Equipping Prison Missionaries
Ever thought about the prison system being like an unreached people group or a nation that’s closed to the Gospel? In many ways, there are great similarities. It’s a place to which it’s difficult to gain access. There are multiple false religions being spread there. There is a sin-filled culture and strong resistance to the Gospel. There is a great need for missionaries.
Yet the Bible is quite clear in its mandate to go.
“Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3).
“I was in prison and you visited me….Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:36, 40).
In 2019, Mid-America answered the call. Four years later, on May 12, 2023, the first 18 graduates walked across the stage at Varner prison in Arkansas and accepted their diplomas—a four-year, fully accredited degree conferred on them by The College at Mid-America. The inaugural commencement exercises were the culmination of years of praying, planning, funding, teaching, and for the graduates, studying and learning.
Most of the participants are serving life sentences and will minister the rest of their lives within the prison walls. The degree equips them to be missionaries, evangelists, and Gospel preachers within the prison system. Upon graduation, the department of corrections invites eligible inmates to participate as field ministers in the prison system. Tasked with various assignments, the department of corrections uses these field ministers to help promote moral rehabilitation within the prison they serve.
The Mid-America Prison Initiative began with its first program at the Varner Supermax Unit in Gould, Arkansas, offering a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies to inmates who are admitted into the program. As Mid-America students, the exact academic expectations and moral standards of Mid-America apply. Last year, Mid-America began a second program at the Limon Correctional Facility in Limon, Colorado. The Varner program was established in cooperation with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Directed by Mid-America professor Dr. Mark Thompson, the program serves as a model for additional prison initiatives. including the Colorado program directed by Mid-America professor Dr. Daniel Jones.
The unique graduation ceremony captured considerable media attention, including news reports from local TV stations in Little Rock and from the Arkansas Baptist News (see reports below). Perhaps the most heartwarming acknowledgement, however, was the gracious “thank you” letter received by Dr. Spradlin after the graduation ceremony written by one of the 18 graduates (see below). It truly conveys the appreciation and the hope that the Mid-America Prison Initiative is bringing to those in prison, both for the graduates and for those to whom they will minister.
“Thank you” letter from Varner prison graduate
Dr. Spradlin and everyone at Mid-America,
I would like to thank you and everyone involved in the graduation ceremony here yesterday. The love and compassion you all showed to me was something I have not had in my life now for seven years. From the time I “rolled” over for [graduation] practice until we came back to the barracks will be engraved in my heart forever. [Making the graduation not only] Biblical, but personal, the seriousness, heart-felt love, humor—just everything you ALL showed to me showed more than anything that there are still people who not only preach and teach the right way, but live by what they preach.
I know my Mom and Dad were watching from the front row in Heaven and were proud of the accomplishment at age 64 now having a degree, let alone in Christian Studies. I also felt that same pride from all of you and that cannot be faked. We do not get any respect, love, or compassion in our daily lives by the very fact of where we are living and how so many are living contrary to what the Bible says about judging others. We (I) am still talking about this 24 hours later, and I can honestly say the tears I had throughout the day yesterday, last night, and still today—both happy and sad—well, I think they speak for themselves.
I pray that the love, compassion, and everything shown to us yesterday from you all will (rub) off onto the people in charge here at Varner. So many don’t and never have believed in this program, and we showed them no matter how many obstacles they throw in our way, we were going to overcome them.
The emotional high from yesterday and that seven hours of love that was shown towards me and the others will continue for days if not weeks, months—until the reality of this place settles back in. But I will never forget or not talk about what was given to us these last four years (opportunity), leading to yesterday.
I can say I did not know what to expect four years ago when I signed up, but it exceeded whatever I thought back then; I can tell you that. And I certainly did not expect much from yesterday, with all the restrictions from ADC, but what you all did was “off the charts.”
Please let everyone know how much I on a personal level appreciated being treated like something other than the # [his inmate number]. I was a child of the Most High, and He showed up yesterday in a big time.
Thank the ladies involved in the logistics, and if there were any hiccups, I didn’t see them.
Thank all the others, from the bottom of my heart.