Hey Harris County area Christians: If you’ve ever considered trying prison ministry . . .

. . . now is a great time.  I’ll be leading a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend this October 11-13.  If you have any interest please contact me for more information.  It is a highly effective and rewarding ministry.  There are roles for men inside and outside the prison and roles for women outside (and everyone gets to go inside the prison chapel for the closing ceremony to hear how the weekend went).

And as a bonus, the first 10 people to sign up get a free prison tattoo!  Just kidding!  Probably!

Prison ministry and a big hug from a Hampton Inn employee . . .

I was getting breakfast recently at the Hampton Inn (Mmmmmm . . . waffles) and heard an employee in the kitchen singing Power in the Blood ( “. . . in the precious blood of the lamb . . .”).  I leaned in to tell her that I liked that song and we shared a smile.  Then without thinking I leaned back in and mentioned that we had just been singing it at a prison ministry weekend.

Her co-worker walked out with me and thanked me for the ministry.  I didn’t think much of it  at first, but she repeated it and then leaned in with tears in her eyes and said that her son was locked up and how she really appreciated people going to minister in prisons.  We talked for a minute then she gave me a giant hug.  Please pray for Valerie and her son and that God will send people to him with the truth and love of Jesus.

It reminded me of how effective and important well-run prison ministry programs can be.

Thanks and blessings to all the people who have established and are running these programs!

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Also see Kairos Prison Ministry.  I’ve leading a weekend program this October, so if you are in Houston area and would like to participate on the inside or outside team, or just come to see the closing program to hear how the weekend helped the offenders, please let me know!

Prison ministry visits

We had our monthly visit to the prison to follow up with the guys who have been on Kairos Prison Ministry weekends.  It was the usual routine of donuts, singing, small group sharing and testimonies.

A few testimonies stuck out, as usual.  One was from a guy who was a gang leader both outside and then inside prison.  I wish you could have seen his demeanor.  He is a truly changed man since his Kairos weekend.  Complete peace.  For him, the Kairos weekend was the greatest time of his life.  He admitted he just went for the food, but that changed halfway through the weekend.  He forgot about all the things that used to consume him: Drugs, money, women and generating fear in others.  As you can imagine, vulnerability is not winning strategy in prison.  But he is so Christ-focused now that he can authentically say he isn’t worried about trying to make people fear or respect him anymore.  He is just looking for ways to love people.  He is focused on continuing to transform so he can be a great father and break the cycle.

Another man spoke of his childhood and extensive abuse at the hands of his family.  He had a major breakthrough during the forgiveness exercises of the weekend and said he regained the innocence that was stolen from him in his youth.

Yet another spoke of going from being a major drug dealer to getting “high” on singing in the prison choir.  His daughter visits and can’t believe he is the same person she used to know.

It is like that every month.  If you’ve ever thought about getting involved in prison ministry in some way, I urge you to follow through.  There are lots of great ministries out there, and this is one of them.  God uses it to changes lives for eternity.  I never get tired of seeing lives changed by the Holy Spirit.  God ordains the ends and the means, and one of his means is using his followers as bearers of his love.  Over and over I’ve seen God use that as the catalyst, along with the other things they’ve learned, to radically transform people for eternity.

Apologetics in prison ministry

Kairos Prison Ministry is designed to bring Christ’s love and forgiveness to incarcerated individuals and their families and to assist the incarcerated in becoming productive citizens.  It is a highly effective ministry that dramatically reduces the recidivism rate and generates significant and lasting changes in the participants.  I’ve met countless prisoners who still cite Kairos experiences from years ago as major catalysts for their Christianity.

I was pleased to see that one of the many lessons during the course of a Kairos prison ministry weekend is on apologetics (a reasoned defense of the Christian faith).  They basically use a minimal facts approach, noting how these are facts of history and that our faith is grounded in evidence.

The people who created and refined this course did a great job in covering a lot of theological bases.  I’m disappointed that most churches are very weak on apologetics, so I was encouraged that it was highlighted in the midst of lessons on choices, forgiveness, study, service, etc.

The inmates will even note that there is a lot of bad theology in prison just like there is in the outside world.  One of the themes I try to get across when giving a talk during the weekend is the importance of daily Bible reading and prayer.  They are receptive to sound teaching.  At the last weekend I worked I gave them my usual “Do you want to hear from God” bit and it resonated so well that one table mentioned it in the closing ceremony.

I ask, “How many of you would like to hear from God?”  They all say yes or raise their hands.  Then I say, “OK, read the Bible.”  They chuckle.

