Tag Archives: prison ministry

Want to help race relations? Get involved in prison or pregnancy center ministries.

                  

Race had nothing to do with why I got involved in those ministries.  I’ll share the Gospel with anyone, whether you are a black convicted murderer or the best-behaved white pagan in the free world.  And I want to help save unborn children from murder regardless of their skin color.

But the nature of these ministries is such that it is mostly whites serving mostly minorities.  And as a fantastic by-product of sharing the love and truth of Christ with these folks it does marvelous things for race relations.  It pushes a giant reset button on those who have been wounded because of their race and/or steeped in their own racism.

It has changed countless prison environments, where skinheads and Black Panther-types have become friends and led their respective gangs to change.

I’ve seen countless inmates and even volunteers note how the ministries radically changed how they view others, and how they repented of their racism.

Here’s the story of a guy I know from prison ministry who was in the Aryan Brotherhood.   I saw him in action many times as a leader of the Christian groups inside prison and in the ways he is giving back now that he’s out of prison.  Let’s just say that he wasn’t transformed by the power of virtue-signaling social media posts.   

I realize that the race-baiting professionals of the Left — including the “Christian” Left — want to improve race relations as much as McDonald’s wants to sell less hamburgers.  If your movement demands tax-funded abortions to the child’s 1st breath that kill blacks at a rate three times that of whites and Hispanics at twice the rate, then you’ll have a tough time convincing me you really care about them.  But authentic Christians really do want to see improvements.   And ministries like these make it happen.

It is remarkably safe to say “Nazis are bad!” on Facebook in 2017 in the U.S.  If you really want to do something about race relations — and more importantly, the Gospel — try something more substantial.  Look into your local pregnancy resource center or prison ministries, or anything similar that shares the love and truth of Christ with minorities.

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Do you accept God’s forgiveness?

I’ve enjoyed R.C. Sproul’s Does Prayer Change Things? that is available for free on the Kindle app (you don’t need to own a Kindle).  As always, Sproul makes profound points in brief and understandable ways.

Here he tackles a common issue, namely that of confessing to God and asking forgiveness but not forgiving ourselves (or not accepting forgiveness, however you want to look at it).  I’ve experienced this myself and seen it with others, especially when doing Kairos Prison Ministry.  We do a lot of forgiveness exercises — forgiving others and asking forgiveness — but as you can imagine these guys have a lot to feel badly about.

We have God’s promise that when we confess our sins to Him, He will forgive us. Unfortunately, we don’t always believe that promise. Confession requires humility on two levels. The first level is the actual admission of guilt; the second level is the humble acceptance of pardon.

A woman distraught about a guilt problem once came to me and said: “I’ve asked God to forgive me of this sin over and over, but I still feel guilty. What can I do?” The situation did not involve the multiple repetition of the same sin, but the multiple confession of a sin committed once.

“You must pray again and ask God to forgive you,” I replied.

A look of frustrated impatience came into her eyes. “But I’ve done that!” she exclaimed. “I’ve asked God over and over again to forgive me. What good will it do to ask Him again?” In my reply, I applied the proverbial firm force of the board to the head of the mule: “I’m not suggesting that you ask God to forgive you for that sin. I’m asking you to seek forgiveness for your arrogance.”

The woman was incredulous. “Arrogance? What arrogance?” She was assuming that her repeated entreaties for pardon were proof positive of her humility. She was so contrite over her sin that she felt she had to repent for it forever. She thought her sin was too great to be pardoned by one dose of repentance. Let others get by on grace; she was going to suffer for her sin no matter how gracious God was. Pride had fixed a barrier to this woman’s acceptance of forgiveness. When God promises us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it. To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.

That is some serious good news, and a great reminder that God’s standards are infinitely higher than mine, and that I should immediately accept his forgiveness and move on.  Otherwise, among other things, I am ungratefully refusing his extravagant gift of grace.

Prison ministry and a big hug from a Hampton Inn employee . . .

I was getting breakfast recently at the Hampton Inn (Mmmmmm . . . waffles) and heard an employee in the kitchen singing Power in the Blood ( “. . . in the precious blood of the lamb . . .”).  I leaned in to tell her that I liked that song and we shared a smile.  Then without thinking I leaned back in and mentioned that we had just been singing it at a prison ministry weekend.

Her co-worker walked out with me and thanked me for the ministry.  I didn’t think much of it  at first, but she repeated it and then leaned in with tears in her eyes and said that her son was locked up and how she really appreciated people going to minister in prisons.  We talked for a minute then she gave me a giant hug.  Please pray for Valerie and her son and that God will send people to him with the truth and love of Jesus.

