LEXINGTON—Forty men at the Lexington Correctional Center are enrolled in a study course that is bringing hope and a sense of mission. They began a new degree program aimed at equipping inmates for ministry inside the walls of Oklahoma prisons.
The Prison Divinity Program (PDP) offered through Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) is a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Studies. The 128 credit hour liberal arts degree will be accompanied with an internship with the prison chaplain.
“All the classes will be taught face-to-face,” said Bruce Perkins, director of the OBU Prison Divinity Program. “It’s a four-year program, and then we have an arrangement with the Department of Corrections, that when they’ve completed their degree, they will be sent out in teams of three and four into the other prison facilities across the state to serve as field ministers. So, in effect, we are raising up our own indigenous missionaries to the prison population.”
Perkins explained that after receiving 172 applications from inmates across the state and interviewing 65 applicants, 40 men were chosen for the program.
“The students in our Prison Divinity Program have been given a wonderful opportunity of hope,” Perkins said. “Some will discover renewed purpose. Others will find a new depth to their purpose. All will be impacted by this community of learning. So—although remaining in prison—for the moments we are in the classroom engaging with God’s Word and God’s world through a Christian liberal arts education, they can lay aside their prison clothes and feast at the table of our King. We also pray that OBU’s presence in the prison brings hope to other inmates—the hope of opportunity but, more importantly, the hope in Christ.”
“The past couple of months, I have prayed often, asking God to give me a way to serve,” said Brett, an inmate who is enrolled in the program. “I feel that this program is a door God has opened especially for me.”
Miguel, another student in the program, agreed. “My reason for applying to the program is because I know God has a calling on my life,” he said. “I believe this program will help me to be better prepared for my calling.”
One PDP enrollee expressed how he believes God will also use the program to prepare him for ministry in the prison system. “I’ve been in a gang most of my life,” he recounted. “These penitentiaries and my family are full of gang members, people that are hurting, confused and searching for Christ and don’t even know it. With the completion of this degree, I’ll be better equipped to speak to these people, to serve them, guide them to Christ and be a better leader.”
To be accepted in the program, the inmates must have at least 12 years of their sentences remaining. “About half of the 40 men in our program are serving life sentences,” Perkins said. “Despite their backgrounds, God can call them and use them. I try to encourage them that there are no footnotes in the Bible that says ‘this is true, except for inmates.’
“I have been pleasantly surprised at how the men have come together in unity, as a community, helping one another out,” Perkins continued. “I can tell they are trying to encourage one another. I hear them saying to each other, ’If God can do that for you, I can trust that He will do that for me.’”
Perkins emphasized PDP is externally funded, and the program is one of the recipients of the Edna McMillan Oklahoma State Mission Offering.
“Many of these inmates feel they now have something with purpose and in which they can exercise their minds,” he said. “It’s very challenging, refreshing and rewarding for them to be able to do that, to have something to focus their intellect on. One student said to me, ‘Thank you. I feel human again.’”
To learn more about the OBU Prison Divinity Program visit okbu.edu/theology/prison-divinity.