President Obama honors former prison inmate for prison ministry
February 7th, 2012
Photo: Lonnie Bingmon (first row third from left) serves as one of the leaders of a Kairos ministry in a Texas prison.
Life of crime began at age 5
FORT WORTH, Texas –– Lonnie Bingmon, a man who has been in youth detention centers nine times and in jails or a prison six times, received The President’s Volunteer Service Award for his ministry in prisons.
“Your volunteer service demonstrates the kind of commitment to your community that moves America a step closer to its great promise,” said President Barak Obama in a 2011 letter announcing the honor.
Lonnie understands the needs of those in prison since he has spent years behind bars. His life of crime began at age 5 when he was with two 10-year-old boys who threw a rock through a Dallas bank window. That was the first of his many brushes with the law.
Introduced to Jesus
“One day at age 9, I was going through alley and saw a tree with pears on the upper branches,” said Lonnie. “When a little white lady saw me looking at the pears, she got a broom and started knocking some down for me.”
Still today, Lonnie gets a little choked up as he recalls the lady who “was nice to a little black kid.”
The woman invited Lonnie into her house and introduced him to Jesus. “One day you will be a mighty man of God,” she said.
Lonnie returned to visit her on five occasions. “She read the Bible to me, and she sure could cook. Both of her sons were behind bars at that time. Billie Joe was in prison and Jerry was in the county jail.”
While Lonnie wanted to be a “mighty man of God,” he was still under the influence of other boys who showed him quick routes to money and nice things.
A tattered old Bible
In 1979, Lonnie saw some inmates tearing pages out of Bible to roll cigarettes. “Even a crook like me knew nobody should light up Luke or roll up Romans,” he said. “I stole that Bible that night and when I was sent to a Midway, Texas, prison for armed robbery, I took that raggedy Bible with me.”
“I read the story of the prodigal son in that old Bible,” said Lonnie. “My foreign land was prison, and I knew that I could be welcomed home.”
During the four years Lonnie spent in prison, he read from the Bible with the missing pages and later he read a new Bible provided by the prison chaplain.
Bob Hayes, former 100 meter Olympic champion sprinter and Dallas Cowboys football player, was in prison with Lonnie. One day, Lonnie told him, “You may be the fastest man on the planet but you couldn’t outrun God.”
“You’re right,” Hayes replied.
Hayes may have been denied entrance to the NFL Hall of Fame because of his imprisonment for illegal drug use.
While in prison, Lonnie became a certified welder. “I had 876 hours of welding time,” he reports.
In 1981, after being released from prison, Lonnie received a job as a welder after he voluntarily repaired a damaged gate. “I was glad to show what I could do,” he recalls.
Shot in head
On Jan. 15, 1982, Lonnie got out of a cab and saw his little brother, Paul, and George McAlister going into Caesar’s Palace. “I asked the doorman if I could speak to the men who just walked in,” said Lonnie. “Before I knew it a guy pulled a gun and we started tussling and as I tried to leave I was shot in the right side of my head.”
Rushed to the hospital by ambulance, members of Lonnie’s family were told they should make funeral arrangements.
“My father, a three-time loser who had also been shot in the back and later became an ordained pastor, said, ‘If God can deliver me, he can deliver my son.’
“I recall seeing a shining figure on the other side of the room,” said Lonnie. “He said, ‘Peace . . . Be still . . . It’s not your time. . . . You have work to do.’”
Lonnie lost his left eye and he is partially paralyzed on the left side, but he proved the physicians wrong and his father right. It is still difficult for him to walk and he has trouble lifting his left arm.
His early attempts to find a church home were disappointing. “You should be with your own kind,” some church members told him. “You just don’t fit in.”
For 18 months, Lonnie wandered the streets. His mother suffered a heart attack and 13 family members died in a 15-year period.
“I was angry, frustrated and depressed,” said Lonnie.
Work in food pantry
After finally refusing to take any more drugs, Lonnie walked into Calvary Baptist Church, and told them he wanted someone to pray with him. “I know you are here to see Dixie,” said a church member.
Dixie Gross managed the food and shelter center. “I’ve come for prayer, not food,” said Lonnie. At that point Dixie and her three children, ages 5, 8, and 10, placed their hands on him and prayed for him. “God, give Lonnie another chance,” they prayed.
Lonnie worked in that food pantry for the following three years. “I even asked God to forgive the guy who shot me,” he said.
Move to Fort Worth
In 2000, after his mother died, Lonnie moved from Dallas to Fort Worth where he found his way to Alliance UMC. It was there that he engaged in a life-changing Walk to Emmaus in 2003.
It was also in the Alliance church that Lonnie met Mike Springer, chairman of the Texas State Chapter of Kairos Prison Ministry (http://www.kairosprisonministry.org/).
When Mike asked Lonnie if he would be interested in participating in a prison ministry team, Lonnie responded. “Brother, I’ve been looking for this my whole life.”
“And I’ve been looking for you,” said Mike.
“In 2004, I went to my first Kairos meeting and I’ve been rolling ever since,” said Lonnie.
A mighty man of God
The lady with the pear tree promised Lonnie that someday he would be a mighty man of God. Even President Obama now recognizes that her promise has come true.