Month: May 2015

First seminary prison program in Texas graduates 33 inmates, sends them out as ‘agents of mercy’

ROSHARON, Texas—Robed in caps and gowns over their white prison uniforms, 33 inmates in Texas’ maximum security Darrington Prison Unit made history May 9 as they received bachelor’s degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, becoming the inaugural graduating class of the state’s first seminary prison program.

“I’m overwhelmed at what God has done,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during the ceremony inside the prison’s chapel. “Only God could do this.”

Patrick served on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee prior to being elected Lt. Gov. last fall. He and Senator John Whitmire, who chairs the committee, were the legislative heads behind the creation of the program, which began in fall 2011. Each year since, a new class of 40 students has been added to the program, and the current number of enrolled students stands at 114.

Looking at the graduates, most of whom will be deployed in groups of four or five to assist chaplains and minister in six other state prison units, Patrick called them “prison apostles” and charged them to “be models and examples of what Christ can do in [people’s lives] if they will give their [lives] to him.”

This summer, approximately two-thirds of the graduates will be transferred to six maximum security facilities in Huntsville and Tennessee Colony to reproduce the ministries—and the radical changes—that have been witnessed in Darrington. The rest will remain at Darrington to mentor underclassemen in the program.

In a press conference, May 7, Whitmire described the remarkable change in culture at the Darrington Unit over the past four years as a result of the program. “When we started this, (Darrington) was one of our toughest, problematic units, and I’m here today to announce that it’s now one of our best.”

During the graduation, Whitmire, who has served in the Texas Senate for 30 years, recounted the history of the program. “I have scores of programs that I’ve worked in,” he said, citing drug and alcohol programs, procedures for pregnant female inmates and other major initiatives to clean up the prison system and rehabilitate inmates. “But … nothing is more impressive and moving than to be a part of this program. … I’m a better man, a better senator, and a better Christian because I’m here participating in this program.”

Whitmire said the seminary program demonstrates that Texas is “tough on crime” but also “smart on crime.” He told graduates that he plans to use their success in changing prison culture to argue for changes in the state’s guidelines regarding consideration of parole, which is largely based on the nature of the crime committed.

“I know up to this point that you are demonstrating that you are a good risk for society,” Whitmire told graduates. “You’re going to leave here and minister at the other units and turn lives around and save lives from crimes. I’m going to make your case that in a few years, if you continue to turn people around and behave like I know you will, work with the wardens where you are sent, and are responsible for your families, I’m going to continue to work in Austin and say, ‘Okay, the nature of the crime is important, but there are other factors. You’ve got to give my ministers the chance after they’ve saved souls in other prisons to save souls on the streets of Houston.'”

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) Executive Director Brad Livingston challenged graduates to take what they have learned and apply it to the ministries they will have in the prison.

“What you’ve accomplished is extraordinary, but it’s just the beginning,” Livingston said. “As you go out into these units, rely on each other, support each other, but rely ultimately on God. You will be an inspiration to others. You will allow God to work through you to reach hundreds and thousands of others.

“Before you know it, you will have peers in every one of our units across the state. Imagine the profound impact that God will have through you and others that follow you. I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

Just before graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson gave a final charge to “his children” from Micah 6:8. Patterson pointed to the graduates’ academic achievements in the strenuous, 125-hour degree and said their education could be a “stepping stone to greatness,” but it would only be so if they were “agents of mercy … (who) walk humbly with God.”

“You have done a great deal to educate the mind,” Patterson said, “but this program is a little different, isn’t it? Because the program has not just been about the mind; it’s been about the heart. And, oh, how you’ve done so unbelievably [well]. I thank God for every one of you today.”

Brandon Warren, who has served as the program’s administrative assistant from its beginning in 2011, is also a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern’s Houston campus. Warren is not unfamiliar with prison, having served eight years at a different facility before his release a number of years ago. Like many of the men in the Darrington program, he found faith in Christ while in prison. Before serving at the Darrington program, he wrote theologically rich correspondence courses on basic Christian doctrines for use in prisons across the state. At Darrington, Warren oversees students’ coursework, grades papers, assists professors and serves as a liaison between the school and the prison.

