I had the privilege of honoring one of the most amazing men I've ever known, today. My father-in-law turns 80 on Monday. That alone is hard for me to believe. He has always been 49 in my world. That's about the time I met him, and he is ageless.
My father-in-law, Alfred Snapp, Jr., has been a friend, a leader and a spiritual man in my life. Ironically, he was also my student for nearly 25 years. He is proof that a humble man can learn from anyone. He was my student when I was a Bible school director and instructor, and he served in my church throughout my twenty years as a pastor.
He has another legacy that follows along behind him that I only played a small role in, and he perfected it. In the early 90s, I was a pastor and chaplain at a regional jail. I had ministered to thousands of prisoners throughout the United States, and I was looking for men I could introduce into that ministry so that I could continue to build the church that I had planted a few years before.
I took Alfred and a handful of men with me to the jail one night to experience what it was like to visit those in prison (Matthew 25.36). I was always bold as a lion in prisons so the men with me had to follow along and trust me as we went through the process. That particular night, the administration allowed all of the prisoners to enter the yard were I was going to speak.
When the inmates were there, I began to share my story. Throughout the sharing time, the inmates began to press upon me as the yard filled with prisoners, coming closer and closer. As I spoke, some in the front began to tear up, some wept. For the first time in their lives they realized that making mistakes does not sentence a man to a life of failure and pain. There is another way.
I huddled with many of them and prayed and offered encouragement that they could change and become the men that God had designed them to be. It was an intense time for the inmates and for the guys who came with me. Some of the men were inspired to give prison work a try. Alfred was one of those men.
Those who felt compelled to work in the jails started to visit the prisoners regularly. Some dropped out after a short time, but others stayed. This isn't a ministry for the faint of heart. It's dangerous and extremely intense at times. Alfred continued on after my clergy responsibilities took me in other directions, and to this day he is one of the most widely respected and admired men in the regional jail system.
Inmates regularly come to his meetings, and he shares the path to a better, more productive life. He didn't come from the same mean streets that I did, but it doesn't matter. In him, they see a man of integrity and purpose who is willing to sacrifice his time and energy to make sure that they know that one mistake, or a half dozen mistakes, does not destine a man to a life of misery and heartache. Forgiveness from God is just a request away.
Happy birthday, Alfred. You are a great father-in-law, but more than that, you are truly a great man. I'm thankful God saw fit to place you in my life.