Who is a person that changed your life? The question was asked by the leader of my church growth group. We were discussing ways that we can love one another and sharing our own stories of the way people have often unknowingly transformed our lives.

I was particularly struck by one story and asked permission to share it here. He shared a story of entering prison, and the fears of the unknown that filled him. I can only imagine the weight of knowing you will spend years in a place with so little control over your own life.

It was one of his first nights in prison when he found himself with a cellmate who was trying to be suspiciously friendly. The cellmate offered him snacks from his commissary stash, and gave permission to watch his TV. He was skeptical of this man’s motives and declined his offers in fear of what the man would expect in exchange for sharing with him.

These offers continued for several days and each time my friend declined the offers. He was not about to make himself beholden to someone whose motives he had yet to discover. Finally the cellmate grew frustrated and began pummeling my friend with packages of snacks from across the small cell.

This finally triggered conversation and my friend explained his fear to his cellmate. It was then that his cellmate shared his own story of someone helping him when he first arrived at the prison. He shared that someone had taken him under his wing and helped him adjust to the unfamiliar new life. He had been grateful and so made it a point to pay forward the generosity offered to him.

My friend was profoundly touched by this man and the guidance he offered in a challenging time. It made a huge difference in his own perspective and soon he found himself paying this gift forward as well. I never knew this man before he went to prison and have only met him a good decade after his release, but I see evidence of the huge number of lives that he has touched in the faithful way that he loves and serves others.