Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has reflected on his recent visit to Angola Prison in Louisiana and shared how one Death Row inmate sang “Amazing Grace” before gifting the pastor a handmade cross.
Recently, Zacharias and several others visited one of the largest penitentiaries in the country to share the Gospel with prisoners, many of whom are violent offenders. The prison houses roughly five thousand inmates, more than half of which are serving life sentences.
On Instagram, Zacharias wrote about his life-changing experience inside the maximum-security prison.
In the first post, he wrote, "It is powerfully moving to see what God is doing behind these prison bars. Incredible stories unfold here.”
In a second Instagram post, Zacharias wrote about visiting the men on the prison's Death Row and one particularly heartbreaking encounter with an inmate.
"What a day at Angola Prison!" he wrote. "What memories. I will say more later. For now, I just want to share that walking through Death Row is one of the most sobering things I have ever done. Praying with those there makes it impossible to block the tears."
"Suddenly from one of the cells burst out the ringing voice of one singing Amazing Grace," he continued. "I walked over to his cell as he sang. Then he handed me this cross that he had made."
"Even in a dark place, the Gospel is shining with grace and power," Zacharias noted. "That is the only hope for the world because we are all prisoners of sin, and only the cross has the answer and the freedom. Thank you for praying for us. God used our team with His anointing and power."
In his final post, the evangelist shared a photo of two paintings hanging on the wall of the room adjacent to Angola Prison’s execution room, where the sentenced man has his last meal.
“A prisoner has painted two paintings that grace the wall there,” he captioned the photo. “One is Daniel in the Lion's Den, meaning, ‘God might still rescue you.’ Next to that is another one: Elijah going up on chariots of fire.”
“One way or the other, God will be there for you,” he concluded.
Abdu Murray, North American director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), also visited Angola along with Zacharias and recounted the experience on Twitter.
“The power has gone out as we’re preaching and teaching here at Angola Prison in Louisiana,” he wrote. “In the dark and no air conditioning. Spiritual opposition continues but so does the Gospel!”
According to Pew Research, at the end of 2016, there were about 2.2 million people behind bars in the U.S., including 1.5 million under the jurisdiction of federal and state prisons and roughly 741,000 in the custody of locally run jails. That amounts to a nationwide incarceration rate of 860 prison or jail inmates for every 100,000 adults ages 18 and older.
In February, Gateway Church, pastored by Robert Morris, opened a campus at Coffield maximum-security prison in Dallas, Texas. Since the campus opened, hundreds of inmates have given their lives to Christ.
Recently, Niles Holsinger, Gateway Coffield Prison campus pastor, revealed that five rival gang members risked their lives to get baptized together.
“Five men were escorted into the gymnasium, each one shackled hand and foot and around the waist, and escorted by a guard that would not remove their hands from their arm until they were placed, picked up and put shackled in the water baptism tank,” Holsinger said.
“These men are all active gang members. And not only were they making a decision to be baptized and to commit their lives to Christ, they knew that this decision meant, to some of them, certain death. They walked out past men who, when they were walking back, soaking wet, dripping with water because the decision, were going to mark them for death.”
Five of the men baptized came from rival gangs, Holsinger said. “When they came in the gym, the guards had to separate them on both sides so they couldn't get close to each other just in case violence would break out.”
Yet those five men from two different gangs “professed the same Lord and were baptized in the same water and they walked out together in a line, guards not holding onto their arms anymore because God had done something in their life.”