With a heart for the oppressed, Dr. Ted Lindwall has treasured the words of Jesus in Matt. 25 with complete sincerity, allowing them to drive his current ministry - meeting with prison inmates across Texas to plant what are known as ‘Philippi Churches.’
Philippi Churches are gatherings of prisoners who pray, worship and testify to the love and power of God, just as Paul and Silas did during their time of imprisonment. While Philippi churches are often smaller than traditional churches, they are much more active. They meet every day, praying, singing and studying the Bible together. They should be the greatest influence within the unit for helping prisoners with their problems, encouraging obedience and resolving conflicts among fellow inmates.
Lindwall served as a missionary with the International Mission Board in Guatemala for 45 years. While there, he developed a series of Bible study materials, crafted for individuals that had no previous knowledge of Scripture. Lindwall explained that the materials are both interactive and simple. You sit down with a person or group, read a Bible story and are guided through a series of questions to understand the story.
In 2005, when Lindwall finished his time on mission in Guatemala and moved to Texas, he discovered that these materials could be repurposed for an entirely different ministry within the walls of prisons.
The first prison Lindwall ever visited was Collin County Jail in 2008 where he inquired about working with the Hispanic men, which make up approximately 35 percent of that prison. There, the ministry was born.
During one of his first meetings with the men at Collin County Jail, Lindwall re- called, “The Lord gave me a strange word. There was a group of about 20 Hispanic men, and I told them, ‘I’ve come to train you to be missionaries.’ Well, they didn’t bat an eye.’” Then he began to train the men by showing them how to utilize the materials he developed overseas, making sure to explain three foundational beliefs - “Jesus Christ is Lord, the Bible is the Word of God and God answers prayer.”
Lindwall continued, “The men immediately took those material back to the dormitories and began to teach them all over the jail. It was a wonderful response. In the process, they became Christians and people they taught became Christians. We’ve had a continuous revival in the jail ever since.”
After Lindwall and a few other volunteers made their way into about 15 prisons, he approached Mario Gonzalez, director of Texas Baptists’ Multi-Housing/House Congregations, for help as the ministry was growing beyond their capacity. Texas Baptists officially began a partnership with the ministry in 2014.
"There lies an immense, yet often forgotten, potential to reach the lost inside our own prisons,” said David Miranda, Philippi Church liaison. “The focus of Philippi Ministries is to equip those in the prison system to share their faith, disciple and even start churches. Through our letters and correspondence with the prisoners, we have seen their hunger for the Word of God and a passion for propagating the Gospel.”
Since the partnership began, the work has continued to grow tremendously. The Philippi Churches are present in over 50 prisons across the state. However, with only six outside volunteers helping within the prisons, there is a tremendous lack of personnel. For the vision of having a Philippi Church in every Texas prison to come to fruition, much more help is needed. One solution is partnering with other existing prison ministries.
“Unlike most organizations, we can come alongside people already working in prisons,” said Lindwall. “They can continue their current ministry and be our contact person for us to provide the Bible study materials to the prison.”
He continued, “When this happens, the workers’ ministry is enriched because it’s not just what they’re doing in their hour or hour and a half with the prisoners, but with our materials, the prisoners are able to grow and minister to one another. It really is a fulfillment of their call, whatever their call may be.”
Another solution is churches and individuals coming alongside these prisoners, sponsoring their Philippi Church. These sponsorships provide a Philippi Church with a study Bible, a Bible dictionary and a year’s worth of individual discipleship materials in the inmate’s preferred language. Along with that, churches are encouraged to begin a prayer ministry or a pen pal ministry with the inmates.
“With these ministries, prisoners know that they have a friend that they can write to,” said Lindwall. “And just as we pray for prisoners, we can turn it around and send our own prayer needs to the prisoners, and they’ll pray for us too.”
Lindwall currently works in two jails. Inmates often tell him that over the course of a year, they read the entire Bible three or four times. “You see these people just growing tremendously. I tell everybody that prison is a spiritual paradise. These inmates have lost everything, but they do have time.”
In fact, prisoners from Fannin County Jail have told Lindwall that had they not come to prison, they would have never known God. “It’s a powerful ministry, and a joy to be in,” he said.
“And it’s interesting - the only people I’ve ever seen go to volunteer in the prisons are Christians. The rest of the world just kind of blows them off. While the world has little use for prisoners, Jesus has made a very big issue of it as he said, ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
For more information on how you or your church can partner with a Philippi Church, visit texasbaptists.org/philippi.