Samford’s Ministry Training Institute offers certificates to inmates

Samford’s Ministry Training Institute offers certificates to inmates

By Grace Thornton

Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

The chains may not have fallen off that night, but the scales sure did, Glen Sandifer said.

Sandifer, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Gordo, was teaching a Bible class at the Federal Correctional Institution in Aliceville when one woman in particular kept asking questions.

She stayed after class and he felt led to keep talking to her.

“Usually the women have a mandatory meeting at 3 p.m., just after the class. And a lot of times, they call them in for that meeting early. But that day the meeting was late and I feel like God must’ve postponed it,” he said. “Because during that conversation, something registered with her. She just broke out in tears. The scales fell off.”

And her heart saw truth, he said. She started following Christ soon after that and she was recently baptized.

It’s for women like her that Sandifer teaches classes at the prison through Samford University’s Ministry Training Institute (MTI), which offers ministerial certificates to inmates through the classes it offers behind bars.

Kevin Blackwell, MTI executive director, said, “What we do with MTI, we also extend into prisons in the state.” MTI also offers classes online and in locations around the state for ministers and laymen preparing for ministry. “We see what we do in the prisons as pure ministry. It’s an opportunity to engage folks with the gospel. They’re incarcerated but through Christ they find freedom.”

Through the help of volunteer teachers like Sandifer, MTI is in five of Alabama’s prisons — the women’s prison in Aliceville, Staton and Draper correctional facilities in Elmore, St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville and Hamilton Aged & Infirmed.

“The guys who teach these classes are mostly local pastors who have a heart for that type of ministry,” Blackwell said.

The class sizes run on average 30 to 40 students, he said, and the courses offered are subjects like Old and New Testament, spiritual disciplines, Christian counseling and the letters of Paul.

“A lot of [the students] sign up just to get out of their normal daily routine. But we have students in these institutions who are pretty serious Bible students,” Blackwell said. “Some of them have come to Christ since they have been in these prisons and have a hunger for discipleship. These classes give them an opportunity to deepen their walk with the Lord.”

In Aliceville, Sandifer has seen this happen in the lives of a number of women —specifically several who have come to faith in Christ during the classes.

“We’ve been going in there about three years now,” said Sandifer, who noted that the ministry partnership with MTI has been right in line with what Gary Farley, director of missions for Pickens Baptist Association, envisioned for the local prison.

“When the prison was first being built, he (Farley) had a vision for training the ladies to be missionaries wherever they go next, whether that be to another facility or home or a brand new place,” Sandifer said. “Somewhere along the way, we got hooked up with MTI.”

And the fruit of that partnership is already visible, he said.

Sending out missionaries 

A couple of years after one woman was released, she sent a letter to Sandifer to thank him — and then she told him what she was doing now.

“She took the certificates that she got from Samford to a little church in Oregon and said, ‘This is what I studied while I was in prison,’” Sandifer said. “And they asked her to teach Sunday School for them. That vision that Dr. Farley had about sending out missionaries is already happening.”

It’s been a great way to strengthen Samford’s partnership with local churches and associations, Blackwell said — and it’s been a great way to make an eternal impact together.

“We see it as front line evangelism to those who need it the most,” Blackwell said, “and we’re seeing God do a great work.”

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