Prison, freedom and baptism

by Ken Nabi, senior pastor, Community Church, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
News

Imagine a women’s prison where 22 ladies dressed in drab green prison garb meet in a special room overseen by guards. One by one, each inmate reads her faith story about trusting Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins, professing devotion to God. The stories are filled with brokenness, long lists of sins and unspeakable disappointment in life. But there is a quiet determined joy bubbling underneath each story as the forgiveness of Jesus is experienced and described. Tears are unusual in this hardened environment, but for some they flow freely. Applause follows each story being read. Then, the key moment of the gathering: each woman is baptized right there at the prison in a makeshift portable baptismal. It is a church service of sorts. Sacred and solemn. Joy-filled and priceless.

This was the scene that unfolded at the Taycheedah Correctional Institute (TCI) for Women in February 2016. A group of women from our church [two pictured below] have been cultivating a relationship with the women’s prison in their community for 20 years. Three ladies from Community Church of Fond du Lac have been meeting with the inmates, providing discipleship, counseling and encouragement. When I met last fall with the chaplain as part of this relationship development, I was asked if the church would provide baptism by immersion for the inmates requesting this spiritual experience.

TCI Women’s Prison is one of only three women’s prisons in Wisconsin and the only maximum security prison. TCI holds approximately 900 female inmates. It is located in a remote region just outside the city of Fond du Lac. Community Church is only 12 minutes from this prison, and the church has been supporting a Cru staff member, Veronica Ventrice, for over 20 years, while she has been cultivating ministry there. This baptism “service” is the first of its kind in recent history and there was a certain amount of anxiety given all the unknowns. Grace and mercy shine brightly in the darkest of places.

The 200-gallon baptismal was a portable unit. The hot water had to be transported from a different building on prison grounds and was brought in large drums. One five-gallon bucket at a time, the water was transferred to the baptismal. By the service time, it was lukewarm at best. Yet this did not stop the joy being experienced in the moment by each woman declaring her faith in Christ.

Each inmate met with a trained member of Community Church of Fond du Lac in a class setting to review the biblical basics of the gospel message and to develop a clear understanding of the gospel of grace and the call to repentance. Then a second follow up one-on-one meeting was scheduled to review each inmate’s written faith story describing her conversion and reason for wanting to be baptized. This careful process took several months. These countless hours of investment have made a significant impact for the kingdom. Forty inmates took the class, and 22 were baptized by immersion over two nights (the prison would not allow more than 15 women at one time in this minimally secure environment). The three women from Community Church of Fond du Lac were allowed to be present the night of the baptisms for encouragement, support and follow up.

Inmates recounted painful elements of their stories: rape, incest, homicide, drug abuse, prostitution and overall self-destructive living. One inmate reported in her faith story, “Jesus is the axis on which my world now revolves.” Another told of her surrender to Christ before being sentenced for drug-related crimes: “I finally found freedom, once I came to prison.” Each inmate concluded her faith story by reading her favorite Bible passage. It was amazingly precious and painfully raw at the same time.

Freedom is never free. It is possible to be free from the bondage of sin even when you are locked up in a physical prison. This gospel-proclaiming opportunity will likely turn into holding additional services several times a year in the prison. There is a growing interest from the inmates who have trusted Christ.

May God be glorified and may a movement of the Holy Spirit be ignited in the TCI Women’s Prison. Please pray for this movement of God’s Spirit to spread as these ladies face trials and difficulties.

If you'd like to learn more about Nabi's experience, email him at knabi@ccfdl.org.

    Point - Summer 2018

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