By Marilyn Stewart, Regional Reporter
[img_assist|nid=7707|title=Bill Glass|desc=Former Cleveland Browns star Bill Glass (speaking) and his Champions for Life Ministry came to New Orleans recently for a Weekend of Champions. The three-day event saw 1,380 decisions.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=427]NEW ORLEANS – She’s in prison and she’s a believer. The Bible verses written in toothpaste that cover her cell wall help her stay focused on Jesus.
For one prisoner in an Orleans Parish jail, the recent Bill Glass Weekend of Champions made her know she wasn’t alone.
“She cried when she hugged me goodbye,” said Angela Wolf, member of Woodland Baptist Church, Hammond and a first-time platform singer with the Bill Glass ministry team. “It was the most emotional moment of the weekend for me.”
Louisiana Baptists participated in the recent three-day event that saw 1,380 decisions for Christ, including 771 first-time commitments. One hundred-twenty participants – called “teammates” – ministered in prisons and jails in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Charles and Iberville Parishes.
Wolf, a wife, mother and lead singer for Soul Salvage Project, performed eleven times during the event.
Bill Glass, 76, was a member of the 1964 NFL Champion Cleveland Browns, one year before the first Super Bowl. After his work with the Billy Graham Crusade, Glass formed the Bill Glass Evangelistic Association, now known as Bill Glass Champions for Life. Glass spoke in the prisons during the event.
High-profile athletes and entertainers such as Dave Washington, All-Pro linebacker with the Denver Broncos, female basketball superstar Tanya Crevier, saxophonist and former Miss Black America Varetta Heidelberg, and others, shared their faith to large crowds. Inmates were drawn into the prison yard by the sounds of motorcycles. Riders came from across the nation and included Dan Rockel, a pastor from Georgia, and former dirt bike champion Tim Startz.
Tino Wallenda, of the famed circus family The Flying Wallendas, walked a 30-foot- high tightrope during the event. As he performed, he told of the collapse of the Seven Man Pyramid 50 years ago that killed two and left one man paralyzed.
“He [Wallenda] told the crowd, ‘If I fall, I will go straight into the arms of Jesus. I want you to be sure that you’ll go straight into the arms of Jesus,’” said Carolyn Chesnutt of First New Orleans. “It was the most effective, most dramatic presentation of the gospel I’ve ever seen.”
Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphy, a former jewel thief, surfing champion, concert violinist and now international director for the ministry, helped with scheduling. Murphy performed on the violin for the crowd.
After the program, teammates shared the gospel using a tract designed and produced by Bill Glass Champions for Life.
“The tract is absolutely magnificent,” said Chuck Staub, event prayer chairman and teammate. “In some presentations, the Christian does all the talking. This tract gets the prisoner talking.”
The interactive tract begins with, “Do you have a spiritual belief?” A biblical response is given to other probing questions as it leads a person to faith in Christ.
“It was a great experience,” Staub said.
Logistical concerns forced a last-minute change in activities planned at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center. Flights for platform guests were re-routed and a rushed call sent out for volunteers when the event was moved up one day.
“This was the first time a prison revival has ever been allowed here,” said Kathy Radke, head chaplain for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and wife of Robert Storey, a life group community pastor for Celebration Church’s site on the Westbank, in New Orleans.
Radke said one inmate, incarcerated on his third DUI, told teammates of his guilt and pain because his children had turned their backs on him.
“The yard deputies told me they saw grown men cry,” Radke said. “Prisoners felt valued and not forgotten. Our administration was extremely pleased.”
Radke leads a team of thirty-two volunteer prison chaplains that ministers to one thousand men and one hundred thirty-five women. Added recently is a chaplaincy program to minister to law enforcement officers.
Above the cells in lock-down are signs that read “Must Be Restrained.” Herb Stein, from First New Orleans, said one man told him he’d not had a visitor in ten years. The man’s appearance was unnerving, but the conversation was normal and centered on football and family, Stein said.
“I know we’re not going to impact everybody, but we’re going to impact somebody,” Stein said. “That’s the reason I do this.”
Stein and Chesnutt are part of the ministry team that serves at Rivarde Juvenile Detention Center weekly as part of the multi-faceted ministry program Care Effect at First New Orleans.
“Jesus is in the prison. He’s working there and I go out of obedience to him,” said Chesnutt.
Alice Bair, wife of Rick Bair, the chairman of the event, said teammates often share their faith for the first time at the Champions for Life events.
“This is an outreach that goes far beyond the prison walls,” Alice Bair said. “It carries over to the families of prisoners and it carries over as teammates go home excited about sharing their faith with others.”