I previously expressed in a column titled “Hope for the hopeless,” which appeared in the October 26, 2016 issue of the News-Banner; and detailed efforts provided by Kairos Prison Ministry International, Inc. (Kairos) organization. From Thursday, April 20th – Sunday, April 23rd, in 2017 thirty lives were changed for the better. In lieu of regulations established by Kairos, we’re not allowed to speak the specifics of the weekend experience.
However, it is permissible to detail the benefit of how a Christian love (agape) can altogether dismantle, in just three and-a-half days, walls that have taken years to erect. Agape is defined as the love of God for all of mankind; the love of Christians for other people which corresponds to the love of God for man; an unselfish love for another person without sexual implications. This is the love Kairos teaches should be displayed toward individuals society would rather lock away and forget. Some of the most violent and sinister criminals in the penal system are housed in the facility where the team ministers. There are convicted murderers, rapists, assailants and men who’ve been convicted of any violent crime one can imagine…and some crimes you can’t.
People seem to have forgotten the fact these inmates are more than a state-issued number. In fact, the term I’ve coined for them is “residents” which tends to provide something more of a humanistic identity than the numeric identification assigned by the Department of Corrections. To spend a few minutes in the company of these individuals would have most from the “outside” wondering whether they were even capable of offenses for which their time is being served. Many at the facility are what they refer to as “lifers” or are serving lengthy sentences.
What I find interesting is the fact that several of the residents have convictions for infractions which resulted from a momentary loss of rationale or something done in a fit of anger, even the ill-effects of alcohol or drugs. Certainly not to excuse their actions because a society without consequence of behavior is barbarianism; but everybody can recall times in life when undergoing moments of intense frustration or anger. Given the right (in the residents’ cases, the wrong) circumstances, it wouldn’t require much for many to find themselves in the same or a similar predicament.
There are Christians who argue, the things done by these men are reprehensible and not worthy of forgiveness. To this, I point out the fact that Jesus was actually nailed to the cross after being scourged, mocked and spat upon yet found it within Him to petition God for forgiveness of those involved.
The real question; what makes today’s Christians any better than Jesus that a grudge can be held against someone to the point of stewing in their own unforgiving nature? In the book of Matthew 18:35 (KJV) the Lord declares, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” The most important thing to remember is that these men, regardless of what they’ve done in the past, are still living souls and remain important to Jesus.
There are three documented occasions when the Apostle Paul was incarcerated and the Lord utilized him to pen most of the bible’s New Testament. Moses, though he didn’t go to jail as a result, was guilty of murdering a Roman guard during a fit of anger. There are a number of accounts both biblically and throughout modern history when God has utilized offenders of the law for the sake of declaring His glory.
One of the Kairos brothers was formerly incarcerated and, upon his release, began a program formulated for the express purpose of transitioning men from prison back into society. He disclosed having been in regular attendance with his wife at a rather large church in Jacksonville. At one point the pastor had actually phoned to covertly “suggest” they discontinue the practice of encouraging ex-cons to attend their services as it made some church members uncomfortable. Needless-to-say, he and his wife are no longer members of that church.
It’s difficult to understand people who want to be “comfortable” Christians and never venture outside the safety of the church walls. Jesus instructs in Mark 16:15 (KJV) “…Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” He never said to preach only to the upper middle class in condominiums, gated communities and million dollar homes. Perhaps, some of today’s Christians would benefit from being made to feel a little “uncomfortable.” That might compel them to get up from the padded pews occupied every week during Sunday service and become genuinely engaged in the quest to introduce others to Christ. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.