Finding God When All Seems Hopeless : Ronnie Olivier
What do we do when situations in our lives seem hopeless? Not just challenging but completely hopeless. In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Ronnie Olivier. Ronnie served 27 summers in the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola. Ronnie has recently released his memoir entitled 27 Summers, which shares his journey to freedom, forgiveness, and redemption. Together, Ronnie and Jason explore how we can find Jesus, even in the midst of the most hopeless situations. Ronnie also shares from his experiences at the most dangerous prison in the US and how he went from incarceration to restoration, not only as a Christ follower but as a minister of the gospel.
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- Additional resource links from this week’s conversation – so you and your team can easily find what is mentioned or referenced
- Ministry Leaders Growth Guide – key insights and concepts from this week’s conversation as well as engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process
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Additional Resource Links
www.paroleproject.org – Visit the website to check out Ronnie’s professional details and more.
27 Summers: My Journey to Freedom, Forgiveness, and Redemption During My Time in Angola Prison – In one of America’s most notorious prisons, a young man sentenced to life without parole miraculously found faith, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. In 27 Summers, Ronald Olivier shares his dramatic and powerful story and offers proof that God can bring healing and hope to even the darkest circumstances.
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Ministry Leaders Growth Guide
Key Insights and Concepts
- Intimacy with God is transformative. Closeness to the Lord helps reveal one’s identity.
- The idea that God nourishes our faith in His presence is a powerful testament to the sustaining nature of the Father and His love for relationship with us.
- True joy and strength comes from spending time in the presence of God.
- The fruit of the Spirit transcend physical and cultural boundaries.
- In ministry, others are genuinely served by the heart as much as the hands. This is a call to infuse compassion and sincerity into every aspect of ministerial engagement.
- Life through Christ offers hope and a new beginning.
- Time spent with God helps one overcome their past and embrace a new identity in Christ, providing the strength to navigate the aftermath of poor decisions.
- Just as birth pain gives way to the joy of new life, trusting in God’s plan and timing can lead to a blessed outcome, with the difficulties of the journey fading in the light of Christ’s love and hope.
- Believing in the “who” (God) and trusting Him to handle the “how” and “when” becomes the anchor in the storm.
- Hopelessness cannot survive in the presence of the Lord.
- There is complete peace and rest in the promises of God because He is faithful to keep them.
Questions for Reflection
- How have I seen the transformative power of God in my own life? How does my closeness with God affect the view I have of my identity?
- In what ways can I actively seek God’s presence to nourish and strengthen my faith, understanding that communion with Him is the sustenance my spiritual journey requires?
- Have I faced challenges in my life or made decisions in my past that the enemy attempts to use to hold me back from God’s best for my life? How have I handled these? How are they impacting me?
- How am I placing my faith in God’s plan and timing?
- How have I seen the difficulties from my past give way to joy? How does my time in God’s presence impact the way I view my challenges?
- How am I actively relying on God’s promises, even in the face of uncertainty?
- Do I find myself focusing more on the “Who” (God), or the “how” and “what”? Are there changes I need to make in this area of my life? If so, what can I do?
- In times of hopelessness, how am I seeking refuge in the presence of God?
- What promises has God given me personally that I sometimes fail to remember? What can I do to remind myself of them more often?
- Do I take the time to acknowledge the eternal nature of God and His ability to see outside of time? How does this help me have confidence in His plan and timing?
- How has past forgiveness, both giving and receiving, freed me? Is there anyone in my life that I need to forgive or ask forgiveness from?
- What are some examples of times in ministry where I knew I was sincerely serving with my heart? How can I keep my heart in the right place as a pastor or leader while ministering to others so that it’s more than just “doing the work”?
What do we do when situations in our lives seem hopeless? Not just challenging but completely hopeless.
