PARCHMAN/GREENWOOD, Miss. – A team of Missouri Baptists facilitated vision clinics in October at two Mississippi prisons, sharing the gospel widely as they provided inmates with glasses.
The trip was a joint effort of two Missouri-based nonprofits, Vision 3:16 and Focus On Missions. Both organizations, with roots in local Baptist churches, are geared toward vision ministry and often collaborate on projects.
Steve Smith, the founder of Focus On Missions and a member of First Baptist, Arnold, explained that his goal is to use vision ministry as a platform for sharing the gospel. Vision clinics have gotten his teams behind locked doors and into lost communities more than 30 times this past year.
While in the Mississippi prisons, Smith said that volunteers were not only able to provide eye exams and glasses, but they also freely shared essential resources for spiritual health.
“If they did not have a Bible, they had the opportunity to receive one,” he said. “They were prayed with and they were shared with. The gospel was clearly presented to every single prisoner that came through.”
The team of volunteers was comprised of members from several Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) churches, including First Baptist Church in Arnold, Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, and Faith Baptist Church in Festus. The team spent a week ministering to inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman) and Delta Correctional Facility (Greenwood). Across four days in Parchman, then three more in Greenwood, the team encountered roughly 1,350 inmates.
Smith noted that this trip was unique because the team partnered closely with Christian inmates.
“Most of the volunteers that worked with the prisoners – the majority of them – were other prisoners,” Smith said. “They were all part of the Bible college there. They were all part of the ministry. But you know what? Almost every one of them will never walk out of that prison because of their sentencing.”
Though these prisoners were guilty of violent crimes in the past – some serving multiple life sentences – the team was amazed and encouraged to see how their lives had been touched and transformed by Christ. Many of the inmates had also received formal Christian education through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s prison extension program.
“The people that were on the team – their hearts were really softened,” Smith reflected. “And they had a whole new mindset of prison ministry.”
Sheila Hendrickson, a member of First Baptist, Arnold, had volunteered with Focus On Missions before, but never to do prison ministry. She was hesitant when she first heard about the opportunity to join the team in Mississippi, repeatedly asking herself, “Do you really want to go to a prison?”
Hendrickson shared that, as she worked alongside the Christian inmates, she was surprised by the joy and boldness of the inmate volunteers.
“Those men were great,” she recalled. “What really impressed me was that they were not afraid to share Christ. They were happy people in prison. It was not what I expected.”
Smith plans to lead teams to do vision clinics in more prisons as doors are opened for them to do so. The greatest obstacle to prison ministry, he explained, is a lack of volunteers who are willing enough to enter prisons and serve inmates.
As for Smith, he’ll take every opportunity he can get.
“When the doors open, the opportunity is given, and red-carpet treatment is given to us to go, let me tell you, I don’t want to be guilty of not going because of my lack of faith.”
Those interested in hosting or volunteering for vision clinics can contact Smith at 314-406-1448.
More information about Vision 3:16 can be found at their website, www.eyeglassvision316.com.