Volunteers bring lessons of God’s grace to incarcerated

By Judy Riley

“If you do it for the least of these, you have done it to me” are words that Jesus spoke to his disciples in Matthew 25. And Paul, in Hebrews 13, instructs Christians to “remember those in prison.” For many, putting that kind of faith in action every day is difficult, but not for Linda Remele, Tricia Conway, and their friends. These six women from various churches in Central Arkansas meet regularly with inmates at the Arkansas Department of Corrections McPherson Unit for women near Newport. Using a common curriculum called Kairos, they conduct classes, pray with and for inmates, and generally share knowledge of God’s grace.

Linda Remele (from left), Tricia Conway, Nancy Henley and Christen Higgins (in front).

Kairos is  a nondenominational, Christian, faith-based ministry that is similar to “Walk to Emmaus” that was designed to help build strong Christian leaders in the church. In the prison system, it is used primarily for the individual inmate’s spiritual growth. The Greek word Kairos means “God’s special time” or “when the time is right.”

Linda Remele and Tricia Conway are retired elementary teachers. They became involved in the ministry with their husbands when they heard about men who conducted Kairos at ADC Tucker Unit. They were asked to make cookies, but felt their roles could be more meaningful. They investigated a similar program available for women, and their walk in faith began. The group now includes Beth Leverett, Djuna Dudeck, Nancy Henley, Wrenetta Ghent, Christen Higgins, Linda Remele, and Tricia Conway.

Kairos volunteers complete 36 hours of training. Over 150 volunteers throughout the state are part of Kairos ministry groups. One goal of the process is bonding team members since they all come from different churches and several geographic areas. They stick with the Bible, avoiding differences in denominations. The curriculum is designed to help participants understand God’s Grace, according to Remele. It begins with a discussion about the choices we make and explains that no one is alone as God is always with us. The emphasis is on God’s forgiveness, the need to forgive others, and ultimately forgive ourselves. 

The inmates have to qualify to be a part of Kairos. Only 30 out of 150 applicants are accepted to attend in November and 30 in June. They go through an interview process to determine if their reason is true, not just a way to get out of work or a way to eat special food. This is one of the few times that food can be brought into the prison. 

In addition to the Kairos retreat weekends, volunteers meet monthly with “Prayer and Share” sessions for prayer and Bible study. Success stories happen often. Many learn to forgive themselves and forgive those whose lives influenced them to be in prison. Remele said it’s important to “get them to realize God has a plan for their lives and it wasn’t to be in prison, but since they are in prison, they can become an instrument of God’s grace.”

Remele encourages others to get involved in this type of ministry. “Prison ministry isn’t for everybody, but everybody I have convinced to give it a try is hooked!” she said. “The rewards are greater than anything I leave with them. I feel so blessed sharing God with them. Every time I walk out, I feel God has used me to maybe bring a ray of sunshine into somebody’s life that day.” 

Conway adds, “Seeing the ladies’ eyes light up when I enter the prison is worth the effort. I feel, as a Christian, this is what I am supposed to do.”

Remele’s favorite Bible verse is Luke 12:48 which says that from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. “This is one of the ways I am living this Bible verse,” she said.

In addition to more volunteers, Remele said the prison needs new or gently used Bibles and funds for resource materials. For more information, contact Linda Remele at [email protected]