As we seek to unleash serving and disciple-making potential in others, we encounter people whose life scripts so beautifully and dramatically amplify the message God has placed on our hearts. Our lives were touched to the core in early 2014 when we met Erica Capri at the age of 80 ("and-a-half", she reminded us) in Spokane Valley, Washington, just eight months after the passing of her beloved husband Joe.
Although theirs was a marriage that began with love at first sight, it could have ended tragically if it were not for God's miraculous intervention. And because of another prayerful intervention as Joe reached the age of 70, countless other lives have been redeemed.
by Erica Capri, as told to Wes & Judy Wick
I grew up as the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate in Bremen, Germany. My home was formal and respectable. Although rich in the things of this world, I felt lonely and empty in my heart, learning that material things were not enough to fill this void.
While enjoying a game of tennis as a young adult, I met a foreign diplomat from America named Joe Capri, who was serving at the American Consulate in Bremen in post-World-War-II Germany. Our friendship grew, and we were soon united in matrimony.
My husband's position as a diplomat took us to new residences on several continents. By outside appearances our lives were interesting and glamorous. For the most part I was content to live in my husband's shadow as the wife of a respected diplomat. But over time, the glamour faded. An endless succession of cocktail parties helped lead Joe to alcohol addiction.
Our relationship deteriorated as alcoholism took its toll. It became so bad that I could no longer stand to live with Joe. We separated. I returned to Germany with the youngest of our three children while Joe was transferred to Sydney, Australia.
Feeling lost as a mother of three with a failed marriage, I became increasingly despondent and seriously contemplated suicide. At one of my lowest points I grabbed a Gideon Bible from my shelf, one that my daughter had taken from a hotel room in Bangkok, Thailand a couple years earlier. I had never opened the Bible before. It opened to the 23rd Psalm.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He leads me besides the still waters. He restores my soul."
I had heard these words at funerals but hadn't realized they came from the Bible. I knew right then, though, that I needed a Shepherd, still waters, and restoration of my soul.
The Lord gave me an insatiable appetite for His Word, and I surrendered my life to Him after immersing myself in that miraculous Book. I did not know any Christians in Bremen. The Holy Spirit was my only teacher in those first six months. He alone helped me discover His unconditional love.
Naturally I began praying in earnest for my estranged husband. I also asked that the Lord would change me too. One day in particular I prayed fervently for a break in Joe's bondage to alcohol. In the middle of those prayers the Lord blessed me with a reassuring sense of calmness.
At that precise time on the other side of the globe, Joe had his Scotch whiskey on his hotel dresser, getting ready to booze it up over the weekend. Miraculously, as he gripped the bottle, Joe had an encounter with the Lord, who told him to put the bottle down. Joe developed a sudden distaste for alcohol, and he poured the whiskey down the drain of his hotel sink.
Joe was delivered instantaneously from his alcohol addiction and was drawn into the loving embrace of Jesus. As we communicated long distance, I knew this was not just a ploy to win me back. It was the real deal. His life, like mine, had been redeemed by our loving Savior.
Restoration of Our Broken Marriage
Our marriage was restored, and we were re-united in Taiwan as Joe completed what turned out to be his final assignment as a foreign diplomat. He retired at the young age of 59.
Because our daughter was attending college in eastern Washington, we purchased a home in the Spokane area, where Joe and I lived for the next 30-plus years and where I continue to reside.
As new believers we committed ourselves to faithful study in the Word, prayer and church attendance. As a Christian delivered from alcohol abuse, Joe was infinitely more pleasant to live with. The Lord healed the pain of our past. Through God's gift of forgiveness our hearts were knitted together as one.
At the same time, though, Joe began to immerse himself in watching sports on television, particularly American football, one of the luxuries alluding him in his many years living overseas. He spent considerable time over the next decade, from age 60 to 70, sitting in his recliner, remote in hand, with his eyes glued to the TV.
I have to admit that I found his newly-adopted retirement lifestyle quite annoying. It was disappointing to see so many hours wasted as he settled into his personal comfort zone, far removed from action that really mattered. But he continued to grow in his knowledge of the Word and was eager to go to church whenever the doors were open. For that I was grateful.
