By Sentiyula Along
“Alice Marie Johnson thanks God, reality star Kim Kardashian-West and President Donald Trump for setting her free from prison after serving 22 years behind bars”…read the headlines of CBN News. I was immediately struck by the odd combination of names… I was familiar with God, Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump but who was this Alice Marie Johnson? And why would she thank this unlikely trio?
Intrigued, I read the article to realize that God has done a mighty work in the life of a woman who had been serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense in an American prison. In brief, this is the story of how she got into prison.
President Donald Trump at his White House meeting with Kim Kardashian West about prison reform and sentencing.
Alice Marie Johnson was an average law-abiding citizen when she lost her job as a manager. Out of desperation, she decided to make some quick money and became involved in a drug conspiracy. She was arrested and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of a parole. Once in prison, she was a model prisoner. She used her talents to write plays which were performed by the inmates. She became a mentor to the other incarcerated women.
Soon, people got to hear about her story and decided to begin a campaign to have her released. Many others had worked on her behalf but it was finally Kardashian’s intervention and work in the last seven months that led to her release.
In an emotional interview with CNN, Kim Kardashian said that she had not known about Johnson’s case until around seven months before the release. She had “happened to be on Twitter that exact moment” when one of the people she ‘followed’ posted a story on Johnson. She watched it and her heart was so touched by the story that she then decided to take up her cause.
Kim Kardashian tried to get an appointment with the President and she was given a date – which happened to be Johnson’s birthday! Kim realised that this cause was ‘bigger’ than her, and used her power as a celebrity to plead on Johnson’s behalf. And that ultimately led to one of the biggest stories of redemption in our times.
Christians who are familiar with the Bible will find in Alice Marie Johnson’s story immediate parallels with the story of Joseph in Genesis. While Johnson was guilty of the crime for which she was punished, Joseph was blameless in all aspects. It was the jealousy of his brothers which ultimately led them to sell his as a slave.
As the story of Joseph goes, he ended up in Potiphar’s household in Egypt where he was so faithful in his stewardship as a slave that the master made him handle all matters related to running of his household. Following some twists and turns in which he was falsely accused; Joseph was imprisoned for years in an Egyptian prison.
Even in prison, Joseph was so consistently faithful in all that he did, that the warden put him in charge of running the prison. In prison, among his fellow inmates were the chief butler and chief baker of the king of Egypt. Joseph interpreted their individual dreams correctly and requested the chief butler to remember him when his dream came to pass. Ultimately, Joseph was liberated from prison two years later and was exalted to the highest position in Egypt next only to the Pharaoh.
There are so many important lessons to learn here as believers. For our purposes today, let me try to highlight the major ones.
- God can use the most unlikely person or circumstance to save His people. In Alice Marie Johnson’s case, it was Kardashian and in Joseph’s case, it was his time in prison that led to his connection to the chief butler, which ultimately led to his promotion. So God aligns people and situations together to fulfill His purposes.
- God can make people remember/notice or forget His people according to His timing. So Kardashian noticed Johnson at God’s designated time, many years after she had been in prison. The chief butler forgot all about Joseph after he was restored to his position and it was only two years later that he remembered Joseph. In human terms, it may seem like an unnecessarily long time but it was God’s kairos time for both of them.
- There is always a waiting period before God’s people reap their blessings. How we behave during this waiting period decides our destiny. Johnson was a model prisoner and in all respects, she showed herself to be a role model for the other inmates.
Joseph also proved himself loyal and indispensable to his superiors when he was a slave and a prisoner.
Our attitude in the face of difficult circumstances is of prime importance.
What causes God to show us favour and lift us out of our difficulties? The favour of God is the grace of God- that which causes things to happen in our lives through the channel of our faith.
Joseph found favour in the eyes of God through his faith; he did not give up believing in God despite all the unfair things that happened to him. He remained obedient, and obedience is always marked with favour.
- God gives second chances to everyone. He is not bothered by our past. No person is so worthless that God cannot use him or her.
Alice Marie Johnson has said that the key to surviving her time in prison was that she did not allow her past to be the sum of who she is. She made a mistake, she admitted it but her whole was not to be defined by that one mistake.
In fact, God uses our trying times to refine and purify all the shortcomings that we have as human beings. Johnson used her 22 years in prison to improve herself. Joseph was in Egypt for 13 years as a slave and prisoner before he became the Governor. These were training periods for them.
In Genesis 41: 33 God directs the Pharaoh to find a man who was “discreet, understanding, proficient and wise” to govern Egypt. And Pharaoh finds all these qualities in Joseph. If Joseph had remained in his father’s house, he would never have received the administrative experience that he got by maintaining Potiphar’s household and the prison.
- God can use our story of struggle and restoration for His glory. In a day and age where mentioning God’s name is becoming increasingly unpopular, Johnson praises God publicly for her redemption. She does not take any credit for her release. Joseph too praises God by naming his two sons born before the famine Manasseh (making to forget) for God made him forget all his toil and hardship. The second son, he called Ephraim (to be fruitful) because God made him fruitful in the land of his affliction.
We are often tempted to exalt ourselves when we overcome big obstacles in life, quickly forgetting the grace and mercy shown to us by God. It will be good to remind ourselves of God’s hand upon us as we move from the “pit to the palace.” If injustice has been shown to us, we should not waste our time in getting revenge.
As we study the lives of these two people, there may be many of us still in the “pit” of life. Let us take courage and keep the faith. Let us hold on to the promises of God like the psalmist in Psalm 119: 49-50- “Remember the word and promise to Your servant, in which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort and consolation in my affliction: that Your word has revived me and given me life.”
Let us run the race marked out for us with perseverance, for “He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you(Philippians 1:6).”
And when we are tempted to curse our circumstances or our fate for all the troubles we face in life, let us remember Romans 8: 28 and be “ assured and know that all things work together and are for good to and for those who love God and are called according to His design and purpose.”
Sentiyula Along is an Assistant Professor teaching English at Dimapur Government College