|From the late 1990s, Sentinel Group film crews have documented stories of transforming revival in more than 80 communities in 14 nations. An important consequence of these efforts was a series of 10 revival-oriented films that enjoyed remarkable viewership and kindled scores of follow-on awakenings. I am often asked what it is like to experience these stories up close. The question is straightforward enough, but reducing the discoveries, the relationships, and the divinely-charged atmosphere into words has proven challenging. All I can say is, it has been a wonderful ride! All of us here at the Sentinel Group are deeply grateful for the hundreds of friends and partners who have made this journey possible. You have given us the high privilege of capturing and recounting the exquisite handiwork of God in our day. These hope-filled stories have never been more needed, and we seek strength to continue until the Lord Jesus returns to make the whole earth new. What follows is an update on our latest endeavor, focused entirely on revival stories within the United States. And they are GREAT stories! Much of what I have to share with you was written in sporadic bursts while on the road. Accordingly, updates are grouped according to the timeframe in which certain events occurred. August 7 – September 11 After spending the past three weeks in Texas filming an important segment for our forthcoming documentary, Hope in the Shadows, I am on the road again. As a filmmaker, I am learning what truck drivers and mothers have long known: There is no rest for the weary! Sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 tonight, I will arrive at the Oglala Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. This is the home of the renowned warrior Crazy Horse, the bleak and beautiful badlands, and the infamous massacre site of Wounded Knee. I will spend the rest of the week there filming the third and final segment of our video which depicts powerful examples of God’s transforming work in the United States.|
|This is my fourth visit to Pine Ridge since we started filming Hope in the Shadows back in 2019. Most of our time has been spent documenting the remarkable transformation of Whiteclay, a portal community situated on the Nebraska-South Dakota border. Until just a few years ago, Whiteclay had the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the United States. It was a place where the hopeless went to die, many from alcohol-induced seizures and assaults. Others froze to death in the bitter winter winds of the northern plains. The town was written off by nearly everyone as a lost cause. It is places like this that have drawn my attention for more than a quarter century. Not because of their sin and suffering, but because they offer shining examples of God’s redeeming grace and power.|
|Which brings me back to Texas. If you have been reading our newsletters, you probably know I have been in the Lone Star state to film the story of a profound revival that has been sweeping through scores of state prisons. I first heard about the awakening in 2012 when I was invited to visit the revival’s epicenter, a maximum security prison housing 2,800 inmates in the city of Huntsville. The gentleman who invited me to the Wynne Unit was none other than the prison’s warden, Vernon Pittman.|
| This summer, I spent my days camped out in three cities – Dallas, Huntsville (which also hosts the headquarters of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice), and the Greater Houston area. From sun-up until late at night, we filmed some of the most supernatural, poignant, and redemptive accounts you will ever hear. As the cameras rolled, inmates, wardens, guards, volunteers, and family members described with riveting detail the power of God to transform lives and institutions.|
We’ve all heard of “Jailhouse Religion,” where bored, and sometimes remorseful inmates pledge themselves to Christ in the hope of redemption and release. It happens on a daily basis in penal institutions across the country.
This, however, is not what has been happening in Texas.
|Yes, hardened criminals are being saved in droves. In 2011 alone, the Wynne Unit recorded an astonishing 600 baptisms. That’s 25 percent of the facility’s total inmate population! And these conversions and baptisms continue at a torrid pace to this day.|
But there is much more.
Three defining elements set the Texas story apart from mere jailhouse religion — personal deliverance, institutional transformation, and the outflow of revival into the hopeless neighborhoods that are feeding our prisons and morgues.
How often do you hear a prison warden say the greatest need in prison — and the only way to defeat the revolving door of crime — is deliverance from demonic spirits? Let’s just say it is not at the forefront of discussions on prison reform.
|Warden Pittman, whose career has spanned more than 30 years and multiple institutions, put it this way in a recent interview:|
“Imagine there’s 175,000 inmates in the Texas prison system. All those hundred and seventy-five thousand offenders, when they committed their crimes, were under some type of demonic spirit. They were under something that probably had started years ago – long before they got caught and locked up.
So, if you take all those demonic spirits and you put ’em in one place — I refer to that place as hell on earth. That’s what prisons are. It’s very dark in prisons. There’s no hope there.”
|The warden’s solution? Hold three-day “lock-ins” in the prison chapel where inmates came into an atmosphere of prayer and praise.|
“We would do that for two or three hours straight, non-stop — just askin’ God to enter this place.”
Countless offenders were delivered — some dramatically — from the demons that plagued them. The eye-witness descriptions I heard from those who were there could have been torn from the pages of the New Testament. Satanists with devil horns and pentagrams tattooed on their heads, homosexuals and transgender inmates, white supremacists, gang and cartel members… one by one were set free.
This kind of divine intervention led to sweeping changes in the institution itself. Prison violence, illicit criminal activities, and recidivism plummeted. The extent of the atmospheric transformation caused visiting politicians and officials to shake their heads in wonder. Prison guards who had dealt with violent and disrespectful inmates were asking to be posted to these revival-saturated cell blocks. Inmates at other penitentiaries were asking to be transferred to the Wynne Unit, in the warden’s words, “Just so they could be part of what God was doin’ there.” Hundreds of them!
