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By Pastor Aaron Hulse, Fayetteville First Baptist Church (GA)
On Friday, we went to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. Angola, as it is commonly known, houses more than 6,000 inmates and is the largest maximum-security prison in the US. It is a huge facility, built on 28 square miles and bordered on three sides by the Mississippi River. It is also home to the execution chamber for the state of Louisiana. It is a very different place, so it only fits that I had a very different day during this visit.
Our day with the inmates was incredible and one of my favorite days serving in the prisons ever. Shortly after we arrived the skies darkened and it began raining, so we couldn’t play softball as planned. We ended up in the gym, playing volleyball, dodgeball, basketball, and pickle ball. We even boxed! We had a wonderful time connecting with the inmates who came out and, as is always the case, we created an intentional time to share the Gospel and hand out literature. After that morning session ended, we were scheduled to have lunch at the prison, then call it a day. But since we were already there, we asked if we could tour the prison and maybe visit some of the dorms for personal visits. It wasn’t scheduled but they agreed and that became the plan for the afternoon.
We got in our van with one of the assistant wardens and he led us to the Warden’s cabin for lunch. We ate fried catfish (caught in the prison lake by the inmates just a day earlier) French fries, corn, and green beans – all grown and prepared on-site at Angola. It was delicious.
After we finished, we were given a brief tour of the trustees’ dorm and walked around several standard dorms, passing out Gospels of John and tracts and engaging in short conversations where we could. Then we headed over to death row.
They first showed us the room where the state conducts executions by lethal injection. That was an extremely sobering experience, made even more impactful knowing this was what the guys we were about to meet are facing. We were then led to the death row cellblock and were given the latitude to go cell to cell and talk with the men being held there. This is where I experienced an unmistakable divine appointment.
I walked up to a cell, along with my teammate Matt, and the man was standing back a bit, inside the doorway in his cell. As I approached, he stepped toward me, and I introduced myself. This man’s name was Donnie. I asked Donnie if he would like a Gospel of John and he said “No, I don’t want that. I’m an atheist.” The next words that came out of my mouth were, “Ok, I respect that, but tell me… what do you have faith in?” He shared that his faith is in “the energy in me and others and other living things” and after a short exchange he came to the heart of the matter. He asked me “Where is God?” I did not hesitate to reply, “He’s right here.”
Wherever two or more are gathered, God is in their midst and with Matt and me both standing there, I knew the presence of the Lord was in that place. At this moment I felt a powerful presence of God’s Spirit upon me. God gave me a boldness to step towards Donnie because I was sensing that God was moving.
Donnie said “No, where is God at in the world? Why do we see all this hurt and all this pain? I don’t think if God were here that He’d allow this.” I told him about God’s love, a love so great that He gave us the choice to love Him and follow Him. I talked about sin and the choice man has made to reject God and the consequences of that choice. He listened intently and now it was my turn to come to the heart of the matter. I asked Donnie a question: “What would it take for you to open your heart up to the reality that there is a God and that He loves you?”
He said, “If I witnessed a miracle, then I would probably believe.” In the Spirit of the Lord, and a moment of clarity, I seized the opportunity to say “Buddy, I believe we are that miracle for you today. We’ve traveled all the way from Georgia, our plans got rained out today, we weren’t even scheduled to tour your dorm…but we’re standing here now sharing with you that there is a God, and He loves you and He has a plan for your life. That is your miracle!” I felt such boldness to speak truth to him that I stopped and asked him, “Am I being too aggressive? Are you good with our conversation?” He smiled and said “yes.”
So, I continued, “How often do you have people come and share the love of Jesus with you?” Donnie said “Not very often but y’all are different than they are. You actually seem to care about me and ask me questions and listen to what I say. You don’t get offended when I tell you that I’m an atheist and don’t believe in the Bible. Those other folks just come in and tell me I need Jesus and keep walking. They don’t talk with me, or listen to me, or care for me like you guys have.” My response was the heart of why I go on these crusades at all.“
Donnie, we don’t get anything for this. We’re not here trying to earn points with God or earn His favor. We’re only here because Jesus has made a difference in our lives, and we want to tell anyone who will listen how they can experience that too.”
Still feeling the overwhelming sense of God’s presence, I asked Donnie “How confident are you in your faith as an atheist.” He said, “About 80 percent.” I smiled and said, “Great, I can work with 20 percent. I’ll take that!” I said, “Donnie, I’m going to pray for you.” He said okay and I think he thought I was going to pray for him at that moment – but then I clarified things by saying “Donnie, I’m going to pray for you, that God reveals himself to you in a powerful way.” He said “ok” to that too. Then Matt offered him the Gospel of John again – and this time he took it. I challenged him to read chapter 3 before he went to bed that night. “There you’ll read about a man just like you who encountered Jesus. He wasn’t sure about this Jesus and that He was truly God. But he came to Jesus and asked him some questions. I challenge you to read that chapter before you go to bed tonight.” By now, the wardens were telling us it was time to go so I asked Donnie, “Can I give you a hug?” and he said yes. I left Donnie that day with these parting words: “Donnie, you’re not here by accident or by random chance. God has a plan and a purpose for your life.”
After a few years of traveling with the Saints, I am considered a crusade veteran. But that encounter was a first for me; that conversation was one I will remember for a very long time. And the whole experience was made possible by our gracious and loving Lord, who cared enough for Donnie that He sent a rainstorm to Louisiana the day of our visit!

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