Three students from Palm Beach Atlantic University were among 30 students from across the United States chosen by Shining Light Ministries to be a part of a select performing arts ministry team for the organization’s summer Impact Tour.
|Warden Terence Clark of Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia expresses appreciation to Palm Beach Atlantic University students Stephanie Morales, Nathan Ynacay and Sarah Wilson and Shining Light Executive Director Jeffrey Bohn during Shining Light’s ministry event this summer.|
Shining Light’s mission is to expand perspective and impact lives by taking a high-quality performing arts production to people in correctional facilities. In the past, students were only recruited from schools in Pennsylvania. This was the first tour done with students recruited nationally, with participants from 15 colleges and universities in nine states.
The PBA students selected were Sarah Wilson, a sophomore majoring in psychology and public relations; Stephanie Morales, a freshman majoring in dance; and Nathan Ynacay, a junior majoring in theatre with a concentration in musical theatre.
This year’s itinerary included Rikers Island in New York City, Riverside Women’s Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, Maine State Prison and six other youth and adult facilities throughout the Northeast. The three-week tour had a dual purpose of bringing hope through Jesus Christ to residents in these facilities and expanding the student participants’ perspective of the world, themselves and God.
Shining Light officials received excellent audience responses at all the facilities. Comments from inmates such as, “Your coming here meant a lot to us; it meant hope, strength and encouragement,” “It’s comforting to know I’m not by myself, and to know that other people are praying and thinking about us ... God makes sure we know He remembers us, ” and “... you’ll never truly realize what a difference it makes to us,” are an indication of the impact Shining Light events had among the more than 1,500 people in attendance.
Facility staff members also are affected through these events. After the performance for nearly 300 women at Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility, Warden Terence Clark said, “I find it amazing that we have kids of that age to actually come inside and be willing to help another person. It’s very inspiring.”
|Palm Beach Atlantic University student Stephanie Morales served as one of three lead dancers for Shining Light's 2013 production. The ensemble performed for more than 1,500 inmates and residents in 10 correctional facilities in five states.|
Equally importantly is how the college students who prepare and present these programs are impacted. As they meet and sometimes shake hands with inmates in maximum-security prisons or youth in juvenile facilities, they discover the humanity of every person there.
Wilson blogged for the group as they traveled. Her writings can be found at www.shining-light.com. Describing her experience, she wrote, “Entertainment is among the most powerful ways to affect people. It’s literally a ‘shining light’ to see this entertainment brought to a dark, forgotten place.”
Morales told of her new understandings about people. “For me, it was realizing that the prisoners need the Gospel message just as much as people in third-world countries.”
Ynacay described his discovery of new uses for his performing arts skills. “(This Tour has) shown me the possible outreach opportunity and power of theater ... This is the first time I’ve actually witnessed it.”
Among the other participants’ responses to this unique opportunity to visit a part of our society that is often ignored or forgotten:
“(I’ve learned) we're all people, it doesn't matter what side we're on … I've been completely transformed by the people I've been able to meet in these facilities.”
“I came into this experience thinking that I was gonna do the population of inmates a favor, or do God a favor by gracing people with my talent, and quickly God humbled me … Literally every day God opened my eyes to new things, about me, about my relationship with Him and about His grace.”
Shining Light Ministries began in 1996 and has done presentations in 54 correctional facilities in 23 states. The need for performing arts mission opportunities to enable students to use their skills for ministry has prompted Shining Light to plan more tours of this kind in the future.