September 7, 2014
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #347: Kairos Prison Ministry
I have just experienced one of the most significant weekends of my life, an incredible privilege and unbelievable emotional event. Kairos Prison Ministries came to our facility to overwhelm us with love. I was one of just 30 inmates (out of the 3,000 housed here) selected by the chaplains and blessed by God to participate this weekend.
Joe left just three days before he was to have participated as well, but God knew what He was doing: though Joe is still on “orientation” status (confined to his cell for the first 10 days at his current institution), he led his cellie to the Lord in the first few days he has been there, according to his grateful cellie who called my mom with the news.
Beginning Thursday afternoon, twenty-nine men from twenty-five churches all over Arizona and from five denominations came to bless us, backed by a massive amount of volunteers. We knew we were in for something special when we were greeted with personalized name tags that matched those of our guests, who made a point of shaking our hands and learning our names. (By the last day, each of the Kairos guests knew my name, even without my name tag on.)
We were ushered into the library and greeted by our individual “sponsors.” Incredibly, as each of the mostly-retired group of volunteers introduced themselves, many said they really hoped to “make some new friends” this weekend. The sheer unconditional love of that statement touched me.
Heaping trays of home-made cookies and fresh fruit flowed in seemingly unlimited abundance. It turns out, church teams made more than 48,000 cookies just for our prison, giving out bags of homemade goodness to every inmate and staff member. And the abundance of food didn’t stop there. We were treated to homecooked meals and desserts: taco salad, sloppy Joe’s, cornbread, ambrosia, cheesecake, and fresh fruit and vegetables were all served in all-you-can-eat family dining style all weekend long. The labor of love was evident everywhere.
Beginning Friday morning, everyone was divided into “families,” seated around large round tables, with one of us seated on either side of an outside guest; six of us and three of them filled a table. Each of the five tables had a pastor and two lay ministers. I sat next to Pastor Bob Holliday, from St. James United Methodist Church in Tucson, who kept us entertained during mealtimes.
The seminar-type format featured nearly all of the guests taking turns speaking on a variety of topics related to building a vibrant walk with God while incorporating their personal testimonies. After each talk, we would discuss the notes we’d taken and what we’d learned, and then each “family” created a poster illustrating the main concept. I was our designated team artist, and I enjoyed getting everyone in on it.
One guy in our family, Diego, was highly combative about any religious topic, and two of the guys were receptive to a relationship with God. Both prayed for the first time in their lives. Years of gang activity had obviously made them resistant toward God, and they both had a tough time opening up to others, as well.
You can only imagine their shock when Pastor Bob, who by then had become a friend of theirs, revealed to us on Saturday that he was a 26-year police veteran, and several guys were ex-military, including one 15-year veteran of Special Forces as a Green Beret.
By the weekend’s end, we were all deeply moved by the love shown us, not only by the men but their wives and others—80 in all who showed up on Sunday to send us off, and messages from all over the United States and twenty countries from people praying for us. Yes, I cried, reading 30 personal cards written specifically to me.
I look forward to their ongoing ministry here with us.