In this episode, I’m joined by Ronnie Olivier. Ronnie served 27 summers in the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola. Ronnie has recently released his memoir entitled 27 Summers, which shares his journey to freedom, forgiveness, and redemption. Together, Ronnie and I explore how we can find Jesus, even in the midst of the most hopeless situations. Ronnie also shares from his experiences at the most dangerous prison in the US and how he went from incarceration to restoration, not only as a Christ follower but as a minister of the gospel. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello, friends, and welcome to another exciting episode of FrontStage BackStage. I am your host, Jason Daye, and it’s my privilege to sit down each and every week and have a conversation with a trusted ministry leader all in an effort to help you and pastors and ministry leaders just like you embrace healthy, sustainable rhythms for both your life and ministry. We are proud to be a part of the Pastor Serve Network. And each week, not only do we have a conversation, but our team also creates an entire toolkit that complements the conversation. And in that toolkit, you’ll find a number of resources, including a Ministry Leaders Growth Guide. Now, we encourage you to go through those resources and use that toolkit yourself. You can also use it with the ministry leaders in your local church. So be sure to check that out at PastorServe.org/network. Now, at Pastor Serve, we love walking alongside of pastors and ministry leaders and our team of experienced coaches are offering a complimentary coaching session for you. So, if you’d like to find out more information about that, you can go to PastorServe.org/freesession. Now, if you’re joining us on YouTube, please give us a thumbs up and take a moment in the comments below to drop your name and the name of your church. We love getting to know our audience better. And we’ll be praying for you and for your ministry. And whether you are joining us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform, please be sure to subscribe or to follow so you do not miss out on any of these great conversations. And again, I’m very excited for today’s conversation. And at this time, I’d like to welcome Ronnie Olivier to the show. Ronnie, welcome.
Hey, thanks for having me. Very, very grateful to be here.
I’m very excited to have this conversation, Ronnie. Ronnie, you have a fascinating story of a huge God redemption story. And we’re going to be talking today about finding ourselves in seemingly hopeless situations. And you have lived that, you’ve experienced that to a degree that many of us will never experience in our lives. And you saw God’s hand at work. And not only at work in your life, but at work through your life, which has catapulted you into a life where you are serving in ministry. And it’s just a fascinating story. But first, your life didn’t start out with you preaching or sharing Jesus with others. Your life started out much, much differently. A relatively eventful young life as a youngster in New Orleans and I would just invite you, Ronnie, as we kind of start off just to share your story. You know, kind of a bit of your upbringing, and some of your experiences and then where those experiences ultimately took you. And then we’ll just continue from there. So, Ronnie, let’s hear your story, brother.
Yes, sir. I’m a native of New Orleans. I grew up in the inner city of New Orleans, very poverty-stricken neighborhood. I can remember moving from out of the seventh ward to the eighth ward. I can remember during that time, it was real nice neighborhood. I can remember standing on my porch and feeding the birds, and by the late 80s, something happened that really just impacted our neighborhood. It was the crack epidemic. It completely destroyed our neighborhood. So, with drugs came a lot of violence. And I can remember when that happened, man, the birds even stopped coming. And that was at a young age. My teens, you know, it was common to hear gunshots, see people gunned down, see bodies in the street dead as a result of gunshot wounds. And all that became common to me. And so during this time, right before that happens, my dad, who I was very close to and still am today. Real good father, I’m very grateful for him. During that time, he was making the transition, he had moved to Jacksonville, Florida. And it impacted my life, you know. And so I come from a broken home, I spent weekends with my dad and different holidays in the summers, and vice versa, one school year. And my dad was always in my life, even though we didn’t stay in the same house all the time, he was always there. Very loving father, but also disciplined, too. He was a disciplinarian, you know, and so on. This was my hero, this who I want to be like. When he wasn’t around I put his shoes on and walked through the house like I was him and ordered my sisters around to do chores. And so he leaves, and I feel abandoned. I couldn’t understand, the teenager couldn’t understand the reasoning why he was leaving, you know. I can look back now, I can see, okay, I understand that. But I couldn’t grasp that then and I felt abandoned. And so that happens, and then this big transition in the neighborhood. And so it becomes very violent, and it puts you in survival mode. And so I began to embrace the streets, and the streets began to father me. And like any kid, your greatest teacher is not what you hear, it’s what you see. And so I became what I saw. And consequently, it ended me up in prison for first-degree murder. I got into small little things that built up into something that was great, like this. I’m on trial for first-degree murder, facing the death penalty. And I was 16-years-old so I went through the juvenile process, and they charged me as an adult. And by the time I go to trial, I’m 17. And I’m sitting on trial for first-degree murder facing the death penalty. And prior to that, going through courts in the juvenile system, everything seemed like a joke to me. I was like, very optimistic that I’m coming home. You know, they’re saying, oh, that’s gonna have to be my home soon, blah, blah, blah. And it didn’t work like that. But everything got real, really real, to me when I was in