I never thought of myself as having a particularly memorable voice. Recent events, however, have shown me that, at least in certain situations, the sound of my voice has made a discernible impression on several people.
My wife Beverly and I were talking while standing in line at a local bookstore when the gentleman behind us said, “I know that voice! Where do I know that voice from?” Turning around, I encountered a twenty-something young man bedecked with tattoos. He said that he recognized my voice but couldn’t remember where he had heard it before. I introduced myself and told him that I served as a chaplain at juvenile hall. He stated that was where he knew my voice from. “You are the church guy, huh?” he asked. “I attended a number of your services back when I was in the hall. I am married now and have two kids. I have become a Christian too. Tonight is our wedding anniversary and I'm picking up a gift for my wife.”
Not long after that, I was placing an order at a greasy-spoon fast food joint whose artery-clogging burgers I really enjoy when a voice behind me said, “You are Chuck Workman, huh? I recognize the voice.” It turned out that this college-aged gentleman was the son of a pastor at whose church I had often preached.
More recently, I was visiting a sober living facility where a young friend of mine was residing when a staff member there asked, “You don’t happen to be a pastor, do you? You have the wonderful resonant voice of a pastor.”
When I consider male voices that might be considered distinctive, names like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, Orson Wells, James Earl Jones, and Ricardo Montalban come to mind. My voice, I think most who know me would agree, would be well within the bounds of ordinary. I was surprised, therefore, when, even more recently, someone once again made reference to the distinctiveness of my voice.
Answering the phone one day, a male voice asked if I was Chuck Workman. When I responded in the affirmative, he said “My name is ______. You won’t remember me, but back in 97-98, I was in juvenile hall, and you spent a lot of time praying with me. I have never forgotten that. I was a hard-core gangster back then and facing prison time. My homies (friends) and I got locked up because someone had snitched us off. I had promised myself that I was going to kill that person if I ever got the chance. You were willing to listen and I remember pouring my heart out to you. I also remember your prayers. That was what God used to begin changing my life. I was in the hall for 5 months. My crime partners were all adults and got heavy prison sentences. I was looking at a lot of prison time too, but I believe that God protected me from that. I got one year local time and two years probation. I have thought of calling you many times just to thank you for the way you cared for me back in the day. I am 30 now, have been married for nine years, have two children, am working two jobs, and love the Lord. I was finally able to find a phone number for you and wished to call to say thank you for the spiritual impact you had on me during that very difficult period of my life.”
We met for dinner soon after that and talked until the restaurant closed. It wasn’t so much the conversation we shared that evening that, once again, touched his heart, as the grace I said prior to eating. Lifting his head from prayer, he wiped away tears and said, “That voice! How well I remember that voice and the many times you prayed for me when I was in the hall.”
That evening proved to be the start of what has turned out to be a wonderful friendship. We now meet regularly for dinner where, inevitably, he will reminisce about the hard times of his youth. Recently he said, “I went from wanting to kill, to prayer, to experiencing God’s grace, to salvation.” He pulled a picture from his wallet of one of his still-incarcerated crime partners who is now in his fourteenth year of an eighteen-year sentence. He reflected on the fact of how easily that fate could been his, should have been his.
Early in my ministerial career I worked for a correctional chaplain who harped on the theme that showing up for work was the most important thing I could do. I wanted to save the world for Jesus back then, at least the world of juvenile corrections, and thought his statement simplistic.
Now I understand more clearly what that chaplain was saying. My role as a chaplain in juvenile hall is less about the saving of souls (that is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility) and more about being a faithful Christian presence through whom the Holy Spirit could work to touch the lives of some of his more needy children.
The importance of being a Christian presence was brought home to me years ago through a conversation I had with a probation officer. Her five-year-old niece was having difficulty sleeping through the night due to nightmares. The little girl’s mother would tell her that she had nothing to fear for Jesus was with her. One night, following a particularly frightening nightmare, the mother said “Why are you afraid, Honey? Didn’t I tell you that Jesus would always be there to protect you?” The young girl replied, “I know he will mommy, but sometimes I just need someone with skin.”
It was not the supposed distinctiveness of my voice that had so moved the heart of that former gangster but, rather, the distinctive voice of the Holy Spirit that had spoken through this all-too-human “skin” of mine to touch the heart of that young prodigal.
WIXIM Ministries Inc.
Rev. Chuck Workman has been working with juvenile delinquents for decades. He presently works for WIXIM Ministries as the Chaplain Coordinator for the San Diego Probation Department.
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