By Alan Ch'ng
Ted (not his real name) was facing the intense challenges of re-entering society from a New Zealand prison when he met John and Eliza MacClure. After spending extensive personal time with John in the Scriptures, Ted gave his life to Jesus. Ted also began inviting other marginalized and broken men from his hostel to study the Bible with John. He is now working as a support worker with others who have a heart for ex-prisoners. But last year, after five years, Ted succumbed to past struggles. His life unraveled again.
“We were naïve in thinking that this amount of time would be enough to ground him.” said John. “Now, we know to expect to have to deal with problems as they arise and that some things take a long time to sort out, but to never give up.”
John and Eliza didn’t give up on Ted. As a result, Ted is continuing to rely on God day-to-day, strength-to-strength, as he seeks to overcome his past and live a full life.
Eliza has also been helping a recovering drug addict. Although he’s accepted Jesus, his physical problems have caused terrible suffering. Eliza comes alongside him in moments of serious crisis, helping him to cope through friendship and counsel. Because of her refusal to give up and her unconditional love, she is one of only two people whom he trusts enough to share his heart.
Loving well requires staying power. “Wonderful things are happening as, very slowly and little-by-little, men we work with are coming to faith,” says John. “Others are growing stronger in their journey with God. It’s both exciting and sobering to realize we are involved in such weighty matters.”
John and Eliza work with a team of Navigators in New Zealand called “Settlers.” They are dedicating their lives to helping the broken and marginalized make the difficult journey back into mainstream society.
John has seen firsthand the obstacles that ex-prisoners face. Until his recent retirement, John served for many years as a reintegration caseworker for the New Zealand Department of Corrections, working in Christchurch.
“At the time of leaving prison, especially after a long period, it is like someone moving to a new country for the first time not knowing the language or customs,” he says.
Although several other social agencies help released prisoners find housing and work, the Settlers team believes it is paramount for ex-prisoners to be accepted by and belong to a positive network and community. This is the focus of the Settlers team. They provide former prisoners an opportunity to develop circles of support and to strengthen their social capital.
Inspired and motivated by Psalm 1, Isaiah 61 and Isaiah 58:6-12, the Settlers team prays that each man or woman they serve through the love of Christ will go on to produce spiritual generations among others who are broken and marginalized.
The key, say John and Eliza, is perseverance. As Paul said in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
“We are learning to keep a long perspective and to wait with patience,” says John, pointing out that the word patience comes from the Latin verb patior, which means “to suffer.”
Please pray for these patient, dedicated Navigators in New Zealand, that God would use them to develop the ex-prisoners they serve into future leaders who will help others experience the true freedom of Jesus.
Alan Ch'ng is a member of the International Executive Team. Prior to this role, he served as country leader for Malaysia, and as the regional director of the Asia-Pacific work. Alan is married to Connie and they are blessed with three adult children.