Praise God I’m In Prison!
Sue was adopted as a baby and had no family that she knew of. She had nobody in the world except Ron. They were very happy together and very much in love. When Ron was originally drafted into the army Sue tried to kill herself. That’s because she didn’t see how she could survive without Ron around. Now another crises was upon her. Ron, who was a lawyer had received orders for Vietnam and Sue was threatening to kill herself again. Ron was the picture of despair as he met with Chaplain Merllin Carothers. The first thing Carothers wanted to do was to meet with Sue alone. Sue’s body was frail as she sat on the edge of the chair trembling. She was the picture of misery as tears were flowing down her cheeks. With a voice so soft it was barely audible she began. “Chaplain, I’m scared; I can’t live without Ron.” Carothers knew her fear. Without Ron she would have to stay alone in a rented home in a strange town. He prayed silently for wisdom to comfort her. Carothers shared with Sue what God had placed on his heart. Sue began to weep out of control. Carothers tried to calm her by reading Bible verses to back up his words but nothing seemed to help. Finally she left the office crying feeling there was no hope. The next day Ron came into the office. “What did you tell Sue?”, he demanded. “She is worse than she was before.” After Carothers explained what God told him needed to be done Ron stated “Now I understand why Sue didn’t understand. I don’t understand either!”, and he left.
Many years had passed since Carothers was originally in the army. In fact back then he would have been the last person around that anyone would have seeked Godly advice from. From the time that he was twelve and lost his dad suddenly Carothers turned against God. Although his mom mentioned often how dad was in heaven, Carothers felt that a God of love wouldn’t do them that way. His mom struggled to raise his two brothers and him and Carothers eventually moved in with some of his dad’s old friends after his mom remarried. Carothers worked hard as a youth delivering papers well after dark. He was determined to make his way in the world. Somehow he felt he had it coming. He was determined to grab for all he could get. He went to high school but never quit working. After school and all summer he worked as a food packer, shipping clerk, linotype operator, and one summer as a lumberjack in Pennsylvania. He started college but ran out of money and had to go back to work. That is when he got a job with B&W Steel as a steel chipper and grinder. It was a very unpleasant job but it kept him in great physical condition. Part of his solution to staying ahead of the rat race was to be in top shape physically and he didn’t intend on losing out there. He never intended to be in the army. His dream was to join the Merchant Marines but to do so he would have to be reclassified 1-A which wasn’t the case at the time because the draft board had given him a deferment to go to college. While he was waiting to get reclassified the army inducted him. He was told he could volunteer for the Navy which he did but a freak situation kept him out. He failed the eye test because by mistake he read the wrong line on the eye chart.
Carothers found himself at Fort McCellan , Alabama in basic training. Basic training was a breeze for him physically and he impatiently waited for action. He volunteered for airborne training in Fort Benning, Georgia. To his dismay and his desire to remain in the background, he was picked on by the commanding officer. One time he spat on the ground in a sawdust pit and the officer made him pay. “Pick up that spit with your mouth and carry it out of the area!” Finally Carothers was given the chance to jump out of an airplane. The pure excitement and rush from the experience was breathtaking.
He earned the honor of wearing the glistening jump boots as a paratrooper but he wanted more excitement. He volunteered for advanced training as a demolition expert. He lived to be in on the war effort and the hotter the better he thought. After demolition school he was back at Fort Benning waiting to go overseas. He waited and waited and it drove him crazy. Patience was not his strong suit and he wondered, with the pace of the army, if he would ever get to do more than scrub pots and pans? Bored out of his mind it came to a climax one day. With a friend he decided to go over the hill. They simply walked away, stole a car and left. After awhile they ditched the car and stole another one. They ended up in Pittsburgh, PA in need of money. Carothers had a plan and it wasn’t good. He decided to rob a grocery store. He walked in with his friend waiting in the car and a gun in his pocket. His plan was to disconnect the phone so the police couldn’t be called. To his dismay the wire to the phone was insulated in such a way that he could not disconnect it. Frustrated he walked back to the car and his waiting buddy. As they were sitting there in the car he felt the harsh feel of metal against his left wrist and a harsh voice in his ear. “This is the FBI and you are under arrest!”
