(Originally printed Oct. 2016)
For the past couple of months, I’ve been engaged in weekly training sessions as mandatory preparation for what proved a truly unique form of ministry that provided a one-of-a-kind experience. Involvement in various ministries urged me to investigate the proposed option which ultimately led to my getting involved, full throttle. Various aspects of this ministry provide support to those incarcerated, their families, and others adversely affected by the imprisonment of a loved one.
The Kairos Prison Ministry International, Inc. (Kairos) experience can be summed up in one simple word: Love. From the very beginning of the eight weekly three-hour sessions required as part of training, sincere expressions of Christ’s love were established as the basis for a “community” type environment embodying both support and accountability factors designed to change minds, hearts, and life focus. Gentlemen from virtually every Christian denomination come together as volunteers whose sole purpose consists of nothing more than conveying the “agape” love as demonstrated by Jesus.
Denominational differences such as speaking in tongues, water baptism, communion, the holy rosary, confession and others are disregarded to the extent such specific faith based practices aren’t allowed as a topic of discussion among volunteers. Factually speaking, during the time Jesus walked the earth His only message was one of love…an unconditional, completely whole love that compelled submission to ridicule and shame before the people and His subsequent crucifixion.
As one of the many volunteers for what’s known as the Kairos weekend, I had the pleasure to witness Kairos’ 81st weekend Thursday, October 20th thru Sunday, October 23rd after 40 years of men’s prison ministry. The weekend was sponsored at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, FL where Kairos began September 30, 1976, forty years ago, with the first event consisting of 37 volunteers and 42 participating inmates. Kairos conducts two “Inside Weekends” every year at Union Correctional Institute since its inception and has ministered to more than 3200 inmates in that period.
As a faith based Christian ministry, Kairos emphasizes means of filling the spiritual and emotional voids often resulting from incarceration. In Matthew 25:35-40 Jesus provided His followers an example: “35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
It is this same love that encompasses all Kairos Ministry activities which are designed to example the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, servimg to break down psychological walls, transform lives and manifest a positive impact on the world. With systematic lectures, self-examination, individual as well as group activities, each participant is encouraged to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and relativity with others as the benefit of forgiveness and the express love of Jesus.
One inmate who participated in this past weekend’s event stated, “I’ve been alone, without family for twenty years but the love I see in this room lets me to know I got another family now.” It was nothing short of a miracle to see hardened criminals in the maximum security institution go from guarded rocks to emotionally accessible humans who were finally able to forgive, connect, and engage in expressions of sincere love with others as well as themselves. The end result is the development of a Christian community within the walls of the prison that prays, worships, and fellowships together regularly, serving to change the facility from the inside out.
The volunteers also return each month for a “reunion” of all the Kairos participants which has resulted with development of reaffirming accountability groups and that promotes changes in behavior. This invariably leads to a reduction in recidivism as the Religion Press Release noted “In a study of 505 inmates released from Florida prisons, the recidivism rate was reduced by half for Kairos graduates who took part in continuing ministry – dropping as low as 10%, compared to 23.4% for non-Kairos participants.” This statistic alone proves there is hope for those society lists among the hopeless as a means of simply displaying an unconditional love. I could be wrong but it’s just something to consider.