Often God calls us to reach out of our comfort zones. When the opportunity came up to write an article for the Rock Prison Ministry, I thought, "How much more uncomfortable could I possibly get?"
And what better way could I serve God
Moses killed an Egyptian man. In the eyes of the law he was a criminal and a murderer. He hid for 40 years because of his crime. God saw greatness in Moses, and used him to become the most powerful leader of his time.
Jesus sees greatness in all of us; we are created in his image. Some of the men and women in prison have committed horrible crimes against humanity, but God loves them. The members of the Rock Prison Ministry make it their life's work to make sure these men and women-often despised in the eyes of everyone else-are shown God's love, in action.
The Kairos Outreach is a program within the Prison Ministry. "Kairos" is a Greek word meaning "God's special timing". According to Pastor August, who oversees the Prison Ministry, there is an "inside" Kairos team that consists of men serving time in the prison, but have become Christians. They nominate candidates for the Kairos program, a weekend retreat for selected men inside the prison.
"We get guys from the [prison] yard that don't know Jesus, and it's a chance for them to get to know Christ and develop a relationship with Him," said Pastor August.
The men are served a special, home-cooked meal each night of the retreat and are blessed with homemade cookies and letters from ministry members and addressed specifically to them. A group of three men from the "inside" team will minister to the men, teaching them about forgiveness, love and friendship with God.
"All the men know about Kairos," Pastor August explained. "They come in for the cookies, but God has a whole other plan for these guys."
My first assignment after joining the Prison Ministry was to write letters to 40 male prisoners at Donovan State Prison. This seemed to be a tremendous undertaking because I had less than 10 days to do it. The Kairos "inside" team was spending three days at Donavon Correctional Facility ministering to prisoners, and would be delivering the letters.
My initial uneasiness was put to rest when Roger Ziegler, lay leader of the men's Prison Ministry, emailed me a letter that a prisoner had written after a previous prison outreach:
Hi, my name is Joe. When I was incarcerated my family did not come to visit. I thought that no one cared about me. I sat in my cell and just waited to die. The Kairos ministry started telling me about God, I learned that somebody does care about me. I look forward now to getting out of here.
When I read that, I hoped that my letters would make a difference in someone's life. I knew that if I was too tired or felt the task was too great and never tried, then I wouldn't have made a difference at all. Oftentimes, we will never know the impact that we can have on someone's life; we may never even meet them. But in this writer's opinion it is a sin not to try.
"The agape letters are so important because they break these hard men down," said Pastor August.
The word "agape", is a Greek word for a noble kind of love that we must have-even for our enemies.
Pastor August shared that many of the inmates have never received letters at the prison before. The letters touch them in a peculiar way, and get the men to open up and share with the Kairos ministers.
There are different branches of the Kairos ministry. There is Kairos "inside", where usually, a weekend is spent at the prison to bring Jesus to the men and women. There is Kairos "outside" to reach out to men and women who have recently been released or have family members who are incarcerated.
Last spring, I got the opportunity to attend the Kairos Outreach weekend retreat for women. We slept at a church in El Cajon.
The weekend was about serving the Lord and about being served. We did not wear watches, and we turned off our cell phones. The ministry leaders asked us to do this so that we could allow ourselves to be taken care of and not influenced by the outside world.
As soon as we got to the church, our luggage was taken up to our rooms for us. Meals were prepared and served to us by a wonderful staff, and each day little treats like a card with kind thoughts or perhaps a piece of chocolate or a basket of bubbles and pretty soaps were left on our pillows.
Most of the women I bunked with were ex-cons and not used to this kind of special treatment.
Our beds, on the other hand, were military-style cots, which were not made for comfort. On my second night there I made a comment about how uncomfortable the bed was, and how my bones ached and one of the girls said to me, "They are a lot more comfortable than the metal cookie cutter we have to sleep on at Las Calinas." Never have I been more grateful for a cot.
When we were not being pampered by the staff, most of our days were spent in small groups.
Each of the staff members shared their testimony at some point. These women who were serving us had come from all different walks of life, but somehow their choices had led them into a life of drugs or prostitution or other crimes. Some of them had even prayed that death would take them.
These women eventually found Jesus and turned their life around. He in turn had blessed them in so many ways. They are now school teachers, youth counselors, wives and mothers, when a short time ago they were living on the street, and the best they could hope for was to survive one more night.
I learned what it means to be humble from the Kairos women. I learned about hope and perseverance despite all odds, to be content in all situations, and the amazing reality of God's forgiveness, no matter what a person has done.
When I first got connected with the Prison Ministry I wondered if I made the right decision. What did I have to teach these women? Perhaps I should have been asking what I could learn from them.
As for the men, most of them say Kairos is something they've never experienced before, that a peace came over them and-for the first time for many of them-they felt love.If you would like more information about the Prison Ministry, please contact [email protected] or visit Prison Ministry.