On Monday, December 14,  six members of the Gateway Men’s ministry staff from Southlake, North Richland Hills, North Fort Worth, and the central team made the short drive to the Dallas County Jail to partner with Texas Hope Literacy, a ministry lead by Southlake Campus members Perry and Mia Green that provides inmate reintegration programs in both jails and prisons. After being processed and emptying everything out of their pockets they entered a “pod”—an enclosed unit housing sixty-five men ranging in age from their twenties to late fifties. Some of the men will reside there for up to a year as they wait for their permanent placement in a Texas prison. The pod is a place of little privacy, consisting of only bunk beds on one side and open showers and restrooms on the other, where everything you do is out in the open for everyone to see. Could it possibly be a place where men would be as transparent with their heart as they are transparent with every other aspect of their lives?

Phillip Hunter, the Gateway Men’s pastor from the Southlake Campus, started things by sharing The Promise Principle. The Promise Principle is the key discipleship tool used by Gateway Men across all campuses. This tool helps men to not be ruled by their circumstances: family, work, health, or even temptation (as it’s in our nature to be ruled by these things). Phillip explained that when we receive Christ, God’s plan is for us to no longer participate in this old nature, but in His divine nature. He also shared why we should believe the bible and that its contents are true. Second Peter 1:3–4 tells us that we can accomplish this by learning to respond to His promises.

Immediately following his teaching, the team split the men into six groups with a staff member at each table for a live run-through of The Promise Principle format. 

“As I spoke about why they should believe the Bible, you could hear a pin drop,” Pastor Phillip recalls.  “I felt the Holy Spirit fall on the room. A room filled with men incarcerated for a variety or reasons—many much larger than myself—but when I spoke, they all had their attention on what was being said. Distractions that might have taken place in the beginning no longer were. Their time spent in there is not wasted time, but a time that God is willing to use. A time to transform them regardless of their crimes or how long they must be incarcerated—they all have a future and a destiny. God is not through with them.”

“It felt like walking into a desert with an endless supply of water,” said Gateway Men’s ministry coordinator Jason Settle. “They are so thirsty and hungry and we come in there with a supply that won’t run out. They were hanging on every word; they were so engaged.  I’m grateful for the experience. One thing I felt from being there is what it’s like to look at an adult who has a child-like faith. Here, we are all grown up, doing our jobs day after day in a routine. These men have nothing else to look forward to, but that they can have a desperation for what God has for them. I believe we need to have a perspective about people that’s broader than the sphere of influence we are living in. We need to stretch ourselves to look beyond our comfort zone and be okay with being uncomfortable.”

Pastor Phillip reflected on the experience. “It’s a reminder that no matter how far away a person might think they have fallen, no matter what bondage or prison (real life or imagined) God’s word is a light in the darkness. It’s amazing how the presence of God can fill a prison pod so much that you don’t feel like you’re in a prison any more, but that you are just with a bunch of broken men who need Jesus. I felt no fear—a hopeless room was filled with peace. One of the rules inside the jail is that there is no physical contact—no handshakes, nothing is allowed. The way a prisoner shows gratitude is by looking you in the eye and patting his chest. That got to me. To have a man behind a glass wall stop and get your attention, look you in the eye and see that they received something from the time that we were allowed to be there you don’t forget that. It makes you thankful for the daily contact that we can have from our family to those we work with. It’s something you don’t want to take for granted.”

This is just the first of a new commitment between Gateway Men and Texas Hope Literacy as we provide bimonthly meetings with inmates in Texas prisons as we strive to see all men seek God first