"What kind of bird can't fly?"
That was the joke being shared around the table of my newfound friends this weekend. I leaned forward, cookie in hand, awaiting the punchline.
Everyone at the table laughed. But for six of the people at the table, this laugh was filled with a type of understanding that went with that joke. These people were prisoners. At least one of them was carrying a life sentence. I only know this because he chose to reveal it to me.
You see, this past weekend, I encountered my second Kairos experience. "Kairos" is an inside the prison retreat. Participants go in and spend 10-12 hours a day for four days with prisoners on their own "turf." The prison officials graciously give up one of their gymnasiums for that event. They also allow us to bring in homemade food ranging from barbecue to hamburgers. On the last day, Domino's pizza was brought in. In between meals, the inmates are constantly treated plate after plate of homemade cookies. Talks are given, music is provided, Jesus is shared.
It had been a long time for many of those inmates to experience homemade food. Or to be allowed to eat it slowly and savor each bite. Oh, and by the way, this food was supplied in HUGE quantities. Most inmates had two or three helpings. There was even a contest to see who could eat the most hamburgers.
But there was something else served in huge quantities. Something the inmates had not seen in a long time.
During the weekend, these inmates sat at the same table with people from the outside. We talked, we listened, we shared, but most importantly, we loved. They were told what Christ could do for them. They were reminded of His forgiving power. As one inmate put it, they were given their identity back.
"I am no longer a prisoner," he said. "I am a Child of God."
As I left those prison walls on Friday, I realized I had gained 39 new friends. Chances were I would never see them outside the prison walls. But I took joy that I would see almost everyone of my "brothers in white" in the Kingdom of God one day.
Not because of me or my fellow workers, you understand.
But because of Jesus.
"I was in prison.. and you visited me."