It’s not much of a stretch to say that last week I saw animals turned into humans, and humans into children of God.
It happened during a Kairos walk at Parchman Penitentiary – a three-day, interdenominational exposure to the compassion of Christ, based loosely on Cursillo and Emmaus walks.
Being Presbyterian, I’m not much given to emotional overstatement about spiritual happenings, but it would be difficult to hyperbolize what we experienced in this hellhole where hopelessness is so deep and love so rare.
We free- world guys saw broken people transformed in such ways that our lives and walks are also forever altered.
Men whose posture and countenance conveyed nothing more than a wish not to exist gradually opened, like a time exposure of a blossoming flower: They talked, then smiled and even laughed.
At the opposite extreme, hate-filled, me-against-the-world men gradually let anger slide from their faces and admitted loneliness and fear for themselves and grief over the hurts they’d inflicted on others.
One former church leader whose plunge into crime had become a public scandal came to Kairos wondering “if God had any use for a sinner who still adores Him” and left heartened to realize he can serve God inside the walls in ways and depths that none on the outside ever could.
One of the most moving tangibles was the paper chain that stretched around Unit 29’s gymnasium. Each colored-paper link contained the name of one of thousands of people praying for this gathering across the state, nation and world.
Another was the mass of posters that blanketed the walls, most made by children. While many quoted scripture or said “God Loves You” or similar comforts, one offered heartfelt advice for hardened criminals from a 7-year-old I know who admits his own struggles with sin: “DO NOT DO ANYTHING WRONG AGAIN.”
Each volunteer wrote a letter of encouragement to each inmate participant. After they were delivered on the third day, I watched one recipient read all 50 or so letters in one sitting, so focused on the mass outpouring of kind words that he didn’t look up until he’d devoured every line of every page.
Dozens of previous Kairos graduates served, from kitchen and cleaning duties to prayer. I’d never been prayed over quite so fervently and effectually as by two men who had each murdered multiple people and have for many years since been transformed by Christ.
Were some inmates fakers and takers? Almost certainly.
Were there uncomfortable moments? Yep.
Opportunities for frustration? In abundance.
But I can think of nothing I would take in trade for having seen God at work there in Parchman.
And I can’t wait to go back – again and again and again.
Errol Castens is a Daily Journal reporter based in Oxford. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (662) 816-1282.