HOUSTON – As a row of volunteers emptied their pockets, filed through the metal detectors and stepped behind the heavy security doors of the Harris County Jail, they walked forward with chaplains and armed guards through the stark white halls with one mission – to share the hope of Christ with the offenders there.
Volunteers went two by two into living quarters that each housed 15-20 offenders to spend time building relationships, listening to their stories and praying that the gospel would touch their hearts.
As a result of love and the Holy Spirit’s movement during Nov. 13-14, more than 200 volunteers displayed the hope of Christ before 14,000 offenders in the Pam Lynchner State Prison and the Harris County jail, and 1,405 men and women became followers of Christ. In all, more than 2,400 spiritual decisions were made as a result of the outreach.
The prison and jail outreach was possible because of a partnership between Texas Baptists and Bill Glass Champions for Life, a prison ministry started by Bill Glass, noted as one of the most outstanding players in the National Football League, in 1969 to take pro athletes, performers and volunteers called “teammates” into prisons across the United States each year to share the love of Christ.
The Bill Glass Champions for Life endeavor was part of City Reach Houston, a series of more than 20 outreach and evangelistic events in the greater Houston area attempting to share the gospel with the hurting and hopeless before the Annual Meeting of Texas Baptists on Nov. 16-17 in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. To date, 3,047 people have made professions of faith through CityReach efforts.
“They brought former prisoners, athletes and others to share the hope of Christ with folks who are often marginalized from the rest of society,” said Randel Everett. “We were thrilled that they would partner with us in Texas Hope 2010, especially in Houston for City Reach. We expected hundreds of decisions for Christ to be made in these meetings, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Texas Hope 2010 is the Texas Baptist effort to share the hope of Christ with every Texan by Easter 2010. Individuals and churches are doing this by praying for the lost, caring for the hurting and hungry and attempting to share the hope of Christ in a way where every Texan can respond in his or her own way or language.
“As Texas Baptists seek to share the hope of Christ with everyone in our state, we recognized that many are in prisons,” said Randel Everett, executive director of Texas Baptists. “Texas Baptist Men and others have great prison ministries, but one of the strongest evangelistic teams in our prisons is the Bill Glass Champions for Life.“
Bill Glass Champions for Life partnered with 26 Christian music and pro-athlete personalities, including Super Bowl champion Keith Davis and singer-songwriter Jenn Harris, to go into the prison and jails along with the volunteers to minister to the men and women there.
Darlene Bahr, a Christian musician from Kansas City, Missouri, who has helped with prison ministry since 1997, said that many people see offenders as modern day lepers, not wanting to come near to offer the hope and help needed for them to better their situations.
“Why would you not want to go in here?” Bahr said, stating why she comes to minister in jails. “You are going through the gates of hell, and you’re bringing the light of Christ. It’s the most amazing thing I have done in my life.”
Volunteers went two-by-two and spent a couple of hours at a time in the living quarters of the offenders. Performers visited each group and shared the reason they came – to offer the hope of Christ that changes lives. They intentionally went to the inner parts of the prison or jail, showing that they will take the hope of Christ anywhere and to anyone.
Volunteers are trained to speak with the offenders once the guest performer leaves, sharing how they can have the hope of Christ in their lives that day. When an offender becomes a Christian, they are left with an eight-week Bible study to help them grow in their new faith.
Robert Smith, event director for Bill Glass Champions for Life, said that Jesus calls believers to go to those in prison and to the lowest in society.
“Jesus said that when you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me,” Smith said. “All these people are in crisis and are the least of these. We are called to them.”
In the process, many volunteers were reminded that the offenders are human just like them, needing love and support to get back on the right track in life, one volunteer commented.
“The greatest need is support from families, communities and jobs,” said Robert Henry, lieutenant and captain of the Harris County Jail. “There is a need to not only provide religious services while they are incarcerated, but educational and vocational training. Being able to support an inmate in all these areas I talked about is very important to have for transition and a plan for stabilizing them.”
In the Pam Lynchner Unit, volunteers were accompanied by a group of Christian Motorcycle Association members who brought in their motorcycles as a way to engage the offenders there.
Don Savell, sergeant and family assistant coordinator for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, said that ministry to the offenders helps connect the head and the heart, which brings lasting change and reduces the risk of return to the system.
“Though it is a dark environment, we can create a peaceful environment,” Savell said. “Ministry like this can help reduce aggression and reduce cases where guards have to use force. There even can be a positive cultural change with inmates and employees.”
The need for volunteers to minister to the offenders is great as more than 165,000 men and women pass through the Harris County Jail system each year.
Bill Glass Champions for Life is trying to share the hope of Christ with people before they end up in jail or prison through Champions of Hope, a school assembly program that recruits NFL athletes like Devin Wyman, Steve Grant and others to speak in school assemblies.
These men spoke to more than 8,200 students in 26 Houston middle schools during Nov. 10-13, using their football platforms to share their ultimate goals – living lives for Christ. Decisions from these events are still being counted by Bill Glass Champions for Life.
The organization also is intentional about training and stretching volunteers in their desire and ability to share the gospel and see what God can do through them.
“We pray that this will ignite Christians to assist churches in igniting other Christians to share their faith,” Smith said. “Many are scared to death to share Christ, but this helps them see they can do it. We hope this will make better members and help the churches when they go home.”
By Kaitlin Chapman, Texas Baptists Communications