By Ann Mann
Going to prison. Now that is a headline that gets your attention. I go to prison almost every month, by choice. Several years ago, I had the privilege of serving with the first team of Kairos Prison Ministry volunteers at Whitworth Women’s Facility in Hartwell, Georgia. It changed my life.
Kairos means God’s special time. Kairos Prison Ministry International brings Christ’s love and forgiveness to prisoners and their families around the world. It is inspired by the parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25.
That parable talks about feeding the hungry, providing water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing those who need clothes, and visiting the sick and those in prison. One day, when I read that parable, God spoke to me. “Visit the prisoner.”
And so, I began to pray about how I would answer the call. At the time, I was serving a church in Calhoun, Georgia. They had a team who served at a men’s prison. As a woman, all I could do was bake cookies and pray for the team. So, I did.
Then I was appointed to serve three churches in Hartwell and Elberton, Georgia. There had been a men’s prison in Hartwell that was converted to a women’s facility in 2013. While attending a meeting of the ministerial association, I met the warden. He said he wanted to bring Kairos into the prison.
My prayer was answered. God showed me how I could visit the prisoner. And not just visit, God showed me how I could be a part of a team willing to share the deepest parts of our souls to show the women living behind bars what freedom really means.
That was ten years ago. In this last year, mourning the loss of my husband while also celebrating the birth of our first grandchild, I told God there was no way I had time to serve. So, I got out my calendar with the intention of showing God that serving was impossible. God showed me otherwise.
This fall I will be spending another weekend inside Whitworth Women’s Facility. Once again, I will get to see God working miracles in the lives of women willing to receive Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace. On one weekend, one of the residents had come to the weekend with the intention of taking her own life once we left. Over the course of three days in the presence of God’s amazing grace (as represented by the Kairos volunteers), the woman found a new reason to live.
Christ can do that. He can take broken hearts and make them new. He is taking my broken heart and is making it new. Whether we are incarcerated in a physical prison, or in prisons of our own making. Christ alone can set us free.
I feel most alive when I keep my eyes on Christ. When I follow His call to love and serve. When I feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe those who need clothes, and visit the sick and those in prison.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus is trying to show us the difference between faith and faithfulness. Faith is what we believe. Faithfulness is when we live what we believe. Jesus is calling us to live what we believe.
Too often we say we believe in Christ, but we aren’t willing to sacrifice our time and resources to minister to those in need. In this parable, Jesus says whatever we do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.
Friends, I want to encourage you to pray that God would reveal to you how you might serve in our community. Every church in town is involved with living out the mission and message of Jesus. And if God is calling you to visit the prisoner, I want to invite you to join me when I go to prison.
(Ann Mann is an Emmy Award winning journalist, now serving as pastor to Barnesville First United Methodist Church. Her email is email@example.com.)
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