the holding tank while the jury was deliberating, it’s about 12 am-1 am in the morning. They put me on the docks in this holding tank. The gaurd turns the key, locks it and then leaves. I’m just there by myself. And that silence and just me alone, everything got real. So, I began to think there is 12 people right now that’s making the decision on whether I live or die. And they don’t really know anything about me. And I’m like, Wow, man, I can really die. You know? So at that moment, um, man, I can hear God using my mother’s voice. My mother was a praying woman. She was a woman that always prayed for me in spite of what I was doing. So I thank God for that, man. And listen, if you have any wayward children, just keep praying, don’t stop. And I could hear a voice saying this, if you ever find yourself in some trouble that I can’t get you out of, you call on Jesus. And at that moment, I got on my knees, I was crying real tears and I cried out to God. And I made a deal with him. A lot of people say you don’t make deals with God. And my prayer was very simple. I said, Lord, and it was heartfelt from my heart. I said, Lord, if you don’t let them kill me, I promise you I’ll serve you the rest of my life. And for the first time in my life I experienced the peace of God, I didn’t know what it was then. I just knew I felt calm. They had this assurance with them that I was going to be okay. You know, And man, I felt light, and I was like, wow, you know, home. And so later they come back on with a guilty verdict of second-degree murder which, which is the response like for a lesser offense. And it carried a mandatory life sentence without benefits of parole and probation. And I didn’t know that, you know, here I’m 17. I’m very ignorant on the law. Throughout the trial they’re throwing all these legal terms around, I don’t know what’s going on. And I have a court appointed lawyer, and so on. Really, they were not only convicting me, they were sentencing me, too, because there was no other sentence that the judge could get me. So I like to say it like this, on that day I received two life sentences. You know, one sentence the state gave me with no benefits. But another sentence God gave me with so many benefits to where he encouraged us, not to forgive them. And so I believe it was like, they threw down a life sentence and God threw down his and God’s, life sentence ate there’s up. And that’s how I’m here today. So, I get this life sentence. And here it is, I’m headed to Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola. This is known for being the most notorious prison in the in the nation and once was labeled as the bloodiest prison in the nation. And so I heard all the stories before getting there. And I’m like, man, here it is, at this time I’m 18 years old here, looked like I was 12. I didn’t even have any hair on my face. I was, I was like, 5’11”, 131 pounds. And I’m headed to Angola. And I knew this for a fact, because I have heard about how they prey on the younger guys. And so they will rape them, you know, turn them into their girlfriends or what have you. And I made up my mind on the wheel on that bus that, man, I was going in there a man and I was coming out of man, whether it was walking or in a box. And so I had made a decision that I was gonna die, you know, if need be. I will hurt someone trying to protect myself. So I get there and I had that type of chip on my shoulder, you know, and I got this from my dad to always look a man in the eye when you talk to him, so always looking. And so they really gravitated towards fear. You know, if they sense any type of fear, it was coming. So I had this persona about myself, that man I hate and how I look but and I thought it was because I was just so bad and ready to die. When I looked back, man, God was protecting me. Yeah, he was orchestrating this whole thing. And so I was sent around people that were willing to help me and not hurt me. Guys begin to mentor me because I couldn’t understand what happened in me. The only evidence that I became born again in that cell was tha. Because I still was doing some of the same things, still speaking the same, full of profanity. The difference was and here’s the evidence, I didn’t feel right doing it. I felt very uncomfortable, you know? And so later found out I was being convicted. So, he sent me around a group of guys that began to disciple me and tell me how important it is to renew my mind and my mind had to be updated to what my Spirit went through. And how important it is to read the word, to spend time with God, to fellowship with the body of Christ, and how that helps you grow. And so, man, I began to grow and it was probably about two and a half years before I even looked like I was born again. You know, so I’m just that alone helped me be patient with guys because you would think they had that experience or they’re faking it, but it’s a process they have to go through. You know, like Luke in the Bible talks about and your patience possesses your soul, so to be patient with yourself also, and understand that they didn’t just come like that. They went through all these years to get like that and just like a baby that comes out the womb, naturally it looks like what they’ve been through. Right? You don’t come out looking like a little adorable baby. So I had to go through a process of being clean, being fed, being clothed, totally dependent on someone else. And that’s where I was. And God sent me around some people that would clean me up when I make a mess, you know? Some folks that understood the process. And man, sooner or later, I went to the Bible College. Amazingly, which blew me away in 1995, New Orleans Theological Baptist Seminary established an extension center there. I’m in real college where professors would come from the outside, lecture us, give us exams just like any other college, you know? And man, I was like, blown away. And soon, after four years, I graduated from the Bible College with a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry. Gave me some awesome tools for ministry and helping others. Because by now, you know, God started transforming my heart to love people, and to serve people. And I believe he used the Bible to give me tools on how to do that.