Then I ask, “Oh, you meant you want to hear from God out loud.  OK, how many of you would like to hear audibly from God?”  Again, they respond affirmatively.  Then I say, “OK, read the Bible out loud.”  More chuckles, then I explain my point.

God could speak to you audibly, but it isn’t common and He doesn’t do it on demand.  How about if we nail down the 31,173 verses He gave us before expect personalized revelations?  If He does speak to you out loud, it will be unmistakably clear, just like in the Bible.  It won’t be some sort of nudge or hint.

When we do our monthly follow up visits I’m encouraged by how much many of these guys read the Bible.  Seriously, they put many Christians to shame with how much they read, understand and try to live out.

Please pray for this ministry and consider getting involved yourself.  There are all sorts of opportunities both inside and outside the prison.

Two of my favorite role models

Last week I wrote about the importance of retirement plans — not the financial part, but the activity part.  We should never retire from Christian activities, though they may change over time.  We should finish strong, just like Moses, Joshua, Paul and so many others.  Don’t succumb to temptations.  Don’t destroy what you’ve worked so hard for.  Don’t sit back in self-indulgence.

Then on Saturday I was reminded of two of my favorite ministry role models.  I was doing a monthly visit as part of Kairos Prison Ministry and got to see Mike and Vic (pictures below).

You might think that white guys in their 80’s wouldn’t be able to connect with much younger guys (roughly 50% black, 25% Hispanic, 25% white), but you’d be wrong.  The prisoners seem to instantly bond with them and develop meaningful relationships over the course of the weekend and the follow-up sessions.  They have an authenticity and a genuine love that you just can’t miss.

They are as humble as can be, even though they are the most popular volunteers in the unit.  The prisoners go nuts whenever either one is introduced.

Neither are in perfect health, so they could just stay home on Saturday morning.  But month after month they get up early to come out and serve.  And when they work the Kairos weekends they work very long days, often getting to the prison at 6:30 a.m. and not leaving until 8:30 p.m.  But they do it with a smile and never complain.

They are both quick-witted and fun to listen to, having lived full and exciting lives.  Mike has been married for over 60 years (to the same woman, as he likes to add!), and I think Vic has been as well. I’ve seen Vic’s wife working on the outside teams during the weekends, and I’ve seen Mike’s wife come to the closing ceremonies.

These men never fail to encourage me.  If they can keep marriages intact for 60+ years and still love and serve in the name of Christ into their 80’s, so can I (God willing!).   This is how it is supposed to work.

Mike & Vic, I pray that God blesses you with the strength to serve many more years!


If you like the Ted Williams story, you’ll love prison ministry

It is hard not to enjoy the story of Ted Williams.

A few days ago, Ted Williams was a down-on-his-luck, homeless panhandler on the side of a Columbus, Ohio interstate highway ramp.

But then a reporter who had “discovered” the “man with the velvet voice” and made a video of Williams demonstrating his golden pipes put the video online. It’s lured more than 13 million hits.

Of course it is great to hear someone beat the odds.  But Mr. Williams isn’t valuable just because he has a great voice, but because he is a human being.

As I thought of his story it reminded me of the seemingly endless examples of transformed and redeemed lives I’ve seen through Kairos Prison Ministry.  Just this morning a man who had been molested as a child and had his 2 yr. old murdered was able to speak of his forgiveness for the perpetrators and talk about how he mentors other prisoners.  A former gang member has turned his life around and is eager and equipped to be the father and husband he is supposed to be when he is released next month.  A 40 yr. old who has been in prison since he was 17 can’t wait to get out and work hard to earn a living.  All of them are eager to share the Gospel with others.  And on and on.

There are many ways to support prison ministry, even if you don’t go into the prison yourself.  You can pray, bake cookies, donate money, support the Prison Fellowship and more.  You’ll never get tired of seeing lives transformed today and for eternity.

Kairos prison ministry weekend reflections

kairosjesusbehindbars.jpg

The Kairos prison ministry weekend went really well.  As always, it was exhausting and amazing.  This is probably my favorite ministry.  I’ve never seen anything that has such broad and dramatic impacts on so many lives.  I’ll share a little background, then a few observations.  If you want more background on the ministry there is additional information at the bottom.

Overview of the ministry: It is an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who aren’t believers (No one is pressured, though).  Many of the participants are already Christians, so it is a great opportunity to fellowship with and encourage them.  And it is just an all-around way to share God’s love with people who are often depressed and forgotten.  It is educational in laying out Christian principles for living and creating a Christian community wherever they are.  It helps teach them how to love and forgive others (and themselves). It has a dramatic impact on recidivism, which means less victims and lower costs for society.