It reminded me of how effective and important well-run prison ministry programs can be.

Thanks and blessings to all the people who have established and are running these programs!

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Also see Kairos Prison Ministry.  I’ve leading a weekend program this October, so if you are in Houston area and would like to participate on the inside or outside team, or just come to see the closing program to hear how the weekend helped the offenders, please let me know!

If you like the Ted Williams story, you’ll love prison ministry

It is hard not to enjoy the story of Ted Williams.

A few days ago, Ted Williams was a down-on-his-luck, homeless panhandler on the side of a Columbus, Ohio interstate highway ramp.

But then a reporter who had “discovered” the “man with the velvet voice” and made a video of Williams demonstrating his golden pipes put the video online. It’s lured more than 13 million hits.

Of course it is great to hear someone beat the odds.  But Mr. Williams isn’t valuable just because he has a great voice, but because he is a human being.

As I thought of his story it reminded me of the seemingly endless examples of transformed and redeemed lives I’ve seen through Kairos Prison Ministry.  Just this morning a man who had been molested as a child and had his 2 yr. old murdered was able to speak of his forgiveness for the perpetrators and talk about how he mentors other prisoners.  A former gang member has turned his life around and is eager and equipped to be the father and husband he is supposed to be when he is released next month.  A 40 yr. old who has been in prison since he was 17 can’t wait to get out and work hard to earn a living.  All of them are eager to share the Gospel with others.  And on and on.

There are many ways to support prison ministry, even if you don’t go into the prison yourself.  You can pray, bake cookies, donate money, support the Prison Fellowship and more.  You’ll never get tired of seeing lives transformed today and for eternity.

Kairos prison ministry weekend reflections

kairosjesusbehindbars.jpg

The Kairos prison ministry weekend went really well.  As always, it was exhausting and amazing.  This is probably my favorite ministry.  I’ve never seen anything that has such broad and dramatic impacts on so many lives.  I’ll share a little background, then a few observations.  If you want more background on the ministry there is additional information at the bottom.

Overview of the ministry: It is an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who aren’t believers (No one is pressured, though).  Many of the participants are already Christians, so it is a great opportunity to fellowship with and encourage them.  And it is just an all-around way to share God’s love with people who are often depressed and forgotten.  It is educational in laying out Christian principles for living and creating a Christian community wherever they are.  It helps teach them how to love and forgive others (and themselves). It has a dramatic impact on recidivism, which means less victims and lower costs for society.

Kairos doesn’t advocate for either the prisoners or for the criminal justice system. A transaction took place between the state and the prisoner. The prisoners did the crime and are now doing the time, so we don’t get in the middle of that. We just reach out with Christian love to all and with Christian fellowship to believers.  We try to show that they aren’t forgotten.

There is also a Kairos Outside program for the moms / wives / daughters of the prisoners.  It is completely free, including transportation to the event and childcare if necessary.

Observations from the weekend (other volunteers are welcome to leave their own in the comments section)

  • The speaker at the closing ceremony was a former Kairos participant who was paroled against great odds.  He noted how he continually and aggressively resisted the Gospel for decades.  Bibles brought in by new cell mates were thrown out of the cell or ripped to shreds and then thrown out of the cell.  But eventually he converted.  One lesson: Keep sowing seeds in people’s lives, but don’t cast pearls before swine.  Leave the results and timing to God.
  • I loved a quote passed along by one of the guys at my table (he was quoting Oswald Chambers, but I can’t find the original).  It was something like, “If you aren’t about your Father’s business where you are, what makes you think you’ll be about it where you will be?”  In other words, don’t tell yourself that when such-and-such happens you’ll be more generous, helpful, etc. if you aren’t doing those things now.  That fit in well with the talk I gave and with the general theme of the weekend to point them to have their own Christian community right where they are.
  • A prisoner at the closing ceremony told everyone to go home and tell and show your kids that you love them.  A few of the inmates came from solid homes, but most did not.
  • Another interesting moment at the closing ceremony: One guy asked how many people were raised going to church.  Lots of hands went up.  Then he asked how many were taught the Bible at home.  Most hands went down.  See Ephesians 6:4, Christians!  We need to teach this to our kids ourselves.  What they learn at church is just a bonus.
  • One guy noted how he thought love was just something in books and movies, and that he never experienced it until this weekend.
  • The birthday cakes and cards brought a lot of tears, especially by some who never had them growing up.
  • Our leader, Mark, did a great job of keeping us focused.  He noted that if all the offenders left the weekend just thinking about how nice we were to come then we would have failed.  The purpose is to get them plugged into their own Christian community and accountability relationships.
  • We took in literally thousands of cookies and other good food, which they really enjoy, but surprisingly they talked the most about the pleasures of having fresh fruit.
  • The forgiveness exercises were powerful, as usual.  There were many public apologies for wrongs done.  One offender noted how harboring unforgiveness makes it hard to pray.
  • There were lots of opportunities to coach and encourage them on what to do when they get out: Finding a good church, ensuring they have people to hold them accountable, etc.
  • Several ex-offenders were on the volunteer team as well.  It was great to have them and a tremendous example to those on the inside that success is possible.
  • I eat more cookies on one of these weekends than I do the rest of the year.  Seriously.
  • I never get tired of seeing lives transformed by the Holy Spirit.

