This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending Kairos. Before I get started with this blog, I just want to tell you that it will probably be the longest blog I have ever written. Also, I am going to write as stuff comes to mind like I always do. Kairos is a worldwide prison ministry. They have weekend retreats for people who are incarcerated. You have 42 inmates and 42 Kairos volunteers. The purpose of the weekend is to share that God loves you and forgives you for your sins, no matter how small or big.
So we went down Thursday night to the Gym. Well they had very beautifully turned the gym into a chapel, community room and food prep area. So we all met in the chapel part and were assigned a mentor. Then we sat down with our mentor in the community room. Then we introduced ourselves and answered questions about ourselves and the Kairos team members did the same. Well one of the questions that the team members had to answer was “Where do you worship?”
So shortly before I was to introduce myself, there was a Kairos team member named Matt (not his real name) who started introducing himself. He said something like this. “Hi. My name is Matt. I am married with kids. I worship at Seacoast, Asheville.” Then he went and answered the rest of the questions. I about jumped out of my seat. Before I got locked up, I worshipped at Seacoast – Greenville and was an active member of the men’s group. To give you a brief idea what Seacoast is about, Seacoast’s main campus is in Charleston (Mt. Pleasant), South Carolina, and they have satellite campuses. Everyone gets the same message from the main campus over a screen. Now each campus has freedom with their music, small groups, men’s groups, etc. So of course, at our first break I went to Matt and said “Hey my fellow Seacoast brother!” and we hit it off.
Then I found out that there were 2 other Seacoast Asheville brothers there too. Then I found out that the 3 members that were there were the Worship band from Seacoast – Asheville. As the weekend went on, we had all agreed that we would keep in touch and write each other. The pastor, Russ, at the Greenville campus writes and visits. And 4 other brothers that I grew close to also writes me. So now I have 8 Seacoast brothers to write. I am so excited. I love Seacoast. They truly care and love people. No matter how broken you are, they are there for you. They realize that “We are the church.” People are the church. So while we are on the Seacoast thing, I have one more thing. Another Kairos team member came up to me and said, “Are you the guy that attended Seacoast – Greenville?” I said, “Yep”. Then we started to talk, and he was telling me how he lives in Greenville and he and his wife were talking a few days ago about checking out other churches. So he started asking me about Seacoast. He and his wife are going to give it a shot. I also grew very close to this man and we shared a lot about our weaknesses and are going to keep writing! J
So on Friday we went to the Gym at 7:45 a.m. and were finished at 7:15 p.m. We were put into families and it was 6 inmates, 1 clergy, and 2 Kairos table leaders. So Friday consisted of “Talks”. They were about 15-20 minute talks. We had 5 talks “Choices,” “You are Not Alone,” “Friendship with God,” “The Church,” and “Opening the Door.” After each talk we had to write a group summary and draw a poster. We had no artists in our group, so our posters weren’t great but they meant a lot. So I have a confession. One of the inmates in my group was really frustrating me. He was criticizing everyone’s summary. So he took it upon himself to re-write every summary to what he wanted it to say. He also had to design every poster. He would admit that he wasn’t paying attention. So none of our summaries or posters made any sense, and they all missed the point of the talks. So I was frustrated. Everyone was giving great input, but it was all ignored. I was in a semi-bad mood. I remained silent. I am going to come back to this. In the middle of the day, we went to chapel and one of the Kairos team members got up to speak. He started talking about accepting yourself and forgiving yourself. In the beginning he opened up about his life. For some odd reason, I broke down crying. He was hurt, in pain, he was crying and I felt this pain. I felt connected to this man. I wanted to run up and hug him. I am going to refer to this man a lot. I don’t like giving names, so let’s call him Joe.
After chapel, we went back to the Community Room and our families. We had a break, and I went up to Joe. I had never talked to this man before. I went up to him and hugged him. We both started crying (no words). We had this connection. We hugged for about 2 minutes. I said, “I have no words to explain how I feel, but I felt your pain.” He hugged me again. I said, “I will pray for you” and walked away. That night he spoke again in Chapel and he was talking about forgiveness. He paused and Kairos team members and inmates started asking forgiveness for things. In that moment it hit me…. Through my spiritual journey I have faced a lot of my flaws, faced my past, I have asked for forgiveness and repented of my sins, have forgiven others and myself. I have built walls in the past, and I have been tearing them down for 2 years.
During that time of asking forgiveness, I realized that recently and in the past, that I am very critical of people and judgmental of people; especially in here. I spent half the day criticizing the guy that I thought was being a jerk, which later in the weekend, he admits to being a jerk, and the group worked better as a team. However that doesn’t give me the right to judge him or criticize him. So I realized that I needed forgiveness for being critical and judgmental. Then that led to me realizing that because of these faults, it has hindered me of showing God’s love to people in here and being the disciple that God made me to be. Needless to say, I cried my eyes out the rest of the night, back to the block, in my room and all the way through about 4 p.m. on Saturday. I was an emotional mess. Something else that was awesome that during this event, I looked around and saw some sex offenders, gang members, loners, old, young, black, murderers, drug dealers, etc. lifting each other up, loving each other. Then when we got back to the block, they act like a totally different person.
I would love to see more love in this prison. I know with God’s help, it is possible. I had a great conversation with the young guy who wants to try Seacoast out. I told him I wanted to be like the demon-possessed man in the tombs. See, sometimes people don’t realize the WHOLE story. Jesus walked into the tombs unafraid to talk to this man, who everyone disowned. They left him naked in the tombs away from everyone. Jesus casts out the 1000’s of demons into the pigs. The man leaves the tombs clothed in this right mind. The man goes to town with Jesus and the people were afraid. They couldn’t believe it. Jesus tells the man to tell everyone what Jesus has done for him. The townspeople tell Jesus to leave. Here is where it gets better. The miracle where Jesus feeds the 5,000– well that is the same town, where the demon-possessed man was living. This happened after the demon-possessed man was clothed and in his right mind. In the town that cast him out, there were 5,000 people waiting to hear him speak. Why is that? Because the man told everyone what Jesus had done for him. That is the life I want to lead. I told everyone, stood up in front of everyone and shared this with them. People were crying and no one else spoke. Well when we had another break, Joe, remember him? Came up to me, hugged me and said, “I was like the man in the tombs.” I said, “So was I.” We talked for 15 minutes easily. He told me stuff about his life he hasn’t told anyone. I am not going to repeat them—that is between me, him and God. I shared as well. We made a connection this weekend. He told me he wants to keep in touch through letters. Tonight we wrote people that we wanted to forgive and people that we wanted to forgive us on rice paper.
We had a ceremony where we dropped the paper with the names in a big bowl of water. The paper dissolved in the water. We gave it to God. Powerful. Tomorrow is graduation. I will write about that tomorrow. I also got some very meaningful letters from Kairos team members. These men are amazing examples and really know how to express Gods’ love.