By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ST GABRIEL – Inmate Chelsea Daigle had decided to follow Christ during one of the revival services at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women the day before when she went forward with a request.
“I want to be baptized tonight,” she proudly exclaimed.
For Janie Wise, those words represented a beautiful picture of Christ’s love and forgiveness, a freedom found in a place where many inmates spend many years behind bars.
“The tears, joy and the women saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ made this a special weekend,” said Wise, women’s missions and ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists which co-sponsored the revival at the prison. “The women who followed through with baptism knew what they were doing. It was a step that said to their peers right there, I have decided to follow Jesus.”
During four revival services from Oct. 3-4 at the maximum security prison about 10 miles east of Baton Rouge, 32 women made professions of faith and 28 of them were baptized.
Approximately 160 volunteers from 28 Louisiana Baptist churches participated in the revival, which included a gift box distribution to the inmates, three worship services on Saturday, a worship service on Sunday and a baptismal opportunity on Sunday night.
The Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge hosted a bar-b-que lunch Saturday for the prisoners, guards and jail staff with help from Dick Debusk, retired pastor of Alpine Baptist Church, who brought in large grills to cook the chickens and helped enlist a cook.
Many others helped but did not travel to St. Gabriel for the revival–they were donors and volunteers who helped provide gift boxes to the female inmates.
Fifty-six churches were represented in packing boxes at locations in Alexandria, Kenner, Ruston and St. Gabriel, and more than 100 churches contributed items included in 1,700 gift boxes that were distributed.
Another 300 Ziploc bags with personal items were left as gifts to future inmates.
The Georgia Barnette Offering for State Missions provided funds to purchase the boxes and pay for transporting them to the prison.
“From donating items for the gift boxes to volunteering inside the prison, the revival provided something just about anybody could have volunteered for,” Wise said. “We were able to include churches from all over the state.”
This is the 15th year the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge has sponsored the LCIW Revival and the eighth year the LBC women’s missions and ministries team has been involved.
“It’s exciting to see the local churches coming in and investing in the revival,” said Tommy Middleton, director of missions for the association. “The revival reminds us that even though the inmates are in prison, everyone is precious in God’s sight.”
Finding freedom behind bars
Lena Bourgeouis soon will exit LCIW but will leave with more than just a release from a prison.
She will leave with the freedom found in Christ, thanks to efforts by Louisiana Baptists.
Now, she describes herself as a “praying woman and praying mom.”
Her son and mother accepted Christ while she was behind bars and she “can hardly wait to gather her family to her and pray with them.”
For Jeannie Hebert, the revival meant a new life in Christ, as well. After responding to the altar call during the Saturday evening service, Hebert’s first words were “I want Jesus.”
Hebert – who was baptized that next evening – spoke with Wise about her decision.
Wise said Hebert ended their time with one of the sweetest prayers she has ever heard – “I want you in my life, Lord.”
Wise said seeing changed lives keeps her going back and believes the volunteers are obeying Christ’s command to do unto the least of these.
“It never gets old,” Wise said. “It’s a new reason to go every year and there are always women needing to hear.
“The revival is part of carrying out the command to share the Gospel into all the world. It’s Jerusalem and Judea because it’s right here in our state,” she added. “We are building relationships that will last beyond our life here on earth.”