As OCPM’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, and one of OCPM’s newest staff members, I was very fortunate to recently travel to Pennsylvania to meet with our Director of Training and Spiritual Care, Fr. John Kowalczyk, and see him in “action.”
For two days we visited SCI Waymart Correctional Facility with Fr. John as he made his weekly rounds. I got to see first hand as Fr. John provided pastoral care for the people in prison. His sheer devotion to the prisoners was so inspiring. In fact, his years of consistency in visiting prisons was the overwhelming feedback that we received from the people in prison. “He shows up, and he has been for years,” said one of the prisoners. Another man was holding back his tears and his throat was getting scratchy as he read a poem that he wrote about Fr. John.
As we entered one of the units, a prisoner with one of the warmest smiles said with excitement in his voice, “Welcome OCPM, Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry!” We went on to hear from several individuals how OCPM saved their lives. “OCPM visits us and cares.” One man showed us a large plastic bag full of his cherished weekly mail from OCPM; he could show us every single thing we’d sent him throughout the years.
As our Executive Director, who was leading the Bible study outside in the sun filled yard, came across Matthew 16:25, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” everyone in the yard started singing “Amazing Grace.” What a wonderful opportunity to be there with these men as they sang such a beautiful song.
We were sitting inside with another unit sharing stories and talking about life, and one man said that because of his involvement with OCPM he now sees God everywhere. “I look at the rays of the sun and I see Christ,” he said. I thought to myself that there must be a deeper theological point here. We see the sun by way of seeing the rays of the sun. And we see God the Father by way of seeing Christ. Wow, I thought, this man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison and he is being visited by Christ.
Sometimes it is tempting to think that there is no hope for some people, that they are lost causes, or that their hearts have become too hardened. But God makes His sun rise on the just and the unjust, and His transforming love and forgiveness was clearly evident in the men that we visited at SCI Waymart.