No matter where you come from or who you are, nobody aspires to go to prison. So when I tell you that going to prison was one of the best results of my decision to come to CIU, you may be a little shocked at first.
I’ve been in and out of Kirkland Correctional Institution (a maximum security prison across the river from CIU’s main campus) for 4 years now. What crime have I committed? Simply a desire to see the South Carolina Department of Corrections be flooded with the love and truth of the Gospel of Christ.
The CIU Prison Initiative is a program that teaches inmates the same college classes that the students on the main campus of CIU are learning. The goal? For CIU to train inmates as missionaries to make disciples and teach the Bible within the prison system. Each cohort consists of 15 inmates from different prisons across the state who come to Kirkland to earn a two year Associate of Arts degree in Bible, then to be sent out to do ministry in different prisons across the state. Some of these men have been out of school for 30 years, or have never even used a computer! In order to help these men get adjusted to the educational atmosphere, some CIU students from the main campus go into the prison for a few hours a week.
That’s where I came in. I was excited to reach out to these brothers in Christ behind bars and to help them in their training to go out to minister to fellow inmates. I had never been to a prison before (much less a maximum security prison), so this was a totally new experience for me. But I got hooked immediately. No, it’s not the thrill of barbed wire fences and giant doors locking behind me that draws me back. I’m not an excitement junkie. The reason I’ve continued going to Kirkland year after year is the amazing friendships I’ve formed with these believers who constantly point me back to Jesus and His Word. These men have blessed me far more than I could have blessed them. Yes, it’s rewarding to contribute to a chance for another to study the Bible and live it out like we do here at CIU’s main campus, but it is far more delightful to spend time with brothers in Christ who are authentic, caring, and passionate. These words by Paul in Philippians 1:3-5 describe my relationship to these men:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,”