By: Justin Chambers
All my life it seems I have been searching for the proverbial “call” or purpose for what I am supposed to do with my life. I wanted God to come down and say, “This is Justin, my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased, this is what I have called him to do.”
I recently went to a retreat where an awesome, awesome man-of-God shared some wise words that have changed my outlook (I really enjoy his speaking as you may be able to tell). David LaMotte spoke, and sang, some great messages, but what really stood out to me was his belief we do not have a purpose; as in a singular call in life. We do, however, have many callings. This idea was profound for me because I have spent much time—perhaps even wasting time—searching for my one singular call. This idea, this sense of call has been both what I have been passionate and excited to find, and horrified and stressed to discover. What could this calling be?
If we have many callings, then we are called to live in the moment and to be faithful to the calling of that moment. My call today may be to share my sandwich with the person sitting on the curb next to me. Or, my calling tonight may be to listen to how my roommate’s day went, without interrupting or trying to put in my opinion; just listening.
I decided to do a second YAV year after meeting with the director of an organization that engages the prison system. I hope to become a lawyer and thought the opportunity would be advantageous to my career. When funding fell through, it felt like my calling was also blocked. Through some conversations, and knowing that Mercy has wanted to be more intentional about supporting our members while they are locked-up, we decided to formally expand Mercy’s ministry to include a jail and prison ministry. I am interning with them to help in this expansion. Things finally seem to be falling in place, though not in ways that I expected.
One Friday, during a Bible study with a passage rooted in community and solidarity, Pastor Maggie illustrated the theme by using an example from the civil rights movement. When one activist was attacked by a mob, the others dived into the skirmish so that the blows would be divided between many—I remember her acting it out at Mercy. What an awesome example of solidarity. I do not know what situations I will have to dive into this year while walking in solidarity with people in the correctional system and I do not know what bruises will come along with it, but I do know is that God is in this call. God is present behind the walls, the fences, the barbed wire and the chains.
One of my friends, a frail, fifty year-old sister who is a part of our Mercy community, was lost behind those walls. Gunnar, our sister, who is homeless, was arrested in the early part of February for trespassing when she took refuge in a parking garage—the safest spot she could find to lay her head. Spring and summer went by, we were confused by why she did not have a release date; we prayed for her, along with other folks in jail.
At the beginning of my new internship, I was tasked with not just praying for Gunnar but finding out why she had been in jail for so long and what was needed for her release. By our estimation, she should have been released long ago. I called the local jails and got bounced back and forth between offices, leaving many voicemails saying, “Hi, my name is Justin. How are you today? I was wandering if you could help me find a friend of mine; she seems to be lost in the system.” Nobody had an answer.
One Monday, I was overcome with joy to arrive at Mercy and see our sister. When I interviewed her about her experience in jail, it became apparent that the stories of what she was being told on the inside and what I was being told on the outside did not match up.
Gunnar was sentenced to seven days, but instead sat for seven months in a single cell by herself for twenty-three hours a day. I do not know if it was our calls or if someone finally realized on their own that a mistake had been made, but whatever it was I give thanks for the captive being set free.
I think I have found that passion about which David talked. I have found that thing that I have been trying to describe to people for years, yet words seem not to come. I can see how broken our criminal justice system is and, for now, I am not called to change it but to be present, if only by phone, with people who are navigating it from the inside. Solidarity can be hard and messy at times, but it is the calling; my calling.