional case managers and the U.S probation office will approve this plan. Please pray that I could still be home by Christmas."
Please join Ken and family in praying that he could be home by Christmas. A call to your senator or representative to request intervention on his behalf wouldn't hurt either!
I admit it. Raised in the Shenandoah Valley with the middle name "Lee", not far from the burial places of both Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, I grew up with a dose of Southern pride.
For better or worse, Stonewall Jackson was a sort of hero to me. His regiment's intervention at the Battle of Bull Run won the battle for the South that day.
Anther confederate soldier declared afterward, "I saw Jackson standing like a 'stone wall,'" and the name stuck.
Later in life when I began to absorb the Kingdom Teachings of Jesus for myself, particularly His teaching on non-violence and loving our enemies, the southern nationalism sort of fell away along with much of my admiration for Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
This is close to treason for a good Valley boy, I know.
But now I pledge allegiance to the "Holy Nation" ruled by King Jesus, and my Citizenship is in heaven. Heavenly Patriotism now beats in my breast.
Now my hero is George "Firmwall" Friesen.
Let me tell you about him.
"Firmwall" Friesen was a cabinet maker in Cologne Germany. In 1562, he was taken into custody for his faith, and put into a dungeon in the count's castle.
The authorities pleaded, cajoled and threatened him with extreme torture and death if he didn't give up his beliefs. But George "Firmwall" Friesen stood firm and rejoiced in his God.
The count offered him money and his servant maid for a wife, if he would only renounce. But "Firmwall" Friesen said, "Your servant maid, riches or money cannot take me to God, but I have chosen something better, for which I have to strive."
Another man offered him a new life in England. But "Firmwall" Friesen wished to emigrate to a Better Country.
Because he stood his ground, "Firmwall" Friesen was eventually thrown into the Rhine and drowned, "Thus testifying with his death that he was a partaker of Christ's sufferings."
You can read the entire account on pages 661-663 of the Martyrs Mirror.
How did George "Firmwall" Friesen get his name?
The Martyrs Mirror makes this observation about him: "Through the help of the Lord (his) heart stood FIRM AS A WALL."
Here are excerpts from a letter he wrote before he died: "Behold, I proclaim unto you much joy, which I experience as Christ the Son of God promised. If we FIRMLY abide in Him and bring forth good fruit, he will give us a mouth of wisdom as His divine Word says."
"...Cling FIRMLY to Jesus Christ; see that you lose not those things which you have wrought, nor be afraid of the princes of this world."
May all of us heed George "Firmwall" Friesen's parting words: "My brethren, if you would rejoice in the Spirit, and herein understand me thoroughly, then beware of sin and you will see clearly."
And let us "Hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope FIRM unto the end." (Heb. 3:6b)