For the last several years the college ministry at University Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville has been participating in ministry projects in state prisons. We asked Travis Henderson, college ministry leader at UHBC, to share some of their ministry experience with us.
Exactly what do you do in your ministry project?
We take our female college students into female state prisons to play volleyball and share the love of Jesus and a message of hope. Our group tries to go in twice a semester, depending on schedules and the weather. There are three facilities we go to that have indoor gyms and at the other facilities we are outside on the recreation yard. We arrive at the unit at 9:00 am and go to the gym or recreation yard. We gather everyone together and explain why we are there and while the volleyball starts, our students mingle with the offenders. After several games of volleyball we take a break and let a few of our students share their testimony. I wish everyone could hear the stories that are shared. Our students are able to connect with the offenders on so many levels and they remind the offenders of their own kids, family and friends. After the testimonies, we give a clear gospel presentation and have our students go sit and talk with those who want to know more and accept Christ. We play more volleyball and then eat lunch with the offenders. One of our students sitting at a stainless steel table with three offenders is a beautiful sight. They get to have great conversations and quality time. We leave them with the hope of Jesus, knowledge that they may be physically bound in prison, but they are not spiritually imprisoned. We leave to a lot of goodbyes, come back soon and tears.
How did you get started taking college students to do ministry in the prisons?
It started years ago when our college minister got connected with SportsReach ministries, going into male prisons to play softball and share the gospel. We have male students that go into the guys prisons with SportsReach in the spring and summer. Some SportsReach members took some of our female students to a women’s prison two years ago and we picked it up and ran with it from there. We also partner with Bill Glass Ministries and Mike Barber Ministries to go into other prisons.
What has been the impact of your ministry on those you minister to?
It is staggering to see how many of the women we meet in prison have children that they are separated from. We offer them salvation and hope so that even while incarcerated, they can make a difference with their family and children. The staff at the prisons tell us that the offenders talk about our visits for months after we leave.
What has been the impact of your ministry on the college students that go with you?
Our students learn that these women are still God’s creation and not much different than themselves. These students are committed to get up early and leave at 6:00 am on a Saturday or Sunday. We do evangelism training with our students and then give them opportunities such as this to share their faith. Not only do they share when on trips, but they begin to share in every day life.
I asked one our students who went for the first time in October how she would describe her experience. Her answer is very similar to what I think you would get from anyone who has been with us. She said: “Life changing – going into prison made me realize how blessed I was to be able to come out and to live as an example to others because I could be in the same situation as them had it not been for the people in my life.” When we come back home, the sharing of the gospel does not stop. Our students talk about their experiences for months with their family and friends. The evangelism does not stop either, once they start sharing, it doesn’t stop.
Would you recommend this project to other college ministers? If so, how would they go about getting started doing a project like this?
Prison ministry is not for everyone. However, getting out of your comfort zone and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is our calling. Our prison ministry has allowed our students to get a taste of reality and hear stories from difficult circumstances.
Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have and we can get you connected with the right people.
Interested in your group participating in this ministry? Contact Travis Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.