As a way to honor the men in the Darrington program, with whom he has built strong friendships, Warren delayed his graduation from Southwestern and received permission to receive his master’s degree at the prison graduation ceremony. As he walked across the stage, the chapel erupted in applause.

Attended by state dignitaries, friends and family of the graduates, seminary faculty, and friends of the Heart of Texas Foundation, the graduation was a celebration of what many described as a miracle. The vision for such a program came from Grove Norwood, executive director of the Heart of Texas Foundation, who had experienced a similar program by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisiana’s Angola Prison. He gained the support of Senators Patrick and Whitmire, who visited Angola to see if it could be reproduced in Texas.                                                                                           

Norwood and the Heart of Texas Foundation have been the primary fundraisers of the entirely privately funded program, which uses no tax payer dollars. The funds raised have gone to support educational materials, computers, books for the prison’s seminary library and other program needs. Other major contributors to the budget have been Southwestern Seminary and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who initially gave a $116,200 grant in 2011 to provide library books, classroom furniture, technology and half of the ongoing costs for professors’ salaries and travel expenses for the first two years.

For more information on the Darrington seminary program, visit

Why Are They So Angry?

Ronjour LockeAdd another to the list. The list of racially charged riots grows longer and longer, to the shame of those who prematurely announced the end of racism. The latest entry is my city, Baltimore, MD. The nation watched in horror as residents looted stores, attacked the police, and burned cars and buildings, including a church senior center, to ashes. The carnage left many around the country asking, “Why are they so angry?”

The answer, as you might expect, is complicated, but I’ll attempt to simplify it. Simply put, sinful people sin against other sinners. At the heart of sinning against others is dehumanization. In order to violate another person, we first tend to convince ourselves that that person is not worthy of better treatment. We can do this on an individual level, and we can do this on a systemic or structural level. Racism and classism are forms of dehumanization. Racism is the dehumanization of another on the basis of skin tone. Classism is the dehumanization of another on the basis of wealth.

Baltimore has harbored race and class-based dehumanization for generations. When whole neighborhoods are not afforded the necessary schools and job opportunities to generate and sustain wealth, and when residents are not taught that they can be more than the status quo, how will they escape poverty? When men (particularly black) are prejudged as dangerous and are jailed for walking down the street, what does that say about the value of the residents in that neighborhood? How will that affect the residents’ view of justice and law enforcement? How will families rebound while Dad is in prison, or when he returns and can’t find a job because of his prison record? When help is needed, yet the police are slow to respond, what does that say about the value of the residents of that neighborhood?

It should not surprise Christians that man-made structures for justice and order can be used for evil means. Christians live with the tension that all people are created in the image of God and are thus, by God’s grace, able to do great things; but all people are also riddled with sin and are thus capable of great evil. So what could be intended for justice could have unjust consequences.

This by no means suggests that the authorities are categorically wrong and the residents are categorically right, as liberation theology suggests. Indeed, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sinful people tend to fight sin with sin. Gang violence, drug dealing and abusing, premarital sex, prostitution, and yes, rioting are all sinful choices made in a context of disorder.

How can we help? One might suggest that we should encourage people to start over in the promised land of suburbia, but this would not help to restore the neighborhoods left behind. What we need is for people not to leave but to come. We need men and women, singles and families, to answer the call to the Great Commission. Jesus’ call is to make disciples of all nations, and that must include the people in my city and others who live on the wrong side of the tracks.

We need people who will plant churches and people who will help existing churches. Jesus already resolved the ethnic and economic tensions of our society by building a people who love one another and their city because they have been loved greatly by their Lord. We need new and renewed churches who will embody the love of Christ in our inner cities.

I would love for you to consider coming to Baltimore. If you are not able to come, I urge you to join us from your home. How can you support inner-city churches like the ones in Baltimore? You can adopt a church to support and perhaps implant them with mature members who are ready to join in the gospel work. Above all, you can diligently pray for God’s Spirit to move mightily in the churches and neighborhoods.

In doing so, perhaps along with asking why they’re so angry, we will also ask, “How could we help transform their lives with the gospel?”

Christian motorcycle ride slated for June 19-22

The Heartland Interstate Strategy—comprised of five Baptist state conventions along the I-29 corridor, along with the Missouri Baptist Convention and Missouri Baptist Biker Fellowship, will hold a road rally this summer to champion Kingdom work, encourage church pastors and planters and create a “Jesus presence” along the highway.

