The transforming power of forgiveness

On 28 August 2002 Lyn Connolly came home from shopping to find her husband, Mick, sitting with two strangers. They were detectives who had brought the family some terrible news. The night before their 28-year-old son, Paul, had been murdered by two strangers in a motiveless attack. Paul had been stabbed in the back and left on the street to bleed to death. It was a very dark time for Lyn and Mick, but they were both overwhelmed by God’s amazing comfort. Within hours of Paul’s death, they announced they had forgiven the men, who were later convicted of the killing. Neither man has ever expressed remorse for what they did.

In January 2006, Lyn was invited to a local prison to take part in a restorative justice course called Sycamore Tree, where victims of crime share their story with inmates. She said, “We knew nothing about what prison life was like. I was incredibly nervous because going into the prison felt like I was about to meet the men who’d murdered our son and tears filled my eyes as I prayed: ‘God, please just get me through this.’ When I spoke about how our lives had been affected by our son’s murder, I started to sob, but then went on to talk about how Mick and I had forgiven the two men who killed Paul and how powerful that decision had been in bringing healing to our hearts and lives.”

“As I looked at the men, I thought how damaged and downcast they looked. How broken they must feel. And, in that moment, God filled me with his love and compassion for them. I knew many of them had done unspeakable things, but God enabled me to look past each crime and see a son. Afterwards, they came up and told us how sorry they were for our loss. Their words touched me deeply as I experienced Christ’s love through them and I prayed, ‘God, please bring me back.’ Just three weeks later, at the final session, I saw a wonderful change. The men were no longer sad but smiling as they enthusiastically shared what they’d gained from the course. Going into prisons has become God’s call on our lives. We have taken part in many more Sycamore Tree courses in different prisons and have witnessed incredible transformation in so many lives – including our own.”

The Sycamore Tree course is based on the story of Jesus’ encounter in Jericho with Zacchaeus, a dishonest tax collector. When Jesus was passing Zacchaeus, who was short, climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him. Zacchaeus’ life was transformed when Jesus visited his house. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I will give half my wealth to the poor and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this home.”

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