Kairos doesn’t advocate for either the prisoners or for the criminal justice system. A transaction took place between the state and the prisoner. The prisoners did the crime and are now doing the time, so we don’t get in the middle of that. We just reach out with Christian love to all and with Christian fellowship to believers.  We try to show that they aren’t forgotten.

There is also a Kairos Outside program for the moms / wives / daughters of the prisoners.  It is completely free, including transportation to the event and childcare if necessary.

Observations from the weekend (other volunteers are welcome to leave their own in the comments section)

  • The speaker at the closing ceremony was a former Kairos participant who was paroled against great odds.  He noted how he continually and aggressively resisted the Gospel for decades.  Bibles brought in by new cell mates were thrown out of the cell or ripped to shreds and then thrown out of the cell.  But eventually he converted.  One lesson: Keep sowing seeds in people’s lives, but don’t cast pearls before swine.  Leave the results and timing to God.
  • I loved a quote passed along by one of the guys at my table (he was quoting Oswald Chambers, but I can’t find the original).  It was something like, “If you aren’t about your Father’s business where you are, what makes you think you’ll be about it where you will be?”  In other words, don’t tell yourself that when such-and-such happens you’ll be more generous, helpful, etc. if you aren’t doing those things now.  That fit in well with the talk I gave and with the general theme of the weekend to point them to have their own Christian community right where they are.
  • A prisoner at the closing ceremony told everyone to go home and tell and show your kids that you love them.  A few of the inmates came from solid homes, but most did not.
  • Another interesting moment at the closing ceremony: One guy asked how many people were raised going to church.  Lots of hands went up.  Then he asked how many were taught the Bible at home.  Most hands went down.  See Ephesians 6:4, Christians!  We need to teach this to our kids ourselves.  What they learn at church is just a bonus.
  • One guy noted how he thought love was just something in books and movies, and that he never experienced it until this weekend.
  • The birthday cakes and cards brought a lot of tears, especially by some who never had them growing up.
  • Our leader, Mark, did a great job of keeping us focused.  He noted that if all the offenders left the weekend just thinking about how nice we were to come then we would have failed.  The purpose is to get them plugged into their own Christian community and accountability relationships.
  • We took in literally thousands of cookies and other good food, which they really enjoy, but surprisingly they talked the most about the pleasures of having fresh fruit.
  • The forgiveness exercises were powerful, as usual.  There were many public apologies for wrongs done.  One offender noted how harboring unforgiveness makes it hard to pray.
  • There were lots of opportunities to coach and encourage them on what to do when they get out: Finding a good church, ensuring they have people to hold them accountable, etc.
  • Several ex-offenders were on the volunteer team as well.  It was great to have them and a tremendous example to those on the inside that success is possible.
  • I eat more cookies on one of these weekends than I do the rest of the year.  Seriously.
  • I never get tired of seeing lives transformed by the Holy Spirit.

I saw this song on my younger daughter’s Facebook page one day and thought it fit in well with the ministry theme of Kairos: Listen-listen-love-love.  Love people for who they are, not for what they have done or what they’ll become.

Here’s a previous post with more background information

Matthew 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

This is a follow up to the Off to prison (ministry) post.  The Kairos prison ministry weekend went really well as did the follow up session the next Saturday.  We were at the Carol Vance unit in Sugarland, Texas, a medium security unit (though it seemed more like medium-light to me).

I am looking forward to the monthly follow-ups.  We’ll go see the prisoners for a couple hours one Saturday morning per month.  If we just met them once on the Kairos weekend that would have been good, but it is more meaningful if we can visit them repeatedly.  I’ll probably do one of the weekend events each year from now on.

There are so many things to like about this ministry. It is an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who aren’t believers (No one is pressured, though.  One guy at my table was a Muslim but he really soaked it all in and was very appreciative).  [2009 update: The Muslim gentleman ended up converting to Christianity!] Many of the participants are already Christians, so it is a great opportunity to fellowship with and encourage them.  And it is just an all-around way to share God’s love with people who are often depressed and forgotten.  It is educational in laying out Christian principles for living.  It helps teach them how to love and forgive others (and themselves).

But even without all that, the proven reduction in recidivism would make the preparation, the weekend and the follow up worthwhile.  Based on statistics from larger sample sizes, 33 of the 42 participants would have returned to jail within 5 years if they hadn’t gone through this program.  Going through the weekend program cuts that down to 15, and it goes down to 5 if they all participate in the follow up program.

