“The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.” —Isaiah 11:6-9, The Message
Isaiah 11 paints a beautiful and prophetic picture of redemption. The wolf lives with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion, and the cow with the bear; all of them are led by a child. The image is clear and intentional—the predator and the prey will be reconciled. Those who once caused harm and fed upon others will do so no more. I have the privilege to work at New Person Ministries, a halfway house in Reading, Pennsylvania, for men coming out of prison. The vast majority of the men who come to us are those who have no place to go once they’re eligible for parole or when they are released from prison. On a daily basis, I interact with many types of wolves, leopards, and bears, but I realize that in almost every case, these men were at one time powerless themselves. People who hurt other people have almost always been hurt themselves. I offer this not as an excuse, but as the reality I see on a regular basis.
Anyone who works in prison ministry can tell you that this work comes with plenty of heartache. I feel this pain as I learn about our resident who had relapsed with alcohol without us knowing and now is looking at serving a much longer prison sentence. I beat my fists against the wall over the man who will not commit to the necessary steps for his recovery. I sigh when words are only words and do not actually signify true change.
I am aware that I work with a difficult segment of society. I understand the stigma, and I see the danger, but my reality has been challenged and changed by these men. I no longer see wolves, but broken men covered in shame, longing to have some semblance of a normal life. For the vast majority, this will be an impossibility. The tasks of finding meaningful employment, a place to live, and positive social relationships will prove daunting for most of our men. This is made even more difficult by their constant reality of shame and desperation for forgiveness. I truly work with the lepers of our society.
In spite of the many frustrations, I see God moving. I see God when a returning citizen meets with his support group for the first time, with whom he had been corresponding for over a decade while incarcerated. I see God moving in the soul of a man trying to do everything he can to raise his son in an environment different from the one in which he grew up, even when he does not know what that new environment should look like. I see God in the care residents give one another and the gratitude and tears that are shed at not having to spend another Christmas behind bars.
Jesus paints a picture of a banquet feast in multiple gospels. The invited guests come up with excuses for not attending, so the host instead fills his table with outcasts. I see this as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. Imagine the beautiful scene where all these guests sit down to break bread together. There is no longer the predator and prey, rich and poor, powerful and weak; there is just the master and his feast. This is the scene I yearn for, and I beckon the day of its coming, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jordan Kauffman serves on the Advisory Board for Redemption Housing and is the Executive Director at New Person Ministries, a Christ-centered halfway house based out of Reading, PA.