For many of us, 2020 was a long and arduous year. The past ten months or so have likely brought about a mixture of memories that most will be content to leave behind. Individuals and families across this country felt feelings of social isolation, loneliness and loss in a manner and scale they’d not experienced before. This has likewise been the experience of many men who’ve begun the process of transitioning from the correctional system back into their communities. The residents participating in Damascus Way’s program have felt a keen sense of this separation from their loved ones as they battle their own struggles with mental health, addiction and familial brokenness. These realities closely parallel that of the thousands of incarcerated men across the state where an average of 1 in 5 individuals in state and federal prisons contracted Covid-19, “a rate more than four times as high as the general population.”
In spite of the challenges that this past year brought for both our men and our staff at Damascus Way, we thank God for the opportunities, milestones and triumphs that 2020 gave us. Looking forward to the new year ahead, we at Damascus see potential for growth and development in our programming and our discipleship of the men in our care. Nearly fifty men successfully graduated from our two primary sites this past year and the incredible generosity of new and long-donors allowed us to continue our work and develop our vision. The completion and launch of our new 30 bed Golden Valley site was also an exciting and long-awaited achievement!
During this new year, those of us at Damascus Way have taken some time to reflect back on the story of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus and it’s centrality in our vision here. For myself, the story of the Apostle Paul is a powerful reminder of how an encounter with the risen Christ can come to anyone no matter what defined their past. It is a testimony that God can radically transform even the ‘chief among sinners,’ as Paul called himself (1 Tim 1:15), into powerful disciples and ministers of Jesus. The men we work with at Damascus are often looked down upon by society at large due to being convicted felons, addicts or simply broken men. Too often our society and even the church, has kept these men at arms-length or turned their backs on them. Paul’s story is about an angry, broken man who opened his heart to Jesus. But it is also a story of a grace filled and welcoming church community that opened their hearts to someone who had been their vehement enemy. It took the grace of Christ extended to Paul on the Damascus Road, as well as the grace of the church that received and discipled Paul, to change his life, and through him, the world.
Paul’s story is a poignant reminder that no one is beyond the scope of forgiveness and salvation. It is also a reminder of the church’s role in facilitating reconciliation and redemption. We invite you to reflect on the weight of Paul’s conversion story, particularly as we enter 2021 with a greater commitment to engage in discussions related to criminal justice reform and issues of racial inequality and injustice in America, while maintaining a distinctly gospel oriented approach. Going forward Damascus would like to highlight these issues whether on our blog or during weekly devotions or through other formats of dialogue. We look forward to further discussion with you.