Texas prison being reformed from the inside out
A Texas megachurch has seen incredible things happen since planting a church inside the state's largest maximum-security prison six months ago.
But what happened recently was a first in the history of the prison.
The warden at Coffield Unit in Anderson County, which is located about 90 minutes outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area and houses roughly 4,200 criminal offenders, invited Gateway Church to share the good news of Jesus there.
As a result of the faith professed by some of the inmates, the church held a baptism service [where believers are immersed as an outward display of their inward commitment] for five inmates in administrative segregation, or solitary confinement.
(In solitary, inmates spend 23 hours of their day behind solid, steel doors with air holes in them because of how dangerous they are.)
Pastor Niles Holsinger, who leads the Gateway Coffield Prison campus, told Fox News what he witnessed recently was "mind-blowing".
Five of the men – confirmed gang or cartel members – were brought into the gymnasium, shackled hand and foot and around the waist, and they had to clear the prison because of safety concerns.
"They couldn't lift their arms above their waist, each one has a guard on each arm, and wouldn't leave their side until they were in the water," Niles said.
Three of them were placed on one side, two men on the other because they were from rival gangs.
The only way for members to leave the gangs or cartels is death, and this was indeed a death of sorts. Baptism symbolises dying to your old life (going under the water) and rising again in a new life with God - being born ... again.
Niles spoke to each one of the guys in solitary confinement, each with a violent history.
"I have tried it my way my whole life and it's gotten me here," one of the prisoners told him. "I want to try it God's way...we're going to come out of the water as new men."
One by one the men were baptized.
"These guys from two different gangs professed the same Lord and were baptized in the same water together and they walked out together, guards not holding onto their arms anymore because God had done something in their lives," Niles said.
But it was what he saw afterward that shocked him.
Each of the inmates, dripping with water and fully clothed, were trembling in fear.
"These guys literally know they're putting their life at risk and they're doing it anyway," the pastor said. "Never in my life have I felt like my decision to follow Christ has put me in danger or discomfort ... for these guys to come in and they were so humble and gentle ... to see them walking out trembling, that was mind-blowing to me.
"They may be afraid for their life, not knowing what will happen, but they did not regret the decision they had just made."
The remaining 14 prisoners in solitary confinement will be baptized in July and the church is also planning on taking several thousand Bibles into the prison.
Jesus admonished his followers to care for those in prison "as if you are chained with them" – this church is doing just that and their display of God's love is making an profound difference, not just to these lives but to the whole prison culture.
It has happened to these prisoners as God says promises in the Bible in Ezekiel 36, verse 26-29a. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. ... I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses."•