Good News Tucson Magazine's Blog

The Premiere Christian Magazine for Southern Arizona

A Life-Changing Conversation With A Guy Named Bert

WE’VE ALL EXPERIENCED IT COUNTLESS TIMES. WE DIAL A NUMBER, HEAR THE RING TONE, AND THEN SOMEONE ON THE OTHER END ANSWERS AND SAYS, “HELLO.” BUT THIS PHONE CALL WAS DIFFERENT. THE VOICE THAT ANSWERED WAS MY FATHER, AND WE HAD NOT SPOKEN IN MANY YEARS.

IS THIS BERT RYLE?” I ASKED.
“YES IT IS,” HE ANSWERED.
“BERT EUGENE RYLE?” I ASKED SPECIFICALLY.
“YES IT IS,” HE REPLIED, WITH GROWING
CURIOSITY IN HIS VOICE.

“IS THIS THE BERT EUGENE RYLE WHO HAS A
SON NAMED JAMES?” I THEN ASKED POINTEDLY.
HHE PAUSED FOR A GUARDED MOMENT,
AND THEN CAUTIOUSLY REPLIED, “YES IT IS.”

“WELL, DAD, THIS IS JAMES.”

There was halting silence on the other end. I could tell that he didn’t know what to say, so I said, “This isn’t one of those phone calls where you owe me something. I’m grown up, married, and have kids. I’m a father; you’re a grandfather. I’m just calling to see if there’s any chance that we can get together. If you say no, you’ll never hear from me again.” Then I added, “But please don’t say no.”

Dad paused yet once again, and then said, “I think that would be good, son. I’d love to see you.”

It took a few weeks to plan my trip from Denver to Houston, and two days to actually make the drive. But the knock on that door was the final step in a journey that had taken 26 years.

Little did I know that once the door opened another journey would begin – and that would be the journey of a lifetime.

Perhaps I should explain the reason for Dad’s absence – he had been in the Texas State Penitentiary for armed robbery. I was two years old and the youngest of five when Dad was arrested. My mother struggled to make things work out but was unable to do so. She placed us in an orphanage when I was seven. It was a huge campus housing about 1,500 children in several dormitories. The place was overwhelming and woefully incapable of providing personal care or nurture. I lived there for eleven years and ran away in the summer of 1968.

In a short time my whole world came crashing in around me. A car wreck on Labor Day weekend resulted in the death of a friend. I was arrested and charged with negligent homicide.

In a desperate move to get out of trouble, I began selling marijuana to my friends – thinking I could make a lot of money, hire a lawyer, and somehow get the court to be merciful, seeing I had grown up in an orphanage. My plan didn’t work.

I was arrested and convicted for sales and possession of marijuana and sent to the Texas State Penitentiary when I was 19 years old. In my darkest moment – sitting in my cell overwhelmed with fear, anger, and hopelessness – a Bible verse I learned as a kid suddenly came to mind. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I was gripped with a sense of God’s presence around me and felt He was asking me to trust Him with my life. I did so and that has made all the difference.

A year later, I was praying one night, asking if there was any way I could be released early and go home. What happened next was unexpected and astonishing. I opened my Bible randomly and my eyes fell upon these words, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done” (Mark 5:19). Two weeks later, on December 22, 1970, I was released from prison. I went home and began telling my friends what the Lord had done in my life – and have been doing so for almost 40 years.

After all those years apart, sitting in my dad’s den that night gave me the opportunity to ask him the one question that only he could answer. “Dad, which prison were you in?”

“I was in the Coffield Unit,” he replied. “Which prison were you in?”

“I was in the Ferguson Unit near Midway, Texas, just down a ways from Huntsville.”

My dad’s expression changed immediately. He went from being curious, to being stunned. His mouth dropped open, and he looked at me in disbelief. Gathering himself, he then said the words that would forever mark my life.

“Dear God, son, I built that prison.”

“What?” I replied, “What do you mean, you built it?”

“They used prison labor to build the Ferguson Unit,” Dad answered. “I was the welder on the work crew. I welded the bars when that prison was built.”

As Dad’s words hung there in the air, God spoke to my heart. “James, I have set you free from a prison your father built.

Now I will use you to set others free from prisons their fathers have built.”

I sat there amazed and am still so to this very day. My father welded the bars of my prison. How extraordinary is that? From one point of view it is very  extraordinary but from another point of view it is rather ordinary. In fact, it is sadly common. Virtually everywhere in today’s world there are sons and daughters in prisons of one kind or another, which their fathers have built. They are prisons of fear, addiction, rage, hatred, ignorance, shame, and confusion, just to name a few.

A dad mistreats or neglects a trusting child, and the strike upon that tender soul is as solid and lasting as the iron bars that were welded by the heat of my father’s torch. A cruel word spoken in anger, a nickname given in jest, a rebuke given in public, or a cold shoulder in time of need – these mindless acts of senseless dads forge the framework of solitary confinement for boys and girls the world over. They then become men and women with torches in their hands, passing on the torment to yet another generation of unsuspecting children.

There was one more thing that struck me about dad’s answer. It wasn’t just that I was in the very prison where he had welded the bars, but that while there I had been enrolled in the vocational program where they teach you a trade you can use once you’re released. You want to take a guess at which class they put me in?
Yep, welding.

James Ryle is the President and Founder of TruthWorks Ministries, a teaching and resourcing ministry helping individuals live real, relevant and significant lives for Christ. He has been involved in public speaking since 1972, serving as pastor of two churches, chaplain for the University of Colorado football team, and ministering as an evangelist. James is one of the founding Board members of Promise Keepers, and has spoken at multiple PK stadium events around the country. On October 4, 1997, in the Nation’s Capitol, James delivered the Gospel message at “Stand in the Gap”-an event attended by over 1.4 million men and broadcast to over 20 different nations around the world. In the course of his life, James has inspired millions of people. I will leave you with a quote from James himself: “There may never have been a time when the need to help people was so great as now. There may never be another time when the opportunity to help them is so evident and promising.”

Advertisements

February 22, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: