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Find out now. Connect with AT&T Black Future Makers past and present by visiting AT&T dot com slash dream in black. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And to listen to the Our American Stories podcast, go to the I Heart Radio app, iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Joe Garman always knew he wanted to go into ministry, but on his own terms, in his words, God had other ideas. He first tried his hand at churches, but they thought he looked too young. So he started a youth revival ministry and through twists and turns ended up in South Korea doing mission work with his wife, Linda. Then he was asked to come speak with some incarcerated Americans there. Let's get into the story.
Well, one day I was in the mission house, minding my own business, I might say, and there was a knock on the door and it was a military chaplain. And he had just been to that prison in Daejeon, which was a huge prison. And he told me that where he was stationed, it was just too far to have to come to visit that prison on a regular basis.
The roads were not all that good. So he asked me, he said, this Wednesday, I have scheduled a 45 minute teaching session with the prisoners. Would you fill in for me? I said yes, but in my heart I said no. I did not want to, you know, I had 13 churches to oversee and a Bible college and all these youth ministries. What was I going to do going into a prison? I didn't want to get tied down in a prison work. So I told him yes, but as soon as I shut the front door, I leaned against the door and I said to Linda, I will go one time and that's it.
And Linda has always been more spiritual than me. And she said, Joe, why don't you go? You just might like it. And I said, I will not like it. I mean, I went with the wrong attitude, with the wrong heart. And I spent 45 minutes with those guys and not 46.
I spent 45 just like I promised I would. And I was on my way out. And the Korean chaplain, he caught me just before I was going to the last door of the prison. And he said, oh, it was so wonderful to have you here.
Would you please come back and speak to my Korean prisoners? Well, I've always had a problem in my life, and that is that I just can't say no to anybody for anything. I might not do it again, but I can't say no the first time. I've got to say yes.
So once again, with the wrong attitude, I said yes. And when I went back to that prison, he met me at the front door. We went all the way from one end of the prison to the other.
It was a long prison. And when we got to the end, there was the gymnasium. And inside this gymnasium were about, I would guesstimate, there was about 400 men. I mean, there was not room for anything but just those men.
They were sitting cross-legged on the ground, on the floor. And we were so tight in that little gymnasium that I couldn't even move to the right or to the left. My interpreter stood beside me, and I preached like a dying man to dying men. I mean, when I saw the hunger that was in their eyes and the opportunity I had here, well, the Spirit moved upon me.
I can say that. And I just preached my heart out to those guys. And when I was finished, you know, at the Billy Graham Crusades, they say, come forward. Well, there's no way anybody could come forward in that crowded condition. So I said to my interpreter, I said, Mr. Kim, if they want to make a decision for Christ, if they want to completely commit themselves to the Lord, have them to stand up. And the whole room stood like one body.
I mean, not just a few here and a few there, the whole room, just the ground moved. And I turned to Mr. Kim and I said, they must not have understood. Have them all sit down.
That's the kind of faith I had, you know, they must have misunderstood. So they all sat down again. And I said, now I'm not going to speak any English.
I want you just in Korean to speak to them and tell them just exactly what I've said. So he preached for a few minutes and then he turned to them and he said, OK, I finished. And I said, did you tell them everything? I said, yes, I did. And I said, OK, now you tell them only those who want to make a commitment to Christ and become Christians and leave all other religions behind.
Please stand. And the whole room stood like one body. I mean, that's the day that I saw where I needed to be right there.
I went home that day and I told Linda. We're going to go full time in the prison industry. And you've been listening to Joe Garman tell one heck of a story about his experience inside a South Korean prison. He was asked to substitute Bible teach there by a friend and didn't really want to do it.
Why don't you go? You just might like it, his wife said. He went, though, that first time with the wrong heart. Second time, he went still with the wrong heart. But well, as life can do to us all, he saw something that changed his heart.
All those men crammed into a gymnasium. And as he put it, I preached like a dying man to dying men. I preached my heart out to those guys. When we come back, more of Joe Garman's story here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country, stories from our big cities and small towns.
But we truly can't do the show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to our American stories dot com and click the donate button. Give a little give a lot. Go to our American stories dot com and give digital currency is helping to form the base layer for a new global commerce infrastructure and stable coins like USDC issued by Circle. Help to bring faster payments at Internet scale from merchants at the point of sale to corporations that want to pay global suppliers and even employees more efficiently.
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To learn more about the design and innovation at Nissan, visit www.NissanUSA.com And we continue with our American stories and Joe Garman's story. When we last left off, Joe had decided to go into prison ministry full time, something he initially didn't want to do. But after an astounding moment witnessing what he witnessed in a South Korean prison, well, those prisoners changed his heart. Those prisoners changed his life. Let's return to the story.
