By PHILIP TIMOTHY, Message Staff Writer
MINDEN – With the help of God, one man’s vision is rapidly turning into reality.
Warden John Lewis, a member of First Baptist Church Haughton, wanted a chapel built on the grounds of the Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center, which is located inside the National Guard’s Camp Minden, to help fill a need at the facility.
With the help of First Haughton, First Baptist Church in Arcadia, the Louisiana Baptist Builders, some willing volunteers and project coordinators Bill and Joyce Temple the need is going to be met – and much sooner than he had hoped.
[img_assist|nid=6780|title=Roof and walls of the new 24,000-square-foot chapel are in place with an expected completion date of November 1.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]
“Work is really coming along well,” Joyce Temple said. “Thankfully, we are building on one of their old basketball courts, so we already have the walls up, the shingles on the roof, vinyl siding on the north and south end and Bill is putting up the drywall right now.
“About the only thing we are waiting on are the windows, which should be in Tuesday and we can finish the vinyl siding,” Temple said. “Then it is just a matter of finishing up the work on the inside. I know they would love to be in their new chapel by Thanksgiving, but I believe Bill said the project will be completed in another three weeks, which would put us at the first of November.”
The reason work on the 24,000-square-foot building is coming along so quickly is due to the numerous volunteers –15 to 20 – and the skill of five inmates who have also been assisting on the project daily.
“They are really very skilled, good workers. We have devotion each morning before we start work, and we share with them as we work,” Joyce Temple said. “They are very open. They are willing to do what we need them to do.”
The new 40 x 60 foot building is truly an answer to prayer. Not only will it serve as a chapel, where services can be held Sundays and Wednesdays, but it will also provide an excellent space for self-improvement programs, including substance abuse rehabilitation, skill development and area-specific educational based classes.
“This new chapel will fill a great need at the prison,” Lewis said. “It will replace the over-crowded cafeteria-based services that many inmates currently attend. At the rate they are going, the inmates could be worshipping in their new chapel very, very soon.”
Wanting to lower inmate return rates to prison, Lewis began visiting prisons with chapels and learned that prisoner recidivism in these locations is less than 30 percent.
In addition, inmates who participate in the services have a rate of return to prison of less than 10 percent. And prisoners who find a church home after their incarceration have a return rate of less than one percent.
First Baptist Church of Minden is already playing a role through its Celebrate Recovery program that meets weekly – every Thursday – with inmates.
Participation has grown from 40 to 130 in just three weeks’ time, and those numbers are expected to climb once the chapel is completed.
Already, lives have been changed and many inmates have made professions of faith.
“I believe six were baptized the Sunday before we arrived,” Joyce Temples said. “These men are finding Jesus. God is pulling them back into his flock, and there is real excitement here.”
Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton credits Lewis for leading the effort. “He has dedicated much of his own time to see this through,” he said. “I believe that this has been a Divine plan from the beginning – and it will be a great addition to what we can offer the inmates who are housed at BDCC.”
Lewis admits to becoming discouraged early in the two-year planning process when he discovered what the cost of a metal building would be – upwards to $100,000. But he soon realized “God was such a part of this project.”
The first thing that needed to be taken care of was the funding, which came when the congregations of Pastor Gevan Spinney of First Haughton and Pastor Jeff Hoffman of First Baptist Church Arcadia collected more than $40,000 toward the building of the chapel.
The next “God” sign came when he connected with Jeff Woodridge, and the Louisiana Baptist Builders of the Louisiana Baptist Convention took on the project.
“The incredible and very charitable donations made by these two churches have paid for all of the materials needed to complete the project,” Lewis said. “And the Baptist Builders mission effort is doing such a great job handling the construction project with skilled volunteers. It’s all just such a blessing. We’ve got an awesome God.”