Although I’ve only met Fern once, a Bible that belongs to him lays continuously on my desk, a gift he received from his sister right after his conversion in the Miami-Dade Stockade Pre-Trial Detention Center. The Bible is a small and brown King James Version so worn that the golden letters on the cover that used to spell “Holy Bible” have mostly rubbed off. A white sticker on the first page bears the name Fernando A. Fernandez followed by a prison number. The inscription dates the gift as having been given January, 1996.
a page from Fern’s Bible
My friend Karsten, a middle school teacher and basketball coach, introduced me to Fern. Karsten and his wife Kim were very good to me in those years in my late-twenties when I was on my way to divorce. I spent many afternoons and evenings talking with them about my life. It was back then that Karsten started an informal Bible study that met once a week. I call it informal because one member might put in a dip of chewing tobacco; another might have a beer. It wasn’t the sort of Bible study I knew about growing up or attending Olivet Nazarene University as an undergraduate student. The camaraderie of the men in the Bible study helped me through a difficult time.
Karsten and I had not spoken for several years when he surprised me with a phone call to tell me about Fern. Karsten had just heard Fern give his testimony at a church. Karsten knew about Fern because he’d gone on a mission trip with Karsten’s wife Kim. She’d enjoyed her time with Fern and his wife and had come home telling Karsten that he had to meet the couple. Karsten invited Fern to the Bible study I’d attended a decade earlier, and one night Karsten asked Fern about the number stamped on the side of his Bible. Fern told him it was his prison number. I feel like I can see Karsten’s eyes go wide in Indiana all the way from here in Connecticut where I write.
As Karsten reflected on hearing Fern’s testimony at church, he reported to me that God had put it on his heart to call and tell me about Fern, to see if maybe I wouldn’t want to write about him. Some of you have no doubt that God does things like this all the time. Others of you, if you’re like me, tend to dismiss someone once they talk as if they’ve had a coffee with God and are merely reporting back to us on what they’ve been told.
Fern’s story challenges what I believe about how God works. It’s part of the reason I’ve been trying to tell it. Myself, Fern, Karsten, and Kim have recorded five conversations. You can listen to one of them below.