The ride, which is open to all Christian motorcyclists, will begin June 19 on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and end June 22 in Fargo, N.D. The MBC will provide biker Bibles to be distributed along the route, and Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief vehicles will travel with the group to provide support and assistance.

Hospitality stops will be spaced out along the highway so that bikers can meet and fellowship with area church planters and pastors and learn about specific ministry and prayer needs they may have. Riders will have the opportunity to join in Awesome Biker Night, June 20, in Sioux City, Iowa, as well as Show and Shine, June 22, in Fargo. During the rally in Fargo, a restored Café Racer, among other prizes, will be given away.

For additional details and to register for the ride, visit

Texas governor upholds religious liberty at SBTC gathering

HORSESHOE BAY–In order to return America to the religious principles on which the country was founded, Christians must unite “as a hedge against the forces of evil,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared at a April 27 dinner with members of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board.

America is in a crisis at this time,” he said, describing the challenges to religious liberty, traditional marriage and the sanctity of life. “Texas must help lead America down the right pathway,” he insisted.

“From my very first year in office as attorney general back in 2003, I have been involved in ongoing legal fights defending marriage as a union between one man and one woman,” Abbott said. He drew applause from the audience after stating, “I believe God’s law cannot be undone by man’s law.”

Abbott said he used the occasion of his inauguration to the highest state office to assure the people of Texas, “As long as I am the governor of Texas we will remain one state and one nation under God.”

He told the audience of Southern Baptists, “Our lives don’t have to be defined by challenges but how we respond to challenges,” alluding to the experience that put him in the wheelchair from which he spoke.

“After I graduated from law school and had moved to Houston I had charted a pathway toward success based upon manmade goals until I was humbled before God,” Abbott shared. “One day while I was out jogging, a huge tree fell on my back, fracturing the vertebrae and my spinal cord, leaving me forever paralyzed, never able to walk again.”

“There was more than my back that was broken. My life was broken,” Abbott said. “For a man like myself who had grown up an athlete, I felt life was absolutely hopeless.” He credited his faith in God and the support of his wife as the means of piecing his life back together.

“I committed myself to God, offering every single talent I may ever have to fulfill God’s will here on earth,” Abbott recalled.

“The only way we are going to return and restore America to her main mission from her beginning is to get this country back on the pathway of the religious principles upon which we were founded,” he added, encouraging pastors to be involved in their communities.

“Together we will respond and keep America the freest, strongest, most God-fearing, God-believing nation in the history of the world.”

Minister Church Relations changes name, maintains ministries

GRAPEVINE—The Minister Church Relations department at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has been renamed Pastor Church Relations.

Heath Peloquin, Director of Pastor Church Relations, said the change was made to define more clearly the purpose and function of the department.

“Pastor Church Relations wanted to clarify our role as one [that] focuses on pastors, churches and associations as the relational arm of the convention,” Peloquin said. “To serve those who serve the church [is] our greatest aim.”

Among the ministries provided to Texas churches and pastors by the Pastor Church Relations department are the FORGE Young Pastors’ Network, the Paul-Timothy Conference, the Pastor & Wife retreat, the Equip Mega Conference and the assistance of Field Ministry Strategists who can come alongside pastors and churches across the state to offer help and prayer support.

To learn more about the Pastor Church Relations department and how it can serve you and your church, visit

SBTC grant undergirds mission partnership with SEND Montreal

HORSESHOE BAY—Church planting efforts in Montreal gained ground April 28 when the Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention approved a $100,000 grant to the North American Mission Board to assist missionary volunteer Woody Wilson in coaching church planters and student missionaries as well as encouraging evangelistic opportunities for Montreal churches.

Woody Wilson, a former International Mission Board missionary to France and church planter in Chicago, will be serving as a Mission Service Corps Volunteer for NAMB as part of the SEND Montreal strategy. He will guide the process of moving student missionaries to apprenticeship opportunities, then placing them in internships that train them to plant churches.

The board also redesignated a $250,000 grant approved last year to purchase property in Montreal for a church planter multiplication center and campus of La Chapelle Church. Instead of acquiring property, the change allows more flexibility to fund renting a facility and equipping new churches.

