I Was in Prison and You Brought me the Fathers Love
I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee the fourth of six children. My father walked out on us when I was only a boy. As Mom explained it, “He didn’t care if we lived in the street.” I took this to mean that he didn’t love us and that something was inherently wrong with me. When my father abandoned me, it instilled in me deep feelings of inferiority and rejection.
From that time on our mother struggled to provide for all of us. I’m very proud of her and how she handled it all being a young, black single mother in the South in the ‘60’s. But in spite of all she did, I still felt that something was missing in our family unit, the love of a Christian father. I had never had much experience with God during my childhood even though we were made to go to church with grandmother at the Pentecostal Holiness Church. A lot of shouting and praising went on, but I was too preoccupied with my own child’s world to notice God and what He was doing through the adults in the church. One Sunday morning my cousin, Regina, came by on her way to church. I surprised everyone by volunteering to go. During the invitation to the altar, I went forward and lifted my hands to God in desperate need of a father’s love. I wanted a father to pick me up and hold me in his arms. That day I believe God smiled down on me and recorded that moment. Years later, when I so desperately needed Him again, He answered me.
During our football practice sessions at school I would often notice some of the parents, particularly fathers of some of the players sitting on the sidelines watching their sons. They would faithfully attend the games to watch them play. I longed to have a father who would watch me make a tackle or a key defensive play. One season I intercepted two passes and ran for touchdowns. It would have been so wonderful to see my father’s proud look of affirmation and affection. I was voted most valuable player by my teammates and was awarded the trophy, “Best Team Man” at our awards banquet. But although I was proud, I still missed a father’s affection.
My Hurt Becomes Destructive
As I grew up, I was always feeling a bit empty and tried to fill the empty spot with sports, girls, partying and drinking.
I never really went in for drugs because they gave me feelings of paranoia. As I got older I continued my party lifestyle and eventually became addicted to pornography which only reinforced my insecure feelings about my manhood.
When I was 19 I joined the Navy and enjoyed traveling around the world. I got married, but when I was overseas I would often cheat on my wife, trying to fill the void. I’d sometimes call out to God, but I was then unwilling to give up my lifestyle of partying and chasing women.
Then on one overseas trip, I received a letter from my wife. She was seeing another man. Clearly we were both not ready for the challenges of married life at such a young age, but I really did love her and thought she loved me. In reaction to the mounting hurt in my life, I internalized this as yet another rejection, not realizing I was doing the same to her.
When I returned home, everyone knew about our failed marriage and the affairs that led to its failure, but I went on partying, drinking and womanizing. It was then that I vowed to myself that I would never allow myself to be hurt and rejected again.
So during the winter months of 1985 while I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, my anger toward women for what I felt my wife did to me exploded. I went on a sexual assault spree for three months.
I was arrested and placed in the Virginia Beach City jail to await trial. I considered committing suicide. Feeling devastated and hopeless with no one else to turn to, I turned to the God I had reached up to as a child. Now He would have my attention; I became his “captive” audience.
Finding Jesus In Prison
I began to attend the church services in jail. The volunteers who brought us the message of God’s love were a comfort to my lost soul. I felt a gentle tugging on my heart’s door at those church services, and during one evangelist’s invitation, I went forward with tears streaming down my face and asked Jesus to come into my life and be my Saviour and Lord. He graciously lifted the burden of sin, shame and guilt from me. I was born again.
Everything looked different that day. I began to see things from a totally different perspective, from heaven’s point of view. I knew I was forgiven and accepted.
I had met Jesus Christ, and He revealed His love to me and asked me to follow Him. Soon I began to devour the word of God through a correspondence course offered by the chaplain there in jail.
In December 1985, a volunteer came to replace the chaplain temporarily. His name was Ted. There was a glow on his face that I wanted. After one of the Bible study sessions, Ted asked me If I would like to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Ted laid his hand upon me as I sat in the chair that day in jail. The Holy Spirit came upon me, and I felt His presence and power surging within me. I doubled over as the power of God filled me, and when I raised myself up again, I began to speak in a glorious heavenly language as I praised God for His reality and presence.
I spent another year in jail while going through the trials for burglary and rape. And even in this God was merciful to me because I was facing a maximum of four life sentences. Thankfully I was only sentenced to 95 years in prison, a sentence which I definitely deserved. However, I would be eligible for parole after eight years and six months into the sentence. They transferred me to Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, VA in the beautiful surroundings of the Shenandoah Valley where I’ve been housed since May of 1987.
Upon arriving here I began attending the church services, joined the small choir and discovered that I had a gift for praise and worship. Eventually the men voted me to be the pastor of what was then the Augusta Christian Fellowship. Although I still struggled with those old feelings of inferiority and rejection, yet there was a supernatural strength available to me to accomplish His purposes.
The River Comes To Prison
In 1994 we heard about revival meetings held by evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne in Lakeland, FL. We were a hungry bunch of guys who wanted more of God and everything He wanted to give us. Soon afterward some volunteers who had been coming in to our Tuesday night prayer and praise meetings shared with us what they had experienced as they attended Rodney Howard-Browne meetings in Louisville, KY. As we watched the videos of those meetings, our hunger increased. We began to cry out to God to visit us in this awesome way because we believed this was what we needed to release many of us from our various chains that still held us captive.
During this time I was burdened with the lack of power and anointing in the lives of many of the volunteers who came in to hold services each week. I began to spend an hour each day in my cell crying out to God on behalf of the men here tearfully asking Him to visit us.
