Freedom Amid Confinement
by Samara Smyer11/28/2022 10:00:00 AM
One Sunday morning, Chaplain Bob Durham was preaching at his church in New York. After the service he was approached by one of his congregants. “Bob, the way you preach, you belong in jail,” he said.
An AG-endorsed chaplain with U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries, Bob has served prison inmates as Global University’s National Director of Prison Ministries for over 16 years; however, it has not been an easy journey. While he accepted Christ at a young age, Bob got involved in illegal activity as a teenager, greatly due to his father’s violent alcohol addiction. “During that period, I backslid terribly,” he remembers. “One night, while hiding from the law, God told me, ‘This is the last time I’m going to knock on your door.’” That night, he recommitted his life to the Lord, and shortly after joined the air force.
Over 14 years later, Bob was pastoring a congregation when Dr. Richard Tanon, an Assemblies of God prison chaplain, began attending his church. Dr. Tanon tried to convince Bob to preach at his prison. In February 1978, he did. “I fell in love with the inmates that day,” Bob says, “I would rather be preaching in prison than anywhere.”
Following 21 years as chaplain for the New York State Department of Corrections, Bob became a U.S. missionary with Chaplaincy. In 2006, he joined Global University as the National Director of Prison Ministries.
Prison Ministries begins their discipleship process by reaching out to inmates who have shown interest in learning about God or have questions regarding Christianity. They then provide willing inmates with their School of Evangelism and Discipleship (SED) courses. These courses take students through the essentials of Christianity: salvation, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and more. Working through the 37 SED courses takes the average inmate three to five years. The goal is that these courses, as well as the pastoral relationships that inmates form with prison chaplains, provide graduating students with the foundation they need for a solid Christian faith. During Bob’s time at Global University, he has seen nearly 26,000 students complete at least one SED course, and over 11,000 documented salvations.
Bob remembers the story of Robert Lindenberg, who continued his education through Global University’s Berean School of the Bible and received pastoral mentorship after being released from prison. He now pastors a church plant in New York and ministers as a local police and emergency services chaplain.
Over the past decade, Bob has worked to completely reformat how prison ministries is run; from developing letters to answer any biblical questions prisoners have, bettering the SED course grading process, and more. He has also begun a program to connect students to churches in their hometowns, in hopes of that they will attend and join their congregation after they are released from jail.
Bob notes that the relationship between chaplains and students is vital to the success of prison ministries. Over the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected chaplains’ ability to visit and communicate with their students. While many prisons provide livestreamed chapel services, Bob says it is not the same. “I used to have total access to visit inmates. To me, not visiting students is completely unthinkable!”
Over the course of his ministry, the Lord has brought people alongside Bob to support and expand the work. One such person is Scott Long, who today serves as assistant national director for Prison Ministries.
Yet in 2009, Scott felt lost. After spending eight years working in prison ministry as a U.S. missionary, his life was uprooted. He says, “God literally kicked me out of Arkansas, and I spent three months seeking His will.” One day, while fervently praying for direction, the Holy Spirit spoke to Scott, telling him to reach out to Global University. He obeyed and got in touch with Bob to ask if there was a way for him to get involved in Prison Ministries. “Yes! I need help!” Bob enthused. Scott has worked with Global University ever since.
After returning from a vacation, Scott found a letter covered in airmail stamps sitting in his office chair. It was from an imprisoned Latin American woman living in an extremely sensitive nation. She had found and read an English copy of Global University’s Sharing the Good News and wanted to request more courses in Spanish. Scott connected the woman with a nearby church that helped her find and work through more courses.
Soon after, the woman graduated from the program and gave her testimony at the prison’s graduation program. After she shared her newfound relationship with a God who loves her, 40 people came forward and accepted salvation! She is now released from jail and plans to help in Latin American churches, while remaining in contact with Scott. This, among many other stories of salvation and redemption, show God’s continuous use of Global Prison Ministries as a means of bringing souls to Him.
Both Scott and Bob believe that providing inmates with the same level of care and resources those outside of the prison system receive is pivotal to their ministry. “Because this is my heart, I want everything we do to represent not just Global University, but the Lord,” says Bob.