Hey – if you are the praying type – and I know many of you are – please say a quick prayer for the prison ministry weekend I’ll be at the next couple of days. Mainly, pray for the 42 prisoners who will be participating, plus all the inside and outside team members. I’ll be giving four short talks on forgiveness so pray for that as well. I’ll be an assistant table leader and playing guitar as well. It is often life changing for the participants and always very rewarding for the team members, but the days are long and it is quite exhausting for an introvert like me. Thanks!
More on the Kairos prison ministry here and here.
Thanks to those of you that prayed! The weekend was fantastic. The offenders were quick to open up and share with us. Here are some random thoughts. More on the program itself in the links above.
We had four or five ex-offenders on our team, which was a blessing. They can relate to the offenders in ways that most of us can’t, and they show how success if possible if you do the right things when you get out (accountability groups, staying away from the people you got into trouble with the first time, etc.).
The team brings an interesting mix of backgrounds that show that we have had our own problems to work through. Some have had failed marriages and worked through that. One guy is in his 80′s and has been married 63 years, and that serves to show that there is a better way and that success is possible. We work to be very transparent with them.
We bring in countless posters and letters to show just how many people are praying for them. These have a big impact. One offender recognized the name of a person he had been authorized to kill back in his gang days. For some reason, the murder plan fell through, and years later he finds that his target is praying for him and doesn’t even know it!
The program is very ecumenical – in the good way. We don’t talk about denominational differences at all. We focus on the basic (i.e., important) messages: Jesus really lived, died and rose again for our sins, forgiveness and redemption are possible, etc.
There is a heavy emphasis on forgiving – of yourself, of others and asking for forgiveness. We do several talks and exercises on that.
I really enjoyed encouraging, talking and praying with the guys at my table and getting to know them.
There is a mini-birthday celebration where the offenders get a personalized cake with ice cream along with a card signed by every volunteer. Some of these guys never had a birthday party ever so you see quite a few tears.
We take literally thousands and thousands of homemade cookies in. They get a bag every night to take back with them. They do an exercise with “forgiveness cookies” where they need to take a bag to someone they need to ask forgiveness or give forgiveness to. That leads to some very positive reconciliations.
We also take a dozen cookies to every offender in the prison. I got to help this year, and we went to every cell and dorm area to pass them out. They were very grateful. Trivia fact: Cells are way smaller than you see on TV. They looked to be about 5′ x 10′.
We hand-write letters for all 42 participants and bring in others as well. That can be more letters than they typically get in all their years in prison. They were especially touched by the kids who wrote letters saying they were praying for them (no last names, of course!).
One of the key messages was for these guys to get in accountability groups while in prison and especially when they get out.
I re-learned the importance of small things. A major highlight for one guy was the simple act of noticing that his other name tag had a different first name than the tag we prepared for him. I asked the leaders to make a new tag on Friday night and gave it to him Saturday morning. I didn’t think much of it, but he was really touched that we were thinking of him as an individual and not just a generic part of a big group.
Many of these guys know the Bible really well and take it very seriously.
As always, we don’t advocate for the offenders or the criminal justice system. We’re just there to let them know they aren’t forgotten and to share some things with them. We know that some will end up back in prison once they leave, but there is a dramatic reduction in recidivism for those who go through the program.
Follow up is important so they don’t view this is a one-time deal. We go back this Saturday to help them understand how accountability groups work and we visit one Saturday morning per month after that.
It was a tremendous opportunity to watch how lives get transformed when Christ’s love is shared with people who have rarely, if ever, seen it before. Some of these guys have never had someone help them without wanting something in return.