Matthew Blagg has been to prisons all over the world: Rikers Island, the prison compound in New York City; the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola; and the San Juan Metroplex Prison in Puerto Rico, to name a few.
The contemporary Christian recording artist said he witnessed the Lord's life-changing power at each correctional facility — no matter its name or reputation.
“I tell people it's a front-row seat watching God at work,” Blagg said.
“It's a reminder that he shows up in unexpected places.”
He said the international evangelistic ministry that led him to different prisons is Bill Glass Champions for Life. These days, Blagg and other members of his church, North Pointe Baptist in northwest Oklahoma County, are preparing for the Oklahoma City Weekend of Champions, a state effort coordinated by the Bill Glass international prison ministry.
As part of the weekend, set for April 4-6, volunteers from churches throughout Oklahoma will visit prisons in the state to share the Gospel with inmates. Many churches such as North Pointe will send teams of volunteers to the targeted sites, while other church volunteers will help in other ways.
Blagg, 45, said he has been part of the Bill Glass ministry effort for 16 years.
He said he was drawn to it because it meets prisoners where they are. He said volunteers extend the Gospel in down-to-earth ways that touch the heart of even the most hardened offenders.
“A lot of times when churches go into prisons they tend to be ultra religious instead of being real about it,” Blagg said.
“When you read the Bible and do what Jesus said, it's not complicated.”
He said volunteers typically meet in the informal setting of the prison yard instead of the prison chapel area to make sure that their message is accessible to inmates who don't frequent the chapel.
Seeing lives changed
The Rev. Mark Sinor, senior pastor of North Pointe, said Blagg introduced him to the prison ministry five years ago.
Sinor said the congregation's involvement with Weekend of Champions events has energized church members and is a reason the church, located in the Deer Creek area, is growing. North Pointe is a Southern Baptist church that is meeting in Rose Union Elementary School while construction of its new building is under way at 5300 NW 220.
Sinor said he agrees with Blagg that the Bill Glass ministry events are effective outreach opportunities because volunteers and the National Football League athletes and entertainers that participate talk realistically with the inmates.
He said the events give church members an opportunity to get outside the four walls of the church to share the good news of Christ and see people open their hearts to Him. Sinor said between 40 and 60 volunteers from North Pointe will be part of the 2013 Weekend of Champions, and about 300 have participated over the last several years.
“One of the things that stood out was that we do church and sit in the playroom and talk about the X's and O's but we never actually play football, to use a football analogy,” Sinor said.
“When you walk out onto a yard or in a cell, God is moving. People see life changes. They see inmates weeping. They see the hurt. They see that what God told us (about evangelism) really works.”
Blagg and Sinor said they are encouraging other Oklahoma churches to get involved in the Weekend of Champions activities planned for April.
Sinor said through his involvement with the Bill Glass ministry, he has become one of the volunteer mentors for a group of inmates who are spiritual leaders at Joseph Harp Correctional Facility in Lexington.
“The whole yard is different because of the work those guys are doing,” he said.
He said some people may be afraid to reach out to inmates, but the prisons are mission fields that are waiting for Christians to become involved.
“I always say that a lot of these people are one bad decision removed from you and me,” he said.
“You get real joy getting out of your comfort zone. Like Peter getting out of the boat, it's that type of thing.”