Remembering Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson

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Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and influential Christian leader, has died after undergoing surgery to remove blood clotting in his brain. He was 80.

In a statement on Colson's website, Prison Fellowship said, "Evangelical Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices today."

** Read CBN founder Pat Robertson's statement on Chuck Colson's death.

Colson was a towering figure in the evangelical movement. He not only reached the world through his intellect, but touched thousands through practical outreach to prisoners and their families.

Colson was born in Boston on October 16, 1931 --a child of the great depression.

"That was tough. I got used to being poor. I never knew what it was. never knew we were poor because it was just the way we lived," Colson once said. "My dad was going to school at night. He was working very hard at a job making $32 a week, and we would share with people in need on the block who didn't have as much as we had."

Despite humble beginnings, Colson went on to graduate from Brown University and earned a law degree from George Washington University.

He also served as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and eventually landed a job at the White House during the Nixon administration.

But that's when Colson's promising career took an ominous turn. He was soon caught up in the Watergate scandal, as President Nixon's infamous hatchet man.

In the midst of that turmoil in 1973, Colson became a Christian after reading the book, "Mere Christianity" by evangelical author C.S. Lewis.

Colson was indicted in 1974 for Watergate related charges. When news of his conversion leaked to the press, the Boston Globe reported, "If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody."

Colson admitted he was guilty of political "dirty tricks" and was willing to do almost anything for the cause of his president and his party.

"I was stripped of everything -- public enemy number one and thrown into a prison," Colson said of the scandal in an interview with "The 700 Club."

He served seven months at Maxwell Prison in Alabama.

As Colson walked into freedom, he promised fellow inmates he would never forget those behind bars.

"I thank God now, Pat, that I went through it because I carry with it a heavy burden for the men and women who are in prison," he told CBN's Pat Robertson.

That burden led Colson to establish Prison Fellowship, an international ministry working in more than 100 countries, committed to prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation.

"With the prison population exploding and with the crime rate just soaring, we're not dealing with the root causes of crime," Colson once said of his ministry. "We're just putting men in cages. We're treating them like animals, and we expect them to come back and be rehabilitated."

"There's one way and that's when a man turns his life over to Jesus Christ," he added.

Colson also became a prolific commentator on popular culture, writing more than 30 books and selling more than 5 million copies.

In his books, he often stressed the importance of a Christian worldview.

"It won't do for us to just sit around in our sanctuaries, entertain ourselves, sing our 'happy clappies' and feel good about ourselves," Colson said. "This is a time for the church to engage the world, and it has to be done through the church."

In the end, the only thing that mattered to Colson was having a right relationship with Jesus christ and ministering the grace he received with as many people as possible.

"I live everyday to the fullest because I live it for Christ," he said of his purpose. "And no matter what I do today ... I'm going to do something to advance the kingdom of God."

"Does that make you fulfilled?" Colson asked. "You bet it does, and it gives you joy about living."

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Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.