Jesus' description of His earthly ministry included a call to "proclaim release to the captives" (Luke 4:18). Later on, He identified His followers as those who share His love with prisoners (Matt. 25:36). So, for more than two decades, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College have been the hands and feet of Jesus for men and women living in prison.
Currently, NOBTS offers theological education to the residents of six institutions in four states. Since this work started, hundreds of inmates have earned degrees and certificates. Many of them have been released to share the message of Jesus outside the walls of correctional facilities. Others have been transferred to different prisons and have become missionaries on these new mission fields.
One graduate, Paul Will, felt God’s call to begin what is believed to be the first fully-constituted Southern Baptist congregation inside a prison. Paul, who was serving a life sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, first caught the vision for this prison church in 2006. Over the next several years, he helped lead the congregation through the necessary steps until Grace Baptist Church was officially accepted as a member of Louisiana’s Washington Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention in 2015.
I wrote to the Washington Baptist Association, and they sent out a credentials committee. The next thing was writing up the church constitution and all of our bylaws. It was just an amazing experience. And to this day, Grace is there and has its third duly ordained pastor.
Despite a life marked by hopelessness, drug addiction, and suicidal thoughts, Paul found Jesus in the days following his arrest for aggravated kidnapping. While in a Philadelphia jail, he met “a little minister by the name of William Rivera.” That encounter led to a spiritual transformation in Paul’s life. For the first time, he understood Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Savior. As a young man whose biological father had died before he was born, he also embraced a spiritual Father who would change the trajectory of his life forever.
Eventually, Paul was extradited to New Orleans, where the kidnapping he was prosecuted for had taken place. During his time in the parish jail, he first experienced God’s call to become a pastor and teacher. He admits the call was difficult to process since he knew he was on his way to Angola. But in faith, he began the process of seeking out resources for theological education. That’s where his life intersected with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College.
I realized I didn’t know Scripture. I knew I would have to study the rest of my life just to scratch the surface. So, I started looking for places to learn correspondently even while I was in the parish jail. Nothing unfolded with that. But by the time I got to Angola on February 25, 2002, I was completely aware that there was a seminary at Angola. I’ve experienced this unbelievable sequence of “never should have happened” things in my life where Jesus has specialized in triumphing over those things.
Paul earned multiple degrees and even worked for the seminary during his time in Angola, a prison that was once considered one of the most violent in America. He also helped establish Grace Baptist before he was released in December of 2020. He now serves on the staff of an organization dedicated to introducing and integrating the model of theological education in correctional facilities across the country.
While Paul’s experience is not the “traditional” seminary story, he recognizes the power of theological education to change lives and transform cultures in every context, including behind prison walls. He also understands how the financial support of fellow alumni and friends just like you makes a difference for incarcerated men and women. He has seen what those gifts can do firsthand, and he believes the investments have eternal benefits.
Everything NOBTS has ever done regarding its investment and deciding to plant a seminary in Angola is one of the most extraordinary things ever! Over the next 50 years or so, it will be looked at as one of the most important acts ever to take place in the American corrections system. Anyone willing to invest in what NOBTS has done in that regard, I would encourage them. Without that support, we’re just turning our citizens, although they may have committed crimes, over to a system of the world that is only going to fortify their fallen moral positions. But if a dollar can change a man by empowering an institution like NOBTS to continually support these efforts, it’s a dollar that has eternal worth.
Your regular gifts to the Providence Fund allow us to continue and even expand God’s work in places like Angola and other correctional facilities. Every dollar you invest helps NOBTS and Leavell College fulfill its calling to prepare servants to walk with Christ, proclaim His truth, and fulfill His mission. When you give through NOBTS you act in proclaiming genuine freedom to captives, both spiritually and physically.
Thank you in advance for your prayers and for your generous support of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College. We know you have choices when it comes to your stewardship, and we appreciate your willingness to partner with us.
May God richly bless you as you give, as you pray, and as you serve Him each day.
P.S. Wondering how to join with NOBTS & Leavell College in this transformational work? Your financial gift of support means men and women like Paul can find a new life in Christ. Please make a gift to the Providence Fund today! Click the “donate” button at the top of this webpage. Thank you for giving!