This post was inspired by my friend Shaun Johnson, who is creator and admin of the Facebook group A Running Cause. He created this group as a way for runners to connect with others who share passionate reasons for why we run. Each week, Shaun invites group members to send in photos, comments, or links to blog posts on specific topics; previous themes include the view out the door when we start a run; our favorite “urban jungle” to run in; and even the classic “How many pairs of shoes do you own?” This week’s challenge posed the question, “When you aren’t running, what ARE you doing?”; my answer: sometimes I go to prison!
I have written before about my faith; simply put, I follow the calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to do His work on earth as I await His return. There are many ways which this work manifests itself; the fundraising I do for Living Water International is one of them; bringing the hope represented by the Gospel into dark and dangerous places is another. For several years now, I have been involved with a wonderful group of men and women who serve with the Kairos Prison Ministry, specifically at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas…a maximum security facility in Central Texas which was once featured on the cover of Newsweek Magazine:
The link above gives much greater detail regarding the history of this prison and the work of Kairos in general, including ways to volunteer or provide financial support, and I encourage you to spend a few minutes browsing there; but in a nutshell, the mission of Kairos is to present an ecumenical “short course” in Christianity to a hand-picked group of inmates over a 3-1/2 day weekend. We do a series of informative talks, on topics such as the need for personal accountability with decision-making; the essential character of Jesus; the nature of God’s love; and the true function of the invisible church. Our goal is to help plant the seeds which will lead these men to accept the grace and forgiveness that God provides, and to join with others within the institution in forming a community of faith to support them as they finish serving out their sentences and hopefully return to society as better people – the goal of “rehabilitation”, after all (which the prison system itself is sadly incapable of .)
One of the key elements of the ministry is the effort we make to inform these men that they are loved…both by God and by people on the outside. Many of the inmates have been written off by their families, and turn to gangs, drugs, or other distractions to fill the void in their lives…we offer them a better option: the knowledge that there are people who view them not as failures or enemies, but as fellow humans who have made some terrible choices about the direction of their lives. They can be forgiven, they can be restored, they can find peace…this is what we tell them; and we bring proof to demonstrate what we are saying: there are people on the outside who sincerely care about them, and who pray for them to realize that this forgiveness and unconditional love – agape love, as the Bible puts it – are both real and available. This proof takes many forms, but by far the most impactful is the one I want to invite you, dear readers, to participate in: the Prayer Chain.
For several weeks leading up to the Weekend (as it is known), team volunteers solicit people who will commit to be in prayer for at least some part of the time we are with our Participants. This commitment is represented by a small slip of paper, bearing the first name, last initial, and city of residence of the person who is praying for an anonymous “man in white”, that he will be receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, in the way he most needs to receive it. These slips of paper are joined into interlocking links of a chain, which is brought into the room during a talk titled “You Are Not Alone”; there are typically a couple of thousand links, and the men are shocked to know that there are that many people, folks who they will never meet, who care enough to devote a few minutes’ thought and prayer to them…tears flow freely during this time, and hearts are softened, if not broken outright.
We circulate sign-up sheets in our churches and small groups, among co-workers, friends and acquaintances…anywhere and everywhere that we connect to other people…and these days, that also includes on a blog or other social media! So I am asking: Will you step up and be a partner in this effort? Would you be willing to commit a few minutes, sometime between Thursday April 3 and Sunday April 6, to say a quiet prayer that the participants of Eastham Kairos #27 would be open to the grace of God…that He will touch their hearts,and they will know that they are loved? If you will, please respond to me – in any format you wish, whether by commenting here or on my Facebook page, or by tweet or DM, or directly to my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) – with your first name, last initial, and city and country of residence, and I will fill out a slip and place you into the chain…I will be posting a simple reminder the day I leave home to travel to the prison, that the weekend has come; and you will have a opportunity to share in the work of Jesus:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’