Goodbye, Mr. Colson

This week a man who left an indelible mark on the lives of many died. Charles W. Colson, former chief counsel to President Nixon and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, died at the age of 80. I met Mr. Colson in 2006 when I painted his portrait to honor his amazing life of service, particularly his post-Watergate life.

Prison Fellowship was borne out of the fall of Watergate, for from it Mr. Colson spawned a ministry that partners with thousands of churches to serve incarcerated parents and their families in the community—restoring broken bonds and protecting prisoners’ children from falling prey to the generational cycle of crime. ‎”I shudder to think of what I’d been if I had not gone to prison,” Colson said in 1993. “Lying on the rotten floor of a cell, you know it’s not prosperity or pleasure that’s important, but the maturing of the soul.”

Painting Mr. Colson’s portrait proved to be one of my favorite experiences as an artist, and maybe even more so as a person. Here I was painting a man who was often “a counselor to kings” as they say, and yet I saw such a servant and humble friend in the time we spent together. Chuck would greet me with a warm embrace, help me carry my painting equipment from the car, and always offering great hospitality to ensure I was comfortable. Our conversations were warm and candid, and I learned much about what it meant to be a leader and also a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a result, I had a wonderful opportunity to really capture much of Mr. Colson in his portrait. Here’s my wife Kim’s take on this portrait:

“There is so much thought that goes into a portrait and this one was no different. Here is some of the background on Chuck’s portrait. Tim suggested Chuck’s portrait be painted outside because Chuck loves being in nature. Tim suggested not wearing his suit jacket to show his relaxed and inviting nature. He’s always reading the news, hence the newspaper on the bench. Tim suggested having the Bible on top of the newspaper to show that God is sovereign over all. Chuck wanted his three favorite books out of the 17 he’s written to be included. Tim showed the pen and papers in his hands b/c Chuck is constantly at work on something. Even at Chuck’s 75th birthday where the portrait was unveiled, in his retirement speech he said he was only getting started b/c he planned on writing more books and starting an apologetics school! This was a man turning 75 years old! He accomplished those things since the portrait was painted. In the interviewing process one of his comments that stood out more than anything was when he remarked that he’s rubbed shoulders with princes, kings, and presidents all over the world, but his most cherished and desirable place to be was with his sleeves rolled up behind bars with an inmate sharing the hope of Christ with them. He is the real deal. Our respect and love for Chuck will remain for eternity.”

I know I still have many of Chuck’s books to read, and I do hate it when we lose a true soldier like Chuck, but I do look forward to seeing him again soon. Then I’m sure he’ll have much to share. :)  In the meantime. I’m learning to follow his example of focusing on each person that God grants to cross my path, and by loving them, I’m loving God, who gives to all of generously and graciously.

See you later, Chuck.

~Tim Chambers


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“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction.”

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