Since launching in 2013 the church has grown to more than 900 people in attendance, reporting over 80 baptisms and more than 200 decisions for Christ during 2014. La Chapelle will plant two new churches in the next 18 months.

The board also received a report during their spring retreat of the Reach Houston initiative to intentionally focus church planting and revitalization efforts in the nation’s fourth largest city. Eighteen pastors met April 23 at Faith Memorial Baptist Church in Houston to hear about the initiative and offer their advice. SBTC will employ a strategist to establish church planting centers and coordinate with existing churches to reach the most diverse mega-city in North America.

Other reserve funds grants will provide $50,000 for special projects to meet ministry opportunities that arise outside the convention’s normal budget and up to $90,000 to fund the 2016 Breathe Deep Conference for non-pastoral church staff.

The board approved giving property in Laredo to a local ministry entity that will be established under the guidance of a board made up of members of SBTC affiliated churches. The former church building was purchased in 2011 to launch church planting efforts near the border and host mission groups with the intention of transferring ownership within five years.

Affiliation requests for 40 churches were approved while 22 were removed, 20 of which have disbanded and two others having merged with other congregations.

Cooperative Program receipts through March amounted to $6,519,822, coming in at $264,193 below budget for the same period. However, that gap had decreased to under $100,000 by the time of the board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis reported. CP receipts through the end of 2014 exceeded the nearly $26.8 million budget by $301,706.

Vern Hargave of the auditing firm PSK reported a “clean opinion” of the convention’s annual audit, describing financial operations as “very well run, very well managed and a very accountable system.”

The board received the resignation of Terry Coy after 14 years of service with SBTC, the last seven as director of missions. He will continue serving with SBTC as a consultant in the area of church planting while pursuing teaching, writing and speaking opportunities.

“Reaching Texas and touching the world is more than a slogan,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the board. “It’s a mandate of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.”

He reflected on two common denominators he had observed while leading revivals in two different churches during the past month—a culture of prayer and a genuine care for people. “We are not having this sweeping spiritual awakening yet, but the mercy drops round us are falling.”

SBTC worship ministry offers free A/V consultations to Texas churches

Rex Lake was only 12 years old when he recorded his first 7-inch vinyl record. That same year he gave his life to Christ in Tulsa, Okla. Six years later, at age 18, Lake got his first reel-to-reel recorder and a cheap microphone. Since it cost him $45 an hour to record in a studio and he made $1.05 an hour working, it cost him a week’s wage to get just one hour in the studio. Realizing that was not feasible, Lake learned the music business and art of recording.

By the time he was 26, Lake had opened his own recording studio, Lake Sound Inc., and publishing company, Artos Music. Over the next 40 years, the Lord blessed Lake’s efforts and enabled him to develop the business into a state-of-the-art digital facility that produced hundreds of albums for Christian artists. During that time, Lake also expanded the business to another publishing division, HeartSpring Media; a graphics division, Seed Studios Inc.; a film production division, Eterne Films; and a 501c3 company, Got Life?®, which serves as a global evangelistic outreach. Along the way, Lake also became a pilot—something the Lord now uses in combination with Lake’s media industry experience to aid and benefit Texas churches.

In cooperation with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s worship technology ministry, Lake now uses his talents and skills along with four other consultants to help churches troubleshoot media issues and configure top-notch audio/visual set-ups. Whether a church needs help using equipment it already owns or guidance in taking their sound, lights and video operations to the next level, Lake stands ready to help, often flying his own plane to consult with churches on site.

Lake, now retired, says what first got his attention was the realization that many churches have current technology but not the associated technical knowledge to use it well or wisely.

“Having the latest, greatest technology does not necessarily equate to better sound or more engaging Sunday services,” Lake said. “In fact, many churches today experience technology overload and become frustrated, because after spending a lot of money, the audio and video presentation is likely not any better and may actually be worse.”

But, thanks to Lake and other SBTC consultants who travel across the state, improvement is possible.

The convention, through tithes and offerings given by church members through the Cooperative Program, offers the consultation service as a ministry to help churches use resources they already have to provide the best possible audio/visual support for worship services. The Cooperative Program allows the first—and often the only—consultation needed to be provided at no cost to the church.

