By the Rev. Joyce Harder, Deacon, Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant
One woman has three grandchildren under five years-old. Their father long ago abandoned them and their young mother. Their mother, trapped in the pit of addiction, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery of a convenience store she committed to feed her habit. Unless the grandmother takes in the three children, they will end up in the wretched web of foster care. She commits to raising them, but she is in despair as to how she will manage this herculean task alone and on a fixed income. She is consumed by anger, bitterness, resentment, and shame that her daughter is incarcerated.
Another woman is the wife of a retired pastor. She spent 25 years at his side supporting him in his ministry. She was stunned one day when the police arrived at her home to arrest her husband. He was charged with embezzlement, tried, convicted and sentenced to five years behind bars. The pastor’s wife fled town out of deep shame, and their son coped with the humiliation by immersing himself in substance abuse and becoming addicted to heroin. This woman has forgiven her husband and visits him regularly in prison, but she feels so isolated and alone, as no one she knows has experienced her painful circumstances.
A third woman received a call in the wee hours of the morning that her college-aged daughter had been in an accident and was in jail charged with felony DUI for having killed her passenger. This young woman was an honor student on her campus and had a bright future ahead of her. Her mother’s heart was crushed that instead of medical school and beyond, her precious child was faced with nearly two decades of incarceration, a sentence received before her 21st birthday.
The foregoing stories represent a composite of the circumstances of thousands of women in South Carolina whose lives are impacted by the incarceration of a loved one. These women face hurdles and burdens that are directly related to their loved ones’ imprisonment. Many are left behind to raise grandchildren. Many are left with mounting debt and the loss of a breadwinner. Many put their lives on hold for years to travel to an out-of-town prison every weekend to visit. Many suffer under the burden of disgrace and shame.
These women are marginalized through no fault of their own. Society, friends, and even family members frequently push them aside or hold them at arm’s length. Sometimes it’s because they are deemed guilty and “less than” by association to their inmate. Sometimes people just don’t know what to say to them, so they avoid them.
Kairos Outside, a program of Kairos Prison Ministry International (www.mykairos.org), ministers specifically to this population of wounded women through a three-day weekend retreat. At the retreat, these “Guests” are showered with the unconditional love of Jesus by volunteers, most of whom understand their pain because they, too, have a loved one in prison. After the weekend, they have the opportunity to stay in touch with their new support network through e-mail, phone calls and regular reunions. Very frequently, Guests are so moved by the healing they undergo at the retreat that they volunteer to be on Team for the next weekend.
As a Vocational Deacon, i.e., called to a specific ministry, I will begin this coming November to serve on semi-annual Kairos Outside weekend retreats in Upstate South Carolina as an ordained Spiritual Advisor. In the meantime, I will be spearheading efforts to establish Kairos Outside in the Lowcountry.
Having joined the SC Kairos State Committee, I have learned that this will be a steady methodical process that will likely take 24 months to get all of the moving parts into place. God willing, we will have Kairos Outside Weekend #1 in the Lowcountry in April of 2019.
Vocational Deacons are charged to bring the marginalized to the Church and to take the Church to the marginalized. Many parishioners at Christ Church, where I serve, as well as others throughout the Diocese, have asked me how they can support Kairos Outside. At present, the best thing one can do is to pray for the formation of the Team for Weekend #14 that will take place at Table Rock this coming November. Pray as well as for the Guests God calls to participate and their incarcerated loved ones. In addition, please pray that God will guide me through each of the carefully prescribed steps established by Kairos Prison Ministry International to establish a new Kairos Outside community in the Low Country.
As the November 10-12 weekend approaches, opportunities abound to serve and help in the short term. If either or both of the following pique your interest, please contact me at email@example.com.
- Serve as a Day or Weekend Angel. During the weekend, Angels are the worker bees behind the scenes. They do everything from putting linens on Guests’ beds to helping prep meals in the kitchen to organizing various gifts for the Guests. Cost of staying overnight is a donation of $30 per day. The setting of Table Rock is breathtaking, and the Lord truly blesses the silent service of the Angels!
- Purchase meals for the Guests at $10 each. For every donation that is given, a card is made that says, “This meal was lovingly provided to you by <John> in <Charleston>.” These cards are then put at each Guest’s place for each meal. The impact of the kindness of strangers is often used by the Holy Spirit to introduce some of these ladies to the love of Jesus for the first time.
Finally, having walked alongside my niece for 5 years of her 10-year prison sentence, I am acutely aware of ALL of the players in the sorrowful land of incarceration. The inmates, whom our Lord wants us to visit and comfort, suffer loneliness and isolation. The guards who oversee them either suffer from fear and abuse by some inmates or they abuse the inmates by lording their authority over them. As outlined in this article, family members suffer along with inmates, “doing the time” with them.
Please join me in praying for all of these lambs:
For Prisons and Correctional Institutions
Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal. Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you; constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy’s sake. Amen. (BCP)
For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement
O merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men, look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy; nourish their souls with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance on them, and give them peace. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (BCP)
Relieve my troubled heart, and bring me out of my distress. (Psalm 25:17)