Prison ministry requires love and a listening heart

kairos_2   
    Members of the Kairos Prison Ministry come from different Christian denominations but share the same Christian goal: to bring the love of the Lord to the inmates of the Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie, La.
     About 20 members of Kairos met at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville on Feb. 23 to train for Kairos 15, when the group will spend a transformational weekend with the inmates of the state prison in Washington Parish. The Kairos weekend will take place March 14-17.
 “This is one of the projects we are seeking to support, encouraging more involvement from Catholics,” said John Messenheimer, prison ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Messenheimer will be taking part in his first Kairos weekend in March.
    Kairos is an ecumenical ministry with its roots in the Catholic Cursillo movement. The first Cursillo in Prison took place in Florida in 1976, and the name for the prison ministry was changed to Kairos – Greek for “God’s Special Time” – in 1979.
    “We all come together in what we share, in the common goal of ministering to these inmates,” Messenheimer said.
It’s another world
    Rick Jeppsen, team leader for Kairos 15, outlined the background for the weekend. “The culture we will encounter is very different” from the dynamics of everyday life on the outside, he said, emphasizing that team members need to be aware of this when relating to the participants over the course of the weekend.
    Jeppsen explained that Kairos is based on a response to individual needs, and each day of the weekend addresses specific areas of need. For instance, Thursday evening is known as “encountering Kairos,” and it “satisfies lower-level needs such as safety.” There are general introductions and a meal.
    “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Jeppsen said. “We give them fresh fruit they do not usually get and home-cooked meals.” With music as a crucial part of the weekend, he added, the team members sing “Welcome In” to put the inmates at ease.
    Friday is devoted to “encountering self,” giving inmates a time to be comfortable with who they are, Jeppsen said, while Saturday is about “encountering Christ.”
Relationship with God
    “The program is designed to lead these individuals down a path that leads to this Jacob moment – a moment of wrestling with who they are in relationship to God.”
    Sunday is about “encountering others,” Jeppsen said. It is a spiritual occasion, with a chapel service and emotional closing ceremony.
    “After three days, we leave, but these guys are still there,” he said. “Our program is meant to make sure that there is enough to sustain the participants going forward.”
    Follow-up sessions are crucial, several team members emphasized. There is a reunion the Saturday following the weekend, plus Wednesday night “prayer and share” evenings and monthly Kairos reunions.

kairos_2    “We have a continuing ministry to nurture and foster the Christian walk these guys have begun,” said Wally Goodey. (After the mountaintop experience of the Kairos weekend), they are wondering if it’s for real.”
    “Continuing ministry is vital,” said Bryant Mott, a team member and Kairos graduate who is living proof that the program’s effects are very real. Mott was an inmate at Angie and a member of Kairos 2.
    “I was apprehensive” about the program, he said, but it changed his life. “On that Saturday, there was a moment of forgiveness in the chapel. We were singing ‘The Presence of the Lord,’ and at that point my eyes were opened up to see the changes that this program is making in the prison. It was a hot, bright and sunny day, but suddenly a gust of wind came through the place. Surely the presence of the Lord was in that place. It was wonderful.”
    Now Mott is a part of the Kairos team, and he wants others to experience the change that he did.
    “Every Wednesday of the month, Kairos graduates come together and one or two of us show up to demonstrate that this is real,” Mott added. “We’re not here and gone. We are journeying on this path together.”
    Even so, team members agreed, the journey is for the inmates. Kairos is there to help them form a Christian community that the inmates themselves sustain.
    “After the weekend, we are facilitators; our mission is to help them create a Christian community in their environment,” Goodey said. “The goal is to get the group to support one another.”
    The goal, basically, is to “Listen, listen, love, love,” said Mac Corbin, who will lead Kairos 16 in the fall. Kairos weekends take place twice a year at 400 prisons in the United States.
    “We are there to encourage, not to insist; we are there to let the Holy Spirit move at its own pace and use you as a tool,” team member Ronnie Berg said.
    Father Rodney Bourg, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Covington and deaprogram’s effects are very real. Mott was an inmate at Angie and a member of Kairos 2.
    “I was apprehensive” about the program, he said, but it changed his life. “On that Saturday, there was a moment of forgiveness in the chapel. We were singing ‘The Presence of the Lord,’ and at that point my eyes were opened up to see the changes that this program is making in the prison. It was a hot, bright and sunny day, but suddenly a gust of wind came through the place. Surely the presence of the Lord was in that place. It was wonderful.”
    Now Mott is a part of the Kairos team, and he wants others to experience the change that he did.
    “Every Wednesday of the month, Kairos graduates come together and one or two of us show up to demonstrate that this is real,” Mott added. “We’re not here and gone. We are journeying on this path together.”
Inmates keep it going
    Even so, team members agreed, the journey is for the inmates. Kairos is there to help them form a Christian community that the inmates themselves sustain.
    “After the weekend, we are facilitators; our mission is to help them create a Christian community in their environment,” Goodey said. “The goal is to get the group to support one another.”
    The goal, basically, is to “Listen, listen, love, love,” said Mac Corbin, who will lead Kairos 16 in the fall. Kairos weekends take place twice a year at 400 prisons in the United States.
    “We are there to encourage, not to insist; we are there to let the Holy Spirit move at its own pace and use you as a tool,” team member Ronnie Berg said.
    Father Rodney Bourg, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Covington and dean of the West St. Tammany Deanery, visited the Kairos meeting to offer a blessing and share his insights on prison ministry.
    Father Bourg said he sees the Kairos ministry connected to the prayer of St. Francis. “You are an instrument of God’s peace,” he said. “The Lord wants you to ‘be’ more than to ‘do.’”
    In the Book of Sirach, there is the image of God as the potter, Father Bourg said. “You are the clay being formed to be instruments of his peace,” he said. “You just need to be Christ for them. Realize that all we are doing is giving them an opportunity (to grow closer to Christ). What they do with it is between God and them. Our challenge is to help them encounter the Risen Lord.”
    Anyone interested in helping inmates encounter Christ through Kairos can contact Mac Corbin, who is preparing for Kairos 16, which will take place Oct. 10-13. Corbin can be reached at (985) 237-9164 or maccorbin@bellsouth.net.
    Karen Baker can be reached at kbaker@clarionherald.org
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