It took just a moment. It was not seen by many persons. It took place in a setting where safety and security concerns segregate people from one another. It happened at Angola Prison in Louisiana.
I had the recent pleasure of going to prison. It was a pleasure because I saw the power of the gospel transforming lives in this unique community. The Kingdom of God was so clearly present.
The Louisiana State Prison in Angola has an inmate population of around 5,000. Most of those inmates will never be released due to the length of their prison term. Angola was synonymous with violence as it was judged to be the “bloodiest” prison in the United States. And then, Warden Burl Cain came to Angola and his Christian faith began to structurally affect the prison community.
A spiritual transformation has taken place at Angola so that it is one where the “blood of Jesus Christ” is supreme and that spiritual transformation has impacted the prison in multiple ways. The changes which have occurred at the prison are detailed in the 2005 book Cain’s Redemption: A Story of Hope and Transformation in America’s Bloodiest Prison by Dennis Shere.
As part of that transformation, a seminary “behind the walls” program has been in existence and in partnership with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary under the direction of Professor John Robson. For the last few years, Calvin Seminary students have taken a week-long trip to Angola under the guidance of Professors Ron Nydam and John Rottman.
God is at work in Angola Prison. God is also at work at Handlon Correctional Facility in Michigan where Calvin Seminary has sponsored a class for inmates for the last few years. God is at work in the ministries of such Calvin Seminary graduates as Rev. Andy Hanson (Celebration Fellowship – Ionia, MI), Rev. Rick Admiraal (New Life Prison Community – Newton, IA), and Rev. Steve Moerman (Cornerstone Prison Church – Worthing, SD).
We can be grateful for the “big picture” of God at work in prison ministry, but I also want to give thanks for a “small picture.” During my visit to Angola Prison, I saw Warden Burl Cain touch prisoners. He shook their hands. He fist bumped them. He took hold of their shoulders as he conversed with them.
But the touch I will especially remember is when Warden Cain went into Death Row and the first prisoner in that solitary environment came near Warden Cain and they shook hands. They touched. The prisoner and the warden touched.