March 1, 2010
When the meeting was over, one of the largest men in the room walked over to Phil and said, “You were supposed to tell me something.” Phil looked up into the grim face and racked his brain, thinking, “What was I supposed to tell him?” He timidly said, “Man, I am so sorry; I must have forgotten. What was I supposed to tell you?” The big man cracked a smile and said, “That you love me.” Phil laughed, said, “I love you,” and gave him a hug.
Phil Bowers told the Antioch men and young men last Sunday that all who come to the Piedmont Men of Steel meeting on Mondays are guaranteed one thing: Someone will tell them that night that they are loved and give them a hug. For most of these former offenders, this is a first. They grew up in homes where the love of a father was either absent or sorely lacking. “How many of you men had a bad relationship with your father?” Phil asked the group one night. Thirty-three men stood up. “How many of you have done jail time?” Thirty remained standing. If these men were told anything at all by their fathers, it was, “You will never amount to anything.”
Piedmont Men of Steel and Sustainable Alamance are making a difference, one man at a time. The first organization was started by Woody Lamm in 2006 and meets Monday nights at Greater Love World Outreach Center (Pastor Ron Harris) in downtown Burlington. PMOS has expanded into four other cities since then and is a Christian Bible Study program for men ages 18 and up. Most of those who come are fresh out of jail and are looking for help to turn their lives around. They also need help finding jobs. That’s where Sustainable Alamance comes in.
“We use a three-step process with these men we call Mining, Refining, and Defining,” Phil said. Finding diamonds in the rough requires sifting through tons of rock. In the same way, only a handful of the men who hear about Sustainable Alamance show up for a meeting. “Mining means finding out which of the men really want to get out of the system,” Phil said. “And that has amounted to about one in five so far.” Of the ninety-one referrals Bowers got last year, only 20 came to the program. “We have found that if you can’t show up for a two-hour meeting, you probably won’t show up for a 40-hour work week,” Bowers said.
The second step, Refining, is a matter of equipping the men to be productive. They have to be taught from the Word what is most important. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” For most of these men, that means that their worldview and their values are going to turn upside down. Actually, right-side up.
The third step is Defining. “We teach them a new way to live, based on God’s truth that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation,” Phil said.
Is it working? Consider this: the rate of recidivism in North Carolina is 67 percent. More than two-thirds of those who go to prison will go back in. Of the 20 who came through the Sustainable Alamance program last year, only one went back to prison. While there, he wrote a letter of apology to the other 19, asking for forgiveness and if they would take him back when he gets out. That sounds like a changed life to me.