Faiths unite to share Christ’s love

By Matthew Biddle 

MEMBERS of the Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Baptist, and Salvation Army Churches have been working together to take Christ to a group of people desperately in need of his forgiveness – prisoners.

Kairos Prison Ministry (KPM) has been ministering to prisoners and their families around Australia for 20 years, bringing hope to people in about 30 jails across Australia, including the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra and the Goulburn Correctional Centre.

Tony Jurd, who has been involved with KPM since 1997, toldCatholic Voice there are several aspects to the work of KPM.

‘Kairos Inside’ focuses on ministering to those inside jails, while ‘Kairos Outside’ provides support for those impacted by the imprisonment of a family member or friend.

A ‘Kairos Outside’ program for men and another program for youth in detention centres have also been established recently. Mr Jurd said the youth program is set to commence at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre in the near future.

The Weston Creek parishioner, who has spent time visiting both the Goulburn and Canberra jails, said he’s never felt afraid while ministering to prisoners.

“Prior to the first time going to the jail I had a bit of nervousness about what could happen,” he said.

“But in the many times I’ve been to both Canberra and Goulburn jails there’s never been a moment when I had any fear of the guys in there. Most of them are just normal, average people who made some unwise decisions.”

Nevertheless, the offences committed by the prisoners he has met in the jails vary considerably.

“A few programs back we had a guy who’s doing life for murder. He was a perfect gentleman to us,” Mr Jurd said.

“They range from that to guys who are only doing two or three months because they drove too many times without a licence. Involvement in drugs is a very common factor among a lot of them.”

The ministry to the male prisoners begins with a three-day intensive program introducing them to the Christian faith and to the reality of a forgiving, loving God.

This is followed by fortnightly visits from two or three members of the Kairos team, who lead discussions and Bible studies with the prisoners.

Mr Jurd said demand from the prisoners to be a part of the program is often overwhelming.

“We’re never short of volunteers to fill up the space that the jail can give us,” he said.

“We can only fit about 15 prisoners in the room they give us, and there’s always a waiting list to join the group.

“A lot of people think guys in jail wouldn’t be interested in [Christianity], but we’ve found there’s a real thirst.”

While there have been some incredibly inspiring stories of prisoners who have done the Kairos program, been released, and then joined the Kairos team, Mr Jurd said the work of the female members of Kairos in ministering to families is far more powerful.

“It has a huge impact on the family to have mum, dad, a son or daughter in prison. There can be loss of income if it’s the breadwinner of the family,” he said.

“There’s the shame of the wife and kids, and their friends who are too embarrassed to ask about it… they end up being pretty isolated, and the rest of the community – friends, family, their parish members – don’t know how to handle it, so they avoid it.

“The Kairos program helps them to feel that there are others in the same boat who understand what they’re going through.”

Mr Jurd said new members of any age are always welcome to join the Kairos team.

“Anyone whose Christian faith is real to them, who has a prayer life, and a common sense, open attitude to other people, and a desire to help can help with this ministry,” he said.

“For me personally, it’s been a blessing in that it’s been one of the most powerful faith building experiences that I’ve had.”