God’s special time with those in prison
“I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus says this is an important test of who is truly one of his followers. He mentioned visiting those in prison alongside feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked. These acts are the outward signs of the inward change of heart that comes with faith in Jesus Christ.
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of serving alongside some wonderful Christian men from around this area who were living into Jesus’ command. I was on the team for the fifteenth Kairos weekend to be held at D. Ray James Prison in Folkston. Kairos is a multi-denominational ministry which seeks to share Christ with those in prison.
If you are familiar with Cursillo, Walk to Emmaus, and Tres Dias retreats, Kairos is a similar short-course in Christianity tailored just to those in prison. Like those other retreats, the goal of Kairos is not the weekend itself, but the ongoing Christian walk which follows the weekend. So the Kairos weekend is not an end in itself, but a means to pass through a given experience and into the ongoing Kairos community within the prison, made up of the many prisoners who have taken part in the weekend and seeking to live into their faith while in the institution.
The word “kairos” is from the Greek of the New Testament. In Greek, there are two words for time. The first is “chronos” which refers to quantity of time, like that measured by a watch, which is also referred as a chronometer. In addition, ancient Greek thought had “kairos” which refers to a quality of time. It means “the proper time,” “God’s appointed time,” or “God’s special time.” The Kairos weekend is to be God’s special time to come into the life of the men in prison in a new and more powerful way.
I know that some people see prison ministry as leading to jailhouse conversions that are less about changed hearts and lives and more about a desire to impress a judge, jury, or parole board. I can say that was not my experience with the Kairos weekend. The 42 men who participated in the weekend were genuinely focused on issues of forgiveness and redemption. I heard no talk of getting off, or getting out early or anything similar and only heard men seriously coming to terms with the deep wounds in their own lives and how the love of God could reach in and redeem those tragedies.
There is a tremendous power in having Christian men from outside the institution willingly come inside the razor wire ringed compound to remind the men that God has not forgotten them. I heard again and again how amazed the men were that we took a weekend that could have been devoted to any thing we wanted and spent it in prison. That witness of care from the outside is combined with the Kairos community of fellow prisoners who share the love of God inside the prison.
The strength of Kairos is that it is not a weekend detached from prison life. The Kairos ministry at D. Ray James is ongoing and the team goes back into the prison each month for reunion meetings. In addition, the prisoners have ongoing prayer and share groups in which they hold one another accountable for living out their faith. This serves as leaven in the institution and like a little yeast can cause the whole loaf of bread to rise, the hope is that the growing group of men who have participated in Kairos weekends will affect prisoners who have never been in the program.
At this most recent weekend, the closing speaker was a man who had attended the previous weekend (there is a Kairos weekend every six months at D. Ray James). He spoke movingly of the pain in his life, much of which was caused by his own gang activity. He shared how he had forgiven the many people who had hurt him while on the Kairos weekend. He went on to speak about the difference God was making in his life as he continued to live into his commitment to Jesus. He told how hard he was and how God’s love broke through and changed his heart. The man’s testimony was a moving tribute to the profound effect that a Kairos weekend can have, not just during the weekend itself, but in the months following.
If you are intrigued about this ministry, there are a few ways you can help:
- You can sponsor an inmate. The cost of providing food, Kairos materials, etc. adds up to a $150 per participant cost. You can sponsor an inmate’s Kairos weekend. This can also be done by an individual or by a Sunday School class or Bible Study all giving together to sponsor one man to attend the weekend.
- You can assist Kairos with its creation of a cookbook which will be sold to fund the ministry. The cookbook is coming together, but still needs about 200 more recipes.
- You can bake cookies for a Kairos weekend. Each weekend, the group takes thousands of home baked cookies into the prison as a gift to the staff. This friendly gesture adds to a great relationship with the guards.
- Twice a year, Kairos can also provide a special meal in prison. The next will be Thanksgiving and Kairos needs help buying turkey breasts (approximately 10 lbs. each). This can be done by donating money toward the turkey or by donating the actual breast meat.
- Christian men can take part in serving on a Kairos team. Pray about this and ask if God is using this column to lead you to answer Jesus’ call to visit men in prison knowing that when you visit even the least, it is as if you are visiting Jesus Christ himself. Team training for the next Kairos weekend, to be held the last weekend in April, will begin in March.
To follow up on any of these five possibilities, please contact Mack Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone or fax to (912) 576-1819 or by mail to Kairos Prison Ministry, 480 Mallett St., Folkston, GA 31537.
The above is today's religion column for the Tribune & Georgian.