During one of my regular visits to prison, I once entered the cell of a young convict. My first discussion with him seemed an utter failure, and as I left after ending the visit with prayer, his face revealed only a derisive smirk. It saddened my heart, and I resolved to pray for him at home and to visit him more often.
At my future visits, he nonetheless maintained the same cold disregard. Only once—as I showed him Christ, the Crucified, with His fervent love for sinners—did a tear shimmer in his eyes. However, by my next visit, this emotion seemed to have been extinguished—until he broke into sobs as I prayed. I turned around to see him prostrated on the floor, and when I asked what distressed him so, he replied:
“Oh, it burns like a fire inside me. In your prayer, you said that God wants to answer godly parents’ sighs and prayers for their children. When I heard that, it felt like burning coals being heaped onto my head, and I thought about my good mother.”
I did not know exactly what he was trying to say, so I waited while he collected himself. Then he told me the following story.
“I am the wayward son of a godly, praying mother. She prayed with me often, and I frequently heard her sigh over me as she lay in bed, but I was reckless and didn’t listen to her and soon repressed whatever feeling her prayers awakened in me. At times, I had compassion with my poor mother, and when I saw her crying, I would promise to do better, pretending to mean it. But behind her back, I continued to do bad things. Because my godless friends made fun of prayer and church, and felt sorry for me because of my mother’s strict supervision, I ended up becoming angry with her.
“My behavior became worse and worse, but my mother did not stop praying for me. A girl convinced me to travel to America, and I promised I would go. One afternoon, I staggered into my mother’s apartment, half drunk, and told her of my plan in very few words. Shocked, she asked me to stay but finally sank down onto her knees and said, ‘Come here, Johann, let me pray with you one more time before you go.’ I became angry and shoved her away on her chest,”—here, the convict paused with a loud sob—“in which beat such a loyal, tender heart. The poor woman collapsed but got right back up and reached out both hands to me. As I ran off, she called, ‘Oh, my son! My son! Lord Jesus, forgive him! Save him! Follow him with your Holy Spirit!’
“I ran away. The floor seemed to sway under my feet, and only in the bar did I recover from my shock. That is how I arrived in America, weighed down with sin. There, the long arm of the law finally stopped me on my sinful path.”
The young man spent several weeks in a state of great sorrow, his pillow at times damp with tears. Wanting to let God alone work within him, I drew his attention to God’s comforting promises in the Bible and prayed with him. In His grace, our merciful God heard his sighing and pleading and granted him solace in the assurance that his sins had been washed away by the blood of the Lamb. The mother’s prayer was answered!
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