Kairos goes where others dare not to go
By Reid Posey
One of the most significant and moving aspects of the life and teachings of Jesus is that, rather than take the easy route and preach to the choir, so to speak, he actively engaged with individuals who were truly in need of guidance and fellowship — the sinners and outcasts of society.
Taking this lesson to heart, a group of men in 1976 started a three-day “short course in Christianity” at a prison in Raiford, Florida, which would eventually grow into what is known today as the Kairos Prison Ministry.
Today, the Kairos Ministry is divided into three separate programs — Kairos Inside, Kairos Outside, and Kairos Torch — aimed at different demographics affected by the prison system.
Kairos Inside aims to create and inspire Christian communities inside prisons through the use of weekend-long retreats in which volunteers go into prisons and fellowship with prisons directly through a series of talks, discussions, and meditations.
On the other hand, Kairos Outside operates to provide support and a safe space for community and fellowship for women impacted by the incarceration of a loved one, whether it be a spouse, friend, or relative.
Meanwhile, Kairos Torch aims to reach those in youth detention centers in order to provide valuable mentoring to youth to help them avoid the same mistakes that so many before them have made, while showing them the love and guidance of the Gospel at the same time.
Local volunteers, such as Errol Castens, as well as those from around the state, serve in various prison facilities across Mississippi, such as Parchman or the Marshall County Correctional Facility, and to hear Castens tell it, it’s sometimes hard to tell who is impacted more — the volunteers or the incarcerated individuals.
“We volunteers put a lot into it, but we get so much more out of it than we put into it,” Castens said. “There’s no way to measure the benefits to our own spiritual life, not to mention the friendships we develop.”
Castens has been involved in Kairos for three years and has served as a weekend leader for the Kairos Inside program, which he said is a vital component in providing a positive outlet for these incarcerated individuals to establish a positive sense of community and fellowship.
“Community and brotherhood is hard to come by in prison outside of gangs,” he said.
These weekends, however, Castens said, is not necessarily the focus for the Kairos Ministry, but rather they are a way to draw these men and women into the positive influence of a Christian community and lay the foundation that will help them change the course of their lives for the better moving forward.
Castens said that one of the most amazing and rewarding parts about working with the Kairos programs is seeing the deep personal transformations undergone by the individuals with whom the programs work.
“They are not the same men they were when they committed their crimes,” Castens said. “Jesus Christ changed them utterly.”
A true blessing
Another local volunteer, Zach Carey, has been involved with Kairos for around six years now, and he shared many of the same sentiments regarding Kairos’s work as his fellow volunteer Castens.
“You will never do anything more rewarding and life changing than Kairos,” Carey said. “You can see Jesus move and bless in prison more than a lifetime of sitting in church. It will truly change your views on everything. I am just happy God lets me be a part of His plan and will. He has one, it’s up to us to decide to be a part of it or not.”
Carey said that his personal favorite way to work within Kairos is in leading everyone in worship and fellowshipping with the inmates, but he also admitted that, like many other volunteers, he wasn’t always so eager to join the effort at first.
“It’s actually tough to get volunteers to go, but once they do, most are forever involved,” he said. “It sounded like a good idea to me at first but I didn’t actually want to go. I spent all my young life trying to stay out of Parchman and going in willingly was a hard thought.”
However, once Carey joined up, he realized that he and other volunteers had become part of something much bigger and more important than themselves.
“I think Kairos is so important because Jesus wants every soul, not just those outside the prison,” he said. “People go all over the world spreading the Gospel, and that is fantastic, but these inmates, when and if they get out, are going to be moving back to our towns here in Mississippi. Once God changes a life, the life then affects others, whether that be friends, families, neighbors, or even strangers.”
Yet another local volunteer, Casey Dunn, was so moved by his experiences with Kairos that he took his efforts one step further and began his own program mentoring local youth in a program called Straight Talk of Oxford.
Dunn said that once he became involved with Kairos, he began to explore his own past and realized that he had perhaps had made some mistakes that could have easily landed him in the same position as the incarcerated men with whom he was fellowshipping, a stark reality check that made him realize the valuable opportunity he had to make a difference.
“It was really humbling to know that I can use somebody broken like me to help someone else broken like me,” Dunn said.
Inspired by a conversation he had with an inmate about the inmate’s wishes to go back and save even just one kid from taking the same path that he had, Dunn finally gave into what he felt was his calling to take this vision and make it a reality.
“God put it into my heart to do it, and I ran from it for a long time, and he finally sat me down and told me this is what you’re going to do,” he said.
After a modest beginning consisting of two kids and five adult mentors, Dunn said the group has grown, eventually partnering with local group Operation Life Vision, and that a new facility is on the way.
For Dunn, it’s important for the youth to understand that the mentors are coming to them as humans who have also made mistakes, but who are trying to actively teach others as a result of these mistakes, and he said that the program becomes truly rewarding when youth embrace the program and show the kind of growth and progress he and the other mentors know they are capable of.
According to the Kairos Ministry’s website, www.kairosprisonminstry.org, the Greek word “Kairos” is roughly defined as meaning in “God’s special time” or in the “Fullness of Time,” which the group identifies as signifying the special opportunity their organization offers participants to reconsider and reevaluate their own life and the choices they continue to make.
Volunteers like Castens, Carey, and Dunn all seem to grasp the weight of the impact the program can have not only on inmates, but for the volunteers as well, as the ministry allows them to bear witness and play a role in something truly special.
“In Kairos, we get to see miracles happen,” Castens said. “We get to see God do what only God can do, in changing very hard-hearted people, in giving them hope, in changing their whole perspective, and literally giving them new life.”