That’s excellent, Ronnie. Now, as you look at that transformation that you experienced there in prison, I love how you talked about the patience piece. Because oftentimes in ministry we get impatient with God. Sometimes we’re like really working hard, we’re trying to do the right things, and yet, maybe we don’t see the fruit right away, or whatever that might be. So that piece of patience, that Guide kind of taught you, as you’re there in prison, I’m sure has served you well. The question I have for you, Ronnie, is as you find yourself in prison and you’re wrestling with this reality, that one, you did commit a crime and you were found guilty and it wasn’t like you were innocent of that crime. That was something that you foolishly engaged in. And so you’re processing through that, right? Because a lot of people have, we all have baggage to some degree, we all have things in our lives that we wish we had been wiser about, we wish we had never done. And sometimes that baggage, you know, kind of blocks us off from what God wants to do in our lives. So, Ronnie, how did you kind of in your personal walk with Jesus, how did you, you know, how did God work in your life to help you navigate the heaviness of the poor decisions that you had made? And yet here you are, a new creation in Christ. But oftentimes, we wrestle with that. There’s tension there. So talk to us, share with us a little bit about how you navigated through that tension.
I think just spending time with God. You know, the closer I got to him, the more things began to fall off of me. And the more I knew him the more he revealed to me who I was. And so knowing who I am in Christ, that scripture that you just talked about, a 2nd Corinthians 5:17, became a reality to me. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things are passed away, and behold, all things become new. And so I started to see myself as a completely new species. That even though the guy who I was killed someone, but that’s not who I am, you know, the guy who did that had a death sentence, he was crucified with Christ. So that become a reality to me, the description of crucified Christ, nevertheless, I live. And the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loves me and gave himself. I’m talking about once you allow that to be a reality in your life, and you start to see yourself how God see you rather than how people see you. Because people are already ready to remind you of what you’ve done in your past,. But God always reminds you of who you are and where He’s taking you. And so man, I developed that relationship with him and spending time with him. That became a habit. And anytime I go through anything, anytime doubt or unbelieve try to attach itself to me, I never ran from God. I run to him. I go in his presence, and that stuff could never stay on you in His presence. Never stay on you in His presence. One of the things the enemy tries to get you to do, especially even if you fall, if you sin, is to run from God, you’re not worried. You know? But I developed a habit where I’m running straight to him and confessing my fault. Finding a brother that I can confess to. The Bible talks about confessing your faults one to another, which is very important, because you put it out in a light. The enemy loves that, he feeds off of darkness and secrets and hiding. And that’s where he’s strengthened. So when you put it in a light, it loses its power. You can be free and you can walk in the light as He is in the light. Oh, man, that’s what kept me just running to him. And knowing that when visiting my family and visiting hour was over at a certain time they had to go, but there wasn’t visiting hours for God. He would come in and go when he wanted and he was always there with me. So man, I challenge anybody to stand his presence and trust Him and who he is. And he has never failed me. Never disappointed me and has always been there with me and what I love, he forgave me. You know, in spite of what I’ve done, he forgave me and give me a real brand new life. Total restoration.
That’s beautiful, Ronnie. That’s beautiful. Ronnie, whenever you write in your book 27 Summers, about a conversation that you had with a young man who you killed, his mother, and that experience. Can you share with us a little bit about that experience and how God used that relationship in a way to help kind of continue that redemption story of Ronnie.
