I had never been to prison. I had seen it in movies, and once had taken a childhood field trip to the county jail. But I had never set foot in a real-life correctional facility. The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) had just started a satellite campus in Hutchinson Correctional Facility, and I was set to teach the first course. I was entering into a maximum security prison to teach convicted criminals about the Word of God. The nine men attending were the ‘cream of the crop’ (so to speak) of the Christians in the prison. They had applied for these classes, been thoroughly vetted, and approved to start TUMI training.
I too had been thoroughly vetted. I was subjected to a full background check, fingerprinted, and photographed (in the same place that the inmates get their mugshots taken). I sat through a four-hour training on prison policy and procedure. I had been given an orientation to the prison entry procedures and a tour of the facility. I knew that at all times I had to carry a walkie-talkie that had a red panic button on it. I was told that if anything should go wrong, I was to press the button and armed guards would swarm the room in under 30 seconds. Comforting.
The Monday evening of my first class I walked into the security office and removed my belt, my boots, and emptied my pockets. I placed it all in a tub along with my books for class and passed through the metal detector. After redressing and getting my walkie-talkie and classroom keys, I passed through several gates. Some were large metal doors, some were made of prison bars. I showed my official prison ID to several guards (who never seemed to smile).
Finally, I arrived in my classroom. Very soon I was standing in front of a class of nine men. This is a maximum security facility reserved for murderers, rapists, and other serious offenses. I was not entirely sure what to expect from these guys. What I found in them absolutely overwhelmed me. They were excited and hungry. Every one of them wanted nothing more than to be there learning about the Lord. They soaked up every word and responded enthusiastically to every question. In fact, their engagement was so enthusiastic that I had a hard time getting through the class in the allotted three hours. When they left that evening, every one of them hugged me and told me how excited they were that I was there.
“Maybe this is foolish, but I take God seriously when he says that his eyes roam back and forth across the earth seeking to give strong support to those whose hearts are completely loyal to him (2 Chronicles 16.9). I am here because I believe that is true. You see, I am actually foolish enough to believe that in this room lies the power to do amazing things for the Lord; in this facility, and in neighborhoods, communities, and cities, in our country and truthfully in the whole world. I expect that one of you in this room now will be standing where I stand in days to come. I fully expect the Lord is calling some of you to be pastors and leaders, evangelists and teachers. I hope you believe that about yourselves…
“Why can’t the Lord who spoke the universe into existence by only his Word, fill this place with his Spirit? Why can’t this room and this facility become a training ground that raises up powerful servants of the Lord? I can’t think of a good reason why not. But it’s going to take men who want nothing else and nothing more than to submit to Christ and see his reign spread like wildfire. To be so dedicated to him that the Holy Spirit is unleashed, free to do with us as he pleases. So brothers, while technically I am here to mentor this TUMI class, my ambition for our class goes well beyond education and grades, it transcends material or books. Let’s do our part to advance the kingdom reign of Christ into all the earth!”
When I look at these men, I see kingdom warriors. I see men who are going to be released back into some of the hardest, darkest places in our country with connections and respect that I could never dream of. I see men who will live and die for their Savior declaring the gospel of his victory and advancing his church in places that I could never penetrate.
Some of these men will never again see the outside world. Some will be released relatively soon. But either way Paul’s words still ring true, “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The same Holy Spirit that is calling and moving men and women on the outside, calls and moves these inmates. We pray that the Lord uses these men (and hundreds like them being TUMI trained in prisons across this country) to light the fire of revival in the cities of our nation!