Remembering Charles Colson

“Watergate figure Charles Colson has died at 80” read the headlines on Yahoo News. But Mr. Colson’s life was larger than Watergate-related conviction. He was the founder of Prison Fellowship International, the world’s largest and most extensive criminal justice ministry with a global association of over 117 national Prison Fellowship locations, including Zambia. The world will remember Mr. Colson for his work to reach prisoners and their families with the love and compassion of Christ. He will also be remembered for his work with several government leaders and parliamentarians as he advocated for biblically based criminal justice system

         I met Chuck in 1985 when I was studying at Theological College of  Central Africa. Colson was visiting Zambia to discuss Prison Fellowship  Zambia’s affiliation with Prison Fellowship International. His host was Dr. Rajan Mahtani, the Chairman of Prison Fellowship Zambia. While in Zambia he visited Kamfinsa Prison and was able to see the cell where Dr. Mahtani was once detained by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. Colson walked out of that cell with tears in his eyes and said, “I would not have survived three days if I was locked up in that kind of cell.”

My appreciation for Colson goes back to Loving God, Who Speaks    for God and Kingdoms in Conflict. Those three books greatly influenced  my understanding of love and justice in the Kingdom of God extended to culture. In 1991 when the late Mr. Fredrick Chiluba became President of Zambia I wrote Mr. Colson and asked him to write President Chiluba to encourage him. Mr. Colson did write President Chiluba and also sent him the book Kingdoms in Conflict. From 1987 as Prison Fellowship Zambia staff to 1999, I met Mr. Colson several times at PFI meetings and conferences.

One thing I will remember about Mr. Colson was his sense of humor. At a Prison Fellowship International Conference in Costa Rica in 1989, after escorting the Prime Minister to his chair he stated, “Last time I escorted a President I ended up in prison.” At a conference in South Korea three years later, in his opening remarks he said, “The last time I wanted to come here was when I was a captain in the marines during the war but when the North Koreans heard that Colson was coming they surrendered.”

Chuck Colson’s courage and boldness has shaped my life as a follower of Christ.  For many years I have followed his writings and his speeches. His message and the story of his life have continually pointed to the justice, compassion, mercy and transforming power of Christ. When international media remembers him for his role in “Watergate” they are not belittling what God has done in his life. They simply cannot comprehend why a person of such achievement and intellect would spend the second half of their life proclaiming the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the redemption available to all who trust Him as Savior and Lord. For those who don’t know Christ this kind of stewardship defies logic. But Colson understood that God, “chose the lowly things of world and the despised things-and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor1:28-29).  He is the “foolish” person who simply accepted Christ’s offer of forgiveness. As a result of that decision he will spend eternity with God! May his family and the staff at Prison Fellowship USA, and around the world, know God’s peace as we celebrate the man God gave to us as a gift for the last 35 years.

Lawrence Temfwe