“Only God Could Have Done This”: Southeastern Celebrates Fall 2022 Prison Program Graduation
Chad Burchett | December 14, 2022
The College at Southeastern’s North Carolina Field Minister Program (NCFMP) held its second annual commencement ceremony, celebrating the academic achievement and graduation of 13 students at the Nash County Extension Center.
“Only God could have done this,” Joe Gibbs, Founder of Game Plan for Life (GPL), owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, and longtime supporter of the NCFMP program, shared at Tuesday’s graduation. “We are so convinced that you are going to change people’s lives, and we are thrilled to be a part of your mission. . . . You guys are going to be embarking on your mission field with the power of God’s word.”
You guys are going to be embarking on your mission field with the power of God’s word.
Gibbs charged graduates to remember God’s word as they relocate to other prisons and to carry with them a message of God’s redeeming grace and the urgency of eternity. “We serve a God of second chances,” Gibbs reminded graduates and attendees, pointing to the example of the 13 graduates, who each illustrate the transforming power of the gospel.
Todd Ishee, Commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Adult Correction (NCDAC), challenged graduates to reflect on their unique opportunity and responsibility as field ministers, encouraging them to make the North Carolina prison system a place of transformation. “We are excited about the impact that you are going to have, the impact on our prison system, the impact on other people, and the impact on the state of North Carolina.” shared Ishee. “You are going to make a difference in people’s lives, . . . and we are excited about the leadership role that you guys are going to play in this transformation.”
You are going to make a difference in people’s lives, . . . and we are excited about the leadership role that you guys are going to play in this transformation.
Joined by family and friends, The College’s faculty, representatives from GPL, and the commissioner of the NCDAC, the graduates each received a Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministry with a secondary emphasis on counseling. The conferral of this degree not only represents the graduates’ courage and commitment but also the distinguished academic achievement of these graduates, many of whom graduated with honors.
“Congratulations, and welcome to the Southeastern family,” President Danny Akin told graduates during the ceremony. “You will be a part of our alumni forever.”
For his commencement address, Akin encouraged the graduates with a message from Isaiah 9:6, focusing on the faithful and glorious character of King Jesus. “As you go out and serve where the Lord sends you, I want you to know that you go — not just with family and friends praying for you, pulling for you, and supporting you — but also with this King, who will be with you every day and every step of the way.”
Since its inaugural convocation in August 2017, The College’s NCFMP program has enjoyed God’s blessings and experienced remarkable success, equipping more than 100 students and commissioning dozens of graduated field ministers to serve incarcerated populations throughout the state. Seth Bible, Director of Prison Programs and Assistant Professor of Ethics and the History of Ideas at The College, reported that the NCFMP program currently has a 65 percent graduation rate, which is exceptionally high for a program that operates exclusively in an incarcerated context.
“I have been asked several times over the years how a rate that high has been achieved, particularly with the challenges that have been brought on by the recent COVID-19 pandemic,” commented Bible. “My answer is simple, and it is threefold: the providence of God, the people involved, and the partnership at work.”
Partnering with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Nash Correctional Institution, GPL, and several private donors, The College offers incarcerated students a Christian liberal arts education with a distinctive biblical, theological, and ministerial focus. Eligible students for the program have at least 12 years or more remaining on their sentence and must meet other qualifications for admission. Graduates are commissioned to serve the remainder of their sentences in facilities throughout North Carolina, serving as field ministers among incarcerated populations.
To learn more about The College’s prison programs or to support these strategic educational efforts, visit the Prison Programs page on The College website.