Church ministry associate Lance Beaumont who coordinates the consultations on behalf of the SBTC says each situation and set-up is different.

“It is really based upon the churches’ needs, and they’re all different,” Beaumont said.

Lake says his approach is to make a church’s system—be it new or old—meet the congregation’s needs and to share the needed “how-to” technical knowledge to make it work well.

“The bottom line is for churches to be able to present the good news of Jesus Christ in a clear and concise manner without problems from the systems used to present that message,” Lake said. “Everything involved in the presentation of that message including the A/V systems, operations and operators must be proficient and efficient for the task.”

Randal Wilson, pastor of Carey First Baptist Church in Childress, said Lake came to help his church twice—once with equipment installation and an in-ear monitor system and another time to help train and coach members operating the sound board and serving on the praise team. Wilson said he thanks the Lord for Lake and his help.

“Rex is very professional, knowledgeable and personable,” Wilson said, adding that Lake even gave a guitarist tips on the best strings to buy. “He is welcome anytime.”

Beaumont said that in addition to sound consultations, the SBTC offers other assistance to churches in the worship technology area as well. Innovate Praise, a technology training event for media teams and worship leaders, provides hands-on training in sound, lighting and projection systems for both novice media team members and experienced technicians. The next events will be held Sept. 18-19 in Houston.

The convention also posts three-minute technology videos on its website at Topics such as setting the gain, microphones in worship and monitor mixing can all be found there, along with a host of other helps.

For churches, the help the SBTC offers can make the difference between under-utilized A/V capabilities and fine-tuned engineering. For Lake, the technology ministry provides an avenue to use a unique set of gifts and skills to the glory of God and the proclamation of salvation in Christ.

“[When the SBTC] asked me if I would be interested in utilizing my audio/video experience, my sound engineering and musician knowledge, my time, my pilot skills, my love of music and my love of the Lord to minister to churches needing help with their A/V battle, it sounded like a match to me,” Lake said, chuckling. “It’s amazing to watch the Cooperative Program dollars at work and how God is using that process to empower churches across this great state.”

To request a consultation, churches can fill out the “worship tech help request” form at

Houston pastors appeal judge”s decision regarding Equal Rights Ordinance

HOUSTON—What began as a legal response to the perceived overreach of the mayor and city attorney in dismissing a referendum petition has turned into something bigger, a coalition of pastors and their attorney said Thursday in announcing the appeal of their lawsuit against Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston. Evoking the oppression in the United States that birthed the Civil Rights Movement, pastors called the mayor’s actions a “crime,” “an act of discrimination” and nothing less than voter suppression.

Willie Davis, pastor of MacGregor Palm Community Baptist Church and petition circulator had all his work invalidated on a premise that Andy Taylor, lead counsel for the pastors, called indefensible.

“We talk about the days of my parents when poll taxes and other things were used to eliminate the process of the voting for minorities,” Davis, an African-American, told reporters at a press conference called by the Houston Area Pastors Coalition to announce the appeal. “And here we have a city mayor … who denies the entire City of Houston the right to vote.”

Taylor told the TEXAN the appeal, filed April 30, has three elements.

First, a writ of mandamus asks the Texas Supreme Court to order Houston City Secretary Anna Russell to verify the voter registration of all 54,000 petition signers—something she has not done since stopping her count just short of 20,000 after verifying the minimum number of signatures needed to pass the referendum.

Her signature verification was dismissed by Parker and then-City Attorney Dave Feldman.

Second, the appeal asked the Texas Court of Appeals to expedite the process, giving plaintiffs a hope of meeting the Aug. 18 deadline for getting the referendum on the November ballot. The case is likely to go before the Texas Supreme Court.

Third, Taylor filed a writ of mandamus with the appellate court asking, again, for the expedited process.

A writ of mandamus is a request of a court to rule without the full benefit of court proceedings. They are rarely granted, but Taylor said because of time constraints his clients have no adequate remedy to their complaint.

The average appellate process takes 6-18 months. And although rushing the process is not ideal for any of the parties, Taylor said his clients requested the action. Woodfill v. Parker will be heard by the 1st or 14th Texas Court of Appeals in Houston.