Oh, man, one of the most difficult conversations that I ever had to have with a human being was that conversation. To look this woman in the eye, and I had killed her son. And it even hits differently now because I have a three year old son. So when I had a conversation with her I didn’t have any kids. So now, you know, I go through this process with my kid, cleaning him, taking care of him, feeding them, and having fun with him, bringing them to the doctor. And I think about what she did with her son. And to think that my son will lose his life at 14 years old is terrified. So it hits different when you have a kid, you know? And I’m like, Wow, man. And so, here it is, I can remember when I first really developed a prayer life. I always pray for this lady. I pray for her more than I pray for anybody. And above me getting out, you know, having that desire to get out, my greatest mission was to meet her one day, and share my heart with her, and ask her to forgive me. I’m talking about I longed for that. I prayed for that. I prayed for that. I see stories like that on TV and just cry and wanting that. So that was greater than me getting home. And so here it is, an opportunity that takes place in 2012. The United States Supreme Court comes down with a ruling in Miller versus Alabama that said it was unconstitutional to give a juvenile a mandatory life sentence. Said they violated our constitutional amendment, the Eighth Amendment, which is cruel and unusual punishment. And so any juvenile under 18, after that ruling, had an illegal sentence. So, now you had to go back to court and get re-sentenced. So here it is. And anytime you go to the court proceedings or even change from one location to another location, it’s part of the law that the state makes the victim’s family aware. So they contacted her. So I’m in court. And I remember my lawyer is coming and he was very nervous about it. He said, Man, we were looking for no victim opposition, because that was a big deal then, most people get denied just because of victim opposition. So he said man, the guy who you killed sister showed up, she’s sitting right there in the front row. And before he told me that the lady kept just staring at me. And I was looking at her, I was wondering if I knew her. She looked familiar. I was handcuffed and shackled. So I know I’m looking scary already. So I keep breaking eye contact. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. But every now and then I look over and she’s just still staring at me. And I was like, wow, I’m trying to think in my mind where I know from, she looks familiar. When he came over and told me that it was the guy’s sister, I said, No. And I said that’s his mother. And out of all the people in the courtroom, man, I remember his mother’s face vividly. I can’t even tell you how my lawyer looked, but have her face burned in my mind. I could see her crying right now on stand. And so I told my lawyers, I said, Look, man, see if I can have a conversation with her, some type of dialogue. So he goes to the DA, and talks to the DA, DA talks to her and comes back. She said, she didn’t want to talk. She said, whatever she says she’s gonna say on the stand. So just so happened that the hearing was reset to the next month. So next month comes up. I just wanted to plan some more for this. Give me more time, though. And so when we went back the next month and she had request that me and her talk. Said she was ready. And so, again, I’m handcuffed and shackled, have this orange jumpsuit on, sitting on the bench.
Ronnie, how old were you at this point?
At this point, this is 2016, I’m somewhere in my 30s. And so I have to turn around and talk to her, I’m handcuffed and shackled. So I’m having this over the bench behind me conversation and when I turn around and look at her, she was like this. She was just looking at me. And I pretty much broke the silence. I said, ma’am, I take full responsibility for the death of your son. Absolutely no excuses. It was very senseless. It was a real idiotic decision I made. And but when I said, I take full responsibility. She took a deep breath then exhaled and she let her arms down. And she leaned toward me. And I began to talk to her and when I finished she said, I don’t hate you. And she told me I’ll forgive you. But during this dialogue there isn’t a dry eye, she’s crying, I’m crying. And here it is, something’s happening now with her and me that I really can’t explain. Even though I was handcuffed and shackled, I felt that come off of me. I felt so free. I didn’t even care what happens with the proceedings of the hearing. Because remember, this is a top day for me, this is big. You know, doesn’t matter they might re-sentence to life without parole again. I’m okay with whatever. You know, this is like the pinnacle. And she told me she believed I deserve a second chance. And she got on the stand and echoed everything she said in private on the stand, put in all on record. Phenomenal moment. Nothing but God can do that. I can remember her saying, Oh, she told me she didn’t know when her son got killed that he had a son. And she said, I ended up on raising him. She said he was like 18 years old or something at the time, something like that. And she said, I wanted to bring him today here to meet you because he forgives you also. And I say, ma’am, if I get out, I’d love to still meet him. And she told me this here I’ll never forget. She said, not if you get out, when you get out. So, man, I’m talking about you can see God’s handprint all over this. And even in her and how this conversation is freeing her. You know, because forgiveness is first for you. We think it’s for other people. It’s really for you, you know? And, man, what a awesome time. So, I get re-sentenced to have parole eligibility. Everybody’s clapping. I was the last case there so everybody’s leaving. And I had a lot of family support there so my little niece was like the last one going out the door. And the judge said Mr. Olivier, you can visit with your family. So I told mother and niece, y’all come back. So she’s getting everybody back again. And amazingly, the lady pushed past my family to get to me first. And man, she told me when she got to me, she said just do me one favor, just promise me this. I said Yes, ma’am, anything. She said don’t pick up that gun anymore. You don’t have to worry about that, I say that’s the easy promise to keep. You know, she said, I believe you’re going to do well, you really deserve a second chance. And then she left and let me visit with my family.
