This article was originally published by The Mennonite

As I walk through the shadow of the valley: A search for justice

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Psalm 23, NRSV

It was June 2008. Ramond, my youngest son, returned early to his second year at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. My husband, Booker, and I began thinking of ways we could enjoy a vacation together.

We received a phone call. It was the call that parents of African-American males fear receiving: a call announcing a death or one suggesting their child has been taken to jail. This particular call canceled the vacation and announced that Ramond was arrested and taken to Cook County Jail. (A bit of background: The racial population in Palatine reports 98.5% White, 1.3% Other and 0.1% Black. The average age for Palatine residents is 44 years young and Palatine is labeled a “sundown town.” A scary mix.)

Ramond and several colleagues from school went shopping for food at a neighborhood store. They left the store and he returned to his dorm. The next morning, Ramond’s apartment was invaded by armed policemen. They searched his apartment, handcuffed him and took him into custody. It took 72 hours before they decided to book him and they came up with a charge of robbery.

Our extended family in Chicago was furious. They constantly called to say, “Get him out sooner rather than later. The longer he stays, the more they will consider him a ‘permanent’ stay.”

I remember “talking to God.” No elaborate prayers. Just talking with God and thinking about Ramond’s life, saying, “We’ve always been there for our children as parents and raised them in a Christian home. And now, we are hopeless, don’t know what to do or where to begin. Whatever amount of money Cook County will ask of us, we cannot afford it. Ramond is worth everything to us.”

We called the jail immediately and they told us we could bail out Ramond for $1,500. We rushed to Chicago to get him. When we got there, we found his bond had been increased to $750,000 for three charges of robbery, and if found guilty, each count would be 30 years in prison.

This changed our whole life. This devastation was nothing less than a valley experience. I can remember it as if it was yesterday. My heart dropped. I felt like all the life was zapped out of me, and my whole life became dark and void for more than a year. I constantly prayed, and it seemed like nothing was happening.

Then I discerned what pain God must have felt for the sacrifice of his “only begotten Son.” I responded hysterically in tears. I could barely endure the pain that we were experiencing. Realizing how deep of a pain God must have endured for the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son, I began to pray, “Thank you, God, for Jesus Christ our Savior, who gave his life a ransom for us.” I thought of my four sons, but I couldn’t relate to the pain of giving them up. I cried out, “Dear God, thank you.”

Every time Ramond called us he would say, “Mom and Dad, I don’t know why they are holding me. Please get me out of here. This place is terrible.” His fears grew out of witnessing many inmates beaten to death at meal time, ongoing breakout fights and personal threats.

He went on about his fears of the jail guards who transported them back and forth. The transporting guards and those in court would curse at him, threaten him and refer to him with the “N word.” We had hired an attorney who was white and seemed willing to help.

While anxiously waiting for a hearing, we hoped that they would release Ramond. We got to the first court hearing and the attorney was asleep when they called Ramond. By this time, we were worn, hopeless and felt like Ramond would never recover from this.

I constantly prayed for God’s help. “Lord, we can’t do this without you; we’ve proclaimed you as our God. This is very painful and very hard. If we receive your strength to get through this, we will forever remember you as our Lord who shepherds us!”

We discerned that God wanted Ramond to exercise his own faith. It was important for Ramond to experience Jesus as his Lord and Shepherd who would lead him to the other side of this dark place. Of course, we journeyed, too. Families also experience “the bondage” of loved ones who become inmates. The pain was real, but we had to trust our son in the hands of God.

We shared that insight with Ramond, which did not appear to be news to him. Ramond had already begun a Bible study with several guys. Several of them agreed to pray together and offered encouragement to each other. One member was a Muslim, who became interested in Ramond’s faith story. Ramond says his friend was converted to Christ after he prayed with him. We then began to realize that God was there with them. We began to see things change, but not as quickly and completely as we hoped.

Retelling this story is like reliving that moment of fear. It brought back remnants of pain and the shedding of more tears. It’s the hardest thing I went through in life besides the death of my mother and father. But over time, my parents’ burial brought closure. However, walking with Ramond in those 13 months, every day felt like death without closure.

Through this experience, we developed an important relationship with Christ. We learned there was Nothn2Hard4God. Our hope was restored, but it wasn’t until we realized the desperate need we had for God’s peace. We experienced healing through people that God placed in our lives. We felt the care from friends at work, church and through our family. We grew to trust the love and care of God and learned how to care for others in their pain.

While holding this experience close, Ramond lives each day to value his life. He’s been invited to share his story across the Mennonite Church. His story reveals his gratitude and purpose for life. Today, Ramond is a member at Granger (Indiana) Community Church. He and his family are faithful in their walk with Christ. Ramond is engaged to a wonderful young lady. He supervises a material handler team at Chase Plastics in South Bend, Indiana.

The trials of life are capable of destroying our faith. Ephesians 6 says, “When” the enemy comes – not “if” the enemy comes – we are to lift up a standard. Believers are to face our trials with the word of God. There is nothing easy about trials, but we have to get to a place where we believe, even if we can’t see.

God is with us.

We witnessed this when the sleepy attorney was replaced with an Italian woman who worked constantly to help recover our young man’s life. She didn’t tell us until after they released him that she was the goddaughter of the judge.

We experienced the Lord that was David’s shepherd as our shepherd, too. He led us as we walked through the valley of the shadow of what felt like the end of Ramond’s life. Through this journey, the Lord prepared a table before us in the presence of our enemies. That restored our souls! We truly experienced the God of justice, peace and love. God’s goodness and mercy followed us all the days on that journey and we will forever praise our wonderful God.

Ann Jacobs is a Church Relations representative with Mennonite Mission Network and one of three leaders of Work in Progress choir. In her role, she furthers relationships with African- American Mennonite congregations. She helps congregations become more informed of resources, services, and agency partnerships in support of the congregation’s vision for mission. This piece was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network

Featured photo: ​Ann Jacobs at the Labyrinth at the Avila Retreat Center in Durham, North Carolina. Photo taken by Karla Minter.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!