I promised you more information about my visit to the prison. First let me tell you why I was there. I was working on a chapter of a book I’m writing. The chapter focused on Matthew 25:36, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” I was there doing a little research. This is an excerpt from the chapter…
As I prepared for writing this chapter of my book, I prayed for the Lord to speak to me. Probably like many of you, I had never set foot in a prison. How can I talk about visiting those in prison when I’ve never been in a prison? God began placing people in my path and doors swung open – prison doors.
Less than twenty-four hours prior to the writing of these words, the door to a prison classroom opened and in poured men armed with smiles and an obvious sprinkling of the Holy Spirit. And there was me. I was privileged enough to sit in on one of the seminary classes led by NOBTS in a prison starting the program. I was not prepared for what I found there. Grace. The grace of God was evident in every smile, every handshake, every eye.
Dr. Dan grinned as he shook the hand of each man and welcomed him. He is the professor in charge of teaching these 31 men Introduction to Christian Ministry. Dr. W. Dan Parker has earned the right to teach that class; he’s been in ministry for fifty-one years. But he’s never been more excited than he is now. Every Tuesday afternoon, he pours into the lives of men who are both passionate and eager about ministry.
Before class begins, I can’t help but notice their obvious excitement over a new version of the Bible Dr. Dan brought with him to class. Three men stand over God’s Word and marvel. I am in awe. They each find their desk and wait for their teacher to begin. The respect in their eyes is hard to miss. I am moved at their prayer requests. They pray obviously for their families, but also for other inmates. They pray over court dates and death row sentencing. I blink to make sure I’m not in a dream.
Of the 57,000 men in the state prison system, only 31 were chosen for this program. The man on the first row smiles. He could be my neighbor. He leans forward to share how he wasn’t supposed to even know about the program.
“They posted the ad in the wrong dorm. When I applied, the lady asked me how I even knew about the program. I wasn’t supposed to know. It wasn’t supposed to be in my dorm. I told my mom there were a lot of Godly guys I knew applying. I probably wouldn’t get in. But they came in my cell early one morning and told me to pack my bags. They were transferring me to start the program here. I stepped out to see another guy standing outside his cell. We both smiled. We knew we made it.”
I’m sitting in a room of convicted felons, but I hear the words to an old hymn echoing in my heart. “Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin…”
Dr. Dan asks me to share a little about the book I’m writing. I stand to speak and laugh as I tell them, “Well men, there’s a first time for everything. If you had told me six months ago I would be standing in a prison speaking to a seminary class of prisoners, I wouldn’t have believed you. But, I bet that day you sat in the courtroom facing the judge as he read your sentence, you never thought you’d be here either.” Heads nodded all over the room.
We weren’t so different, them and me. God was blazing new territory for us both. I spoke to the men about what God was doing in my life. They had lots of questions. They shared how important the prison ministries were to them. One shared how he came to know Christ through the Kairos ministry. After two and a half hours, the class ended. I was in shock over the way God moved that afternoon. But it was the final prayer I will never forget.
Dr. Dan called on a student to lead us in prayer. His words were eloquent, a beautiful offering to the Father. But the words that struck my heart were, “I praise you for the freedom, Father. The freedom I feel in my soul.” Here was a man who slept behind steel bars, and he was praising God for his freedom. Praising God! Unbelievable.
An old Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” NOBTS is teaching these men to fish. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 NIV)
**Please pray for the 31 men in this program as they prepare to minister to others. Please, ask God to bless the program, as well.