Written by UBA Staff
Recently, a light shown in Cell Block One A of the Wynne Unit, the Huntsville campus of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. It wasn't the light of a Warden's flashlight. It wasn't a searchlight. It was a spiritual light as 6 prisoners started prayer walking the cell block. They weren't allowed to physically prayer walk the area, but from their own cells they began praying. "They told me they are praying and looking for 'the person of peace'," said Sally Hinzie, a UBA Church Consultant, and one of a group of mentors who travel weekly to the Wynne Unit to disciple new believers.
Some say that Cell Block One A is "the darkest cell block in the prison," explaining that it is not Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) where the most violent and dangerous offenders are held, but it is "right next to it!" Most of the men incarcerated in Cell Block One A dream of getting out of there. While they might dream of being released on parole, for many that is unlikely or impossible. Most of the residents of Cell Block One A would be excited just to be moved to an area of the prison where they have more freedom and some simple privileges that make life easier. Yet, six men, all of whom had been residents of Cell Block One A and who had achieved the dream of leaving it behind them, made the unusual request that the Warden transfer them back to that cell block where the light of Christ is so desperately needed.
Two of these six men have been participating in the Wynne Unit School for Church Planters. Each week, they meet with mentors such as UBA Church Consultants Rickie Bradshaw and Sally Hinzie who travel to Huntsville paired with other members of the mentor team, Guy Caskey, Bobby Herring, Parris Patrick, and Jerry Phillips. Two mentors teach each week, one teaching in the Trustee Camp while the other goes "inside the walls." (Read the story of how Covenant Fellowship, pastor, David Valentine, began this ministry inside the walls.)
By his own admission, Derick, one of the two participing in the School for Church Planters, was a “very violent monster.” Currently serving a sentence for violent, drug-related crimes, Derick (not his real name) says, “I didn’t care about nobody but myself.“
However, the pastors and mentors who teach Bible study in Derick’s faith-based unit at the Wynne Unit in the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville don’t see a violent, calloused monster anymore. When asked about Derick, today, they describe his willingness to learn, his care for others, and his gentle spirit.
It’s not that Derick had never heard the gospel. He acknowledges that he was raised in the church. So what made the difference? How did a man like Derick, a former gang leader, a thief, and a violent offender, find new life in Christ? When asked, Derick points to one of those mentors who commits his Mondays to discipling men incarcerated in the prison in Huntsville.
Derick says, “What made me give my life to Christ was I met Jerry Phillips (Minister of Missions at Covenant Fellowship in Huntsville, TX) who in turn expressed the love of God which he showed me. Now I have met Christ. He took me to where I am now opposite to that [ ‘very violent monster’] … and can express His love to the hurt and the lost.”
As Jerry reflects on the changes in Derick, he says, “I believe that the most exciting aspect of working with the incarcerated is being able to see lives that have been transformed by Christ. Derick is a prime example that all things are possible with our Lord. He is truly a ‘new creation’. Derick now strives to live a life devoted to serving God and others. It is a joy to serve with Derick and I am proud that he is my brother and friend.”
Another mentor says, “I have seen him change from one who shares a testimony with others to one who is leading others to Christ and discipling them. Derick has always had influence. Now he uses his influence to shepherd a flock in the ways of Christ instead of leading a gang in the ways of violence.”
Derick used his influence to lead five fellow-Christians and former residents of Cell Block One A to return to the cell block and share the light of Christ.
When meeting with one of the mentors after the first week back in Cell Block One A, Derick shared that the men in Cell Block One A have begun to ask to speak to the six of them. As the prisoners asked Derick and the others why they would want to transfer back into the cell block, Derick reported that they told the guys they loved them and wanted to share the good news of Jesus with them.
Upon hearing this, one of the inamtes began to weep, leaning his head on Derick's shoulder. Four others gave their life to Christ during the first week, and Derick and the others are committed to discipling these new believers using the tools that they have learned in the Wynne Unit School for Church Planters.
Pray for these men who have journeyed from darkness into light and who continue to bear witness to the Light in a very dark and dangerous place.
". . . and the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it."