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Freedom Amid Confinement

Global University helps inmates learn about the Lord through prison ministries program.
One Sunday morning after Bob E. Durham finished preaching at the church where he pastored in New York, a congregant approached him: “Bob, the way you preach, you belong in jail,” he said.

An Assemblies of God-endorsed chaplain with Chaplaincy Ministries, Durham has served inmates as the Global University national director of prison ministries for over 16 years; it hasn’t been an easy journey. Although he accepted Christ at a young age, Durham got involved in illegal activity as a teenager, due in part to his father’s violent alcohol addiction.

“During that period, I backslid terribly,” Durham remembers. One night, while hiding from the law, Durham says God told him, This is the last time I’m going to knock on your door. That night, he recommitted his life to the Lord, and shortly thereafter joined the U.S. Air Force.

While pastoring 14 years later, Durham accepted an invitation from AG prison chaplain Richard Tanon, who attended the church, to preach to prisoners.

“I fell in love with the inmates that day,” Durham says of the 1978 encounter. “I learned I would rather be preaching in prison than anywhere.”

Following 21 years as chaplain for the New York State Department of Corrections, Durham became an AG U.S. missionary. In 2006, he joined Global University.

Global’s prison ministries begins the discipleship process by reaching out to inmates who have shown interest in learning about God or have questions regarding Christianity. The school provides willing inmates with its School of Evangelism and Discipleship (SED) courses. These courses take students through the essentials of Christianity, including salvation, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. 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 inmates form with chaplains, provide graduating students with the foundation they need for a solid Christian faith. During Durham’s time at Global University, nearly 26,000 students have completed at least one SED course, and there have been more than 11,000 documented salvations.

Robert Lindenberg continued his education through Global’s Berean School of the Bible and received pastoral mentorship after being released from prison. Lindenberg now pastors the Peak Community Church in Peekskill, New York. In addition, he ministers as a local police and emergency services chaplain.

Over the past decade, Durham has worked to reformat how prison ministries is run, from answering biblical questions prisoners have to improving the SED course grading process. He also has begun a program to connect students to churches in their hometowns, in hopes that they will attend services following incarceration.

The Lord has brought people alongside Durham to support and expand the work, including Scott F. Long, who serves as assistant national director for prison ministries.

Yet in 2009, Long felt lost. After spending eight years working in prison ministry as a U.S. missionary, he says he spent three months seeking God’s direction before the Lord directed him to reach out to Long at Global University. Long has worked with Global University ever since.

Samara Smyer

Samara Smyer works as communications and content strategist for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions. She graduated from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.