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The Experience of the Kairos Prison Ministry

There are so few of them. Life-changing moments that is. But I experienced one on Sunday evening as I had the privilege of attending a closing ceremony of a men’s Kairos Weekend at the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio.  Kairos Prison Ministry is a lay, ecumenical movement that addresses the spiritual needs of incarcerated men, women, children and families of those who work in a prison environment. Often best known as ‘Cookies for Kairos,’ this ministry feeds stomachs and souls.

As Christ served both the physical and spiritual needs of His people, as with the
multiplication of the loaves and fishes, an important aspect of this ministry is the physical feeding of the men with homemade cookies and homemade meals throughout the weekend. This is a rare treat in prison; fresh fruit and vegetables are practically unheard of here, and inmates have been known to actually cry and say, “I haven’t seen a fresh strawberry in 16 years.”

In addition to the physical feeding, there is of course, the spiritual feeding by the Kairos team and the prison chaplains, through personal sharing and by the Word of God. A lesser-known aspect of this ministry is the letter-writing campaign—as the Kairos team and other parishioners write personal letters to each of the 42 inmates. For some, unbelievably, this is the only mail they will ever receive in prison.

At this closing ceremony, the crowd of visitors, Kairos team members, and Kairos
graduates sang When the Saints go Marching In to welcome the inmates to the closing.  Many of the 42 inmates who were selected by the prison chaplain to participate in this weekend, admitted that when the weekend began on Thursday evening they were feeling “scared, lost, alone, downtrodden, hopeless, desperate, as an empty soul, one with a stony heart.”

But that after the weekend of prayer and sharing, and the experience of God’s love and forgiveness, with the leadership and support of the members of the Kairos team and prison staff, they felt, in their words, “Freedom from past failures ... Renewed faith ... Relationships, brotherhood, love, and caring ... Spiritual growth ... Wholeness and freedom ... A believing in myself and in Christ ... Forgiveness and healing ... The real Jesus ... A human heart ... An overabundance of joy and love ... An experience of God and we know that God loves us ...”

With incredible dedication, the Kairos team gave 8 Saturdays of preparation and led the 3-day weekend away from their families, and they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade it for the world. Their encouragement and love for these inmates is truly a living, breathing example of ordinary people being transformed by God’s love into the hands and feet of Christ.

The public witness by the inmates at this closing ceremony was moving, heartfelt, and uplifting with men, ages 18-78, crying and publicly sharing their new faith, hope, love and joy to a room full of about 150 people.

“We walked in as strangers to each other,” said one man in the family of Peter.  “We walked out dripping with love and watching the Spirit moving in us.” Six inmates and three Kairos team members form a ‘family,’ with families named after the disciples: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, James and John.

“I am learning to love with God’s love and to show love to my brother with a new
respect,” said a member of the family of Mark. “I served Satan for a long time. It ain’t nothing like how I am going to serve God.”

“All those labels we carry around with us and what society hangs on us,” said a
member of the family of John, referring to the exercise of writing down the labels
society places on them and then ripping those labels off the poster. “Finally I was able to let go of those labels and begin to think of myself as lovable by God.”
“Only God could give me my peace in my heart. I can start over,” said a member of the family of Peter. “I am a prayer warrior. I believe that is why I am here ... to pray for the walls of hearts of others to open.”

“I have no resentment anymore,” said an inmate referring to the group exercise of writing down resentments on water-soluble paper and watching it dissolve instantly in water. “When that paper dissolved I had no more resentment, no more hatred. God remodels and reshapes us. I am now a child of God.”

Did the men state what crime they had committed? Some did, but most didn’t. It didn’t matter. The weekend was about forgiveness: forgiving themselves and forgiving others, accepting Christ’s love, and accepting the really hard task of loving their inmate brothers and living out this new life in prison. Monthly prayer and share meeting will help and the Kairos graduates lean on each other for support.

My prayer is for these men to stay strong on their journey. It won’t be easy, but it isn’t easy for any of us. So I will pray for them, and in the words of an inmate, “I will pray for each person who is praying for me,” and none of us can ever have too many prayers.

Lori Crock
St. Brigid of Kildare parish
Freelance Writer