Wow. That was powerful. What a powerful experience and, Ronnie, I’d like to back up just a little bit. Because you went in, you’re about 18 years old when you first went in. Here you are now with this experience you’re in your 30s. There’s a big gap between 18 and in mid 30s, right? During that time, you had committed your life to Christ, you were being discipled, you went to Bible college, you’re doing all these things. But you were living in what was kind of seemingly hopeless, that you’d ever walk outside the doors of the prison, right? I mean, because that was your sentence, that was the law. That was it. You’re living the life that had been given to you. And that was nside a prison. Now, all of us probably have had moments or seasons in our lives that seemed hopeless. You endured years of this in a very graphic way, you know, a very real way. You’re surrounded by walls and bars. But for anyone who’s wrestling with a seemingly hopeless situation, whatever it might be, you know, a health condition, something with a family member, you name it, whatever it might be. How did you navigate that hopelessness? How did God keep you? What was that experience like? Because I think that that experience can help each of us as we find ourselves in these seasons of hopelessness, right?
It’s similar to Abraham, you know, God gives him a promise. But if you’ve been around any type of leadership classes, it talks about vision and how day-to-day life will cause the vision to leak, right? He’d constantly care, constantly remind him. And you see that with Abraham, God gave him a plan about him having a Son, and God had to constantly remind Abraham about this promise. And so there were times when unbelief would try to attach itself to me. Man, I run to his presence, God tell me again. Just tell me again. Give me a word. And he always does, I tell you always. I never forget, I was on my bed and I was praying. And I was like, man, Lord, I know it’s not supposed to be like this. I know my life can’t end like this. I’ve been here, been incarcerated since I was 16. You know, and during this period of time, people didn’t get out and go, you died and go. So you very rarely saw someone discharged and then going home. And so I’m like, Man, I know, like this can’t be it. And I’ll never forget, he brought this to my memory. So I can remember when I was a kid, and I came home from school. And it was a weekend, you know, every weekend my dad came to get me. And I’m waiting on my dad to come get me and I’ve got my booksack and I have my little bag of clothes right there. And I’m sitting there on the couch, and I fall asleep waiting on my dad to come get me, and my mom woke me up a little later and the sun was going down? She said, Look, your dad must not be coming, why don’t you go get into bed. I said, he called you and told you that? She said no. I said well he’s coming. Because my dad had never not come. If he said he was coming, he was coming. And so about five minutes later, my dad rang the doorbell. I go jump in his arms. He hugged me, kissed me. And God began to speak to me from that. He said, if your earthly father, being evil, didn’t forget you, how much more your heavenly Father. He said, Daddy will come and get you. And man that word is carrying me for so long. So anytime I got discouraged, I talked Oh, daddy’s coming to get you. I reminded myself that daddy said he’s coming to get you. And so God always gave me a word or something in the scripture. Something to hold on to, to stand on, you know, in those times and something to really anchor me in the storm. And I refer back to it, you know, like I said, I always ran into his presence, too. And so he gave me a promise. You know, and so I didn’t know how it was gonna get out or when. But I knew who. And I trusted in the who, and the who took care of the how and the when. That’s his business. My business is to believe Him and trust Him. And so man, in those times of hopelessness, man, hopelessness cannot go into the presence of God. It can’t stay there. It might go with you but it can’t stay. And he will feed your faith in His presence. And in His Word, the Bible say faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God. Constantly hearing it, repetition of it, again the same thing. Man, God always reminded me, always reminded, I never forget. God gave the last word. I was there, the last word I shared with the congregation there was about Abraham. That God is gonna make you laugh. Because God made Abraham laugh and laugh. And I saw freedom as being pregnant with a promise and giving birth to it. And you know, if you talk to any woman, birth pain is a very, it’s excruciating. It hurts, right? But after that baby becomes out, they forget all about that. Yeah. Oh, man. I forgot all about that. So, man it’s a blessing, man, just to believe God. He knows us. He knows what he’s doing. He has a long track record of doing this. And he’s eternal. You know, he’s not subject to time. So, you know, we’re subject from one milla-second to the next, we can’t see what’s going to happen. You know, but God is not subject to that. He’s eternal. He sees everything at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to trust a God like that? He said I know the end from the beginning, right?
