This article was written by Bob Fielding, Arkansas Baptist State Convention Missions Team.
The first senior class of the Arkansas Prison Initiative – College at Mid-America (CAMA) is set to graduate with their Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies on May 12. The program, housed at the Varner Maximum Security Unit near Grady, was started by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. The 19 graduates of the first senior class have received the same training their free-world peers receive. Their education is provided by tenured professors operating in a fully accredited bachelor’s degree program.
Many of the graduates will become “field ministers” assigned to serve under chaplains at Varner and other Arkansas prisons. Dr. Mark Thompson, director of the Arkansas Prison Initiative, said, “I am extremely excited for this historical event, and I am grateful for all the Lord has done in the lives of our graduates. I look forward to watching God use them in amazing ways as they serve Him in the various ADC (Arkansas Department of Corrections) units where they will serve.”
A primary goal of field ministry is to promote moral rehabilitation in the lives of inmates. Field ministers have no authority over inmates in this unique peer-to-peer program. In prisons across the country that have started “prison seminaries” and assigned graduates as field ministers, violence against fellow inmates goes down, suicide rates drop, relationships between prison staff and inmates improves, and recidivism decreases.
Dr. William (Dubs) Byers, a retired SBC pastor, and Dr. Bob Harper, retired from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, have joined others in starting Colossians 418 Prison Ministries, dedicated to helping support the training program. Their website is found at https://col418.org. They are actively raising funds to support scholarships and to build a building for the prison seminary which will be constructed near the Varner Prison chapel.
In furtherance of their goals to support CAMA, Colossians 418 is holding a four-person scramble golf tournament on Monday, May 1, at Cypress Creek Golf Course in Cabot. The tournament features an a.m. flight with an 8 a.m. tee-off, and a p.m. flight with a 1:30 p.m. tee-off. Registration is due April 29, and forms can be obtained from James Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.