In August 2015, Prison Fellowship and Willow Creek collaborated to bring The Global Leadership Summit (GLS) to more than 1,500 prisoners at 11 prisons. Just last week—at the 2016 Summit—more than 4,000 incarcerated men and women streamed in from 43 prisons across the country.
GLS is a two-day telecast conference from Chicago’s Willow Creek Church that features world-recognized influencers such as Melinda Gates, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and Patrick Lencioni on topics intended to grow leaders and organizations.
When Tom Kehr, chaplain at Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio, first heard about the opportunity, he thought it would help “raise the bar and provide a sense of vision” for the men he regularly interacted with through the chapel. According to Kehr, it has done so much more.
“GLS has changed the way we do ministry at Warren,” Kehr said.
Because of generosity of donors connected to Willow Creek, Warren was able to purchase the necessary equipment—including an HD video projector and a 150″ screen—to stream in the conference.
“The technology is going to allow us to bring in other streaming events, whenever the occasions come up,” Kehr explained. “It will enable us to show the guys things of inspiration that they would not have access to.”
As to the particular impact of this year’s GLS at Warren, 40 incarcerated men, as well as a little over a dozen volunteers and prison staff attended. The group was racially and religiously diverse, with evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, and non-church attenders present.
“It drew people together in a sense of unity,” Kehr said. “Some of those who were most excited weren’t Christians … they saw the value and dignity we gave them as individuals. Within Warren, there are guys talking very pointedly about lessons they drew from the speakers.”
Kehr says he sees so much potential in the men he ministers to, and opportunities like the GLS help them recognize this in themselves.
“No matter if they are going to stay here for years and years or if they are going to be released, we need to value their leadership, inspiration, and dreams. And there are guys who are long-term offenders … and guys who will be released next year … they value the vision and leadership they were given. It adds value to their life, and hope.”
“Being in prison I feel this experience helps me see that I am still someone that can make a change. I have been lacking in a lot of areas of my life and see where I can change,” wrote one prisoner attendee on a response card.
Another wrote: “[GLS] made me want to renew my relations and value people. It gave me a higher expectation of change in my life.”