Your Voice: No secrets in prison — Observations from baptism Sunday

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Women prepare for baptism at Mississippi Correctional Institute for Women on Sunday, April 7.
(Photo courtesy of the Baptist Record)

Your Voice: No secrets in prison — Observations from baptism Sunday

From the back of the sanctuary, a line of women stood with towels in hand, gazing toward the water where sunlight gleamed off the baptismal.

These women, ranging from 22 to nearly 80 years old, were waiting for baptism at the Mississippi Correctional Institute for Women. They had been attending church, hearing God’s Word and learning how to follow Jesus amidst incarceration. Although these ladies come from varied backgrounds, they currently share a common address. This address is not their desired one, but it is a place where God is at work and where a community is being transformed.

As each woman stepped to the front of the baptism line, someone who had been a part of her discipleship journey read her “life change story with Jesus.” Phrases like “God has turned my mess into a message” and “I’m listening Lord, I’m finally listening” echoed throughout the sanctuary. Many of these women had endured lives marked by rape, abuse, drug addiction and more.

Beth Masters. (Photo courtesy of the Baptist Record)

New creation

Yet, in these moments, they spoke new words over their lives about the power of Jesus to make them a new creation.

One of the women shared, “I even worshiped Satan for a while because of my messed-up view of God. But now I see God and His love for me.”

This transformation was not just amazing for her but for the others as well.

On this particular Sunday, 49 women entered the waters of baptism as four faith-families cheered them on. During one service, the inmate choir sang “take me to the waters to be baptized.” As the song rang out, tears welled up in the eyes of many in the congregation.

Each life change story that was read mentioned circumstances that many in the congregation related to at that moment.

The bitter days these women had survived allowed them to see the stark contrast in the sweetness found by following the Lord.

The week before baptism was Easter, where the worship service attendance was high, but on this Sunday, the number of women in attendance was even greater.

They came to see their friends and chosen family publicly declare a life change of following Jesus.

The difference with making a public statement of baptism in prison, as opposed to the free world, is that there are no secrets in prison.

Overall, the residents of the prison live in open bay quarters and sleep on bunk beds with a lockbox built into the foot for storage. They go to the dining hall together, attend school together and spend time in the yard together. This level of togetherness means that if someone declares they are changed in front of their faith-family and yet their life does not match that declaration, the accountability is beyond anything a person in the free-world could understand.

In reality, the word “accountability” is not popular, especially in prison.

The reality

The idea of someone asking hard questions instead of turning a blind eye is difficult for their culture. Honestly, it is challenging in any situation. However, people outside of prison can have secrets, but remember, there are no secrets in prison.This reality makes baptism Sunday there even more special.

Another notable event is the seminary program from Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently, 22 students are enrolled, with an additional 25 set to begin in August 2024.

These women work diligently each week to lead Bible studies, care for women throughout the facility, and create environments for spiritual and emotional growth.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Beth Masters is chaplain & seminary director for Mississippi Correctional Institute for Women. This story was originally published by The Baptist Record.

Letters to the editor

EDITOR’S NOTE — The Baptist Paper ran an article by George Bullard titled “What is the association’s role when a pastor leaves?” in the April 25 edition. The following letter to the editor is in response to that article.

Even if the [associational mission strategist] has preached numerous times in the church and has a good relationship with the church, his responsibility is to stay back, unless he is a member of that church, or if he is asked BY THE BODY (not a committee or a person) to provide assistance. An unauthorized offer of assistance violates the autonomy of that church. Even if the association has put it in his duties to assist churches, they cannot authorize him to intervene in a local church issue. That church is supposed to be self-governing.

If the church votes on a motion FROM WITHIN THE BODY, to ASK the [AMS] to help them, then, and only then, should he “step up” to offer assistance.

Phillip Senn
Troy, Tennessee

Watch out for these red flags at your church

By Rick Harrington
Baptist Churches of New England

Not all churches are equal, and not all ministries are the same. While some are healthy and vibrant, others are spiritually harmful. Here are some red flags to identify a church that is heading in the wrong direction.

