Along the Road to Angola – by Dr. David Gieser, College Church Member
(Originally published in “CONNECTIONS” from the College Church)
The sobering reality of our destination begin to sink in as we headed down the desolate 20 mile road that led to only one place: Louisiana State Penitentiary. Located on 18,000 acres with guard dogs that are a mix of German Shepherd and wolf, the average sentence of the 6500 inmates is 88 years. Ninety percent of the men will die behind bars.
Mary and I had been invited by Manny and Barbara Mill to join them for several days of ministry. Manny is the executive director of Koinonia House National Ministries, and receives some of his support as an evangelist to prisoners from CollegeChurch.
In spite of the foreboding surroundings, as Manny and Barbara walked through the prison the inmates begin to smile, wave, clap and cheer. Their friends had returned.
Among the first men I met was Miguel. Using numerous aliases, he had been a notorious hit man for the Columbian drug cartel. Miguel spend his first 20 years in solitary confinement. Manny said when he first spoke with him years ago, Miguel looked at him with dark deadly eyes. By God’s grace he is now a different man.
Kyle’s arms were covered with tattoos, not as body art but as badges he earned as a gang member. Among the tattoos were teardrops along is lower eyelid, indicating how many men he had killed. He, too, had been led to the Lord through Manny, and greeted me as a beloved brother in Christ.
On death row an inmate was weeping. He had just been told that his mother had died, and given his circumstances would not be permitted to attend the funeral. Barbara Mill, who has long known this man, consoled him and then softly sang Billy Sprague’s “Shelter Me.”
A few cells away Mary and I spoke with the next man scheduled for execution. Decades ago he had tortured his eight-year old son to death with scalding water. He quietly assured me that he was no longer on “death” row but now on “life” row. Why? Because now he is alive in Christ.
Each evening, we would gather in the chapel for rousing, uplifting praise and worship. The chapel would rock! Barbara would then read from Scripture, share a word of testimony and sing a powerful song, a cappella. These were powerful moments.
Manny’s preaching was next. Striding back and forth across the platform, he proclaimed God’s Word, urging for the inmates to confess their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and friend. Manny preached hope. Although surrounded by steel bars, concrete and miles of razor wire, Jesus would be with them to the end, and waiting to welcome them to their eternal home. Each evening inmates would come forward and kneel, confessing sins, seeking forgiveness, trusting in the Lord Jesus.
By the time you read this, Manny, often accompanied by Barbara, will have been to several other prisons around the country, greeting old friends, meeting other inmates for the first time and as always, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited, me I was in prison and you came to me.”
Matthew 25: 34, 36