Lyn Connolly volunteers as a victim of crime on the Sycamore Tree course. Sharing her testimony has been transformational not only for people in prison but also for herself.
In August 2002, our son, Paul, was killed in an unprovoked knife attack in Liverpool. It was a day that would change our lives completely.
It was a dark time for my husband, Mick, and me. But we were so overwhelmed by God’s amazing comfort. During such a turbulent time, we were able to experience such peace.
While I was at work at a sheltered accommodation for elderly people, I had an opportunity to share my story for the first time with two ladies who had both lost a child. At the end of the day, I prayed, ‘Lord, today I have been able to tell our story to two people. Is there anyone else?’ My simple prayer seemed to open the floodgates as I was given many more opportunities.
In January 2006, I accepted an invitation to share our story at a local prison as part of the Sycamore Tree course.
As the day drew nearer, I began to feel very nervous. The prison was just 20 minutes from where we lived, but it seemed a world away. We knew nothing about what life was like in prison, or what we would experience there.
On the day of the course, I made my way to the prison entrance praying all the way. It began to feel like I was about to meet the men who had murdered our son: ‘God, please just get me through this.’
I was introduced to the Sycamore Tree team and together we made our way to the Chapel. As we walked through the prison, I became overwhelmed with emotion. Tears filled my eyes as I continued to pray: ‘God, please just get me through this.’
The men arrived from different wings in the prison and sat patiently awaiting the start. Eventually, the time came for me to share our story. I sobbed my way through every detail of how our lives were affected by the murder of our son. The men listened respectfully.
I then spoke about another side to our story—the story of how God had comforted us throughout. As I shared, I could see God was moving in their hearts. This was clearly evident than when I told them how Mick and I had forgiven the two men who killed Paul. I shared how powerful that decision had been in bringing healing to our hearts and lives.
As I looked out, I thought about how damaged and downcast these men appeared. How broken they must feel. And, in that moment, God filled me with His love and compassion for them. I knew many of them had done unspeakable things, but God enabled me to look past each crime and see a son.
At the end of the session, they all thanked me for coming and said how sorry they were for our loss. The love and kindness I had felt for them was suddenly being shown to me! Their words of gratitude and condolences touched me deeply as I experienced Christ’s love through them.
On the way in to the prison I had prayed for God to ‘just get me through this’. But now, on my way out, I prayed ‘God PLEASE bring me back.’ Such was the power of my experience, it was life-changing for me.
God did indeed bring me back just three weeks later. As I returned to the Chapel and saw the men I had spoken to, I could see a wonderful change had occurred. They had looked so sad and lost on my first visit. But now, they arrived for the final session with smiles on their faces—so much lighter in their spirits. They greeted me as they would a friend and enthusiastically shared what they had gained from the Sycamore Tree course. It was wonderful.
Fifteen years on from that first experience and we are still going into prisons. It has been God’s call on our lives. To date, we have taken part in 78 Sycamore Tree courses in 27 different prisons and have witnessed incredible transformation in so many lives—including our own.
For information on Sycamore Tree, please visit prisonfellowship.org.uk/our-work/sycamore-tree