By Philip Timothy, Message Staff Writer
[img_assist|nid=7588|title=Chapel of Hope|desc=It took more than two years, but the 40-by-60-foot Chapel of Hope at the West Carroll Detention Center in Epps opened two weeks ago with 29 professions of faith.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=480]EPPS – Step aside and let God lead the way.
Bethlehem Baptist Church Pastor Donnie Linson just knew there had to be someplace better for the inmates of the West Carroll Detention Center in Epps to worship God than in the facility’s lunch room.
There was – it was a chapel.
There was just one problem, though. The privately-run facility did not have a chapel and raising the money to build one in the economically depressed Northeast part of the state seemed virtually an impossible task.
It did not stop Linson, who envisioned building a 40-by-60-foot chapel within the facility where inmates could gather to truly worship.
“Three years ago, the Lord laid a burden on my heart to start a ministry at the facility, and then build a chapel or a church there,” said the 20-year veteran of prison ministry. “I could see that the inmates weren’t worshipping in the lunch room. It didn’t feel like it was place to worship.”
Therefore, Linson decided to share his burden and vision with Jay Morgan, Director of Missions for Bayou Macon Baptist Association, and together the pair joined forces to tackle the very challenging undertaking.
“We had a number of obstacles to overcome, but our biggest was where the land and money would come from to build the chapel,” Morgan said. “This area has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy, and is very economically depressed.
“After much prayer, it became quite evident that only God could make this happen. We decided to step back and let God lead us. Only He could show us the way.” Morgan said.
And He did.
In a meeting with Clay Lee, one of the owners of the Lafayette-based Emerald Companies, Linson tried to explain what he wanted to do at the facility.
“I told him we were hoping the Town of Epps would donate a piece of land within facility for us to build the chapel,” Linson said. “Mr. Lee looked me in the eye, and said, ‘Let me ask you something. Why would you want to build on somebody else’s land? Let us donate you a piece of land that you can call your own.’
“I was a little taken back when he said that,” Linson said, “but Mr. Lee told me we wouldn’t have the control if we built on city property, whereas, if we built on our own property the facility would be Southern Baptist.”
Lee, who owned 5 acres adjacent to the facility, not only donated the needed 80-by-60-foot piece of property to Bayou Macon Baptist Association, but also gave Linson a $1,000 donation out of his own pocket.
With the property secured, the project picked up speed along with even more blessings from God.
“What started off as a burden for Donnie became his passion,” Morgan said. “And pretty soon it became the passion of others. We had 20 to 25 churches, local individuals and the Kingdom Builders get involved in this project.
“Some of the churches gave money, while others donated their time and skill,” Morgan continued. “As word spread, other churches helped as well from as far away as Jena and Moss Bluff. During the two years it took to build the chapel, our sister association in Madison partnered with us in a big way. It became a joint ministry because it was for the Kingdom and not the association.”
The project raised more than $52,000 in all, thanks not only to the two associations, but because of the generosity of small churches and people.[img_assist|nid=7589|title=Blessings from God|desc=The Chapel of Hope received its pews, podium, Bibles and sound system from First Baptist Church of Moss Bluff, which was under going a major renovation of their sanctuary.|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=480]
“Small churches with less than 100 people gave $9,000,” Linson said. “Other churches, even smaller, gave $250 to $500. Why one day I had a great-grandmother come up to me and told me she wanted to give me something. She handed me ten $100 bills. God made this happen because all things are possible through God.”
As the chapel began to take shape, God provided the pews, the Bibles, and the sound system from First Baptist Church of Moss Bluff.
“My daughter goes to First Moss Bluff and she mentioned what we were doing,” Linson said. “Brother Ray [Administrative Pastor Ray Swift] called and asked if we could use their pews, Bibles, sound system, and podium, as they were redoing their sanctuary. I said certainly. He asked if we could come get everything.
“Helen Kimble, who owns a company, provided us with a 44-foot tractor trailer and we went and picked it all up. The pews are better than you would see in a lot of churches,” Linson said. “We had to have a 10-foot fence to connect with the facility. I contacted a fence company in Arkansas and they helped me with $10,000 worth of fencing.
“The prisoners assisted with cutting down the pews and getting everything into the chapel,” Linson continued. “It seemed everyone wanted to help work on the chapel.”
After two years of work, the chapel, which was appropriately named Chapel of Hope, was finally completed and an open house was held on Monday evening, Aug. 29. Linson welcomed 137 people to the service.
“I am so encouraged by what God has done here, and I want to give Him all the glory,” Linson said as his voice broke. “The warden asked the inmates, did they come expecting something tonight and almost all of them raised their hands. I think the inmates got much, much more than they expected.
“You could see the pride in their faces,” Linson said. “It was like night and day holding service that night. You could feel the inmates worshipping. You could feel the Holy Spirit in the chapel.
“Monday night 137 men showed up, excited, overwhelmed by what they saw,” Linson. “We had 29 professions of faith that night.”
Monday night’s service, though, is only the beginning as there are plans to expand, starting with a service for the ladies, additional services for the men and a weekly Bible study to disciple inmates.
“There is no question that God was in the service Monday night, but also the entire project,” Morgan said. “I have been so encouraged what the Almighty Father has done here. It had an impact on not only my life but the lives of all associated with this project. Our God is truly an awesome God.”