I saw this song on my younger daughter’s Facebook page one day and thought it fit in well with the ministry theme of Kairos: Listen-listen-love-love.  Love people for who they are, not for what they have done or what they’ll become.

Here’s a previous post with more background information

Matthew 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

This is a follow up to the Off to prison (ministry) post.  The Kairos prison ministry weekend went really well as did the follow up session the next Saturday.  We were at the Carol Vance unit in Sugarland, Texas, a medium security unit (though it seemed more like medium-light to me).

I am looking forward to the monthly follow-ups.  We’ll go see the prisoners for a couple hours one Saturday morning per month.  If we just met them once on the Kairos weekend that would have been good, but it is more meaningful if we can visit them repeatedly.  I’ll probably do one of the weekend events each year from now on.

There are so many things to like about this ministry. It is an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who aren’t believers (No one is pressured, though.  One guy at my table was a Muslim but he really soaked it all in and was very appreciative).  [2009 update: The Muslim gentleman ended up converting to Christianity!] Many of the participants are already Christians, so it is a great opportunity to fellowship with and encourage them.  And it is just an all-around way to share God’s love with people who are often depressed and forgotten.  It is educational in laying out Christian principles for living.  It helps teach them how to love and forgive others (and themselves).

But even without all that, the proven reduction in recidivism would make the preparation, the weekend and the follow up worthwhile.  Based on statistics from larger sample sizes, 33 of the 42 participants would have returned to jail within 5 years if they hadn’t gone through this program.  Going through the weekend program cuts that down to 15, and it goes down to 5 if they all participate in the follow up program.

So roughly speaking, that will be 18-28 less people returning to prison once they are released.  That’s a tremendous cost savings, but more importantly it means a lot less victims and a lot less pain and heartache for the prisoners and their loved ones.

Kairos doesn’t advocate for either the prisoners or for the criminal justice system. A transaction took place between the state and the prisoner. The prisoners did the crime and are now doing the time, so we don’t get in the middle of that. We just reach out with Christian love to all and with Christian fellowship to believers.  We try to show that they aren’t forgotten.

There is also a Kairos Outside program for the moms / wives / girlfriends of the prisoners.  It is completely free, including transportation to the event and childcare if necessary.

Random highlights and observations

I never get tired of watching lives transformed by Christ.

All of the presenters prayed with an inmate who had already gone through the Kairos program.  Before my talk I got to pray with a man who was 14 yrs. into a 17 yr. sentence.  We had lots of talks at the tables, but I appreciated the one-on-one discussions the most.

Lots of time was spent educating them on how to conduct their own “Prayer and Share” accountability groups.  These are vital to keep them supporting one another and growing in their faith.

Several of the outside volunteers were was inmates themselves.  Their presence and message lets the inmates know that change is possible.

Watching otherwise reticent prisoners really light up during the songs.  I was playing guitar so I got to see their reactions.

You could really see the pain and regret in eyes of many of them.  They are haunted by not being there for their families.

There are a lot of good programs available for them to improve their chances of success when released – mentoring, Bible studies, Toastmasters, and more.

We make it a point not to ask why they are there or how long until they will get out (if ever), but they sometimes offer it up during discussions.  Most of the infractions were from violence and/or drugs.

Each prisoner got a bag of hand-written letters from everyone on the team plus others.  Some prisoners got more mail in one sitting than they had received their whole lives. We left the room when they got the letters. The leader said the reactions were strong – ranging from stunned to weeping to being like kids at Christmas. It made writing the 42 personalized letters worthwhile.  One older gentleman was still talking about the letters the next Saturday.  He was going to keep them forever and re-read them.

There was a rather large former gang member who, in his words, laid down his flag and accepted Christ over the weekend. He got choked up at the closing ceremony and was joined by one brother, then two, then three, then about fifteen surrounding him and supporting him. Then he came over to his ~80 yr. old table leader who was standing in front of me. The former gang member gave him a big hug and affectionately said, “Hey Old School.”