Joe's Second Redemption
When Joe was 70 years old we had an evangelist, Deanne, staying in our home. One evening we hosted a Bible study with over twenty friends in attendance.
In the middle of the study Deanne sensed God was asking her to publicly share a particular word with Joe. Deanne disclosed that the word she received from the Lord was harsh and that she felt reluctant to share it. As a younger adult, a female and as a guest in the Capri home, she had plenty of reasons for being hesitant. And Joe was a feisty Italian, complete with all the machismo you might expect. But Deanne plowed ahead and asked Joe for permission to share the word the Lord had placed on her heart. Thankfully Joe gave Deanne the green light.
She then boldly shared this revelation:
"Joe, the Lord has impressed on my heart that you have made an idol of television and football. And if you're unwilling to get out of your recliner and serve Him, He will take you home."
Beyond the nerve it took for Deanne to share this bold word of warning, it took even more courage for Joe to receive this ultimatum with a teachable spirit. Joe was a very direct individual, and God knew that he could handle this stern admonition.
On the Monday morning following this weekend encounter, Joe placed a call to a friend who served at the Spokane County jail. He asked if he could become a volunteer through the chaplain's office. They assured him that there was both a need and an open door. He went through preliminary training and began serving. As he continued to serve, he pursued his ministerial credentials and eventually became the assistant chaplain at the jail, going there faithfully five days a week.
Joe's life had been turned right-side-up, and the inmates loved Joe's sincerity, discernment, and direct approach.
One after another, God used Joe to help turn men's hearts to Christ. He also shared with female inmates. Early on he prayed he would live long enough for a thousand souls to turn to Jesus. He kept a running log of names. When the total number of salvations reached a thousand, he asked the Lord for another thousand.
Because of his work as a foreign diplomat, Joe was fluent in four languages, which proved to be a huge asset in the jails. And because he knew firsthand Christ's power to deliver from addiction, he could find common ground quickly.
He could also sense when he was being played. Joe gave Bibles to the men who invited Christ into their hearts. Later he helped many of them secure glasses to help with their reading. When some men wanted to just exploit the vision care, he would call them on it. "You're not yet earnest about your faith. You just want free glasses. Get serious about Jesus and your walk with Him, and then come and see me for glasses."
Many times he entered the jail lobby shouting loudly with a smile, "Somebody give me a box! I feel a sermon coming on!" He would then proceed to share a message from his heart.
Some of the more hardened and dangerous criminals were on the sixth floor. Most volunteers were afraid to enter these cells. But Joe pushed his fears aside and never bothered looking at anyone's rap sheet, entering these cells alone with the steel-barred door locking behind him. Many of these intimidating men also surrendered their lives to Jesus, and their lives were transformed.
One by one and sometimes in groups, more and more men and women gave their hearts to Christ. At the age of 88 Joe had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. With the assistance of friends he continued visiting the jail for another two years, always looking for opportunities to lead others to Christ.
After Joe's death last May, the chaplains and I reviewed Joe's monthly logs, which listed by name and date the men and women he was privileged to lead to Christ. Some months more than eighty names were documented. In other months tallies were in the thirties.
The years piled up and so did the number of inmates who came to know Jesus. A final tally found JUST OVER TEN THOUSAND names documented during Joe's twenty years of jail ministry, from age seventy to ninety!
While some seed no doubt fell on hardened soil that never fully took root, thousands of lives were impacted by Joe's faithful proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. And many of these converts have gone on to lead many others to Christ.
Now, as I push through the pain of grief in losing my best friend, I know there are more lives to touch with the redeeming power of Jesus. This redemption can bring eternal life, break through addiction, mend broken hearts, restore marriages, light a fire under complacent Christians, and touch the most incorrigible of criminals.
As I pass the one-year anniversary of Joe's passing, I am challenged to stir up the gifts within me and ask the Lord, "What's next?" Now in my ninth decade of life, I still want to make a difference.
And perhaps by hearing Joe's testimony, you too will be inspired to break away from your TV or from whatever else might hold you captive---and step out in faith as a willing vessel of Christ.