Locked in Solidarity: Transformed Life
Since 2014, CCDA has been setting aside time the second week of February for Locked in Solidarity, as CCDA’s National Awareness & Action Day on Mass Incarceration. This year we are joining CCDA's efforts to create the space needed to listen to stories of people in our communities who are directly impacted, to learn about the greater impact of mass incarceration, to pray, and to engage public sector officials who have the power and position to impact change.
It is marvelous to witness the miracle of true life transformation! More than 16 years ago, we journeyed to a prison facility to support a particular inmate who desired to study the Bible in prison. A few of us decided to visit the facility to see if we could extend our care for the inmates there. Our first meeting we met with the chaplain of the facility, but also with the warden and other officials, all who expressed interest to initiate a church-based seminary within the prison.
That's when I first met Sam Mutphawng, who would ultimately become the Dean of the Advanced Studies Center of the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. Sam was an inmate, an unassuming, transparent, well-spoken fellow who was serving out a sentence connected to a tragic manslaughter conviction, a verdict that had upended his life and placed him in a tough, depressing environment. He explained clearly what he'd done and how he'd regretted his actions and yet also how God had used this tragedy to recenter his life around serving Christ. As a Ph.D. grad, Sam had tutored inmates in GED completion, and personally wrote one of the formative curricula used by the state to ground inmates in the educational basics. He led Bible studies with great success, and had the full support of the Chaplain and the warden to help lead the training center in the facility.
We launched the seminary with Sam as Dean and a small group of inmates using our 16-module Capstone Curriculum with amazing results. The students were transformed, and began serving other inmates in the Chaplain's office. The program quickly grew, in number and impact. The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) literally became a phenomenon in prison circles, with other institutions deciding to start church-based seminaries inside their institutions. The impact of Sam's faithfulness was realized when a small group of us, along with the presidents of Prison Fellowship and World Impact came together for a day at the prison to attest to the fruit of their work. That day was the critical meeting that eventually led to a partnership that has continued to this day, and which currently allows us to serve more than 70 prisons around the country in Christian leadership education, using the same curriculum Sam employed with that first class so many years ago.
Sam has been released, returned to his native country of Nigeria, and is in the process of healing his relationships with his family, his people, and his church. He continues to train workers for the Gospel, using our materials in his own site in Nigeria. Sam's story demonstrates how God can transform a life, even one filled with his brokenness and tragedy, to help launch a movement that has led to thousands of inmates being equipped in the Word to serve the Lord in the "Church Inside the Walls." We ought never under-estimate what God can do through a single, ordinary life turned around by the love of God in Christ.