Here again is Joe Garman. Korea is not hard to get around in. It's only the same size as our state of Indiana. So you can get on the train in one corner of Korea and by the afternoon be in the other corner of Korea and then you can come back the same night, you know. So, I mean, we traveled all over South Korea, every little prison, every little reformatory we went to. Well, after a year of that, I received a letter from Cecil Todd. Do you remember Cecil Todd of Revival Fires?
See, this was before Chuck Colson came along. He said, we don't have a prison ministry. Why don't you come here to America? Do here what you did in Korea.
So we came back here to America. Well, how are you going to do this? I went to several Red Cross Salvation Armies and asked them, how do you do your prison ministry nationwide? Well, the Salvation Army doesn't have a nationwide prison ministry. They have certain towns and cities where they have a prison ministry. But as far as an organized prison ministry, they don't have it or they didn't in that day.
And I went to this person and that person, nobody could help me. So I just bought a one-way plane ticket to Washington, D.C. Can you imagine that? I mean, I did not know anybody in Washington, but I heard that we had a chief of chaplains over the federal system in Washington. He was located in the Pentagon.
I mean, this little Missouri boy, I never even been to the Pentagon before, you know, went in there and found his office number and everything went up in the elevator to his floor. And when I walked through the front door, there was a lady sitting behind a big round desk. And I introduced her as who I was and what I'd come to do. And she said, do you have an appointment? And I said, no. And she said, OK, give me a minute.
Within five minutes, I was sitting down at the desk with him. And I learned that day that that's exactly where I should have gone, because, you see, there is what is called the trickle down theory in the prison ministry. New rehabilitation programs start on the federal level because they have more money to work. If they're successful, they trickle down into the state and then into the county and then into the city jails.
That's how it works. So if I would have gone to a state prison, I would probably just been in a state prison. But because I started on the federal level and all of this was by God's design, I still get shivers just thinking about it. Because I started on the federal level, what happened is he said, I'm going to give you a letter that you can use to get into any federal prison in America. And he said, I'm going to send a letter to all of my chaplains asking them to cooperate.
I mean, this is the first time I ever met the man. You know, it was just like God was pulling all the strings because he was. And so that's my story. And I started on the federal level and started trickling down into the state and into the county. And today we're in all 50 states, plus all all five of the territories. And we are in many nations overseas. We, by faith, believe that we have been able to help people get over whatever the problem was that took them to prison in the first place.
We know that for a fact. We've had them tell us and write us and all this stuff. So perhaps the greatest story that happened to us was the baptism of Emmanuel Noriega, the dictator of Panama. I was privileged to be a part of his conversion story. And we we also build baptistries here for our prisons.
We have a baptistry shop out back. So we provided a baptistry for him and he was baptized into Christ. And when he got out of prison, of course, he was extradited back to Panama. And he lived with his daughter until he died.
And the people in Panama have told us that he was faithful to Christ all the way. Of course, his daughter was nothing to be ashamed of. She was an awesome Christian.
She made sure that he kept his walk with the Lord going. She actually served as my interpreter when I was witness to it. Can you imagine sitting there talking to your daughter and your daughter talking to you about sin?
You need to be freed from your sin. I mean, this is coming from your daughter. So, yes, that that is probably the greatest.
Of course, they're all great, you know, from the least to the most. In Korea, several of the prisons I went to, the correctional officers would say, did you bring us any Bibles today? And I say, yes, I did. Oh, we'll help you bring them in. So they'd go out to the Jeep and we'd unload them and bring them in. But we learned later in some of these prisons that they were using them for toilet tissue. They didn't have toilet tissue for the prisoners. I was so angry, so angry because that was our money.
You know, we had been buying those out of our money. I went straight to the prison. The warden was a friend of mine. I said, is this true? And he said, yes, it's true. And I vowed I would not put another Bible in a prison for this reason.
See, I just out of anger, I just did that. And then it came about that I got a letter from a Chinese man in there who had been going to the restroom and started reading the toilet tissue. And he read the first chapter of 1 John and it convinced him. It was all about the Lord being love, you know, and he'd never heard anything like this before, that the Lord was love. He had always heard that the Lord was angry and punished people. He said, Brother Joe, would you please, this is all the paper I have, would you please bring me a Bible?
And I thought, well, I'll do it. So I took him a Bible and that man, when he was released, can you believe this? He had been a prisoner and they made him the night security guard on a Bible college campus. That was his story. He gave his whole life to the Lord and he was just one of the best nighttime watchmen that they'd ever had. That's why it's important because they need to realize that in God's eyes, there's somebody. They domestically minister to 1.8 million people who were incarcerated in America's over 1500 state and federal prisons. And that story of that Chinese man, an American bringing the Bible to a Chinese man who was using it as toilet paper, read that one piece of paper.
From there came to God the story of Joe Garman, the story of how God moved him to serve the least of these. Here on Our American Stories, I'm Malcolm Gladwell. I live way out in the country. I drive everywhere.
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