Four years ago, Arkansas Baptists celebrated the beginning of a partnership with Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis and the Arkansas Department of Corrections. This partnership allowed a seminary extension center to open in the Varner unit, a maximum-security prison in Lincoln County.
This year, the first cohort of students celebrated their graduation, earning their Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies from The College at Mid-America. One of those graduates is a man by the name of Robert Rockett, who goes by Rockett.
Growing up, Rockett was a smart student, often singled out to be promoted to higher grades because of his intelligence. But that did not stop him from making poor life decisions leading to his first conviction at the age of 16. Within three years of his first arrest, Rockett had racked up multiple convictions and an automatic life sentence.
Over time, Rockett began a process of seeking and learning, especially striving to learn about the character of God. The seeking process led him to a wide variety of religions, including nine years of practicing a major world religion. Rockett still had no one, however, who could truly answer his questions about God. Disillusioned and desperate for answers, he directly asked God to reveal Himself.
And God did! He told Rockett to get rid of everything that tied him to his previous religion. Rockett struggled to surrender; obedience was not easy.
But Rockett continued to seek, and God not only protected him from threats from other inmates but also provided a pathway for him to find answers to his questions. One of those pathways came through Dr. Mark Thompson, director of the Arkansas Prison Initiative and a professor at Mid-America Seminary who taught Rockett and his fellow inmates.
Through Dr. Thompson, Rockett found someone who would willingly welcome and answer questions. He found the opportunity to learn and grow. He found the God he had been seeking.
Now a graduate, Rockett is ready to share the truths he has learned with his fellow inmates. He is excited about the possibility of field work and the opportunity to bring hope, answers, and a miraculous turning point to others in Varner and other units around the state.
Rockett isn’t the only one who experienced a turning point. Mark Thompson also saw his own faith challenged and stretched by the questions, learning processes, and shared experiences of Rockett and his fellow students.
Most of us do not have the ability to go into Varner and other prisons around the state to teach like Mark Thompson. But, thanks to Arkansas Baptists who give to the Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering, Rockett and other students have had every textbook, supply, and resource they needed to experience incredible turning points, earn their degrees, and be prepared to minister within their prison community.
As The College at Mid-America seeks to begin its third cohort this year, Varner inmates can anticipate more opportunities to learn, grow in their relationship with Christ, and equip others to experience turning points, even in Arkansas prisons.