Dr. Murthy Kola is a third-generation ordained minister who served as a minister of the Gospel in South India in his teens and twenties. Since coming to the United States in 1974, God has given him a special calling and gifting to work with many incarcerated youth and adults. Little did Dr. Kola know, as a young man in India, how God was molding and equipping him for his current work in the Ohio prison system.
When Murthy came to Winebrenner Theological Seminary, he had already been serving in the prison system since 1982. In addition, he was blessed with a number of education opportunities, including two Bachelor degrees and a Master of Divinity degree.
He approached Winebrenner in 1995 with a desire to further his professional development and his research into his unique area of ministry. He completed his doctoral dissertation titled Rage in the Cage: Making Sense of Grief and Violence Among Incarcerated Juvenile Delinquents, and in August 2005, he graduated with his Doctor of Ministry degree. This excerpt, found on page 11 of his dissertation, provides a glimpse into his day to day service with his MCI (Marion Correction Institution) “congregation:”
Some of the JDs [juvenile delinquents] were playing tag football while others were walking around the ball fields. I noticed one JD sitting alone, looking at the sky. He sat motionless. I remember telling him that his mother passed away just two days before. I wanted to see how he was doing so I walked over and asked if it was okay to sit by him. He simply nodded. I sat quietly for a few minutes before asking him if he was thinking about his mother. He again nodded his head. Realizing he wanted to be alone, I said a prayer and reminded him that Jesus understood his pain and the Lord would comfort him.
As I got up to leave, he refused to shake my hand. Since he was clasping his hands very tightly, I wondered what he was holding. As I slowly reached out and opened his bleeding hands, a sharp rock fell from his injured hands. He showed no visible signs of grief, such as crying, screaming, or shouting. Yet he turned violence against himself. I saw the pain in his eyes and felt his anguish, yet I could not understand the relationship between his mother’s death and his violent behavior resulting in self-inflicted wounds.
Neither Dr. Kola nor Winebrenner knew how God would continue their relationship beyond Murthy’s years in the Seminary’s doctoral program. In 2015 Dr. Kola received Winebrenner’s Distinguished Alumni Award and joined the team as an adjunct professor. He and the Seminary began to pray about and make plans for how the school could be a part of God’s work within the walls of MCI where Dr. Kola worked as Senior Chaplain. With the support and encouragement of his wife, Janet, (a Judson University alumni) and their three sons, Charlie, Matthew and Joseph, Dr. Kola obeyed his calling and pursued this missional goal.
Certainly, God had already provided opportunity for Bible study and Christian community within MCI, through their internal Department of Religious Services, local church volunteers and para-church ministries. Dr. Kola felt, “What if the prisoners themselves became the ministers?” What if there were many “Dr. Kola’s” who did life with the prisoners, day in and day out, ministers who innately understood the tremendous pressures and challenges faced by the incarcerated? What if God educated and transformed them to lead and disciple their fellow-men?
So fall 2013 launched the very first cohort of MCI students in Winebrenner’s Pastoral Training Institute. Today, these (now graduated) students are ministry leaders in their spheres of influence within the MCI community. Two served their sentences and now serve Christ in the “outside world.” The rest will share Christ and care for their fellow inmates for many years, if not for life. They truly are lights in the darkness.
Dr. Murthy Kola is a pioneer and champion for “the least of these.” He challenges “acceptable” definitions of who can pursue theological education and who is qualified to minister. And thanks to his firm belief in the transforming power of the Gospel, MCI has become fertile soil to raise up multiplying servants of Christ.
– You can access Dr. Kola’s full dissertation here.