“…I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:36)
by Steve Hamm
Mini-Blog 2 of 6
What is Kairos Prison Ministry?
According to Prison Policy Initiative as of 2023, nearly 2 million people are incarcerated in state prisons (1,047,000), federal prisons (209,000) and local jails (514,000). 2.9 million people are on probation, and over 800,000 people are on parole. This means over 5 million people are currently under supervision by the U.S. criminal legal system.
Prison ministry isn’t considered an especially appealing ministry. Many people find it difficult to connect with the inmates who will actively participate in religious programs. As a result, finding committed volunteers is often a challenge, which has afflicted Christianity since the beginning. As Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 9. “37 ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
While a number of “Men in Blue” experienced some introduction to Christian faith before prison, many have left it far behind in their criminal activities. Kairos endeavors to connect them with Jesus Christ and with other Christian men in their environment to build a community “Spiritually Freed from the Effects of Imprisonment.” The foundational core of Kairos is LOVE; the love of Christ, released wave after wave by His family of volunteers.
Kairos, is a Greek word meaning in “God’s Special Time” or in the “Fullness of Time,” indicating an opportunity for participating volunteers and guests to reconsider their life choices. Kairos Prison Ministry is a lay-led, Christian faith-based ministry that addresses the spiritual needs of incarcerated men, women, youth and their families. Through sharing the love and forgiveness of Christ, Kairos changes hearts, transforms lives and impacts the world.
Kairos Prison Ministry began with the first three day “short course in Christianity” inside Union Correctional Institution at Raiford, Florida in the fall of 1976. It was called Cursillo in Prison. By 1978, six states were presenting Cursillo in Prison. The national Cursillo office determined Cursillo in Prison ministries should be modified to more closely align with inmate needs. Cursillo asked the Florida group to design such a program and Kairos Prison Ministry was born in 1979.
Today, Kairos Prison Ministry serves over 500 communities through its three programs. These communities are found across 37 states and 14 countries. All this happens with approximately a dozen staff members, along with over 30,000 volunteers from all walks of life—all aligned to a common mission…
“The mission of Kairos Prison Ministry is to share the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to impact the hearts and lives of incarcerated men, women and youth, as well as their families, to become loving and productive citizens of their communities.”
While Kairos is a ministry, there is no denomination called Kairos. There is no Church of Kairos. Volunteers come from many different churches and denominations who all share the “common ground” of Jesus. According to Kairos Prison Ministry International…
“The people of Kairos are called by God to share the love of Christ with those impacted by incarceration. Kairos encourages believers from a variety of Christian traditions to be volunteers in this Christ-filled ministry. Kairos programs offer to prison residents, their families, and those who work with them, the opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, and to grow in their faith and servant hood in Christian community.”
We stand on the common ground of the following elements of faith:
- The Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired word for our faith and our lives.
- In the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- In the deity, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Friendship with God is a free gift, for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
- The love of Jesus Christ motivates His followers to provide food for the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes for the naked and visits to the sick and those in prison.
- In sharing the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ with all incarcerated individuals, their families and to those who work with them inside and outside the correctional institution.
During Kairos events, volunteers temporarily put aside all divisive denominational practices and doctrines to focus on Jesus. Individuals don’t renounce denominational practices and doctrines; they just don’t use them at Kairos events.
The three Kairos programs (Kairos Inside, Kairos Outside and Kairos Torch) that make up a single overarching ministry take participants on a Christian journey that demonstrates the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ?although no religious affiliation is necessary to be a participant. These programs involve a structured model that includes a weekend experience followed by guests or participants gathering regularly for accountability, support and prayer.
The prison environment is a dark place, where residents face violence, anger, gangs and loneliness daily. Kairos Prison Ministry volunteers step into this darkness to hold a 3½ day Weekend, at medium and maximum security men’s and women’s prisons, with participants made up of both positive and negative leaders within the given prison. Through a series of 10 talks, small group discussions and Chapel meditations, residents learn that they are worthy of God’s love, light and grace. That no matter who they are or what they have done, God forgives them. When a former negative or gang leader accepts Christ, it can influence the very atmosphere of a prison for the better. A key outcome of the Weekend is participants agreeing to join a weekly Prayer and Share accountability small group. This is where the journey of transformation begins. The journey continues as the participants learn to support one another through prayer and encouragement. Kairos Volunteers commit to encouraging participants within these Prayer & Share Groups and at Monthly Reunions inside the facility. As this Kairos-inspired Christian community develops inside a prison, the incidence of violence often decreases. The Kairos experience can also spark hope for a new future in the lives of the incarcerated and help to rebuild family relationships. This can lower the percentage of inmates that return to prison, helping to make our communities safer.
Kairos Outside aspires to provide a safe place where guests are accepted in a Christian setting, have an opportunity to share their life’s journey, develop or strengthen their relationship with God, and are able to step out of the darkness of a life too often lived in isolation.
Kairos Prison Ministry International launched Kairos Outside in 1990, promoting it as…
“A Christian program, although no religious affiliation is necessary to be a Guest. Any 20-year-old or older female family member whose life has been impacted by the incarceration of a loved one, or a woman who was unable to attend Kairos Inside while in prison, is eligible to attend Kairos Outside. This program offers a comfortable, non-judging retreat for women to support each other as they journey through the incarceration of a friend or relative. The Kairos Outside Weekend is a 2½ day program based on a series of talks by volunteers designed to address the pain of enduring separation from the one inside and the judgment of others from their community. Guests hear the talks in small family groups. The program is interspersed with music, prayer, and fun activities.”
After the initial KO Weekend, guests participate in Reunions at least four times a year, providing an ongoing large group support system. In addition, guests are encouraged to form smaller S.W.A.P. groups (Share. Witness. Account. Pray) to show God’s love through individual support.
Kairos Torch, which began in 1997, is targeted to juvenile offenders ages 18-25. Like Kairos Inside and Kairos Outside, this particular program begins with a Weekend retreat held in the youth detention center or correctional facility. The specific mission of Kairos torch is to encourage youth to lean into their reasoning skills as they seek balance for their lives. Again, the creation of a safe space is the key factor for young offenders to realize their God-given potential with the help of a mature, Christian volunteer/mentor. Participants in this retreat are encouraged to strip away the masks they hide behind and move towards making better life choices. Kairos Torch team volunteers commit to a weekly mentoring process with the youthful offenders for six months after the Weekend, which includes: 1) Six months of weekly one-to-one mentoring, 2) Discussion of self-esteem and anger management, 3) Short- and long-term goal setting and 4) Monthly Group Reunions. The adult mentor also provides a positive role model for the youth.
The theme for every Kairos event is “listen, listen, love, love.” This serves as a reminder that the goal of Kairos is not to preach at or convert residents. Quite to the contrary, Kairos volunteers give up the need to be in control and make listening with the heart a priority. This is a true act of Agape love (unconditional love).
I became part of the Kairos Prison Ministry of Idaho community because I want to be part of something that is bigger than a single denomination or Church. Kairos provides a structured program that has successfully served as “fishers of people” for over 20 years; not by doggedly attempting to convert individuals to Christianity, but by simply sharing the light and love of Christ with those who find themselves in a dark place because of the impact of incarceration. It’s all about listen, listen love, love!
Kairos Inside Community Prayer, pg. 11 (Freedom Guide)
Jesus, come join us in our journey as we seek your will for this community in this environment. Teach us to love each other as you love us, to give ourselves as you give yourself…that the kingdom of God might be made present to all.
Mini-Blog 3 of 6
Where is Kairos Prison Ministry Offered?