Carothers was sentenced to six months confinement in the stockade at Fort Benning. Right away he started campaigning to be sent overseas. His fellow prisoners laughed saying “you wouldn’t have gone AWOL if you wanted to be shipped overseas” He kept insisting that the only reason he went AWOL was because he was so bored. His plea was finally heard and he was told he would be shipped out. While in the stockade the night before they were to be shipped out he was told that he wouldn’t be among the men going. “The FBI wants you held and returned to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania”, he was told. Once again he felt the cold handcuffs as he was returned under guard back to Pittsburgh to face his charges. “How do you plead guilty or not guilty?”, a stern judge asked him. “Guilty” was his reply. When the judge asked for the officers recommendation he said “I recommend leniency.” I sentence you to five years in the Federal Peneteniary.” The words hit Carothers like a brick. Then the judge stated “your sentence is temporarily suspended and you will be returned to the army.” When Carothers got back to the army he found that he had to serve out his remaining time in the stockade. After serving four of the six months he was taken out of the prison and told that he was being shipped out.
Carothers was always looking for a way to make fast money. He became an expert gambler on the ship and made quite a lot of money at the other soldiers expense. When overseas he also sold on the black market. He found that he could buy cigarettes from other soldiers and sell them on the black market for extremely high profits. It was very dangerous dealing in this way but Carothers didn’t care. He had one hand on his money and the other on a revolver he carried in his pocket. The only problem he had was he was paid in military scrip. He stayed up nights trying to figure out how to get this money home. The military was very strict on making sure soldiers could only ship the amount that they made. He noticed men lining up getting their scrip converted to money orders. Each one had an individual company card. He then noticed one man with many cards who was getting money orders for his entire unit. That was the answer..if he could somehow get more cards he could convert his scrip into money orders. He met with the unit finance clerk and told him he needed a lot of cards. He found out that the clerk would underhandedly sell him cards for $5 each. Now he was in business as he converted his scrip into money orders. He also found other ways to beat the system. Soldiers coming from Berlin were willing to pay $1,000 in scrip for a $100 money order. He then converted the extra $900 into his own money order. He soon realized with this scheme that he was on his way to becoming very rich!
Carothers was given the option of attending college while overseas and he took full advantage of it. He met and ended up marrying a girl in England and things looked very promising. He was sent back to the states nearly six months before his wife could join him and he could hardly wait for the time they would be together again. He had plenty of money and to his thinking the future looked bright! One Sunday evening shortly after he returned home he went to see his grandmother. Right away he could tell that it was a mistake. They were going to church that night and wanted Merlin to come with them. “I can’t”, was his reply. “My buddy is coming by to pick me up.” He called everyone he could think of to come and get him. Unfortunately he couldn’t get anyone to come. Finally he dragged himself with them to church. The church service was held in a barn but everyone seemed happy to be there. As Carothers began trying to follow along and sing from the hymnal he heard a voice. “What did you say?”, he stated as he turned around. Nobody was there but a second later he heard the voice again. “Tonight you must make a decision for me, if not it will be too late.” In a flash Carothers saw the answer to life. Yes there was a God and in him was everything one needed to search for. “Yes God, whatever you want me to do I’ll do.” Carothers gave his life to God that night. In the days that followed he had a problem. He was feeling extreme guilt over all of the money he had accumulated. He felt he had to get rid of it but how? He called the army but nobody wanted to take it back. Finally someone mentioned that he could send it to a conscience fund. He was able to either destroy the money or send it away. Once it was all gone he had a peace that came from giving everything to God.
Later Carothers had to report back to the district attorney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “You have received a presidential pardon”, he was told. “You are in good standing with the military and if you ever seek employment in the military you are fully eligible.” Carothers had to laugh. I don’t think I’ll ever be needing military employment again he thought. He did feel a call to become a pastor. He went to school and into full time study. His wife joined him and at first didn’t understand his new found faith. Fortunately his life began to rub off on her and she gave her life to God too. Carothers was the pastor at a couple of churches after he graduated but a deep feeling came over him. It was a drawing toward serving as a Chaplain in the military. His life ran full circle as now he was counseling men like he was not too many years before.
Through the years Carothers studied the Bible and tried to understand the will of God. He also was seeking the answer of how he could help these young soldiers. He got off track when he dove into the false spirit world. He became involved in Hypnosis and would listen to all of the wrong people. Carothers always had his heart in the right place. He truly wanted to help the people he was put over and he was open to things he thought would serve that purpose. It was only in God’s revelation to him that he was following the wrong spirits that he was able to ask for forgiveness and seek God’s way.
