foothold in prison
By Bob Baysinger
August 31, 2004
MOBERLY – The Gospel of Jesus Christ is gaining a foothold in the Missouri state prison system.
The breakthrough for the Gospel is occurring at the Moberly Correctional Center where a group of inmates will be graduated in September from the first Evangelism Explosion (EE) class at the prison.
Don Horne, a former Missouri Baptist pastor, is the chaplain at the Moberly prison and a strong supporter of EE.
“Don is the one who opened the door making it possible for Evangelism Explosion to come to the prison,” said Danny Decker, men’s ministry specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). “Don has been the catalyst in helping Missouri prisons be introduced to that ministry.”
Evangelism Explosion (EE) is a ministry of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., pastored by D. James Kennedy. Kennedy was a featured speaker at the 2003 annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention. David Clippard, MBC executive director, is on the EE national board of directors.
The purpose of EE is to train soul winners. Through study, classroom training and on-the-job training, the EE student learns to share his or her faith effectively. Following the first session of classes, EE students return to train others. The goal – through the multiplication of those being trained to share their faith – is to literally cause an explosion of evangelism.
EE at Moberly got its start under George Roach, the director of missions in Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Zion and Monroe Associations.
“George wanted his associations involved in prison ministry,” Decker said. “We scheduled a meeting at a Moberly restaurant and only two pastors came. But Don (Horne) was there and he was very open and ready to get all the help he could.”
Horne, a graduate of Hannibal-LaGrange College, is teaching the first round of EE classes at the prison and he is excited about what has happened already.
“We have a rapport time after the class, sharing how we have been able to put EE to use,” Horne said. “One inmate told us that he had already been able to lead some other inmates to Christ in the prison setting. This was a major step because you are viewed as being weak if you go into the chapel facility. They have this stigma to overcome.”
Unknown to everyone involved, it appears that steps toward bringing EE to Missouri prisons has been in the works for many years.
Art Hallett now heads the EE prison ministry program in Sarasota, Fla. Hallett was a member of a Southern Baptist church in Florida 19 years ago. The church’s pastor, David Clippard, got Hallett involved in a prison ministry and eventually sponsored Hallett to become an EE clinic teacher.
Under Hallett’s leadership, EE has made its way into 200 prisons nationally and has great plans for the fledgling work in Missouri.
“I made contact with the chaplain at Moberly and sent one of my area managers into Missouri to initiate the ministry there,” Hallett said. “Now, the convention is sending several men to one of my conferences in Oklahoma to learn how to teach Evangelism Explosion.
“I’m excited about this and am convinced these men will continue the work and help bring this work to fruition. God is giving me leaders from all over the world. I am training them how to equip and train the local church to do the ministry right there in their own back yards.”
Clippard shares Hallett’s enthusiasm for EE’s potential in Missouri prisons.
“It has the potential to absolutely change the complexion of our prison population in Missouri,” Clippard said. “EE was introduced at a 1,500-bed prison in western Oklahoma. Two years after EE began, the prison warden had a staff meeting in his office. The prison psychologist said at the meeting that he didn’t know what was happening, but that his meds were down 50 percent.”
“Meds” is prison lingo for medication given to inmates to make them less violent.
“I think this can happen in any prison,” Clippard said. “These men know they are sinners and are looking for answers. They are open. In other states, we have seen men come out of prisons and become evangelists.”
Decker has developed contacts in some other Missouri prisons with a goal of helping EE spread to other locations.
Horne is confident the program will work in other institutions, too.
“One of the main things EE does is help the inmates overcome the fear of evangelizing. The reason they don’t share their faith is nervousness; they’re afraid of being rejected; the fear that others won’t take them seriously or that they can’t answer a question,” Horne said.
“EE shows them that they don’t have to be afraid of anything. It shows them how to avoid the theological questions. It teaches them how to share their faith very gracefully.”
Horne said it has been obvious from the beginning that inmates at Moberly are serious about learning how to share their faith.
“A man from Oklahoma came here to do an orientation for us. He told me before the orientation that he would be expecting 10-12 guys to get it started. When he walked in that night, there were 35 guys sitting there. He told me this was the first prison he had gone into where there was this much interest.”
Decker’s cost-potential ratio for EE is outstanding.
“The cost is $350 for 10 guys for a 16-week course,” Decker said. “The number of men who have gone through EE and return to prison after they have been released is very low. It seems to me that the money we spend on prison ministry is well justified.”
Hallett said a study shows that of 500 EE-trained inmates released from Florida prisons since 1992, only three have returned to prison.
“In addition the low recidivism rate, inmates can get up to six credit hours for taking our course,” Hallett said.
Clippard said Hallett got a burden for prisons after visiting his brother-in-law who was incarcerated.
“I would like to see local churches across the state have EE ministries in every prison,” Clippard said. “Based on my experience across the country and especially in Oklahoma and Florida, EE makes a significant impact on the prison population. We want to see them come out as believers, not more skilled in their criminal craft.
“Most churches that have prison ministries go into a prison, conduct a service and leave. EE trains inmates how to be a missionary on the campus long after the church leaves. Periodically, inmates are moved and it’s like sending a missionary to another country. In this case, we don’t do it. God does it for us.”