Some guys commented on how they not only felt the love but learned how to love and how to forgive. During testimonials and discussions we learned that many didn’t have dads or had dads who were unloving and lousy role models. The other prisoners were their family.

One of the key exercises involved “forgiveness cookies.”  Volunteers make many thousands of homemade cookies for the weekend.  There is a continuous pile at each table, and the prisoners get a bag every night to take back with them.  On Saturday night they are given an extra bag and told to give them to the person they need to forgive the most.  The next morning we heard many touching stories of what people did with the cookies.

Many participants were already Christians and knew the Bible better than we did.

Other than our presentations, we didn’t have to say much.  We mainly got them talking.  The theme for the team is listen-listen-love-love.

Most of the serving (food and otherwise) was done by prisoners who had already participated in a Kairos weekend.  I was impressed with their servants’ hearts and how much they cared for their fellow prisoners.

Most things in prisons are viewed from the perspective of “inside” or “outside” the prison walls. But as I pointed out to several prisoners, God looks at the world as those who are inside his kingdom vs. those who are outside.   From an eternal perspective there are just people with forgiveness of sins and eternal life and people without them.

Doing something new typically takes you outside your comfort zone. Being in the prison wasn’t that stressful for me, though. What was more challenging was just meeting and interacting with dozens of new people from morning until evening (I’m somewhat of an introvert, so I find that exhausting).

It was a joy to serve with friends from church and to make some new friends from other churches.  My good friend Steve did a fantastic job leading the weekend.  We were thoroughly prepared and everything went smoothly.

As Steve would say, “It’s official: I have now hugged more men in my life than women.”

Carol Vance Prison visitation tip: Don’t wear all white unless you want to stay permanently.

If you have any interest in this or other prison ministry programs, I encourage you to check them out.  They may not be for everyone, but you won’t know for sure until you try.  There are roles inside and outside the prison.  God is doing great things through this powerful ministry.

More links

Kairos of Texas

Prison Fellowship

To find ministries in your area, check out the links below (or just call your local prison – they may have other ministries going as well)

Kairos locations in Texas

Kairos national ministry map

Prison Fellowship Field Offices

Kairos Prison Ministry opportunity

Hey Houston-area people who have thought about doing a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend: Now’s your chance!  We need 25 more people for the October 8-10 weekend or it will have to be canceled.

Here’s portions of a note from the leader with some details.  Contact me if you want to know more.  These weekends take some prep time but are very productive and rewarding.  It is one of my favorite ministries.  I’ll be working it.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

God’s Grace and Peace to all Friends of the Carol Vance Kairos community!

Carol Vance Kairos Weekend #42 is scheduled for October 8-10, 2010 at the Carol Vance Prison Unit in Richmond, TX and this is your invitation to participate in this special ministry.

The mission of Kairos Prison Ministry International is to bring Christ’s love and forgiveness to all incarcerated individuals, their families, and those who work with them, and to assist the incarcerated in the transition to becoming productive citizens.  Those who participated on the team and attended the closing of CVK # 41 Sunday were able to witness God at work and to see the spiritual transformation that takes place in these men as they experience a Kairos Weekend.

Please give prayerful consideration to joining our Kairos # 42 volunteer team. This ministry does not require any special gifts.  Just come with a servant’s heart, knowing that Jesus Christ is in charge and that we are there as his hands and feet to show his grace, mercy, and love to those often forgotten by the outside world.

A Kairos Application Form is attached and should be completed by all volunteers (including veterans).  Please turn this form in to me at the first team meeting.  Before that, I would appreciate an email as well so that I can start planning team positions and family groups.

The first team meeting is scheduled for Saturday August 7, 2010 at a location yet to be announced.  A reminder notice, map, and meeting agenda will be emailed prior to this meeting.  We will provide coffee, juice, and a continental breakfast from 8:00am – 8:30am.  The meeting will start promptly at 8:30am and should be over by 2:00pm.  A light lunch will also be served.

There will be three additional team meetings prior to the Kairos # 42 Weekend plus an Instructional Reunion Meeting at Carol Vance on Saturday October 16, 2010.  Dates for all meetings are included on the attached Kairos Application Form and the locations will be provided as soon as they are available.  Please mark these dates on your calendars.  Your attendance is needed for all team meetings (veterans – we rely on you sharing your experiences with new members) so that we can bond and grow spiritually as a team before we enter the unit.

Kairos is a continuing ministry.  The first Saturday of every month we return to the Carol Vance Unit from 9am – 11am for a “reunion” with all men in white who have previously participated in Kairos for prayer and share.  We also do a lot of singing and laughing at these reunions.  Again, as a Kairos volunteer, your regular attendance is appreciated for these Saturday reunions.

