OBU will begin offering undergraduate courses in-person in August at the Lexington Correctional Center as part of its new Prison Divinity Program. The university will offer a full Bachelor of Arts in Christian studies, taught inside the walls of the facility’s Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC).
Dr. Bruce Perkins, formerly the associate vice president for enrollment management at OBU, has been chosen to direct the program. He began working in that capacity effective June 1 of this year.
The hope for the program is that it will be a catalyst for ministry throughout the state, advancing OBU’s mission of life transformation and gospel proclamation while accomplishing moral rehabilitation in the lives of the inmates who study in the program. A cohort of 40 students will receive instruction in the same Christian liberal arts curriculum as those attending on Bison Hill.
The program is being funded through outside sources and donations independent of the university’s operating budget. Donors have come forward to provide funding but more support is needed since the program is self-supporting.
Perkins is excited about the positive geometric impact this program will have on so many lives.
“The Prison Divinity Program is an expression of the OBU mission in that it seeks to transform lives through the Christian liberal arts education. This transformation begins in the lives of the students and extends to the prison population where they reside, their families, the communities where the families reside and the prison culture throughout the Oklahoma prison system,” Perkins said.
Part of the program’s impact is that during their studies, students will intern with prison chaplains and help lead discipleship classes. As students receive this life-changing education and moral rehabilitation, they will impact many others throughout the state’s prison system and ultimately on the outside as well.
Perkins feels called to lead this ministry and now looks back to see how God was putting the pieces together for this all along.
“I truly believe God has been preparing me for this opportunity for decades. First, I am an Okie through and through. I love my home state and its people. When Dr. Thomas [OBU president] approached me about this opportunity, I was immediately excited and humbled that I can participate in building something from the ground up that will outlive me and make a significant impact on my state.
“Forty years ago, as a young pastor, I preached prison revivals. God grew my love for missions throughout years of ministry as a pastor and president of a Christian school as I led multiple mission teams to share the Gospel and encourage believers in difficult places. More recently, my burden for underserved populations regarding higher education access and success grew deeper during my service as the university's chief enrollment officer and throughout my doctoral studies.”
With all of these experiences working together in preparation for this role, Perkins said he is amazed at how the Lord wastes nothing in our experience and uses it all for His future plans in our lives, if we follow Him and allow Him to do so.
Dr. Heath Thomas, OBU president, began working on this program while serving as the dean of OBU’s Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry. The idea was hatched four years ago through conversations with state senators who were passionately seeking ways to impact prisoners’ lives. Visits were made to prisons in other states to observe how similar programs have been implemented to assess their impact and feasibility in Oklahoma.
“OBU exists to transform lives by equipping students,” Thomas said. “When I think about the prison population in Oklahoma, there is an opportunity for Gospel advancement. This provides moral rehabilitation while helping inmates understand the Gospel, what it is to live well before the Lord, and what it is to make a positive impact in a community. We are thrilled about this opportunity and we are very grateful for this partnership with the Department of Corrections.”
Thomas is excited for Perkins to lead the program’s formation and implementation, transforming lives through the power of OBU’s Christian liberal arts education.
"Dr. Bruce Perkins is the right leader for our Bachelor of Arts program at LARC,” Thomas said. “He has a pastoral heart, administrative background, a lifetime of experience and education, and a passion for impacting the lives of these students. I could not be more excited about the life-transforming education that OBU will provide for years to come through our Prison Divinity Program."
The initiative has evolved into a partnership between OBU, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, and Oklahoma Baptists (also known as the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma), along with the strong support of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.
The Lexington Correctional Center’s LARC facility has dedicated space for the effort, with a self-contained classroom, office, and library, as well as the resources necessary for the students to succeed. Perkins noted that the warden, chaplain and other administrators of the site have been praying for several years that their facility would be chosen to launch the program. When students complete the 128-hour program, they will graduate from OBU with a Bachelor of Arts in Christian studies.