Not far off Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston is what is arguably Texas’ toughest prison, the Coffield Unit, a maximum-security facility populated by some 4,000 inmates, most of whom are repeat offenders serving sentences for some of the worst crimes.
But on a Wednesday night in June, inside the prison chapel, the irony of the Gospel that frees souls was on full display to the dozens who witnessed it.
Five inmates from solitary confinement, shackled by feet and hands for their hardened and incorrigible ways, waited in line with rival gang members to enter the baptismal waters and give evidence of a newfound freedom through saving faith in Jesus Christ.
As the men left that evening following the weekly worship service of Gateway Church’s Coffield Campus—a church planted inside a prison—the realization that they were publicly repudiating their former lives added gravity to the situation in a place where criminal records are often touted infamously among inmates as badges of honor.
But such concerns aren’t inhibiting the spiritual movement occurring at Coffield. During a July worship service, Gateway pastors baptized 15 more inmates from solitary confinement and 22 more from the general prison population.
Led by Robert Morris, founding lead senior pastor, the Dallas-area multisite church is no stranger to innovation, but Morris’ all-in commitment to prison ministry was evident when this year the church added a full-time prison ministry pastor, Stephen Wilson.
Gateway’s Coffield Campus was launched late last year, with the blessing of the warden, and each Wednesday, Gateway members from Dallas-Fort Worth ride a 15-passenger van to Coffield to do church with about 375 brothers in chains.
Not only are inmates hearing the Gospel, but they are also learning to be disciples and taking it upon themselves to help lead. The inmates have a praise team, a greeter team, an audio-video team and altar teams.
“If guys have a real heart change they will live this way their entire lives,” says Wilson, who himself came to faith in Christ during an 11-month prison stay in 2004.
Furthermore, Wilson adds, “When you do prison ministry, you’re changing the culture in the prison and in society.”
And that’s especially significant when you consider that a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 83% of state prisoners released […]