Gerald and Bev, friends of mine, take annual vacations to the Dominican Republic. There are two very different experiences that can happen in the DR – the tourist beach experience, and the real DR life. They left the tourist zone to visit the Anthony’s, a missionary couple who had been working in the DR for years, planting churches in the Santo Domingo area. They had been robbed three times, and like many others on the island have to carry pistols with them for self-defense! They requested that Gerald visit another missionary who was in prison there on the island, falsely charged with murder, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He had served five years, and had very few visitors.
A four hour bus ride later Gerald and Bev arrived in Puerto Plata, but Gerald would need a taxi driver to take him up into the remote hills to the prison. The first taxi driver refused to take him. “Don’t go there! Very dangerous!” A second taxi driver reluctantly agreed. Winding up into the hills, they came to the prison. True to most prisons in Third World countries, it looked terrible. The guards at the gate could not speak English, but with many gestures he finally understood he would have to leave his coat, hat, watch, and phone outside the prison. And then one more item was not allowed – his shirt was the wrong color. Visitors cannot wear green or blue, as these are the colors for prisoners only. So Gerald turned to the taxi driver, gave him his valuables and exchanged shirts.
Through several locked gates, Gerald was ushered into a large room with tables and chairs, many prisoners and visitors milling about. The guard called the prisoners name. Gerald noticed that many prisoners turned and watched as the imprisoned missionary (we will call him George) came forward.
Gerald introduced himself, expecting to hear George ask that he go to the consulate and seek assistance to be released from prison. Instead, George began telling him of all the people that come to faith in that prison, of the Bible studies and life transformations he had been witnessing. “When I was younger I dedicated my life in service to God, telling him that I would serve him anywhere he wanted. I did not guess that prison would be where he would send me! Please pray for me – I only have seven years left and my ministry will be done here, and there’s so much more to do!”
When Gerald emerged from the prison, he was relieved to see the taxi driver was still there. He had gone into the prison thinking he would encourage a brother, but instead came away greatly encouraged and challenged himself.
On hearing this story, I was reminded of a similar one in the Bible: Joseph in Pharaohs prison. Here are two stories of people falsely imprisoned, but turning that disaster into an opportunity. When I imagine myself in a situation like this, I wonder how I would respond. I think I would be afraid and probably depressed. Perhaps Joseph and George felt like that initially… but something about their character enabled them to transcend the situation.
We are not born with character; it has to be developed. Joseph’s story is one of transformation from a spoiled young boy to Prime Minister of the world’s superpower. There was a character transformation necessary before he could become prime minister. The curriculum that God used was life – the series of things that happened to Joseph. These experiences (both good and bad) are opportunities to grow in character, or crumble into self-centeredness.
We too have a choice in how to respond: do the natural response (the easy response, and often wrong) or the right one (always harder). Our choices determine the trajectory of our character. If we keep doing the easy natural response we end up in character disaster; if however we consciously choose the response we know is right from Scripture, we find over time that our character is developed.
Easier said than done.
You and I are where we are because of the series of choices we have made. Everything connects, everything matters. There are no inconsequential decisions. Every decision reflects character.
By midlife we have had enough experience to know the truth about ourselves, and some of it we don’t like. The good news is if a series of choices got us to where we are, then a new series of choices can take us somewhere else. The challenge is that most adults cannot change by themselves – we need to seek God afresh with a new structure around us that points us in a new direction.
The CREST Leadership Program is exactly that structure, designed for people in the second half of life who want to go deeper with God, ensure that they have a right direction, and make their second half their best half. If your life matters to you, consider joining a CREST cohort – with fellow travelers on the same road of life willing to commit to end well.