by Jim Parker, Ph.D.
Let me tell you about Charles. I met him recently at Okeechobee Correctional Institution. I was there for a Kairos, four-day weekend.
During the first hour of our weekend, each one of us from the ‘free-world’ and all the residents stand up and introduce ourselves. I mentioned that I was a member of the board of directors of Matthew 25 Ministries.
During the first snack break, Charles, who was seated at another table, came over to introduce himself.
After light-hearted joking, I watched him ‘switch gears’ in his head. Straight out he wanted me to know that his purpose in life at Okeechobee CI was to “love God.” He was convinced that by loving God, he would be able to best demonstrate God’s love to other inmates. I’ve never heard an inmate make a declaration like that before.
Let me summarize our conversations and characterize what I learned from Charles.
→ Point number 1
Charles explained that he had been trying to get into a Kairos weekend for many years because he knew it would be a Christ-centered weekend. He has been in prison for over 28 years and he had applied to attend Kairos at most of the “camps” where he had been incarcerated. Until now he had never been selected to attend. He never gave up. He always had hope. He knew that God would answer his prayer.
Even though he had been disappointed many times, he explained that just being considered for Kairos at Okeechobee CI made him joyful. Knowing that this time he might be selected, gave him hope.
“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.”
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
→ Point number 2
During subsequent snack breaks we continued talking. It was obvious that he wanted to talk to me about something that was important to him. As it turned out he wanted to talk about Matthew 25 Ministries.
He caught me by surprise. He explained that he knew all about Matthew 25 Ministries.
Despite his life, plus 15-year sentence, he held tight to the hope of moving into the Matthew 25 Ministries community. He clearly accepted the reality of his sentence. However, he also explained that God has His own plan and timetable. His love of God gave him hope and his hope gave him solace.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
→ Point number 3
Charles and others, appear to have found a comforting navigation system in prison, one outside themselves – their belief in and love of Jesus. They have this “compass” with them always.
Driving home from Okeechobee I realized I had been talking with a man who was at peace, as much as anyone can be in a close-security institution. I decided that his harmony with his environment came from the hope he places in Christ and the peace that this Christ-centered confidence brings him.