Kairos Prison Ministry Has Transformational Effect
February 22, 2010
"I was in prison and you visited Me" (Matthew 25:36b)
Kairos is a Christian, lay-led, ecumenical, international prison ministry, in which men and women volunteers bring Christ's love and forgiveness to incarcerated individuals and to their families. Kairos currently operates in 350 prisons in eight countries and 31 states in the U.S.
Inmates freely choose to sign up for the four-day program. Each day there is singing, sharing, talks, discussions, prayer, and meditations. At the same time, a wonderful network of people from around the world is in prayer for the inmates.
Following the weekend, the inmates and volunteers gather for monthly half-day reunions.
Kairos has been credited by prison authorities with lowering the number of violent crimes inside the institutions, as well as giving the inmates a Godly purpose for their life, and keeping them from returning to a life of crime.
The Rev. Holly Hillman has been serving in the Kairos ministry for several months: at the Federal Correctional Institution for women in Dublin, California (over Columbus Day weekend), and over Labor Day and Presidents' Day weekends at the Central California Women's Facility, the largest women's prison in the nation. This facility is at 211% capacity and is where all of the female death row inmates are housed.
What follows is her account of the Presidents' Day weekend experience.
By The Rev. Holly Hillman
God's presence was so palpably strong at the prison that it wowed us all!
The inmates bawled and bawled and bawled – God was melting huge icebergs in their hearts. They kept talking about how they could really feel God's peace each time they walked into the room, and they were blown away with all of the love that is showered upon them in so many ways.
Seven of them made an all-out commitment to follow Jesus Christ, and others rededicated their lives.
At the closing ceremony they shared how broken, lost, heartsick, and suicidal they were when they came, and how filled with joy, peace, agape love, and fresh hope they are now.
The head of the Crips gang attended, and she spoke of her need to make radical changes in her life. The heads of two other gangs also attended, one sitting at our table.
Of the six inmates at our table, five were the biggest outcasts of the prison. Yet almost right away, walls began to melt, and they honored one another with kind, honest words and loving actions, amazing the other inmates. You never would have known they were hardened criminals, because their faces softened so much and their eyes sparkled with hope and joy. One of the woman at our table had just ended her stay of two-and-a-half years in isolation – in which she was only allowed to leave her cell for 10 hours a week. We watched in awe as she blossomed right in front of our eyes.
No other ministry I have ever been involved with gives me such hope for the transformation of the world!
This now makes 136 women who have attended a Kairos in this prison and their transformation is having a huge impact upon the other inmates. We were able to go to their residences on Monday morning, and we were surrounded by women begging us to find more volunteers to come, as so many inmates long to participate. They said every woman in the prison would come – because they ache to have the peace and joy that their cell mates are experiencing.
Thank you ever so much for the prayers, which were absolutely pivotal in making this weekend such a defining moment for the women.
If you can possibly find a way to participate, you will be richly rewarded with awe, wonder and the pleasure of God.
Kathy Benedict, a lay person at Willow Glen UMC, also served this last weekend. The Rev. Anne Lau Choy (Fremont UMC) has served at the Federal Prison in Dublin, and I am aware that UMC men have served at Folsom. (There may be UMC clergy and lay people who have served with Kairos in Nevada, as well.)
If God is giving you a nudge to participate, just let me know!