One Simple Act of Obedience
One Simple Act of Obedience
“When I was in prison …” That’s how my friend Alicia Reeves has been starting many conversations since she returned from a ministry weekend at Angola Prison in Louisiana. I have been so deeply moved by her stories of how Jesus is transforming the hearts of the men in this penitentiary, I asked her permission to share part of her experience with you.
Alicia writes: I was flying home after spending two days visiting the Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola Prison). For most of its history (and all the while I was growing up in Louisiana) Angola was a place where hope had died. The philosophy of incarceration was lock them up and throw away the key. Angola was one of the bloodiest, most violent, and truly hopeless prisons in America.
In 1995, Burl Cain was appointed warden at Angola. His mother told him that God had placed him at Angola for one reason – to tell the men about Jesus. Warden Cain loves the Lord … and he fears his mama. So, he set his mind and heart to bringing the Gospel into Angola Prison. He threw the doors wide open to anyone who would come in and tell the men about Jesus. Today, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary offers inmates an opportunity to complete a fully accredited four-year degree. NOBTS graduates are now leading prison churches in Angola and other Louisiana prisons. Several churches and ministries are thriving in Angola. My visit was with a friend who works for Awana. The Awana Lifeline ministry teaches inmates to become godly parents through their Malachi Dads and Hannah’s Gift programs.
On Friday afternoon we attended the Malachi Dads graduation. The largest class ever (just over 140 inmates) recited the Malachi Dads pledge “… my transformed life in Christ … will allow me to impact my children, family, and others … to walk in the Lord … to glorify God and build His Kingdom …” If you know anything about Awana, you know they emphasize Scripture memory. Every Malachi Dad can flawlessly recite Psalm 1, Malachi 4:6, and countless other passages.
Pastor Ronald (serving a life sentence for second-degree murder) was introduced by a fellow inmate, “He’s like a sniper. He’s real quiet. You hardly know he’s there. Then next thing you know – BAM! He hits you upside the head with the Gospel!” Pastor Ronald reminded us in his quiet, gentle voice that only one thing matters. One thing – sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary. One thing – all I know is I was blind but now I see. One thing – to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. One thing – Jesus.
By their own choices and actions these men are incarcerated. They have forfeited nearly every right that we casually assume. Everything that they own is either on their back or stored in their 2x2x4 foot locker – I brought more luggage for my three-day trip than would fit in a prison locker. They are at the mercy and whim of prison officials. And, most of them will spend the rest of their natural lives in Angola. But, with arms raised, tears streaming, and strong voices, inmate Wayne led them in singing praise to the Lord, “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who You are, it’s who You are. You are perfect in all of Your ways, You are perfect in all of Your ways to us.”
Then, to a thunderous applause, each man received a certificate and a leather-bound Bible for completing the year-long Malachi Dads course.
On Saturday, over 800 children showed up in cars, busses, and vans to spend the day with their fathers, grandfathers, and uncles at the Malachi Dads Returning Hearts Celebration. This is the one day a year that the Malachi Dad inmates get to spend about six hours playing, laughing, talking, and just hanging out with their kids. Each child gets a t-shirt and a backpack filled with gifts from Awana. The afternoon concludes with a Gospel presentation before the kids head home and the dads head back to their “camps”.
The inmates were awakened by the guards for breakfast at 4am and bussed to the prison rodeo grounds at 6am to await the 9am arrival of the kids. While the kids were being checked in, the inmates waited anxiously in the bleachers. One by one, their names were called over the loudspeaker to be reunited with their kids. Teenage boys ran at full speed tackling their dads in the grass. The younger kids were scooped up and spun in the air by the dads. Teenage girls fell into their father’s arms and wept … and so did I.
~ Alicia Reeves, May 2015
Hopelessness and despair has been replaced by the Eternal, Unshakable Hope of Jesus Christ! I am in awe of the power of Christ that stormed the gates of Hell and is setting prisoners free in Angola. Yes – most of these men will spend the rest of their earthly lives behind bars to pay for their crimes, but their spirits have been set free and their lives have been forever changed through the transforming power of Jesus.
When I consider Warden Cain’s courage and faith, I’m reminded of a quote that humbles me and calls me forward all at the same time: “God can do more through one simple act of obedience than we can do through our most extravagant plans.” (J.D. Greear, Jesus Continued …)
I wonder how many of us are feeling God’s call to step out in obedience and believe that Jesus can make a difference in our own corner of the world …