I think a lot of us who work weekend retreats like Walk to Emmaus, Kairos and others do it for well-meaning selfish reasons. Yes, we want God to use us to help people, but we also get a “spiritual high” from the weekend thus feeding a hunger for the retreat atmosphere and God’s presence. -I am not saying that this is a bad thing, just the dynamic that often happens. God uses this dynamic to do much good in the lives of everyone involved on the retreat, those who are served during the weekend and those who are serving.
However, working my first Kairos has been different for me. For whatever reason, God never allowed me to achieve a “spiritual high” this weekend. Furthermore, I missed my wife and kids a lot, served in a role that did not match my gift set and personality well and I literally thought I would go crazy being confined to such a relatively small area in the prison for thirteen hours a day. In short, at times I was near miserable. As a result of this uncomfortable and spiritually sober environment, I learned a few things about myself, those serving, the offenders, and God this weekend. I would like to share a few of these things in this post.
About myself: I learned that I am still so freaking selfish. You think you are growing, you think you are past certain “childish” tendencies, and then you see yourself react to situations and realize that you still have a long way to grow as a follower of Jesus. There were no outward situations involving my selfishness this weekend, I think I did a pretty decent job of hiding it. But I know what I dealt with on the inside, those battles with my flesh that no one knew were raging except for me and God. I have grown a lot in the past four years, but God raised the bar on me this weekend, yet again.
About those serving: It was very refreshing to work alongside of some true Christian servants this weekend. There were guys like me who had no clue what they were getting in to, BUT there were others who knew exactly what they were getting in to. They have served on these Kairos weekends many times and they continue to joyfully serve. These brothers and sisters came from all walks of life and various Christian backgrounds: doctors, Baptists, carpenters, very well-educated, Catholics, not-so-well educated, engineers, Methodists, pastors, Charismatics, wealthy, Presbyterians, younger guys, conservatives, not-so-wealthy, older guys, liberals, guys like me who had never been on the inside of a high security adult prison and guys who… let’s just say… have spent some “extended time” there. Our group of Christian servants was most definitely diverse. How refreshing it was to lay aside our denominational and political differences, our social statuses and in some ways even our own lives and simply be the hands and feet of Jesus for those who are truly considered to be “the least of these” by society.
I am so over petty religious differences. If you follow Jesus and call Him Lord, God, and Savior then we have enough in common to work together for the good of the Kingdom. On the contrary, if you want to come around and debate petty religious differences or talk about my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are outside of your rigid belief system or denomination, please don’t; I am simply not interested in having that conversation.
About the Offenders: Wow, where do I start? Honestly, I was pretty nervous about this weekend. I would be spending 36 hours over 3 days with 42 convicted felons. Myself and 2 other team members would be sitting at a table with 6 convicted offenders and we would attempt to build a family unit. We’re not just talking about enduring a church service together, we’re talking intimacy… Actually, I was A LOT nervous.
I think about those six guys now and I weep. You see, I made a mistake; I got to know those guys. I love those guys now… A drug dealer, a convicted murderer, a Muslim and a guy who is trying to make the best of his long prison sentence by pursuing his doctorate. I am not scared of those guys; I genuinely love them now.
The fact of the matter is, we are all just a few stupid mistakes away, a not-so-good up-bringing away or a dead-beat dad or mom away from their predicament. I am not making excuses for their crimes nor am I attempting to make them out to be the victims. I am just stating the facts. The Truth is, a lot of these guys had never experienced the love of God expressed through the Church, before last weekend. Maybe, in a way, we have failed just as miserably as they have.
I am not stupid; I know some of these guys just played the game with us, but others didn’t. For some of those guys, last weekend was truly a life changing experience and they are truly embracing God working in their lives. I will never think the same way about prisoners and prison ministries. And I can no longer stick my head in the sand and neglect these type ministries; they are not glamorous, but neither was the cross that Jesus hung on.
About God: This may come off as a little crude, harsh or even offensive to some, but I will take the risk and try to express the thought anyway because I think it is an important one and needs to be expressed.
In the past five years or so I have evolved into a person who looks for and cherishes those moments where God is genuinely manifesting His presence. I am not talking about a worked up service, but genuine encounters where God is working and making Himself known. It is kind of like the person who is a connoisseur of fine wine; sure he could buy the cheap stuff, but he has come to realize that the fine wine is just so much better. It is made with better grapes from well pruned vines. It is processed so much more carefully by caring individuals who cherish its high quality. It is bottled and even stored with the up most concern and caution. Therefore fine wine is not cheap, but when it is opened, poured, and shared it is genuine and can be enjoyed by all who partakes of it, without drunkenness. You see with fine wine, there is no need for drunkenness; it is made to be enjoyed in a state of soberness.
On the contrary, those who purchase cheap wine often do so to just get a buzz or even to just get drunk. They pay little to no attention to the flavor, the quality of grapes that it took to make it or the carefulness of the hands who cared for its transportation and storage. It is cheap wine, made for quick and easy consumption, cheap thrills, and fruitless drunkenness. It is mechanically created and lifeless, therefore it has little to no value and is sold inexpensively, consumed quickly or just thrown away with little to no thought given to it. It is simply not cherished as fine wine is.
I have grown so tired of cheap wine in the Church. I could say more, but will end that line of thought there. I will just say that on weekends like this past one, I have found “fine wine.” Wine that is flavorful, complex, smooth and sweet all at the same time! It leaves a wonderful aftertaste and causes no hangovers -because there is no drunkenness. Fine wine like this is not made easy though… The vines have to be diligently tended, the grapes had to be carefully harvested and pressed, but oh the end product is so worth it…
I have indeed become a connoisseur of this fine wine. The cheap stuff will no longer satisfy me; arrogant spirits, over produced services and unbroken vessels just seem so… cheap now. I discover the fine wine when I pray with other pastors from various denominations and backgrounds on Tuesday mornings, I find it at ecumenical community services, I find it at coffee shops and restaurants when I take the time to get to know other servants of God in our city, I find it in family devotions with my wife and children, I found it a few weeks ago at an Emmaus Walk and I found it again this past weekend in a maximum security prison with 42 convicted felons and a motley crew of selfless servants in rural Indiana.
This past weekend I learned that God continues to manifest Himself where fine wine is being made and served. Who knows where I will find this “fine wine” next but I am searching for it. I can promise you, I am searching for it.
*If anyone is interested in getting involved in the Kairos Prison Ministry, here are a few links:
Kairos for Wabash Valley Correctional: http://wabashkairos.org/
Kairos for the state of Indiana: http://kairosofindiana.org/
National Kairos: http://kairosprisonministry.org/