You know, that’s so powerful. I love how you share because you were in a situation that’s hard for us to even imagine the hopelessness of that situation. Like you said, you had no idea how you would ever get out of prison because you literally, the way the legal system was set up, there was not an option, period. There was not an option for you initially, when you were sentenced, right? Like, there’s no way. And yet you held on to that promise. And I love what you say. It’s a reminder, I think, for all of us about running into the presence of God. Because those things of the enemy, those lies the enemy tries to tell us or attach to us, or anything else cannot remain in the presence of God. And so every time that hopelessness comes, and I’m sure, Ronnie, there were probably many, many times over those years that hopelessness would set in, and you’d have to run to Jesus and experience that again and again, right?
This made me think about the scripture that says, the joy of the Lord is my strength. But there’s another scripture that says in his presence, there’s the fullness of joy. So if I’m weak, and I’m downtrodden, and I’m dealing with unbelief. My problem is not really that I’m not strong. My problem’s that I’m not getting into the presence of God. So if I get into his presence, there’s the fullness of joy. There’s my strength. And so man, I learned to be joyful and to enjoy life, even in prison. Which is mind boggling because from a natural standpoint, but when it comes to God’s joy, all of the fruit of the spirit it has no barriers according to your geographical location. And he’s got a way of working it out in you. And so man, I woke up every morning with purpose. I always smiled. And I was at peace like never before, Oh, man it’s mind boggling. It’s the peace that you don’t understand. It has the ability to make you comfortable in the most uncomfortable situation. You know, so it transcends was going on outwardly. It’s not so much as important what happens to you. What’s important is what happens in you. And that’s what God is focusing on. And look at Jesus. He was in the storm, but he was sleeping in the boat. Right?
Talk about peace. Yeah.
He’s there sleeping. Then he got up and he spoke to the circumstances, and it got in line with what he said. I believe that same spirit is in us, man. It’s the Holy Spirit. We can do anything in Christ Jesus.
That’s right. I love that brother. Hey, real quick as we’re winding down. Absolutely amazing, amazing conversation. Thank you for making the time to be with us. And for those of you who are interested in all of Ronnie’s story, 27 Summers, it’s his memoir. Absolutely incredible. You see God at work in just amazing ways in and through Ronnie’s life. Ronnie, the fascinating thing is, you end up in prison with a life sentence, you really dig into life in Christ. And amazing and miraculous things happen. You’re released from from prison. And yet in an interesting way you end up back in prison. Okay, so Ronnie, share a little bit about about that, like, how is it that God just kind of took you full circle? You’re kind of back in prison now. So tell us about that.
Believe me, it was definitely a call from God. It was not my idea to get there. But here it is. I get a call from the head warden at Angola when I was there, and he knew me and saw the work I was doing and he gets this position in Mississippi as the Commissioner with Departments of Corrections. So he’s responsible for all the prisons in Mississippi. And he’s looking for chaplains. And he calls me to be the Director of Chaplaincy at Mississippi State Penitentiary. And I’m like, Wow, this is, I’m telling you, a miracle. Don’t tell me what God can’t do. And so this makes absolutely no sense. If you hung around anything dealing with the Department of Corrections, you’d really understand the weight of that. That is very heavy. It’s very difficult for or ex-convict to get a job, least of all a job with the Department of Corrections. So I take the job, bring my family there and into Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. And man, it was in bad shape when we got there, the gangs had completely taken over, it was very violent. Someone was dying there from gang violence at least once a week, sometimes twice a week. It was very difficult conversation, part of my job was to call the mother or the parent to let them know that their loved one passed away in prison. Very difficult. And so one of the things I started doing is, because I was responsible for hiring other chaplains, and also hiring chaplains throughout Mississippi prisons. If they were going to another prison away from me, they’d have to come through Parchman to get trained by me and then I send them out. And so I started hiring a lot of guys who were coming out of prison with bachelor’s degrees from the Bible college who I knew were serious about ministry. And so I developed a team there and man, God turned it upside down. Within a year of that it was reported that the violence was down 62%. We went straight to the gangs, the gang leaders, that’s who we wanted to talk to. And their heart, amazingly, because of our story and where we came from, their heart was wide open. And so God used that to corner them so they didn’t have any excuses. And man, that was a direct link to their heart. And we just shared our experience and it gave them hope like never before. They began to look at us and see themselves, this miracle that they’re holding it and then touching it, they’re experiencing it, and seeing that God can do the same thing for them. And man, we build