N.C. Field Minister Program Begins 2nd Year at Nash Correctional Institution

Inmates in brown uniforms sitting in rows in auditorium
Wednesday, September 5, 2018 - 4:44pm

On Wednesday, 52 offenders from North Carolina state prisons began the second year of the N.C. Field Minister Program, a four-year classroom journey at Nash Correctional Institution they hope ends not only with a college degree but with an opportunity to assist their fellow inmates.

The College of Southeastern program kicked off with a convocation ceremony in the prison’s gymnasium. NCDPS Interim Chief Deputy Secretary Reuben Young was among the keynote speakers, along with Joe Gibbs, whose Game Plan For Life ministry funds the program, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin.

Judge Young recognized the correctional officers and staff at Nash CI for the hard work they’ve put in not just with this program but in their daily duties.

“This ministry makes no judgements, has no boundaries and is available to all who seek and accept it,” said Judge Young, himself a son of a minister. “I did learn one important lesson (growing up), and that lesson has served as the guidepost for my life: ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ All of us have a journey that we have all traveled. I do believe that in all of us are one circumstance and one decision away from being somewhere else doing something else.” 

The program is a partnership between the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary of Wake Forest and Game Plan For Life. The program is a privately-funded, four-year, college-level educational program that allows inmates to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in pastoral ministry, with a secondary emphasis in counseling and psychology, from SEBTS’ undergraduate college, The College at Southeastern. 

Although these classes are offered at Nash CI, this degree is the same program offered by SEBTS on its campus and is fully accredited. The classes are taught by SEBTS instructors, who teach the courses on-site.

Akin preached from the book of Hebrews 12, verses 1-3, where he spoke about “Run Hard After God.” He said the studies the students are partaking in are not a sprint but a long-distance race.

“You not only need to start well but endure and finish well,” said Akin, who provided three key messages from the verses. “You have to find encouragement as you run. You need to have essentials as you run the race … and follow examples as you run. Keep your eyes upward toward Jesus. Never lose sight of the truth.”

The purpose of the field minister program is two-fold: 

  • Provide a four-year, college-level educational program to offenders housed at Nash CI; and 
  • Prepare program graduates to become “field ministers” and provide “pastoral care and counseling” to inmates at other NCDPS facilities.

The “students” were selected from offenders from around the state with long-term sentences (at least 15 years remaining on their sentences) currently housed in medium custody, with no major infractions in the past 12 months. They were moved to Nash CI after they were vetted by NCDPS, and the application process was essentially identical to that used by SEBTS in its regular application process. As many as 30 offenders will be selected each year to participate.

Last year, 30 inmates started the program and only two dropped out. This year’s “freshman” class will have 24 students.

Gibbs, the former Washington Redskins’ head coach, told the men he admired them for their willingness to take on the hard task of not only college studies but putting their faith in God.

“We serve an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God,” Gibbs said. “We serve a God of second chances. Your ministry will impact others when you leave here and everyone you touch now.” 

For more information about the N.C. Field Minister Program, visit the program’s website.

Photos of the event can be viewed on Flickr.

Jerry Higgins