Several years ago I learned that a friend had died. Mary Mott, a member of the church during the years we lived in Virginia, had passed away at about eighty years of age. Mary was a soft-spoken lady with a sweet and gentle manner. But apart from being a pleasant lady who was easy to like, no distinguishing achievement entitled her to extraordinary notice and acclaim. That is, until shortly after the last time I saw her.
On February 15, 1992, Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of crimes too hideous for a normal person to imagine, and sentenced to 957 years in prison. He became one of the world’s most well-known serial killers by murdering seventeen people, dismembering and cannibalizing them, and keeping parts of his victims for trophies. His name is often mentioned in Bible studies about the ability of Christians to love various persons whose actions are examples of consummate wickedness. Questions like, “Are Christians to love a person such as Osama bin Laden? Saddam Hussein? Jeffrey Dahmer?” are pondered.
Mary Mott felt that Jeffrey Dahmer needed to hear the gospel. She sent Jeffrey a Bible and a World Bible School correspondence course, writing “I don't know if you want to do this, but I believe it would help you if you studied the Bible." An Oklahoma man, Curtis Booth, also sent Jeffrey a correspondence course. Jeffrey responded by expressing interest in studying the Bible. About a month later, he completed the correspondence course and wrote to Mary requesting baptism. Mary hardly knew how to make arrangements for a prison inmate to be baptized, so she contacted Roy Ratcliff, minister in a church of Christ near the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. He visited Jeffrey, whose study of the Bible had convinced him of the need to be baptized, and was convinced of his sincerity. On May 10, 1994, Jeffrey Dahmer was baptized in the whirlpool in the prison’s health area. Convinced that Jeffrey’s conversion and request for baptism was not a stunt as many critics suggested, Ratcliff continued to visit him weekly and study the Bible with him. On November 28, 1994, less than five months after Jeffrey was baptized, he was beaten to death by a fellow prisoner.
Questions begin to pop. Was Jeffrey Dahmer serious about his conversion and baptism? Was he changed by his study of the Bible? Roy Ratcliff, having studied with him, thought so. Are some people too wicked to be forgiven, even by God? Do we really want to share heaven with Jeffrey? Is it right for a regenerated monster to have a place of everlasting joy in heaven alongside those who have not "soiled their garments?" Mary Mott thought so. If we think otherwise, is it because we remember the sins God has forgotten, and reproach one whom God has made holy? When you and I wake to scenes of eternal bliss, will we resent the presence of formerly wicked people, or even a pesky, annoying co-worker or neighbor--as Jonah resented God’s sparing the penitent Ninevites--or will we rejoice in their salvation?
No one told Mary Mott to send Jeffrey Dahmer a Bible and study materials. She didn’t have to check with the elders, deacons, or other church leaders to see if it was okay—whether someone might object, or tell her it would be wasted effort. She just did it. And became an ambassador for Christ.
I’m glad we knew Mary for a while.
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