GOULD, Ark. – A groundbreaking was held Monday, Nov. 6, for the new prison seminary building at the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, a high security prison in Lincoln County.
The prison seminary celebrated its first graduating class on Friday, May 12. Eighteen students, who are all serving life or long-term sentences for their crimes, donned graduation robes and caps as they accepted their bachelor’s degrees in Christian Studies from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. A 19th student, who had his sentence commuted in 2020 by former Gov. Asa Hutchison, graduated on the Mid-America campus in Memphis during their spring ceremony.
Modeled after similar programs in other states, the program is the first in the state that prepares graduates to become field ministers, whose role is to assist prison chaplains by ministering to inmates inside prison walls. The Arkansas Prison Initiative, directed by Professor of Church History, Missions and Theology at Mid-America Seminary Dr. Mark Thompson, provides a unique opportunity to reach an oft-forgotten segment of the population with the Gospel.
“It’s just amazing what God is doing in the lives of our men. God is changing them. God is doing some great things through them,” Thompson said. “These guys are excited about going out and serving and serving others and serving the Lord Jesus. It has just been great to see how God has moved in their lives.”
Thompson was one of the several guests to give remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony. Others included Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain; President of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Dr. Michael Spradlin; Colossians 4:18 Prison Ministries Board Member Rev. Tyrone Broomfield; Arkansas Baptist State Convention Missions Team Leader Dr. Sam Roberts; Arkansas Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness; Arkansas Division of Correction Director Dexter Payne; Varner Unit Superintendent James “Hoot” Gibson; and Pastor of New Life Fellowship in Sheridan Rev. Steve Cypert. The emcee was Sen. Eddie Joe Williams.
The new building will be 50 feet by 100 feet. A projected date of completion is spring 2024.
“This is for the glory of God because we believe that for every inmate in the prison system of Arkansas God has a purpose and plan and He desires for each one of those inmates to have a relationship with Him through Jesus and to worship Him now and forever. That’s the reason we do this,” Roberts said. “We are grateful to see what God has done and God continues to do. “
The prison seminary is made possible through the partnership of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Arkansas Department of Corrections and Colossians 4:18 Prison Ministries.