I recently became an adjunct professor for Grace College, teaching part-time in their Associates Degree program in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana. There are currently 17 men studying Old Testament Survey and 22 in Systematic Theology. This is an amazing ministry opportunity for me personally and fits well with the goals of ABI in making the Word of God accessible to this generation of believers and preparing the next for leadership. From time to time I will be blogging about some of my experiences and observations related to my prison ministry.
Between classes on Monday evening, a young man (Cole), an offender, came into the room to ask about the possibility of me mentoring him in preparation for the ministry. He said that in 16 years he would like to be doing what I am doing – teaching the Bible at the college level.
I would have guessed him to be in his late twenties and seemed like the nicest guy you would ever meet. He looked sharp (as much as you can in prison garb), was obviously intelligent and could have been a student at any Bible college or seminary. He already has his associates degree through the Grace College program at the prison and is ministering there as much as he can. One of his ministries is teaching Bible Study Methods, using Howard Hendricks’ book in Sunday School.
So, we talked about how it might work out for me to mentor him and in the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he had been in for 14 years – which sort of floored me, given how young he looked. Then I asked him how much longer he has left before he gets out – and then he said that his sentence is for – are you ready for this? – life + 150 years. I was stunned – and still am.
It hit me hard that given the direction of my life 25 years ago, how easily it would have been for me to have made just a couple of worse choices than I was already making that could have put me in the same situation. I don’t yet know what he did – but I do know that all it takes is being in the wrong place, with the wrong crowd, doing something stupid because you’re drunk – and in a moment you have destroyed your life.
It is only by God’s unfathomable grace that he reached down and caught me before I fell harder and deeper than I had already. There’s no real reason why Cole and I shouldn’t be in a reverse situation.
I don’t know what will happen to Cole, as he did mention “16 years” – so maybe there is still a chance for parole. By then he will probably be 50.
And I don’t know the story of any of the 39 men I have in my two classes. Some of them have already been in so long that they have never seen or heard of some of the technology I’m using in class like the laptop and projector or the PowerPoint and Bible study software. Since this is a both a medium and maximum security facility, it could be that some of them will never leave.
Please pray for Cole, the men in my classes and for me in my ministry to them. Also pray that our ministry in our church and through ABI will make a difference in this generation – to reach people with the gospel and disciple them in the truth of the Word of God – and that somewhere along the way, we will make a difference in a young person’s life to keep them from the kinds of decisions that will ruin their lives.