Blessed is he whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 146: 5-10)
It was the first night of the Kairos Prison Ministry inside one of the state prison units in Texas, and we had sandwiches and chips for dinner: ham and cheese and/or turkey, on wheat or white bread. Mayonnaise and mustard in little packets, lettuce and fruit and cookies were available.
“I haven’t had a sandwich like that in nine years,” a young man assigned to our table said. He probably wasn’t 30 years old. Sandwiches like that are what my wife and I have if we don’t have any leftovers and don’t want to cook.
The mission of Kairos Prison Ministries International is “Changing Hearts, Transforming Lives, Impacting the World”. It begins with a 3 1/2 day weekend in the unit, with prayer and teaching and singing and food, and love shown in lots of ways. A “prayer chain” hundreds of feet long of colorful linked paper strips with names and locations stretched across the three “rooms” we used for meeting, chapel and cafeteria. (“Rooms” because it was a gym with portable dividing walls.) Every color a name, and every name a prayer.
It’s not my purpose here to define Kairos or give a full account of the weekend, but I saw changed lives when people saw that strangers loved them in the name of Jesus. Letters from the team and many others to each participant told them they were being prayed for, that they were loved, and that Jesus came for them, too. Quotations from many of our Scriptures, many written by Paul in prison, took on new meaning inside those walls. One man had not received a letter in the 40 years he had been incarcerated. I met with a young man, 19, who had been imprisoned since he was 14 years old, slightly older than my grandson. He told me some of his story, and he told me he had never told anyone all before that day. A burden was visibly lifted from him, and a joy started to come over him as the weekend went on — it looked like hope.
One of the changed lives was mine. One of the songs we sang was “My Jesus”, which has a chorus of “Let me tell you about my Jesus, and let my Jesus change your life!” I’m not the type to cry openly, but I did that weekend. During my days before sobriety I did what was necessary for me to be in prison; I didn’t get pulled over, I didn’t get stopped, I didn’t hurt anyone and there is no reason for any of that except God’s mercy.
Sin is the great leveler. All of us have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23, written from prison) And all of us are made in the image of God, and all of us are those Christ came to save, to give a new hope, a new purpose, a new and abundant life.
We had a night where we wrote the names of those we needed to forgive on flash paper, stuck the pages on a nail on our cross, and watched the paper — and the director’s eyebrows! — go up in an instant.
Kairos is not a quick weekend where the little saviors come in and then leave. We start weekly “prayer and share”, and work to get fellowship communities working inside the prison, among the “brothers in white.” A band of brothers in Christ is formed, and new hope is given to those without it.
The Great Awakening in England began in part under the preaching of John Wesley, who gave the news to the poor, to the brokenhearted, to the prisoners, to the coal miners, that there was a God who loved them, even then, even when it looked like they had a thrown-away life — and they heard for perhaps the first time that when Jesus said “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16) — that the “”whosoever” meant them, meant you, means me.
Revivals don’t start in Highland Park or River Oaks or Beverly Hills. Revivals start when the ones who had no hope realize that Someone came for them, and loves them — and those of us who want to and are called get an opportunity to be a part.
“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus, ready, comes to save you, full of pity, love and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior, O – there are 10,000 charms.” Joseph Hart, 1759