May 2, 2015
Saturday 7:00 p.m.
Letter #381: I Just Want to Serve
I have looked forward to this weekend for several months now. This is the weekend of the Kairos Four-Day Event, similar to the one I attended last September. Just thirty guys get chosen to participate—one percent of our inmate population here—and hopes and expectations mingle with rumors and hearsays about who is going to make the final cut. Many guys who attend the weekly Kairos Bible Studies assumed they would be chosen, due to their faithfulness. Others pestered one or all four of the chaplains, trying to guarantee themselves placement on the list.
As an alumnus, I can’t be a participant again, but I was asked a few months ago to be the “Fourth Day Speaker,” the one alumnus who gets to say a few words during the closing program. I thoughtfully pondered the request for a split second, then agreed to do it. The speech I knew would be secondary to the real perk that responsibility came with: it meant I get to be one of the five inmates who serve the food and assist with setup and cleanup activities behind the scenes.
This was what I really wanted to do. Besides the fun of serving the crazy amount of food and seeing the participants stuff their faces, I know that the schedule has many 15-minute breaks throughout the weekend to allow for bathroom access and informal dialogue. I looked forward to the opportunity to talk with the participants and outside guests during those times.
Additionally, I was asked by the weekend’s leader to please submit a list of guys whom I thought would be perfect Kairos participants. Though the chaplains were to make the final decision, he told me that the chaplains had asked for his opinion. Because he is only familiar with the inmates who show up for the weekly Bible Studies, he asked me to recommend guys who maybe don’t typically attend church or church-sponsored events.
I listed the three guys I’ve mainly been working with, plus my cellie, Duffy. The reason I listed Duffy? He told me to put him on my recommendation list since the woman he writes to in a federal prison recently attended a Kairos four-day event. He hoped to have this in common to write about.
For the past couple of months, the weekend’s leader, Jim Wright, has asked me if I am ready to serve and give the final day’s speech. I kept telling him yes, and that I was looking forward to it. At the weekly Bible Studies, I’d see the other Kairos alumni ask to be a server, or I’d hear from the chaplains how inundated they were with requests to be a server. Three guys in my pod were among these, so I kept quiet about being chosen, since no one needed to know.
Finally, just this week, the thirty participants received their passes to the event. Of the four guys whose names I submitted, just Duffy was selected. This surprised me, since two of the chaplains had sat down with me in their office and discussed the many hopeful names on the master list. Knowing the material presented is especially beneficial for those who haven’t had a true relationship with God before, I had suggested to the chaplains that they NOT select guys who were faithful Bible Study attendees. This strategy was echoed by Jim Wright as well, since the outside guests hope to introduce men to a God who loves them. Yet, inexplicably, the fifteen choose from our compound were almost entirely made up of Bible Study goers. I was disappointed but renewed in my commitment to reach out to the guys who didn’t make the cut.
Thursday was the first day of the big event, and I joined with the head chaplain, Miller, to walk to Compound 2, where Kairos would take over the entire programs building, hosting the main sessions in the library and chapel. As soon as I walked in, one of the outside guests, James, saw me and called out, “Hey, Christopher!” then came up to me and gave me a hug. He’s not one of those guys who regularly comes in every week, so the last time he saw me was four months ago at a one-day reunion, and before that, four months prior.
That warm, fuzzy feeling continued as I saw several other guys who recognized me and introduced me to newbies on their team. I helped clean and get the sound equipment set up a couple of hours before the rest of the outside guests (30 in all!) and inmate participants showed up.
Then the chaplains pulled me aside and told me that they already had five servers, selected by the chaplain’s clerk. Beyond the disappointment, I couldn’t understand their decision, since the clerk (and the friends he chose to give the privilege to) aren’t Christians. I graciously left as soon as I found out, but I couldn’t help second-guessing my decision to not bug the chaplains ahead of time, to make certain they had listed me as a server. I realized God could use this to build my character, and I wondered if it may be better for Duffy if I’m not there.
Though it hurts to hear from Duffy how disappointed Jim Wright and the other guests are to not have Kairos alumni as servers, I am now looking forward to seeing them at tomorrow’s closing program.