It was after this time and a time of real spiritual cleansing that Carothers discovered something in the Bible that he never noticed before. It was Luke chapter 6 verse 23 and it was Jesus talking. When you are hungry, when men shall hate you, when they reproach you, when they cast out your name as evil, rejoice in that day and leap for joy. It was a truth that he had never saw before but it was building! He read I Thessalonians 5:16-18…”Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” It was out of this truth that Carothers began a new ministry. He learned to counsel soldiers now better than he ever had before from this one principle. We are to praise God in every situation. The truth is that God has allowed whatever is happening in our lives for our good. Romans 8:28 states that “and we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Carothers discovered that when we are going through something it is God’s will. Not only are we to be joyful but we are to jump for joy. It may make little sense but we are called to rejoice. Through this praise in the most unlikely situations the spirit of God is released to do his purpose in our lives.
An officer came into Chaplain Carothers office one day. “Chaplain, you have to help me. My wife wants a divorce. I just got the papers from her lawyer. I don’t think I can keep on with the officers training program.” Carothers told him he had the answer to his problem. “Let’s kneel and pray and thank God that your wife wants a divorce.” The officer was so shook up that he took the whole rest of the day off. While in his bunk he prayed “Lord I don’t understand this but I thank you for what happened.” Over and over he kept saying “Lord, thank you that my wife wants a divorce.” The next day while he was in the mess hall another officer tapped him on the shoulder. He had a phone call. When he picked it up it was his wife crying on the other end. “Forgive me honey, I don’t want a divorce.” Over and over people kept coming to Carother’s with their situations. Some seemed so far gone that nothing could possibly help them. After each person explained their problem the Chaplain always said “I have the solution to your problem!” He ended up leading them in prayer and thanking God that their husband was always drunk, or that another had fathered a child, or that one of his men faced a court martial and a dishonorable discharge. It sounded so strange as I read his prayers of “God, thank you that my husband is a drunk, or thank you that I’m facing a court martial.” Not everyone followed his advice. Some just could not justify thanking God for bad things. Some just couldn’t keep praising God when things seemed so wrong. Yet the ones who did found that when they took their eyes off of their problem and concentrated on God their problem got a lot smaller!
A few days later Sue and Ron again entered Chaplain Carothers office. They were hoping for some new advice but Carothers told them the same. He asked them if they were willing to pray with him. They prayed this thankful prayer..”God, Thank you that Ron is going to Vietnam. Ron prayed “God, I do thank you. I turn Sue over to you. She is yours and I’ll trust that you will take care of her.” They went over the scriptures again about how it all works out for our good. About how it is the will of God. Finally they were able to accept the decision and rejoice that it was Gods will.
A few days after Sue and Ron had prayed with Chaplain Carothers Sue was waiting to see him again. A young soldier sat down waiting for an appointment and they started a conversation. As the conversation went on the young soldier was showing pictures of his family. He showed his wife and kids and Sue noticed another picture in his wallet. “Who is that?”, she wondered. “That is my mother”, the soldier answered. “That’s my mother!”, Sue cried out! Years ago Sue saw that picture of her mother and never forgot it. It turned out she was right! She had found a brother and a new family!
As Ron walked back to his unit he ran into an old friend from law school who was now a legal officer. “Where are you going?”, his old friend wondered. “Praise God, I’m going to Vietnam”, was Ron’s reply. They talked some more and the old friend persuaded Ron to ask for a transfer so that they could work together. In the end Ron didn’t go to Vietnam and Sue and Ron didn’t have to be separated!
The book Merlin Carothers wrote is called “Prison to Praise.” Although Carothers found himself in a physical prison his story is much more. You see we all find ourselves in prison. Usually our prison is within ourselves. It is situations that we don’t have the answer for. Sometimes the prison walls seem to be crashing down on us. As Carothers would say “I have the answer to your problem!” Once we pray that prayer of thankfulness for the problem the view changes. Instead of thinking of our dilemma we now are thinking about the total picture. We are to rejoice and leap for joy knowing that we are in the perfect will of God!
The Proving Of My Faith
by Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997
It’s easy to praise the Lord
when I’m on a mountain high
or I’m soaring in the air
up where the eagles fly
It’s easy to praise him
when life is going right
and it doesn’t seem the devil
is putting up a fight
But what will I do when troubles come
and I’m not feeling the power?
Will I cling to my faith in him
when I’m in my trying hour?
When I reach my lowest depth
will I take time to pray
or will I lose my grip on faith
and let it slip away?
Unproven faith is not faith at all,
this truth of faith I’ve found
The proving of my faith comes only
when I’m on my lowest ground.
Therefore, among God’s churches we
boast about your perseverance and
faith in all the persecutions and trials
you are enduring.
II Thessalonians 1:4