Kairos ministry shows love, shares gospel with incarcerated women

By Grace Thornton

Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

When you’re in prison, often the first thing you feel is that you’ll never be forgiven.

And the last thing you feel is that anyone could ever really love you.

That’s why Charlene Ferniz says she loves going there with a microphone and a big love to share — because God redeemed her from the exact same place and showed her that those two things weren’t true.

“In 2010, I was arrested for a crime I did commit,” she said, and while she was in the county jail awaiting trial, she began to read her Bible. When she was transferred to Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, she met some women from First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, who became her lifeline when she was released from prison. They met her immediate needs, and they plugged her into church.

Making connections

And now Ferniz tries to connect others with Christ in the same way those women did for her. She serves on a team with Kairos Prison Ministry of Alabama that goes twice a year into the Federal Correctional Institution for women in Aliceville for a weekend-long event.

And while she’s there she speaks to the incarcerated women about God’s forgiveness and about how He set her free.

“It’s all to show them that God loves them and that there are people out there who care about them,” she said. “When you’re at your lowest, that’s where you can begin to go up. And God is the only way, period. A lot of my talk is my story and about how I fell in love with Jesus.”

Kairos weekends are held regularly in 13 facilities all around the state. During the most recent Kairos weekend in Aliceville — held in late August — 30 women from the ministry met with 42 inmates chosen by prison staff for days of talks, prayers and fellowship.

Pat Lee, team leader for the event, said the volunteers participate in the ministry because “Jesus tells us to love those who are in prison.”

During the weekend the women hear messages from volunteers and testimonies from people like Ferniz and are divided up into family groups for meals.

Lee said part of the idea of Kairos is to break down the walls and get everyone on a level playing field so volunteers can invest in the lives of the women there. But it’s also to help the inmates bond with each other so they can keep living out their faith together after the weekend is over.

“It’s structured and the method works,” she said. It’s a tremendous ministry and Lee said she’s glad she gets to be a part of it.

“When I moved to Pickens County, this prison was basically in my backyard and I wanted to get involved in reaching out,” she said. “This ministry reaches women and teaches them that God is the God of grace. Many have never had someone who loved them unconditionally.”

And God can come in and change their lives, Lee said.

Ferniz agreed.

“My life since I left that life behind and came alive in Christ has been very, very positive — much better than I ever thought possible,” she said. “It changed everything for me and I know that it can change everything for others too. I want to pass it on.”

Volunteer opportunities

Kairos has volunteer opportunities for its weekend events around the state. It also has a ministry called Kairos Outside, which reaches out to female family members of incarcerated men, and Kairos Torch, which reaches out to juvenile offenders.

Kairos, founded in the 1970s, serves prisons in 35 states and nine other countries and conducts 600 weekend events every year worldwide.

For more information about Kairos and how to get involved, visit www.kairos-al.org or call First, Tuscaloosa, at 205-345-7554.