'I went to jail for a financial kickback. Inside, my faith became very real for me.'
Cameron’s story | Living for God behind bars
“Before 2004, I’d never even had a speeding fine. Then, in my late twenties, I was an acting general manager of a finance corporation. I made an investment on behalf of the company and I received a financial kickback … which I should have known was the wrong thing to do. I went to court and I was sentenced to jail for two and a half years. It was horrible – for myself, for my wife, and for our kids. My wife was heavily pregnant with our third child at the time. It was atrocious.”
“I remember in the trial, the barrister asked me if I thought what I did was dishonest. I said, ‘Yes.’ That pretty much threw our case out the window. But it also meant that, for the first time, I owned up to what I did, instead of blaming everyone else.
“Before going to jail, I probably thought that being a Christian was about being a good person, following the rules. In jail, though, my faith became very real for me, much more than before. I read the Bible and for the first time, I wanted to see what it really said about Jesus and salvation. I wanted to live it.
“At first, it was really hard. I thought that God had forgotten about me. He knew I was sorry. He knew I didn’t mean it. Why didn’t he rescue me from this?
“But then, it slowly changed. I found myself thrust into a community of people who were the kingpins of the illegal lifestyle. All my biases were laid aside. They were just blokes. They had been dealt hard stuff. Some of them had never had a visitor in 20 years. And here was I, with an opportunity to share that God loves them, despite what they’d done, despite what they’d become. It was an amazing opportunity. I had inmates coming to my room, all the time, asking me to pray for them. And I did. We shared what it meant to have a right relationship with God. I saw so much change in them over the years.
“In Matthew 9:12, Jesus said, ‘It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill.’ It’s true. Jesus was sent to the world for the sick.
“Sometimes, people on the outside find it hard to accept that there’s anything wrong with them. But the unhealthy, or the people on the inside, they know they’re bad dudes. They know they need help and forgiveness. So in some ways, it makes it easier to say, ‘Despite that, God loves you.’ They were willing to accept it. It was so different to what they thought Christianity was about!
“I know I’m different now. My wife and kids are different. We’re stronger in a lot of ways. A lot of families break up through the experience of jail, which is understandable, but ours actually got stronger.
“I started doing Bible College in jail and after I got out, I went into ministry with young people – in churches and now as a school chaplain. Before that time, I would have thought that getting a good job, a good house, and the kids in good schools were the important things. And while they are fine things, they’re not the most important things.
“These days, my wife and I sometimes say to each other that we wish there had been an easier way to learn those deep lessons about God’s grace and what’s important – but in the end, we’re thankful for it. We know that the true Gospel message gives lasting hope.”
[Cameron was interviewed in 2016 by Centre for Public Christianity’s Simon Smart here.]
Cameron’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.