Shining a Light in the Darkness
Writer / Johnette Cruz
Photos / Forrest Mellott
Prison is a dark, hopeless place. Prisoners often live their lives without friends, without family, without knowing love and forgiveness – but even in the midst of that darkness, there are people who choose to be a light in it.
The mission of Kairos Prison Ministry is to share the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to impact the hearts and lives of others while helping them become loving and productive citizens of their communities. There are more than 30,000 Kairos Prison Ministry volunteers serving in 35 states, 10 countries, in over 400 correctional facilities.
So what is Kairos? Kairos began in 1976 with a three-day “Short Course in Christianity” in Railford, Florida. It was initially called Cursillo in Prison. By 1978, six states were presenting a Cursillo short course in prison. Eventually, the program was redesigned and renamed “Kairos” (Greek for “God’s Special Time”). The first “Kairos” Prison Ministry was presented in 1979.
Today, Kairos Prison Ministry is one ministry with three programs, Kairos Inside, Kairos Outside and Kairos Torch.
The Kairos Inside program brings diverse inmates together, in both male and female institutions, for a weekend based on a series of talks, discussions, chapel meditations and music led by a team of volunteers. From this event, a Christian community will start to form. For many participants, the Kairos weekend creates the desire to become a Christian, and for others, the desire has existed but continues to mature them spiritually.
It has been suggested that many of the attendees initially are attracted to attend the weekend because of the food.. Yes, the food! Think about it …. When was the last time an inmate had fresh fruits or vegetables … fried chicken and ribs with dessert after every meal? For many, the meals are just like “mom” used to make.
Or maybe it’s the smiles, handshakes and understanding that the attendees encounter. When was the last time that an attendee actually could interact with others, voice his or her opinion and not be judged? The Kairos weekend motto for volunteers is “listen, listen, love, love” … and God uses this!
Chocolate chip cookies are also an important part of the weekend with nearly 2,000 dozen cookies distributed to the entire population of the prison!
Forgiveness is the universal theme of Kairos. It starts with forgiving oneself, and understanding that no matter what a participant may have done, God is willing to forgive them. Forgiveness of others and seeking forgiveness is present throughout the weekend. Participants who “get it” have openly cried with joy through casting away their burdens of guilt and shame.
After the Kairos Inside Weekend, “Prayer and Share” accountability groups are held weekly and Reunions with Kairos volunteers monthly. The ultimate goal of Kairos Inside is to build the Christian community behind the walls, that they might pray and fellowship together on a weekly basis by nurturing each other in their faith walk and providing accountability. This is the heart of Kairos.
The fact that volunteers return again and again to each prison for “Prayer and Share” and Reunions is what distinguishes Kairos from other prison ministries. It can be very challenging to maintain a Christian lifestyle in prison, and without volunteer follow-up support, the efforts of the retreat would be lost in the prison environment.
After a Kairos Inside weekend, prison violence often decreases. As the Kairos Christian community inside a prison grows and begins to gain influence, the incidence of violence decreases. Kairos helps to create better communities as the next generation experiences a change in their released family member who begins to model a lifestyle without crime. New positive behavior is reinforced. The local communities become safer as parolees and former prisoners make positive life choices from the foundation of ongoing Christian “Prayer and Share” weekly meetings. Families are reunited with more hope for the future.
Kairos Outside is a Christian weekend designed to demonstrate God’s grace and love through support for women impacted by incarceration. In a safe environment, women interact with other women who are in similar situations and learn from small support groups to give each other strength in their life journey.
After the weekend, the journey together begins. Through SWAP (Share, Witness, Account and Pray) and Reunion meetings, they support and encourage each other as they deal with the impact of incarceration on themselves and their families.
Kairos Torch is a positive, interactive and thought-provoking program for youth offenders 25 years old and younger. By developing reasoning, holistic life skills and engaging in the Torch mentoring program, participants are better able to seek balance in their lives.
One-on-one mentoring is the most important aspect of this program. In Kairos Torch, mentors establish a healthy and personal relationship with their mentees. The mentor provides a positive adult role model for the youthful offender while the sessions focus on issues of self-esteem, anger management, short and long-term goal setting and forgiveness.
Consistency with all three Kairos programs is important, and each program is presented in exactly the same format no matter what state or prison you are in. The main component of Kairos is the ability for each volunteer to listen and to love each person as Jesus did. Visit kairosofindiana.org to learn more about how you can be the hands and feet of Christ to build His community with Kairos Inside, Kairos Outside or Kairos Torch.
Kairos of Central Indiana will be having a huge fundraising event! Without the generosity of the community and Kairos volunteers to cover the $12,000 cost for each weekend at each prison, this ministry would not be possible.
If you would like to donate items to this sale or have interest in a corporate sponsorship, please contact Event Coordinator John Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.