I have not heard much from theologian Jürgen Moltmann in recent years. Presumably he is, at age 88, enjoying his retirement in Tübingen. Yet I was not surprised to see a recent report that he has been corresponding with a death row inmate in Georgia, Kelly Gissendaner, who will be executed Monday, March 2 for recruiting her lover to murder her husband, Doug Gissendaner, in 1997.

This New York Times article explains how Ms. Gissendaner completed a theological studies program on death row. One of her teachers, Dr. Jennifer McBride, put her in touch with Professor Moltmann, with whom she began a regular correspondence.

For a number of reasons I could discuss at length, Moltmann has been a significant influence on me and my study of Christian theology, which I have pursued either full- or part-time my entire adult life. It also happens that one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard involves Moltmann, and I wish to share it here.

I heard the story from the Reverend Dr. Paul Wesley Chilcote in 2006 or 2007. When Chilcote was studying for his Ph.D. at Duke under the Reverend Dr. Frank Baker, he had the opportunity to meet Professor Moltmann, who was giving a series of lectures at Duke Divinity School. As a relatively undistinguished person who has been fortunate to meet a few prominent people -- some of whom became mentors and friends -- I can relate with Chilcote's excitement at meeting the legendary Protestant theologian. The story Moltmann told Chilcote is one I shall never forget:

While introducing myself to [Jürgen Moltmann] more fully, I explained that I was working in my doctoral studies with Frank Baker. He interrupted and said, ‘Oh, I’d like to share a story with you about Frank and Nellie Baker.’ And I sat back to take it all in.

Moltmann said that during the Second World War there was a German prisoner of war camp on the northeast coast of England. A young pastor and his wife served a small Methodist circuit close by. They felt called by God to reach out to these foreign soldiers in some way. They were filled with compassion and concern.

So they went to the commander and asked permission to take a German prisoner with them to church each Sunday – to share in Word and Sacrament – and then to eat their Sunday dinner together in their home. It was agreed. So Sunday after Sunday, a steady flow of German soldiers worshiped and ate with the Bakers in their home throughout the course of the war.

This world famous theologian paused, looked at me intently, and said. ‘One of those soldiers was a young man named Jürgen Moltmann. And I want you to know that the seed of hope was planted in my heart around Frank and Nellie Baker’s Sunday dinner table.’

The brilliant mind who gave us 'A Theology of Hope' in our time found hope in the humblest and unlikeliest of places. May it be so for each of us. And for Kelly Gissendaner. And for Doug Gissendaner's family.