So roughly speaking, that will be 18-28 less people returning to prison once they are released.  That’s a tremendous cost savings, but more importantly it means a lot less victims and a lot less pain and heartache for the prisoners and their loved ones.

Kairos doesn’t advocate for either the prisoners or for the criminal justice system. A transaction took place between the state and the prisoner. The prisoners did the crime and are now doing the time, so we don’t get in the middle of that. We just reach out with Christian love to all and with Christian fellowship to believers.  We try to show that they aren’t forgotten.

There is also a Kairos Outside program for the moms / wives / girlfriends of the prisoners.  It is completely free, including transportation to the event and childcare if necessary.

Random highlights and observations

I never get tired of watching lives transformed by Christ.

All of the presenters prayed with an inmate who had already gone through the Kairos program.  Before my talk I got to pray with a man who was 14 yrs. into a 17 yr. sentence.  We had lots of talks at the tables, but I appreciated the one-on-one discussions the most.

Lots of time was spent educating them on how to conduct their own “Prayer and Share” accountability groups.  These are vital to keep them supporting one another and growing in their faith.

Several of the outside volunteers were was inmates themselves.  Their presence and message lets the inmates know that change is possible.

Watching otherwise reticent prisoners really light up during the songs.  I was playing guitar so I got to see their reactions.

You could really see the pain and regret in eyes of many of them.  They are haunted by not being there for their families.

There are a lot of good programs available for them to improve their chances of success when released – mentoring, Bible studies, Toastmasters, and more.

We make it a point not to ask why they are there or how long until they will get out (if ever), but they sometimes offer it up during discussions.  Most of the infractions were from violence and/or drugs.

Each prisoner got a bag of hand-written letters from everyone on the team plus others.  Some prisoners got more mail in one sitting than they had received their whole lives. We left the room when they got the letters. The leader said the reactions were strong – ranging from stunned to weeping to being like kids at Christmas. It made writing the 42 personalized letters worthwhile.  One older gentleman was still talking about the letters the next Saturday.  He was going to keep them forever and re-read them.

There was a rather large former gang member who, in his words, laid down his flag and accepted Christ over the weekend. He got choked up at the closing ceremony and was joined by one brother, then two, then three, then about fifteen surrounding him and supporting him. Then he came over to his ~80 yr. old table leader who was standing in front of me. The former gang member gave him a big hug and affectionately said, “Hey Old School.”

Some guys commented on how they not only felt the love but learned how to love and how to forgive. During testimonials and discussions we learned that many didn’t have dads or had dads who were unloving and lousy role models. The other prisoners were their family.

One of the key exercises involved “forgiveness cookies.”  Volunteers make many thousands of homemade cookies for the weekend.  There is a continuous pile at each table, and the prisoners get a bag every night to take back with them.  On Saturday night they are given an extra bag and told to give them to the person they need to forgive the most.  The next morning we heard many touching stories of what people did with the cookies.

Many participants were already Christians and knew the Bible better than we did.

Other than our presentations, we didn’t have to say much.  We mainly got them talking.  The theme for the team is listen-listen-love-love.

Most of the serving (food and otherwise) was done by prisoners who had already participated in a Kairos weekend.  I was impressed with their servants’ hearts and how much they cared for their fellow prisoners.

Most things in prisons are viewed from the perspective of “inside” or “outside” the prison walls. But as I pointed out to several prisoners, God looks at the world as those who are inside his kingdom vs. those who are outside.   From an eternal perspective there are just people with forgiveness of sins and eternal life and people without them.

Doing something new typically takes you outside your comfort zone. Being in the prison wasn’t that stressful for me, though. What was more challenging was just meeting and interacting with dozens of new people from morning until evening (I’m somewhat of an introvert, so I find that exhausting).

It was a joy to serve with friends from church and to make some new friends from other churches.  My good friend Steve did a fantastic job leading the weekend.  We were thoroughly prepared and everything went smoothly.

As Steve would say, “It’s official: I have now hugged more men in my life than women.”

Carol Vance Prison visitation tip: Don’t wear all white unless you want to stay permanently.

If you have any interest in this or other prison ministry programs, I encourage you to check them out.  They may not be for everyone, but you won’t know for sure until you try.  There are roles inside and outside the prison.  God is doing great things through this powerful ministry.

More links

Kairos of Texas

Prison Fellowship

To find ministries in your area, check out the links below (or just call your local prison – they may have other ministries going as well)

Kairos locations in Texas

Kairos national ministry map

Prison Fellowship Field Offices