churches, they’re all types of organizational clubs. I’m just trying to change the atmosphere and the culture there. And man, after two and a half years, God called me somewhere else. But I enjoyed that moment and just ministered to those guys because I was looking for me. And one of the things I did that helped prepare me for that was after Bible college, when I was in Angola, the Bible College was sending out missionaries to other prisons in Louisiana. Because there were so many ministers it was producing in Angola, we’re stacking up on each other. So they started sending us out to other prisons to help. And so I went to this other prison and became a chaplain assistant and a pastor. So I pastored a church there which, oh man, that took me to a whole other level in leadership and ministry. I believe this with all my heart of hearts, if you can pastor a church in prison, you can pastor anywhere. And it’s because you live with your members. And so it’s different from here on the outside, you might see your pastor only on Sundays in that setting, you might run it to him at Walmart or something, but to live with. I’m in a dormitory where they house at least 50 people and eight or nine are my members You know, and they always see me and so there’s no break, there’s no, there’s no sabbatical where you go home, there’s no vacation. This is 24 hours a day ministry. And so part of my job as an inmate minister was to bring that message to them. So I might get a death message at three o’clock in the morning, someone’s mother died. And so I had to bring it to him, wake him up, and give him that message and stay with him and live alongside and go through that process. And so all that prepared me for what I was going through at Parchman. Never in a million years would I have thought God was training me to be a chaplain. There’s some great things that, to come full circle, to the Louisiana Parole Project. That’s where I’m at now, I’m back in Louisiana. It’s a place that is an organization that helps guys who are coming home who did over 20 years and make a transition. I went through the program when I came home. So now I’m helping someone else. We do wraparound services, give them housing, food, clothing, and help them make sure to get all the documents that they need, and help get them jobs, help get them established. We give them a real good, fresh start. And so since it’s been in operation since 2016, we have had and served over 480 clients. And we have less than 1% less than 2% recidivism rate. So man again, that’s ministry there and helping guys and it’s public safety. You know, a lot of politicians cry about it, but these guys are coming home. We want to help them get a great start. They don’t have to stress and turn back to what they knew how to do and make a living. And so we help with that, man.
That’s awesome. Ronnie, your story is absolutely fascinating. So grateful, again, that you made time to spend with us here on FrontStage BackStage, just as we’re closing down, I’d love to give you just a little bit of time here to share just some words of encouragement to pastors and ministry leaders, our brothers and sisters who are serving, our colleagues who are serving. What encouragement would you like to leave with them?
Oh, man, one of the things I always shared at Parchman with the volunteers was this. You really have to when you go into ministry in the prison, you have to really be real. Because these guys are in an environment where they’re very observant, they pay attention to everything. You know, I never forget when I went to prison, this guy told me, he said listen, this is not penitentiary,this is pay attention. So you had to do that to survive, because you will get caught up in something and be dead. So they have a habit of observing. They are completely literally shaking you down when they meet you, if you will. And so you can tell when someone comes in with just their hands and not their heart. I’m just doing my Christian duty just to check it off the box. Hey, I came to prison, you stayed home when I was in prison. You didn’t visit me. So I’m just checking this off the box to visit you. They can tell the difference. So in ministry, don’t just bring your hands bring your heart. Oh, man, that’s what impacts them. Somebody that’s real. And you have to keep your word. They’ve been lied to so many times. When somebody’s gonna do this or do that. if you say something like you’re gonna get them a Bible, you need to get that Bible. If you’re a person that forgets, keep your notepad, write it down, remind yourself. Because they’re quick to throw up a wall. And so once you have that heart open, man, you have to honor that. And just be real, and keep your word, you will help so many people with just that. So I encourage you with that.
I love that, Ronnie. Great word, brother. Man, it’s been so good to hang out with you today. And just want to remind those of you who are watching or listening along. We have the toolkit that goes along with this conversation that Ronnie and I are having. And you can find that at PastorServe.org/network. You can also find there links to Ronnie’s book, 27 Summers, and that Ministry Leaders Growth Guide to help you dig more deeply. And so we encourage you to check that out at PastorServe.org/network. Ronnie, it’s been such a pleasure to have you with us today. Thank you so much for making time to be with us.
Thank you for having me, man. A pleasure.
All right. God bless you, brother.
Bless you, too.
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
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