I was in prison during four days last weekend, at Pocahontas Correctional Institution in Pocahontas, Virginia.
I was there as a volunteer for Kairos Prison Ministry. I sat at a table with two other Kairos volunteers and with four inmates. Our purpose was to assist these inmates to find—if they needed to find—and to come closer to—which they did need—Jesus Christ.
Our work at our table was Spiritual Listening. Kairos’ refrain in training is “Listen, listen; love, love.”
Each table participated in a succession of spiritual exercises, delivered to the group as a whole—to about 35 inmates seated at the tables with us volunteers. These exercises included listening to spiritually themed talks of about a half hour each during which the volunteer deliverer included intimate revelations from his own life.
These were the times when the prison’s gym—where our Kairos walk occurred—was absolutely silent. There were detailed revelations of missed opportunities, of bad choices, of abuse in various ways. Each talk was riveting to the inmates.
Following each talk, each table group was asked to speak among its members about how the talk had been received by each inmate, and then to do a second exercise. The inmates at each table were instructed to make an illustration with colored markers on poster board that represented the table’s conclusion about the talk.
By the end of Day Four, about fifty of these posters were pasted up on the walls around us—both moving and informative, and in some cases excellent in terms of graphic design.
The sequence of talk subjects is ordered by Kairos for increased Christian impact during the whole walk. The talks alternate with music interludes—we have a guitar player and singer whom we followed in song—and chapel services that included brief homilies, prayers, and also the reading of metaphorical stories.
There was also sufficient unstructured time between planned events for an increased amount of table chat and also of heartfelt intimate personal revelation. This unstructured time sometimes occurred when we were waiting for meals to be brought from the kitchen.
As the days passed, I could feel at our table and see when looking at other tables that inmates’ body language changed.
Day One—some tightness and stiffness, perhaps defensiveness. Day Two—more relaxation, some easy laughter. Day There—earnest two-way discussions for many minutes between an inmate and a volunteer. Day Four—long, full-body hugs.
There were four major high points of the weekend toward which Kairos’ sequence was leading us all. I mean all, not solely the inmates. I believe that we volunteers were affected, too. As a new man, I know I was powerfully affected by each of these high points.
Among my next few posts, I will illuminate these high points.
Spiritual Listening is a discipline of Agape.
Agape is a Greek term for the full, selfless, and self-sacrificing love modeled on the love Christians experience from God. The term has been used actively in Christian spirituality since the early church.
One of the high points of the walk was the delivery to each of the attendees what Kairos calls The Agape Letter.
Each volunteer writes a letter regarding his sense of agape to the inmates, the same letter goes to each of them. At a certain time on Day Three the letters are delivered to each inmate.
As I said in an earlier post, some of these men have scarcely ever received a piece of mail at all—even from family members outside. It can be an overwhelming experience.
I modeled my Agape Letter on one shown me by a volunteer who has attended many walks and who recruited me. I am grateful for his guidance.
Here’s what I wrote.
October 13, 2018
This weekend’s Kairos event will leave me with many memories, and I hope the same will be the case for you.
I don’t presume to understand the challenges you face or how you cope with them, but I do believe that you and I are each men who have made mistakes and at the same time who desire acceptance, forgiveness and reassurance that we are loved.
I hope you have given—or that you will give—your life to Jesus Christ. His is the life through which we receive the enduring love of God. During the weekend, I hope you have felt that enduring love of God. I have.
It is my experience that God provides His love all the time and without testing you or me.
There certainly have been times when I did not feel God’s love, or when I thought He had abandoned me. But that was on me, not Him.
His love was there (and it is there) all the time. I needed to allow my heart to soften. Once it softened, I could again experience the flow of God’s love, as demonstrated to me by the actions of His Son, Jesus Christ.
When I feel alone, sometimes I am sad or frightened (or sad and frightened). There are two things I do that help me recapture my assurance that God loves me. I hope you will do them, too. One is I read my Bible. The other is I pray.
I have two ways when I open my Bible. One is to have a particular passage in mind and turn to it. The other way is simply to open the Bible to whatever page falls open (I think of this as receiving the particular page God wants me to read right then). In either case, I read carefully, slowly, attentively.
Usually reading my Bible leads me into prayer. Often my prayers have a certain order, but sometimes they don’t. I judge that to be okay. God is our heavenly Father. He made us and loves us. He wants to hear back from us. In His wisdom, he answers our prayers—He may say yes, He may say no, He may say wait. Also, He may say nothing at all.
There have been times when I resented it that He didn’t say anything at all. You might have felt that same way. But then I thought about it again.
Imagine it this way. Maybe there was a time when you spoke urgently and importantly to a very close friend of yours. You told him about your most private failures and also about your need for forgiveness and to become a better man. But your friend didn’t answer you directly. Instead, he just nodded to reassure you he had heard you.
If you are like me in that situation, you were reassured and were comfortable that he was taking time to decide how to answer you. You were eager for his answer. And you were confident his answer would come at the right time.
Same with me.
Prayer, really, is a conversation between you and God. Always close your prayers by stating that you are sending your prayer to God through Jesus Christ, who is your savior—or I hope He will become your savior. It is Jesus who passes your prayers along to his Father, the Lord of the universe.
Bible reading and prayer are personal and often private activities. They are wonderful.
There is one more activity which I recommend for you. Find a community of friends who are followers of Jesus and spend time with them. Open yourself to these friends—we are all of us men who have made mistakes but who long to be accepted and loved. Be together with these men who you may grow to love, and who will show their own love back to you, since you are all lovers of Jesus Christ.
As for me, I will pray for you as a participant in our Kairos weekend. I will pray that you have experienced the love of God. I will pray that you will truly and deeply know you are loved, and that you will seek out ways to show that love to others around you at Pocahontas.
May you be blessed!