In 1995 Bob Kelpe brought a team from Florida here for a week of revival meetings. The meetings were glorious as men fell to the floor under the Spirit’s power. I was touched mightily, and the Holy Spirit began a deep work of healing and restoration in me. I laughed and cried each time the presence of the Lord came upon me in those meetings.
Others were dead set against this and did everything in their power to stop what was happening. I was stunned and naïve because I thought this was what everybody wanted, a move of God to change and heal us. I was wrong. We were persecuted and misunderstood by some of the evangelical brothers.
Then we heard about what the Holy Spirit was doing in Toronto. By now we had been totally hooked on the Holy Spirit’s presence and joy. I happened to read an article Melinda Fish wrote in Charisma Magazine. She shared about her experiences in Toronto and what the Holy Spirit was doing in their church in Pennsylvania. In January of 1997, I wrote a letter to Melinda inviting her to come to Augusta Correctional Center.
In May of 1997 Melinda and Bill and a team of people from their church came to visit us. We were so excited about their visit, and we came with such expectancy to meet these joy-filled Christians who seemed to glow with the presence of God.
Their worship leader, Paul Blackham, led in worship with the new songs of the renewal. Then they shared how the Lord had touched them through the revival going on in Toronto. Sarah, Melinda’s daughter, came forward in the last meeting in tears, pouring out her heart about how the Father really loved us.
As Sarah spoke, I felt a stirring in my heart, and it reminded me of my lifelong need for the Father’s love. He had come to welcome me into His arms of love. That afternoon I went to my cell to soak in the Father’s love. I began to weep uncontrollably at how the Father had come through willing vessels and had begun to fill that void, the places I’d so desperately needed to be filled when I was a kid. I began to experience the affirmation and affection of the Father that I had been longing for all these years. Each time I would soak in His presence—even today—I sense the Father taking me up in His big arms of love.
I’m so grateful that those who have been touched by this River have heard our cries and have come to visit us and share the Father’s blessing of love, acceptance and affection. Twice a year the team from Pennsylvania comes, on Thanksgiving weekend and Memorial Day weekend. Each Friday, Fielding Cage, another local pastor who was touched in Toronto comes to hold a renewal meeting at the prison. Peter and Heather Jackson have also come from Toronto to teach us more about the Father heart of God. I feel as though we’re maturing as sons as a result of this ministry to us. In June of 1998, John and Carol Arnott, the senior pastors from TACF came to minister the love of God to us also. We felt so honored to have such “big name” people come to a humble place like our maximum security prison. So many men were transformed as a result of their visit.
This renewal has affected the lives of the men around me. One inmate who had been a Muslim gave his heart to Jesus as a result of being in the renewal meetings. I’ve seen guys bound by homosexuality, hatred and other addictions touched by the Holy Spirit’s love. They are now seeking the Lord as a result of this renewing work of God.
My Healing Revelation Of The Father’s Love
Has the Father’s love changed me in this renewal? Powerfully. In November of 2000, the team from Pennsylvania came again. Melinda said, “I believe that the Father wants to reveal His heart to some of you fellows. As I sat quietly waiting for prayer, someone from their team laid hands on me and prayed over me words of healing and the Father’s love. I felt His presence strongly upon me, and I began to feel His love and pleasure for me flooding my heart as His joy filled me to overflowing. I began to laugh.
The next day while I was soaking on my bunk in this wonderful River of God, the Lord showed me a vision. I saw myself as a little boy. I was sitting on my father’s lap, and he was hugging and just loving on me, tossing me up in the air. I must have been about two or three years old. Then I realized that this was God.
Then the vision progressed in fast forward to a junior high football game, the one where I had intercepted a pass and was running down the sidelines for the end zone. As I was running for the score, I saw a man running alongside me just outside the sidelines. He was jumping up and down and really cheering me on and calling out to me, “Run Ed, run Ed. I’m so proud of you!”
I wondered, who is that man? Then it dawned on me. That’s God, my Father! Then I said out loud, “Lord, you were there; you were there all along!”
He said, “Yes, son, I was there when you felt you had no one to watch you play. I was there all the time.”
I began to weep as my heart was filled with the Father’s affirmation and affection. I was experiencing healing from childhood wounds of rejection and abandonment right in my prison cell. I’m eternally grateful to God for revealing His heart to me. He was not only with me at the game in junior high, but He’s right here with me now, still cheering me on as His precious adopted son.
Another part of my healing came when Heather Jackson stood before us and shared how she had experienced sexual abuse in her past. She stood in behalf of the victims of sexual offences and offered forgiveness to us who were in prison for sexual offences. I witnessed grown men crying because of what she did. We desperately needed to hear her words of mercy.
God is pouring out His spirit of adoption on His orphaned children, those who feel alienated and rejected. I challenge you to invite Him to come to you now, to come to you in power to reveal Himself to you because He’s the Father to the fatherless.
I challenge you to visit a church where this mighty River of God, the Father’s blessing, is flowing from the throne of God. Invite Him to fill your heart with the Father’s love. Be willing to let down your walls of protection and experience the pleasure of the Father for His sons and daughters. Soak in His presence daily and wait at His feet, and you will begin to soar like an eagle in the Father’s arms above all your hurt and pain.
This is my story of how He captured my heart and brought me into His arms of love. I pray you will meet Him and discover the wonders of His extravagant love for you also.
From the Church behind prison walls, your brother in Christ, Ed Bragg.