From Darkness to Light

See you in hell.Rik McWhinney and Sr. ReAnne Letourneau

These words left Sister ReAnne Letourneau feeling unsettled. They were tattooed on the right hand of a man named Rik McWhinney, a former inmate who had spent most of his life in prison. 

The pair met in 2009 through Friends on the Outside (FOTO), an organization that works with former inmates to provide comfort, care, friendship, and forgiveness. Over the next decade, Sister ReAnne’s friendship with Rik profoundly transformed both of their lives. 

In time, she would learn all about Rik’s many tattoos, and that his life had already taken him through hell and back.

Rik’s suffering began when he was just a little boy, where he lived in a household filled with abuse and trauma. At age 9, he was sent to reform school, where he faced further physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. He remembers praying for God to rescue him, but his prayers were left unanswered.

As a young adult, Rik’s torment grew fierce. In and out of jail, he was eventually sentenced to life in prison. Here, his anger spiraled out of control, exploding in violent outbursts. He spent years in solitary confinement, tormented by his guilt and hatred.

But Rik began to see the futility of unleashing his rage on others, who like him, had their own tumultuous reasons for being in jail. Instead of fighting, Rik focused on educating himself and trying to make life less horrific for other prisoners.

He read books and wrote poetry. He fought for prison reform and became a peer counsellor. He studied everything from theology to vet medicine, and even created an animal therapy program for feral cats. He organized fundraisers for women’s shelters, animal sanctuaries, and children’s charities. Rik challenged and changed himself, and after decades of incarceration, was finally a free man. However, after 34 years and 4 months in prison, freedom was little more than an empty word.

Rik McWhinney and childThe prison walls were gone, but the chains on his heart remained. Rik’s experiences left him with PTSD, ailing health, and the bitter stigma of incarceration. But perhaps most painful was Rik’s disbelief that anyone, let alone God, could ever truly care for him.

But Sister ReAnne did. So did his new friends at FOTO, who refused to see Rik only for his brutal past. And through this unconditional love, his life would be transformed.

 Rik’s heart and soul would escape the hell of his past and be set free.


To learn more about Rik’s incredible story of transformation, 

and other stories of Christ’s unconditional love, watch your mailbox this fall.

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