By Dennis Foster
“I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36)
My name is Dennis Foster and I have been blessed to be retired for nearly 10 years now. A few years before retiring I was asked many times to be on a team for Kairos Prison Ministry. Every time I was asked the answer was always the same: “I don’t have the time and I am traveling quite a bit on business.” Well, I did retire and I was asked again, and I could no longer use the excuse of work any longer. I said yes, and the blessings have been tremendous in seeing so many miracles happen behind prison walls.
My first time inside the prison experience was in 2007 at a contract prison in Eloy, Arizona. The prison is run by CCA and is a for-profit prison and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. I found the experience very interesting in that we were actually ministering to Alaskan prisoners. I always wondered why we were not ministering to Arizonans in the state of Arizona. After becoming a part of the leadership for Kairos of Arizona I quickly found out the reasons and started the work to find a way into Arizona prisons, which some are now run by CCA or GEO, another for profit prison.
Kairos Prison Ministry is one ministry with three programs: Kairos Inside, Kairos Outside, and Kairos Torch.
The purpose of the Kairos Inside program is to establish the Kairos Christian community inside prisons by the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The Kairos Inside program brings positive and negative leaders together, in both male and female institutions, for a 3.5-day weekend based on a series of talks, discussions, chapel meditations, and music led by a same-gender team of volunteers. From this event, a Christian community will start to form.
For many participants, the Kairos weekend creates the desire to become a Christian, and for others the desire to continue spiritual growth. After the Kairos weekend, Prayer and Share accountability groups are held weekly, and Reunions are held monthly. The ultimate goal of Kairos Inside is to build a Christian community to pray and fellowship together on a weekly basis by nurturing each other in their faith walk and providing accountability. This is the heart of Kairos!
As the Kairos Christian community inside a prison grows and begins to gain influence, especially among the formerly negative leaders, incidences of violence decrease. Incarcerated participants who are released re-enter the outside world with a God-centered perspective and a new desire to become productive citizens. Kairos Inside is a front row seat to God’s miracles happening right now at men’s and women’s prisons.
One Kairos graduate put it this way:
“I was like a balloon with nothing inside. But these Kairos volunteers fed me with the word of God, and now I hunger after Him. I will be forever grateful to Kairos for showing me that the way to freedom is through the cross of Christ.”
Kairos Outside is a 2.5-day Christian Weekend designed to demonstrate God’s grace and love through Christian support for women who have relatives or friends who are or who have been incarcerated.
In a safe environment with loving people, women interact with other women who are in similar situations and learn to form small support groups to give them strength for the challenges they face. Spouses, parents, and relatives of the incarcerated often “do time” right along with their loved ones. It is important for them to know that they are not alone, and that there is a Christian community that cares. Any 20-year-old or older female family member, whose life has been impacted by the incarceration of a loved one, is eligible to attend Kairos Outside.
The weekend is based on a series of talks by Kairos volunteers sharing their life stories. Guests hear the talks in small family groups. The program is interspersed with music, prayer, fun activities, and pampering. The weekend is Christian in nature, although no religious affiliation is necessary to be a guest.
After the weekend, the women journey together through SWAP (Share, Witness, Account, and Pray) and Reunion meetings, where they support and encourage each other as they deal with the impact of incarceration on themselves and their families. The goals of Kairos Outside are to:
- Provide a safe place;
- Offer unconditional love and acceptance in a Christian setting;
- Journey together through SWAP and Reunion meetings;
- Foster spiritual growth and community;
- Promote participation in small groups;
- Create an opportunity for a relationship with God;
- Unite the families and/or women impacted by incarceration.
Here is what a few Kairos Outside graduates had to say about the program.
“I always assume people are going to judge me when they find out I was in prison, but it was humbling to find out these women not only like me, but they loved me.”
“I was shown unconditional love. I was told God just wanted to be my friend and I wanted so very much to have a friend. I clung to that simple concept like a drowning woman. This was the beginning of the journey to where I am at today.”
Kairos Torch is a positive, interactive, and thought-provoking program for young offenders 25 and under. By developing reasoning, holistic life skills, and engaging in the torch mentoring program, participants are better able to seek balance in their lives. Kairos Torch encourages these youth to realize their God-given potential through the creation of a safe environment, allowing them to learn what life can be like in a loving, caring, and trusting community. Kairos Torch is designed to meet the needs of young offenders early in their incarceration experience and is appropriate for use among both long-term and short-term populations. The Kairos Torch experience is an opportunity to use this window of time to introduce the possibility of a spiritual journey with God through His message of unconditional love and acceptance.
The purpose of the introductory weekend is to encourage the participants to remove their masks so the real person, rather than who they pretend to be, can shine forth. Torch challenges the participants to risk being vulnerable in the safety of a loving Christian atmosphere. Volunteers in the torch community love them unconditionally as Christ loves us all and Journey’s with them as they break through their personal walls of self-doubt and defeat into a life of triumph and healing.
Mentoring is the most important aspect of this program. In Kairos Torch, mentors establish a healthy and personal relationship with their mentees. Mentoring may be done with one adult per youth or married couple per youth. This mentoring is done most effectively on a weekly basis.
The goals of the Kairos Torch Program are as follows:
- To provide a safe place for self-exploration;
- To offer unconditional love and acceptance;
- To encourage the sharing of life journeys and help the youth find a full life;
- To help youth reach their greatest potential;
- To foster spiritual growth and to promote participation in the long-term mentoring process that provides spiritual and emotional support in order to enhance positive self-esteem, promote constructive life choices, and develop a journey toward a lasting personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Young men have commented that this experience, along with the mentoring, has proved very beneficial to their lives once they were back in society. The program provided them with a much stronger foundation based on the love of Jesus Christ.
Consistency with all three programs is important. They are presented the same no matter where you are. The main component is the ability to listen and to love each person as Jesus did.
The mission of the Kairos Prison Ministry is to share the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to impact the hearts and lives of incarcerated men, women, youth, and their families, to become loving and productive citizens of their communities.
This mission takes many volunteers, especially in the areas where there are prisons. It also takes many prayers and perseverance by many to get into prisons where these volunteers can make a difference in the lives of the incarcerated. We must certainly continue the fight to make sure prison reform is real, and that sentences are not based on filling a quota or population to get the best price or increase the bottom line.
Currently, Kairos of Arizona is looking into being in prisons that house Arizona inmates, so that the ministry can do more for Arizona families. Please be in prayer that the ministry may be applied to our own Arizona residents, and that volunteers will come forth to shine their light behind dark prison walls.