By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ST. GABRIEL – As a drama team performed an interpretive movement to the song “City On Our Knees” during a worship service at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, chaplain Debi Sharkey drew the parallel.
“From what I know, the song is about good and evil or light and darkness,” Sharkey said of the drama, which was performed by inmates in the prison who are students at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension program there. “In that way, LCIW is like that.
“We have some who are believers and some who are not,” she continued. “So, the dance was a way to express that when the two worlds collide, light should overcome the darkness. In the end, the girls would like to see all of LCIW a city unto God – a City on their knees.”
The service was part of a recent revival at the maximum security prison about 10 miles east of Baton Rouge and included participation from many Louisiana Baptists.
Approximately 175 volunteers from 25 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.
Food was provided for the offenders, security and staff by the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge to have a bar-b-que lunch on Saturday and it was cooked by volunteers who brought in large grills to cook the chickens.
At the conclusion of the revival, 26 women were baptized, 13 others made professions of faith, 22 reaffirmed their faith and many women requested and received prayer.
For those unable to travel to St. Gabriel for the revival, the opportunity was available to give toward the gift boxes that were distributed to the female inmates. Nearly 100 people from 41 churches helped pack the boxes at locations in Alexandria, Ruston and St. Gabriel.
Louisiana Baptists from throughout the state donated the items that that were packed in the 1,790 gift boxes.
Janie Wise, who serves as director of the LBC women’s missions and ministry team that coordinated the gift box distribution, called the effort moving.
“The gifts are a tool to say we care,” she said. “It’s like you are giving them an expensive gift,” she said. “It’s a heart opener because we say we do this because God loves you.”
The Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge has sponsored the LCIW Revival for 15 years. The association works with churches in the association and across the state, with assistance from the LBC women’s missions and ministry team, to enlist volunteers, including musicians and those preaching during the weekend.
After Hurricane Katrina, the BAGBR joined with LBC women’s missions and ministry team to include the gift box distribution on the same weekend as the annual revival.
Tommy Middleton, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, considers the revival a joyful time.
“Lives that have been regarded as hopeless by society are being rescued, restored and re-commissioned to a life of fulfillment and purpose,” Middleton said. “This is what Jesus does and only Jesus can do for lives that have been so broken by sin. To see the church being an extension of the Christ in the prison is a great testimony of what we ought to be about in making a difference in every aspect and arena of society. Being there, personally, is a great blessing and joy.”
Jamie Trisler, a member of First Baptist Church in Gonzales, can’t wait to reunite with the female inmates who accepted Christ at the revival again one day in heaven.
“I went away from observing those 26 new sisters-in- Christ be baptized, with joy in my heart and the privilege and the responsibility of praying that each will follow hard after the Lord,” Trisler said. “It will be a time of rejoicing one day in heaven and I look forward to hearing about their journey with the Lord.”
Rhonda Mann, a member of East Leesville Baptist Church, said the holy spirit moved mightily at the revival.
“There was a oneness of Spirit and unity between the incarcerated and the free – sisters in Christ, regardless of our life consequences,” Mann said. “The preaching was right on. Psalm 23 and 84 deeply convicted all of us there, as only by the grace of God, redeemed and striving to be more like Jesus am I not a resident of St. Gabriel.”
Reflecting on the revival, Sharkey said it was made possible by the power of God and cooperation of believers from throughout Louisiana.
“As the gospel was proclaimed and the love of Christ was revealed through the hearts of every volunteer, lives were being transformed,” Sharkey said. “I was reminded of what the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 1:6: This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.
“The good news of Christ cannot be stopped by prison walls, fences, barbed wire or any other thing,” she said. “It penetrated LCIW and God is still using it to translate people out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (as stated in Colossians 1:13). I am humbled to work alongside each of the volunteers and to have a front-row seat to what God is doing in LCIW.”