Kairos prison ministry update

I had another great monthly Kairos Prison Ministry visit last Saturday.  There is always something special there.  I gave a five-minute message (with zero notice — apparently being one of the first people in the room was the only speaking qualification).  I gave them some warnings about how to avoid temptation and some encouragement about actively serving God now and when they get out.

The small group exercise is always enlightening.  Most of these guys really take their Bible study and Christian walk seriously.

I was most encouraged by the continued transformation of one of the guys from the last walk that I got to know well.  He is still on fire and working hard to try and save his marriage to an unbelieving wife.  Please pray for them.  Their lives are complicated beyond description.  This is the guy who was happy to go live in juvenile detention when he was 11 because it was an upgrade from his abusive home.

The following was forwarded to me via email (thanks, Nancy!).  Apparently it was an article written for a local newspaper by one of the Ministers that served on a Wichita Falls Kairos Walk.  It captures much of what God accomplishes through this ministry.  I never get tired of hearing about the transformed lives.

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He’s looking for something. He’s not sure what, but he’s about decided whatever “it” is doesn’t exist.

He never could find what he was looking for in his family. His father had always been abusive and never had anything positive to say to him. His mother was too heavy into drugs and nothing ever seemed to mean more to her than that next “hit”.

He coudn’t find it in his friends. In fact, he wondered sometimes if he ever truly had any. The people he ran with were the type who seemed to only be available when you had something they wanted. They’d drop you like a rock or sell you out when you no longer suited their purposes.

And now, for the last 20 years, he has been inside prison walls. He wears the same style outfit day after day, eats horrible food, and listens to men in uniform bark orders at him on a daily basis as though he was a nobody.

That really doesn’t bother him much. He came to that conclusion a long time ago about himself.

But, that didn’t stop him from still looking for something more.

He just wasn’t sure where to find it. He hadn’t found it in his family. He hadn’t found it in drugs. He hadn’t found it in his friends. It wasn’t money. What was it? What was it that was out there that could provide him a little peace, maybe even make him feel like he mattered?

There was a group of guys on his pod that were ino the “Jesus ” thing. They were always in corners praying or singing praise songs. He thought it was a bunch of garbage at first… a bandaid these guys used to get them through the day. It allowed them to “pretend” that everything was okay and maybe even curry favor with the guards.

Still, if it was phony.. they were pretty consistent in the way they played it. He’d say that much for them.

One of them asked him to go to something called “Kairos”. He wasn’t sure what that was, except it had to be a “Jesus” thing. He was told there was great food, and anything would be a break from the day to day routine of this place he had come to call “Hell”.

So he applied. And was accepted.

Still he wasn’t sure what it would be. Probably just a bunch of people who waved their hands in the air and sung about Jesus all the time. But he didn’t care. It was something different… and there would be good food.

The first day was just what he expected. A bunch of people from the “free world” asking him a bunch of questions and pretending to like him.

But the second day, he started feeling something. He wasn’t sure what it was at first. It felt familiar to him, like he had experienced it before, he wasn’t sure what it was. Gradually, the wall he had built around himself started to come down.

Soon he found himself opening up to total strangers, including other inmates, about his life, his feelings… his fears. He actually found himself crying and for the first time, and was not ashamed to do so. He wasn’t looked on as weak, and the others seemed to be reaching out to him and caring about what he was saying.

It wasn’t until the last night there that he figured out what it was that he was feeling. It was “love”, but it was a different kind of love than he had ever felt before. It was an unconditional love. It was a love that loved him regardless of his past. It was a love that believed in his future and offered him hope.

This had to be the love of Jesus. And it was that night, with tears in his eyes, that he gave his heart and life to Jesus in total surrender.

Soon, the Kairos weekend was over. He was back in the prison yard. Guards still yelled. The food was still awful.The situation hadn’t changed.

But his heart had changed.

He no longer felt alone. He didn’t even feel like a prisoner. He felt free. He felt loved.

He found what he had been looking for.

Post Script Note: There is no doubt, this man and 3600 like him in this prison alone, have done a crime against society. There is also no doubt that he is exactly where he should be as a result of that crime. He may never see the free world again. Jesus loves him anyway, and because he gave his heart and life to Jesus, he has a hope for his soul. If he stays in, he can now have a different life inside, if he gets out, he can have a chance at a different life on the outside. That is the hope and prayer of Kairos.

Kairos is not an advocate for Prisoners, Kairos IS an advocate for Jesus Christ!