by Eiren Oh
“And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit You? …Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least of these My brethren, you did it for Me.” —Matthew 25:39-40 (AMP)
“Look no further,” answered Lakeland Church member Robert Wilson when he learned that inmates at Polk Correctional Institute in Polk City asked Sergeant Duffy Le Boeuf to find an Adventist to preach to them. After 11 months of filing paperwork, waiting, and praying, his application was accepted in October 2005.
As the massive doors locked behind him, Volunteer Wilson was shown to a room where his congregation of four awaited him—three inmates and Sergeant Duffy. Instead of being discouraged, he pressed on and saw the attendance increase each week. Seven years later, an average of 36 men attend the Sabbath services every week. Along the way, his wife, Blandina, and other members volunteered until there are now ten individuals helping with the program. So far, God has blessed this ministry with 69 baptisms.
In June 2006, Wilson was granted the opportunity to become an official volunteer chaplain. At first, he was spending 13 hours on Fridays working one on one with the men and doing crisis calls. Now, he has six hours a week to hold an open Bible study every Sunday afternoon, anger resolution classes every Wednesday evening, and an increasing number of invitations to preach on Sabbath.
Wilson also began ministering in the Cross City prison once a month. He started out just sitting in a circle with the men, talking about his personal experiences, sharing the love of Christ, and encouraging them to share as well. As a result, nine men came forward to accept Christ and were baptized. Economic reasons now keep him from going to Cross City. He is hoping to return, because he feels responsible for the nine men he left behind.
Overall, the men in both prisons truly appreciate the commitment and sincere interest Wilson and the other volunteers show as they invest time, energy, and prayers. The men also enjoy receiving Bibles and literature donated by friends of the ministry. They have many questions about biblical beliefs and appreciate the answers.
One of the Lakeland Church members prayed with Wilson and his team one Sabbath as they were leaving for the prison. He asked God to give Wilson at least one soul that night. A man who had been attending the meetings for six months came forward to accept Christ. He was baptized three weeks later, and he is a faithful member of the prison congregation as a result of one person’s prayer.
Two men stand out in Wilson’s mind from all the people to whom he has ministered:
One man from Polk Correctional Institute needed to understand forgiveness and ask people he had hurt to forgive him. Wilson helped him write to these individuals, and one of them actually accepted his apology and forgave him.
Then, there’s Cheston, an inmate at Cross City prison. God used Wilson to help him understand that God takes us where we are and changes us. Over the course of six sessions held once a month, Wilson helped him to seek forgiveness by writing to the people he had hurt. By the sixth session, he asked if he could be baptized. In the baptismal waters, Cheston shared his testimony before his fellow inmates and asked God to forgive him as he named the ones he had hurt.
Above all, Wilson wants to follow God’s leading in going to facilities and spreading His love. He still keeps in contact with men after they are released or transferred to another facility by writing to them and sending whatever literature he can to encourage them in their walk with God. He says he wants to make good use of the opportunities he has to reach these men as long as he can.