If I told you there was a place where the church was growing dramatically—conversions followed by baptisms and discipleship, red-hot leadership development, and measurable improvements in the well-being of the surrounding community—and it was in North America, not Africa or Asia, you might not believe me.
If I told you it was happening in the nation's largest maximum security prison, Louisiana State Penitentiary, you wouldn't believe me. Given the prison's sordid history, which has inspired books and movies, including Dead Man Walking (1995) and The Green Mile (1999), it is indeed an unlikely story.
"It's truly a God thing," said Norris Grubbs, senior associate dean of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), which has administered a seminary training program inside Louisiana's penitentiary, known as Angola, since 1995. With an inmate population of some 5,200, 85 percent of whom are violent offenders, Angola is the nation's largest, and historically most notorious, prison.
But now Angola has a very different reputation, largely a result of the NOBTS program, called the Angola Extension, which has graduated 192 inmate ministers, as they are called, since it began 15 years ago.
Modeled after the seminary's Bachelor of Ministry degree, the Angola Extension is a 126-hour program operated year-round in the prison, fall and spring semesters, with lighter, modular courses offered during the summer.
The curriculum in this fully accredited Bible college is taught by a rotation of NOBTS and visiting faculty—Greek and Hebrew, pastoral care, preaching, biblical studies, church history, systematic theology, and evangelism.
"We didn't have any idea what it would develop into—God has kept opening doors," Grubbs ...