Have you ever been at a loss of words? Someone asked me how it felt to be a new Dad once. I just looked at him, unable to speak.
After the weekend known as Kairos #51, I have been asked a number of times, “So, how was the weekend?”
Fortunately, on the Monday following the weekend, I found myself on a plane, with noise canceling earphones, pen, paper and time.
I hope these four experiences from the weekend summarize what has been a life changing event for me, the team and the residents of Angola’s Camp C.
“I DOUBT IT”
A major issue for Kairos 51 began before we arrived, in the form of transfers. Camp C was being converted to a trustee camp. Our weekend happened to hit DURING the transfer and because of this, several residents were asked Friday morning to pack their things and move.
Obviously, their move out of Camp C would have resulted in them leaving the Kairos weekend. We don’t like residents leaving a Kairos weekend, particularly when it’s not of their choosing.
Each time the order to move came before us, the resident was asked to return to his dorm and pack up. And, each time the order came, we turned to the Chaplain…asking him if it would be possible to delay the move until Monday, giving the resident enough time to complete the Kairos weekend.
His response was to simply shrug his shoulders, laugh nervously and say, “I’ll see what I can do, but I doubt it.”
These transfer orders occurred all morning long on Friday. Each time they came, they provided us worry and frustration. But to our pleasant surprise, the chaplain consistently returned with both the resident and even more laughter. But this was not nervous laughter, it was a laugh of unbelief. Every single time he asked for a delay in transfer, the request was granted.
At one point, he said security exclaimed, “Kairos sure does have terrible timing.” We could only laugh, reminding ourselves that the definition of Kairos is “God’s special time” and it was anything but terrible.
All of these successful transfer delays gave us great joy and assured us that God was in complete control, especially the last one.
Just prior to the first talk, yet another resident was asked to pack his things. The same scenario played out as we pleaded for the Chaplain to assist. “One more dip into your bag of magic, Chaplain!”
But this particular transfer request was particularly difficult, in part because of Kairos. With the clock clicking away, we were facing the official start of Kairos.
The standard rule is, if a resident can get to the retreat prior to the first talk on Friday morning, his absence prior to that can be overlooked. However if that resident is not with us before the first talk, he cannot be allowed to join the weekend. This is a tricky issue, but think of it this way, each and every talk is like an ingredient in a recipe. If you skip one, you’ve screwed up the recipe.
At this point, we had simply run out of time and I was faced with a difficult decision. If we attempted to reverse the transfer, there was a very real possibility that the prison staff’s hard work would be for nothing, as we might have had to deny the resident access to Kairos because the first talk had begun. We would have asked the prison to jump through hoops for nothing.
I did not want to damage our reputation with Angola security so I made the gut wrenching decision that this particular resident would have to go. There’d just wasn’t enough time, or so I thought.
Twenty minutes later, while sitting in the back of chapel, a steward whispered good news in my ear. “We don’t know what happened, but he (the resident) is back and his move has been delayed.” I looked back at the chaplain and he simply shrugged his shoulders, unaware of how it happened as he hadn’t asked anyone for assistance. I too wasn’t sure how it happened but I suspect God had a hand in it.
For the rest of the weekend, my curiosity switched from HOW it happened to WHY it happened.
My answer came when the resident told me during a break, “I feel like a fog has been lifted – you know what it’s Ike when you can see clearly for the first time? I have never experienced this kind of love and I needed it now more so than any time in my life. Just last week, I was at my lowest…I mean, super low.”
“I HATE IT HERE!”
Saturday morning, a team member approached me with worry and concern about a resident at his table. The concern was a common one – the resident was not participating and seemed quite angry.
This particular team member was a first timer, and I gave him a rather typical answer, “stick with it, we are only half way through and today will be a good day. Keep the faith.”
I was curious and wanted to gauge the resident myself, so I approached him during a break and asked, “How are ya…having a good time?”
His response was quick and to the point, “I hate it here!”
His eyes could have cut through steel. “I don’t want to be here, and I just can’t stand it. This is not for me.”
Inside, I was crushed. I managed to smile and told him, “Please try to stick it out. I think you’ll enjoy it.”
Shaking his head as I spoke, he snapped back, “I’m just telling you now, I hate it.”
I casually replied, “Remember what I told all of you Thursday night, we are not here to change you. In fact, if you disagree with everything we say this weekend, that’s okay. And keep in mind, if you want to leave, that’s okay too. Just let me know.”
Soon after that, lunch arrived. My spiritual advisor guessed he would bolt after eating lunch. At the time, I couldn’t disagree with his bleak assessment. Funny how God had other plans.
Over lunch, the resident who “hated it” slowly began talking to the team member.
What I saw next will stay with me forever. Over the noise of a community room busy breaking bread, the team member slowly slid his chair toward the resident, made direct eye contact with him and listened. He listened to every word, never looking away from him.
As I saw this, I stopped eating and immediately prayed to God, “Father, send your wonderful holy Spirit…now…let it pierce the roof of this conference room and descend on this resident.”
Lunch continued. The talking continued. The listening continued.
I jumped up, insisting to myself that I should continue praying…grabbing another team member, and urging him to join me in prayer. At this point, our prayer focus was dual. While we were concerned about the resident, we were equally concerned that the first-time team member would get incredibly discouraged if the resident were to leave.
We prayed that the resident would not only stay but that his life would be altered forever. We also prayed for reassurance that God’s will would be done and not ours. This is always the toughest prayer.