Red Flag No. 1: It’s all about that one church

If the people of a church start to talk as if they are the only true church and every other congregation, denomination and style of worship is unbiblical, that is a red flag. Local churches should be Kingdom-minded. When a church prays for other churches in the area, praises local pastors and encourages people to work with Christians of varying denominations for outreach, that is a sign of health.

Red Flag No. 2: The pastor acts as if he is infallible

If the pastor thinks he alone has the insight to teach the Word and make decisions for the church, that is a red flag. If he discourages people from listening to sermons from anyone else, visiting neighboring churches, or reading Christian books, be wary.

Need for humility

If he lacks humility and never admits to mistakes, take caution.

It is healthy for a pastor to encourage people to read classic devotional books, listen to edifying podcasts and attend Christian conferences.

Red Flag No. 3: No one talks about their sin

If the members are overly critical of sinners, and don’t see themselves among them, that is a red flag. Endless tirades against the sexual promiscuity, moral decay and spiritual depravity of our culture — with no recognition of their own sinful hearts — misses the point of the gospel.

Red Flag No. 4: Secrecy is expected of members

If most meetings are closed meetings, and lots of cliquey conversations happen in corners of the church facility, that is a red flag.

A church that has nothing to hide is a healthy church. Churches will make mistakes, even grave ones at times.

Need for confession

Leaders who confess openly the church’s failures and give opportunity for people to ask questions are healthy leaders.

Red Flag No. 5: The church has a bad reputation

If the people in the community — including other local churches— have nothing good to say about the congregation, that is a red flag. Of course it is true that some in the community may misrepresent the church, but if this is a consistent refrain especially from long-term local leaders, something is likely off. The good news is people have short memories. If a church starts to become biblically faithful, welcoming people and serving the community, in short time the community’s opinion will change.

Red Flag No. 6: Nobody prays or evangelizes

If a church seldom opens meetings in prayer, hardly ever talks about unbelieving family and friends they are trying to reach, and never asks others to hold them up in supplication, that is a red flag. Is anyone getting baptized? Are there any kids running up and down the halls? Are there any teenagers sitting in the pews?

There may be seasons when a church doesn’t see a single conversion and the children’s ministry is empty. That said, if this is the norm, people should be praying their hearts out for it to change.

If you see some of these red flags at your church, the answer is not necessarily to abandon ship. Start by praying. Then follow that up by leading by example. God has a way of making dead and dying things alive again.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was originally published by Baptist Churches of New England.

“Getting a good night’s sleep consistently is crucial. Take your day off and vacation time. I am never impressed by pastors who tell me they work 24/7 or never take a vacation. Working all the time is a weakness, not a strength. God created us to live in a pattern of work and rest,” said Stephen Rummage, senior pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

“Unfortunately, changes in one’s health and abilities can lead a person into depression and an unwillingness or inability to cope with life and its many decisions,” said Willie Brunetti, who has a long history of being a family caregiver and leads seminars on the topic. “As a caregiver, it is important for you to help your loved one deal with the stress and help them maintain a certain dignity in their lives. Just as you needed your parents in childhood, your parents need you when they grow old.” Brunetti is a member of First Baptist Church Meridianville, Alabama.

“When my siblings and I started the Annie Moses Band, we began to explore stylistically and express the mission the Lord placed on our family,” said Annie Wolaver Dupre, lead vocalist and violinist for the Annie Moses Band. “It doesn’t matter where we play, the message remains the same and our calling remains to declare the truth and shine the light in the midst of darkness and lies of this world.”

“He provides what I need and it’s on His timetable, not mine. I get caught up and wound up. I have only so many hours in the day, and so I’m learning to rest in the process,” said Janie Robbins, who is the owner, creator and interior designer for Walls that Breathe: Scripture Designs 4 You. “But when I mean ‘rest,’ it’s not just physical rest. Though that’s an element of it, it’s really resting in God’s sovereignty, resting in the fact that He’s got this, and so I don’t have to wring my hands about ‘when is this going to get done and why is it taking so long?’”

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