I was recently charged with trying to get 42 men to sing in public. Not usually an easy task since most people – even if they like singing in the shower – shy away from singing in a group of people most of whom they don’t know or don’t like. Add this on top of it: This is a place that to look someone in the eye is seen as an openly aggressive act. Welcome to living in a maximum security state penitentiary. And although many of the inmates who came for those four days said they joined us to learn more about this Jesus, we knew that they were there for the homemade food and cookies. That was fine by us.
You may be like some of my friends who say, “Why are you doing that? They’re getting what they deserve.” I’m OK with that too. Yes, most are getting what they deserve, and I won’t continue the argument to its logical next step about us eventually getting what we deserve. The reason we go in is that we’re sent, not because we’re really great guys – we’re really not. “I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” – Acts 26:17-18. Never have I seen a darker place, a place where the men love the darkness. ‘Nough said.
Over the course of three days these guys went from hardly looking at a songbook, or each other, to dancing in a conga line singing “I’ll Fly Away”. Some songs brought back memories of mom or grandma taking them to church. Others may have stated a Truth that they hadn’t known before. But in the end they found out that it’s possible to be joyful in any place – even a place where darkness is intentionally gathered to one spot.
Here are some of the comments the participants made at the end of the weekend:
“We build walls – we can’t show weakness. In my heart I am now prepared for the outside world. I wish we could fellowship like this every weekend. I want to be a part of the solution.”
“I came for cookies and learned about God.
- “Don’t know why I came to Kairos. Maybe it was because I wanted to find something missing in my life. I come from the most dysfunctional family in the world. I found something this weekend that I’ve never experienced in my whole life.
- “If you want to see a miracle, look at me. I didn’t deserve forgiveness for 13 years. Now that burden is gone – everything has changed.”
“Great experience. Thought that I had grown up. Put closure on a lot of things that I thought were gone. I see a light ahead of me – I was lost but now I’m found.”
“Food was my motivation for coming to Kairos. There are so many things in prison. I blamed everything on my friends, family and others for being in prison. I saw the crosses on the Kairos brothers and decided I wanted some of that. This has changed my life – Bible, singing – it’s crazy not to accept an invitation to Kairos.”
Now I’m not naive or prideful enough to say that it was singing that allowed these guys tear down walls that had been built for defensive self-preservation purposes. No, that was accomplished by the Creator, Sustainer, and Rescuer. But I will say that it helped by doing something physically that reinforced the words which they heard over the course of those four days.
The ministry that orchestrated this – Kairos – doesn’t go in and put on a show and say, “Glad you came and good luck with all that.” They arrange for these guys to continue meeting each week along with other inmates who have been through this four day get-away. In this way the Body grows and is fed within the dark place.
“Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”” – John 12:44-46 (NIV).
Glad to report that Paul and Silas are doing well and still singing from within a very dark place.