I’ve predominantly encountered two types of people; those who have compassion for those imprisoned, and those who have none. Truthfully, I had always been indifferent. I didn’t have an opinion one way or another. I never considered doing any kind of ministry for those in prison, or even jail. It never occurred to me to pray for them. All that changed when I was introduced to a program called Kairos. It’s a prison ministry that honestly changes lives. The recitative rate for those released from prison is over 85%. However, the rate for those released after having gone through Kairos and staying out for at least one year is an astounding less than 1%!
I was asked to join a Kairos team back in 2002. There is an eight-week mandatory training the team must go through. Only women go in to the women’s prison, while the men on the team work on the outside, and vice versa for the men’s Kairos. As I went through my first training I was scared to death! We were going to be going into the prison and spending all day, for three and a half days with forty-two selected inmates. Yes, locked in there with them. Every imaginable, scary idea ran through my head throughout my training. On top of that, I was asked to become vulnerable and tell these women the story of my own life. I never talked about the pain of my childhood. I kept that bottled up tight inside. As the team worked with me to open up, promising me it would help at least one person in there, I ended up working through a lot of emotions I’d neglected myself.
We were assigned an individual that we pray for throughout the weeks leading up to the “weekend” and hang out with them on breaks throughout the event. The time is made up of talks by the team, conversation around delegated table “families”, meals, breaks, activities, songs, and worship. The bottom line is we go into a dark place and shine the unconditional light of Jesus’ love on broken people. To watch the transformation is astounding! People who have not been loved, but believe they are unlovable, learn they will always, and have always, been loved by God. We, the team, are simply His hands, feet, and heart. Over my years of doing this ministry, I noticed common demeanors. There were those who walked into this event with a huge chip on their shoulder, while others came in with their heads hung low, not meeting our eyes because their self-esteem was so low. Then there were the ones who looked like deer caught in headlights, full of fear and not knowing what to expect. They, of course, have all been told stories, but the reality is much different. Each must have their own encounter with Christ through our love.
One of the rules we were taught is never ask an inmate what they’re in for. If they chose to tell us, we can listen. If they are confessing something they have not been tried for, we are to direct them to a spiritual leader. I met my woman for the first time after praying for her for weeks and she seemed so very young to me. Her mannerisms were childlike. She attached herself to me as though I were her mother. She talked to me often in baby-talk. Within minutes of meeting her, she said, “I’m in here for killing my daughter, but I have a son.” I didn’t have a clue what to do with that and quickly changed the subject. I had to work very hard at not judging her and just love her as Jesus would. In all honesty, I’m not sure who changed more by the end of the weekend. I came out completely transformed. I watched as old women who had never celebrated a single birthday their entire life had us celebrate with them, and they understood how much God loved them by that single act. I saw women break down as we shared our life stories and saw we were no different from them but for the choices we made with the hands we had been dealt. For some, their transformation was in the food we served them from the outside. Many would be in prison until they die and would never get to enjoy what we take for granted. No matter which act reached their soul, the fact is that God had designed this program to help reach all His children and impact an astounding number of people. I watched so many women come to Christ, and all the others renew their commitment. They had believed they were unworthy or had strayed so far that they couldn’t be saved. That is only a lie from the enemy!
God’s grace can reach even the darkest corners. One year, I had been assigned the most precious, sweetest woman. She told me right away she was there for the food because she was an atheist. I smiled and knew how to direct my prayers going forward. I prayed throughout the day and usually fell asleep praying for her to accept the gift of Christ. Day after day, she was having a great time, but felt nothing and no desire to accept the offer. In her words, “I don’t need Jesus.”
We were in the final day. The night before, not only had I fallen asleep praying for her salvation, but I awoke still praying for her. I figured there was no way she would be reached but laid it all in God’s hands. We were in the next to the last activity when she came to me sobbing. I was alarmed because this woman’s emotions had been held in check throughout the whole time. She never got mad or upset with anyone for anything; she took everything in stride with a smile on her face. I asked what the matter was. They were tears of joy. She said she had felt a stirring all morning and finally asked Jesus in to her heart. I cried with her.
Going in to the prisons isn’t for everyone, but we can all pray for the salvation of those who don’t know they are loved and never forgotten. God doesn’t ask us to judge… He’ll do that. He simply asks us to love. In that, He can transform lives. Be blessed!