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Archives Ministry brings Christ to area inmates

November 22, 2023

By Tom Middleton
Kairos Volunteer

“I was in prison
and you visited me.”
– Mathew 25:36

On a damp and chilly recent Thursday afternoon, an ecumenical team of volunteers brought the warmth of Christ’s love to 20 inmates at Gouverneur Correctional Facility through a four-day Kairos retreat.

Kairos Prison Ministry International is a Christian faith-based organization which grew out of Cursillo in the 1970s. Kairos seeks to bring the love and forgiveness of Christ to prisoners, helping them develop a positive self-image, build healthy relationships and become productive members of society upon release. 

Each of the 19 volunteers entering Gouverneur Correctional Facility were supported by members of their own local churches through prayer, donations of service and/or funding.
Most of the inmates are from larger cities, and many speak only Spanish. The prayerful support of perfect strangers in small-town Christian Churches from the North Country was especially moving for them. Many of the children from local churches drew artwork on disposable placemats for the inmates, with messages of Christ’s love written in crayon. Along the walls were hung “prayer chains,” and each paper link consisting of a slip of paper signed by a person on the outside who pledged to pray for the participants. 

Each participating volunteer hand-wrote a letter to each participant. Many of those who participated in the retreat had been in prison for over 10 years, and some had not had a visitor or even a letter from someone on the outside in a very long time. Prior to this Kairos retreat, many led cold and isolated lives within the prison. The visible outpouring of Christ’s love upon these men was incredible to witness. Tears flowed down scarred cheeks and across prison tattoos, melting hardened hearts and breaking down interpersonal barriers like the walls of Jericho.

“The genuine changes of heart, away from sinful despair and toward the warm embrace of Jesus which we saw in these men was incredibly moving to witness,” said Tom Middleton, a Kairos volunteer. “The retreat included a service during which each of us prayerfully forgave anyone in our own lives who may have sinned against us…, then each in turn asked Jesus to forgive our own sins. I felt the gift of joy fill the room, as beautiful acts of contrition were prayed and Jesus’ Divine Mercy was poured out.” 

Participants were also invited to meet privately with a member of the clergy in strict confidence. Many did so, and nine of the 19 participants formally committed their lives to Christ.

“Kairos practically saved my life, because it humbled me,” said Richard, a Kairos participant. “Kairos opened my eyes to see that the mistakes I’ve made are not permanent, but I can be forgiven for the sins I’ve committed and be given a new beginning. I’ve always thought that going to prison was the end, but I found a new beginning by the grace of God, with the help of Kairos and my new-found brothers”. 

A common refrain heard throughout the retreat began each time with a question; “Who is the Church?”

“We are the Church!” came enthusiastic replies from volunteers and participants in unison. 

“Indeed, this group of Christians IS part of the Church,” I thought to myself. 

“We were so blessed to have Fathers Jack Downs, Anthony Amyot and Jay Seymour with us,” said Team Leader Rafael Marte.

During the final team meetings before the retreat, Father Downs washed and prayed over the hands of each volunteer, remembering Christ washing the feet of His disciples.

Team meetings were held throughout the summer and fall at the United Methodist Church in Gouverneur, and included Father James w. “Jay” Seymour, pastor of St. James Church in Gouverneur, along with retired priests Father John L. “Jack” Downs and Father Andrew J. Amyot. Other Catholics included Deacon James Snell and George Trejos, both of Canton, and Middleton, originally from the Diocese of Ogdensburg and now a deacon aspirant with the Diocese of Burlington. The local team includes both ordained clergy members and lay persons from many Christian churches throughout our area. 

Reverend Ron Taylor, the founder of Kairos, explains the organization’s mission: “Our goal is to create a safe environment where incarcerated individuals can experience the transformative power of God’s love. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, regardless of their past, and we work to foster spiritual growth and healing.”

Rafael Marte of Ellenburg was the group leader for this retreat, and he noted that the volunteers bring their witness through their own brokenness, having healed through the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
“As Christians, we are called to reflect these concepts and explore how they shape our understanding of faith, compassion and service to others,” he said. “We come to share healing, because we have the scars to prove that it works”.

“We do this because it works,” said Dr. Donald Schuessler, a member of the United Methodist Church in Gouverneur. “The recidivism rate in New York is over 40% for the first three years after their release.” “Among those who complete a four-day Kairos retreat, that percentage drops to 15%, and for those who participated in two or more Kairos sessions, it drops to 10%,” according to information provided by Kairos. 

Kairos Prison Ministry International provides incarcerated individuals a support system and tools for personal growth. Through its programs, Kairos helps prisoners address the root causes of their actions, confront their past mistakes and develop strategies for positive change.

Kairos activities include retreats, mentoring programs, and weekly prayer and share groups. These programs create a safe space for prisoners to share their stories and receive emotional support. By fostering a sense of community, Kairos helps individuals develop healthy relationships and build a support network that extends beyond prison walls.

For additional information about Kairos or to offer your support, email “Rafael Marte” at marte_rafael@hotmail.com.

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