[img_assist|nid=8209|title=Answering altar call|desc=Dozens of inmates at Angola Prison Camp D responded to an altar call following a Saturday afternoon revival service hosted by the LBC.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=418]By Mark H. Hunter, Regional Reporter
ANGOLA – One hundred and fifty men from 46 churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention visited thousands of inmates at four of the six camps at the Louisiana State Penitentiary June 1 and 2 for the 16th annual LBC Angola Revival.
About 200 of the inmates made some kind of spiritual decision, including accepting Christ as their Savior.
But the story is much more than just numbers. Lives were changed on both sides of the thick steel cell bars.
“It just turned out wonderfully; God blessed,” said Keith Manuel, event organizer and LBC evangelism associate. “The Lord moved. Men who may never again see freedom in society found eternal freedom and full pardon from the Judge who rules in righteousness.”
“It’s a refreshing, fulfilling experience when you can share Christ with someone and lead them to the Lord,” said Buddy Jennings, one of several men from Crockett Point Baptist at Crowville. “It’s hard to express [the feeling that comes] when they are receptive to what you have to say and they don’t turn you away and they accept Christ.”
“It’s a blessing for me,” said inmate Carlos Rodriguez, 42, of Metairie, who is in the Camp D “lock-up” for escaping from St. Tammany Parish jail while awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a man two years ago. “I’m a Baptist. Very seldom do you have people come in here and share the Word with you.”
Rodriguez was baptized as a boy, he said, and in fact, was found by police in February 2010, hiding in the attic of his boyhood church, Inglesia Bautista Hispana in Kenner, according to news reports.
A visitor asked Rodriguez, “What will you say when God asks you why should I let you into Heaven?”
Rodriguez replied, “I have dedicated myself to Christ.”
Beau Guidry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Milton, said he appreciated, “the freedom these guys have in what we would consider the absence of freedom. To meet a bunch of brothers in Christ here is really encouraging.”
God is at work in Angola, John H. Robson, extension director of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told the volunteer evangelists. In 17 years of seminary presence, more than 200 inmates have graduated and are missionaries in the prison system across Louisiana.
“There are no demons here. There are no evil spirits here,” Robson said. “Half our population is Christian. There is no name better known in this prison than the name of Jesus.”
“A man behind bars is a special person and he’s ready to receive the Lord Jesus,” Robson said. “You don’t have to be able to preach, you don’t have to be able to teach, you just have to let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
The volunteers attended Friday evening chapel services; many of them then spent the night in bunk beds at the prison’s Training Center. They re-gathered for a Saturday morning orientation before dispersing back to the camps for “cell-to-cell” visitation, lunch with the inmates and an afternoon worship service.
At Camp D, the revival speaker was E.J. Scott, pastor of Temple of New Life Baptist Church in New Orleans. Scott, the grandson of a Baptist pastor, rebelled as a teen, committed several crimes and found himself in Angola for much of the 1970s. That’s where he returned his life to Christ.
“You’ve got to go through the ‘right now’ to get to ‘something else.’ You don’t know what God is going to do,” Scott told more than 100 men packed into the Camp D chapel Friday evening. In II Chronicles chapter 13, he said, God delivered Jeroboam of Israel into Abijah of Judah’s hand, “because they relied on the Lord. This is your chance; you may not have another.” Two dozen inmates responded to the altar call.
“Thank God for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Thank God for these mighty men who came to minister to us,” said Camp D inmate Pastor Ellis Wilkson. “We believe that God can do the impossible – do what He wanna do and when He wanna do it.”
At Camp D Saturday morning, several Baptist men entered the “lock-up” wing to visit inmates who were not allowed to mingle with those who live in wide-open dormitories.
Cody Smoot of Kenner is 19, but he looks like he should be in high school instead of a prison cell. He’s serving seven years for drug dealing and awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a homeless man. Wearing a rosary, Smoot was receptive and told visitors he was already a Christian.
He recited his favorite verses: I Cor. 16:14, Do everything out of love, and Ezekiel 18:31, Cast away from your heart the transgressions you have committed and get yourself a new heart and a new spirit.
“I mean, I’m on the verge of gettin my soul right since I’ve been in here, you know, but I still struggle with thoughts that languish in my mind, but, Romans 3:23, says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Smoot said in a quiet voice. “I growed up in church. Know what I’m sayin? I haven’t been baptized but according to the Word I’m baptized with the Holy Spirit. I believe and I trust and I know He is real. I know the Word is true and I know the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Terrance Napoleon, 26, of Marrero, said he also grew up in church and is a Christian. He’s convicted of killing two men in New Orleans as well as drug charges.
Having visitors, “lets you know that life is not over with,” Napoleon said. “It makes me feel like God loves you and He’s using special people like them to come encourage us and let us know that we can be more stronger in this life.
“I believe in my heart and confessed with my mouth that Jesus died for all my sins,” Napoleon continued. “I believe in my heart and my soul – I know that.”
The visits give the inmates hope, said David Crowell, 44, an inmate pastor at Camp D.
“It lets them know that they’re not thrown away and forgotten about,” Crowell said. “It gives them reason to hold on. Somebody is taking an interest in their life. Hope for a better future.”
“The men in this institution, their lives are eternally changed because of this Louisiana Baptist Convention prison ministry,” added Pastor Scott.
Lacey Billiot, 44, of Houma, came here in 1987 at a teenager, sentenced to 99 years for two robbery convictions. Unlike many Angola inmates, he will be getting out because his then-juvenile sentence was judged unconstitutional. He was saved in 1990, he said.
“To live a Christian life you have to be able to live under Christ’s authority and to be successful in here you have to submit yourself to the authorities,” Billiot said. “Submitting myself to Christ makes it easy to be obedient - to follow their rules.”
In the Saturday afternoon service, Scott reminded the men that God is in charge of the universe and illustrated it with Isaiah Chapter 45, where God declares He put Cyrus on the throne for a purpose.
“Some of you think you’re in here because God is angry at you but I’m tellin’ you, you were on your way to Hell and He couldn’t let you go there so He put you in here,” Scott declared. “The devil wanted to kill you but God saved you to give you another chance – don’t miss it this time!”
More than 20 men went forward at the invitation.
“It blessed me immeasurably,” said Robert Warren of Crockett Point Baptist. “The love that they showed for us, the appreciation they showed for us coming here - it was just overwhelming.”
Angola head Chaplain Gary Sumrall said that by visiting Angola, the men from Louisiana Baptist churches are fulfilling the Great Commission.
“They are an extension of our office and our ministry – tnot only the Baptist men but the WMU – they are Christ to these men and that is what they are lacking,” Sumrall said. “The love of Christ is unconditional and that is what they need.”
Sumrall’s message to readers of the Baptist Message: “Don’t forget Matthew 28: “When you’ve done it to the least of these my brothers, you’ve done it to Me.”