“I’d never been at a facility prior to that where offenders were asking to be transferred over — especially to a maximum security prison. It was just phenomenal!” – Warden Vernon Pittman But the best part of the story wasn’t about who was coming into the prison, but rather who was going out. I’ll never forget one burly black inmate telling me about the day when God spoke individually to a group of revival leaders weeping before God at the chapel altar. Virtually all of these men had been sent to the Wynne Unit on capital murder charges, with several being notorious gang leaders. Collectively, these transformed men had led hundreds of fellow inmates to Christ — many in the darkest cell blocks and administrative segregation. They had started “house churches” in dorms and cell blocks, held worship services on the rec yard, and prayed for the reviving power of God to come to their prison. But on this particular day, the Lord whispered to each of them, “It is finished.” God’s mission for them was shifting from the penitentiary to the crime-ridden neighborhoods where police and political leaders had all but given up. These were the devil’s killing grounds. In the coming weeks, each man at the altar that day received an early release. Exiting the Wynne Unit’s barbed wire perimeter, they carried the reviving power of God into notorious communities like Houston’s Crofton Place, Sugar Branch, Rosewood, and Fifth Ward, and South Dallas’s Dixon Circle.
|On a Monday afternoon in late August I had the opportunity to accompany former Crips gang leader Cedric Powell on a visit to Dixon Circle. In this exceedingly violent neighborhood, more than 100 young men have been shot, stabbed, or beaten to death in the last few years.|
Walking down the street, Cedric brushed back tears as the memories rolled in:
“I was the trigger man for my hood. We were young. We never thought we would be separated by death, you know. But the pain, the tears, the blood, the funerals… telling your home boy’s mama and daddy — he gone.”
What I remember most, however, was this leader of the Wynne Unit revival walking over to a group of young gangbangers sitting on a railing. His effect on them was mesmerizing to watch. Bending his chiseled 6’3 frame down to their level, he cocked his finger and warned them about the dangers of a path he knew only too well.
|They call him OG, or Original Gangster. As the founder of the local Crips gang, his reputation looms large in Dixon Circle. But where in earlier times he would command attention with a cocked revolver or shank, today he moves in the unmistakable power of the living God.|
“It takes a special kind of love to be out in this darkness, Bro. I risk my life out here… a lot of people don’t like what I’m doin’. I’m in the hood seven days a week, hangin with my homies at midnight. I want them to see that I really care… You gotta’ go to them if you want to see transformation.”
|His current plan is to acquire a former drug house where a close friend was gunned down attempting to scale a wrought-iron fence. This former death house will be rehabilitated — with the help of young gangbangers — into a street church that will offer gospel teaching, deliverance prayer, job counseling, and help for parents whose children have slipped into drugs and violence.|
His actions have already attracted the attention of the Dallas city council and mayor Eric Johnson who recently appointed him to a leadership role in a new program designed to reduce gang violence. Cedric accepted the position on the stipulation that any efforts would lead with the Gospel, and make way for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
|October 11 – December 21|
In recent weeks I have hunkered down with a seemingly unending stack of interview transcripts — reading each twice, and marking select comments for potential use in our Hope in the Shadows script. It is a rigorous task, but one that has brought tears of gratitude over the surpassing goodness of God.
Our next task is to assemble a 4-minute trailer for the film which we plan to debut at a large gathering of concerned investors and corporate executives in early December.
On the way to this gathering, we will stop in Amarillo, Texas to interview Thomas Mechler, former Deputy Chairman of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Mr. Mechler will add unique perspective as one of the officials who was deeply impacted by God’s work at the Wynne Unit.
In mid December, we will conduct several additional interviews with current and former inmates who are key figures in the Texas transformation story. We also hope to film a number of prison-based reenactments with Warden Pittman, Cedric Powell, and other revival participants.
After repeated Covid-related delays, it now appears we will be able to release the completed film in June 2022. Once again, we anticipate screening the work for a sizable group of business and political leaders before taking it on a faith-building mission into some of the most troubled cities in America.
|The prospective tour through Chicago, Baltimore, East St. Louis, New York, Portland, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia will include a screening of Hope in the Shadows followed by two days of messaging from the film’s featured storytellers.|
We don’t want to simply speak about hope, we want to demonstrate models of transformational success from places like Whiteclay, Harlan County, the Wynne Unit, and Dixon Circle. We are inviting frazzled city leaders to “come and see” what God is doing.
|If this report stirs your blood, and I hope it does, please consider partnering with us in this vision. The need is urgent, the message is compelling, and people are open as never before to solutions that actually work.|
|Although this report may seem lengthy, time and space constraints have prevented me from sharing many more details. Each of these stories is multi-layered and buzzing with supernatural energy. Indeed, we have found them among the hardest stories to land in our 25-year history of documenting transforming revival.|
I just wish you could see what I have spread out in front of me. Simply amazing!
To stay on schedule, we need to raise $25,000 before the end of this year. This will cover the completion of our film trailer (which we will show you in December!), the filming of additional interviews and reenactments, the acquisition of key news footage, and some necessary equipment.
If you can give, or know of others who might be able to help, please contact us.
Needless to say, undertakings like this call for enhanced prayer covering. The enemy would like nothing more than to keep these messages of hope bottled up and out of sight. It seems like he has emptied his arsenal on us in recent weeks, but we have seen this pattern before. In the words of Martin Luther’s powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is our God,
“For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing…
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.”
So please pray for us. Give if you can. We love you!
George Otis, Jr.
Founder and President The Sentinel Group