In prisons throughout the state of Texas, thousands of inmates are waiting for someone to bring them a message of hope. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate program in Darrington Unit is equipping men to do just that. 

On May 13, 34 graduates from the Darrington program in Rosharon, Texas, were commissioned as field ministers to prisons across the state, that they might shine the light of the Gospel on their fellow prisoners. These 34 graduates constitute the fifth class to be so deployed, having spent the previous four years earning 125-hour Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies degrees, studying under Southwestern Seminary faculty. The May 13 commencement ceremony was therefore both a commissioning for service as well as a celebration of the graduates’ academic achievement.  

“Let me begin by saying, ‘Well done,’” said Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Seminary, during his charge to the graduates. 

“As you go, you go to do for others what has been done for you,” Greenway continued. “You go to bring hope to those who have had no hope. You go to bring light to those who have lived lives in darkness. You go to bring truth to those who have believed and embraced lies and falsehoods. 

“You go to do for others what has been done for you; to help people experience the truth that can set them free, because the one who has the Son is free indeed.”

Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), told the graduates that they have a unique qualification for such work that he and his colleagues lack. “You have credibility with your peers in this system, and that’s what matters,” he said. “You’ve walked in their shoes, you’ve been where they are, you know that path, and you’ve seen a different path, and you’ve applied that path, and you’ve applied your education.”

“As you walk the path,” Collier continued, “I want you to hear this from me directly: I absolutely, fully support your mission. TDCJ, we fully support what you’re doing. Our wardens fully support what you’re doing. We’re on the same team. We’re excited about the changes that your work is going to bring.”

Grove Norwood, founder and CEO of the Heart of Texas Foundation, was among the original visionaries for the Darrington program, which began in 2011 and saw its first graduating class in 2015. During the commencement ceremony, he clarified his vision, “This is not just about putting a seminary in a prison. … We equip the men to go. And through the graciousness of the board and TDCJ, these men are allowed to actually go as field ministers and take this equipment to be able to preach and counsel and evangelize and just let someone cry on their shoulders.”

Noting the monumental transformation of culture in the prisons to which previous graduates have been deployed, as well as that which has occurred in Darrington Unit itself, Mano DeAyala, a member of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, said, “With TDCJ, our main objective is that of public safety. I can’t think of any act or commitment that’s more conducive to public safety than to give your lives to Jesus Christ, and then take the next step to bringing others to give their lives to Jesus Christ. With that, we have that bonus, not just in public safety, not saving the lives just here on earth, but the lives eternal. And that is so special.”

Dan Patrick, lieutenant governor of Texas, summed up all the speakers’ sentiments in a video message to the graduates: “Now, after five graduation classes, we have 162 inmates who are going out to other prisons to change lives of other inmates. What a powerful victory for the Lord, and what a great accomplishment for you. … We are proud of what you have accomplished. You will be doing the Lord’s work, and you will be changing lives forever.”

Concluding his charge to the graduates, Greenway encouraged them from Philippians 4:8-9, “As you go, remember to think right thoughts so that you will do right things, so that you will have a right life, so that you can be that sure and faithful guide in pointing others to the right way—which, of course, points us to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life: Jesus the Christ.

“May you go thinking these things, going forth to make an impact as you serve, that you may make a difference that matters not just for here, but for eternity.”