Remembering Chuck Colson

The election of 1972 was the first time I was eligible to cast a ballot in a presidential contest. But as Watergate unfolded, I became so disillusioned with politics and politicians–on both sides–that I sat it out and didn’t vote.

1972 was also the year that I became a Christian.  A couple of years later, when I learned that Chuck Colson had also become a believer, I was at first curious — and then encouraged greatly by his book, “Born Again,” and by his testimony.

As I followed Chuck’s life, I was impressed by his commitment to get into the ring and take action.  Rather than shrink back into a religious cocoon, Chuck forged ahead into all sorts of arenas, from prison ministry to public policy to Christian thought leadership.

In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of accompanying Chuck into a maximum-security prison in South Carolina for a Prison Fellowship evangelistic event.

I was there with a job to do.  I was supposed to gather stories and resource to be used to raise funds for future Prison Fellowship efforts.

But something happened when I went through step after step of security.  I felt myself beginning to understand the sense of hopelessness of being locked up.  When the big metal door closed with the resounding clank, you knew you were not getting out until the authorities let you out.

Chuck Colson kept his promise to never forget those in prison.It was summer.  We were in South Carolina.  And prisons don’t have air conditioning.  As we visited prisoners cell by cell, we got the sense of how bereft of hope so many of them were.  These were broken men who had made serious mistakes and were packed away in tiny cells to pay their debt.  The prisoners who did not know the Lord were a picture of despair.

After a day of visiting prisoners cell by cell, the day culminated in a service.  Chuck preached, and Steven Curtis Chapman played guitar and sang.

I will never forget the amazing moment, at the end of the service, as everyone joined together arm in arm singing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Grown men were weeping.  The love of God had dispelled the darkness, and we were having church and experiencing a little piece of heaven right there in that prison.

This was just one of the many examples of Chuck keeping his promise to remember his fellow prisoners.

One personal note:  Chuck was somewhat wary of marketers and almost always either wrote his own letters or used a trusted, personal ghostwriter.

But back in 1996, for one reason or another, his usual resources were not available.  Even though I was an agency marketer, I was asked to write a letter for Chuck.  Frankly, I think I was the last resort.

The letter announced a major, new initiative by Prison Fellowship and asked donors to send a gift of support.  I knew of Chuck’s low opinion of “slick marketers,” and so I undertook the assignment with fear and trepidation.  I studied everything I could find, to learn what Chuck had said or written about the topic, wrote and rewrote and revised again.  Finally, I sent the letter off to Chuck.

To my great relief, he liked it.

I still regard his approval of that single letter one of the proudest moments of my professional career.