By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
Source: The Baptist Message
MONROE (LBM) – An ecumenical ministry to youth offenders has formalized an agreement with the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice and officials at Swanson Center for Youth in Monroe to establish a ministry inside the facility.
Now that the memorandum of understanding has been signed, the Louisiana Chapter of Kairos Prison Ministry International can move forward with plans for a three-day retreat and an ongoing mentoring program at the facility.
“To get this signed is a major milestone,” said Terry Sant, chairman of the Swanson Advisory Council and a member of the sponsoring church, Cedar Crest Baptist Church in West Monroe. “It’s the first step in creating a relationship between the ministry and the particular institution.
“Having reached the agreement, it now leaves the ball back in our court to start gathering volunteers and prepare for a weekend in the fall,” he said following the June 8 meeting to sign the agreement. “After the weekend we will begin a six-month mentoring program one-on-one in a group setting which is necessary to be sure these guys get everything they need to turn their lives around.”
Led by more than 30,000 Christian volunteers, Kairos is an ecumenical international prison ministry that has a presence in 37 states and nine countries, according to the organization’s website.
Louisiana has a Kairos Inside ministry (a three and a half-day spiritual renewal event for adults in state and federal prisons), Kairos Outside ministry (which ministers to family members of men and women who are incarcerated) and Kairos Torch ministry (a program for youth ages 12-25 who live in centers for youth).
Kairos Torch, which will be implemented at Swanson this fall, allows the youth offenders to participate in a long-term one-on-one mentoring and discipleship program.
Lasting between six months to a year, these once-a-week sessions for 20 youth offenders at a time are overseen by carefully screened volunteers.
Dan Hicks, a member of First Baptist Church in Chatham and a volunteer with the ministry, is hopeful that having mentors available to provide a listening ear will help redirect the youthful offenders’ lives.
“God can turn things around,” he said. “Our calling is to serve the Lord, tell them that Jesus loves them and tell them there is a better way.
“When you see how God works in someone’s life, it is a tremendous blessing,” he continued. “The change you see in a young man is enough to make you come back time and time again to be there for him.”
An organizational meeting at Cedar Crest Baptist Church already has taken place.
During that time, volunteers learned how they could become involved in a variety of areas including mentoring, cooking food during the retreat, writing letters to the youth participants, praying throughout the retreat and setting up the room when meetings will be held at Swanson.
“To see this come to fruition is extremely exciting,” Sant said. “Now it’s time to begin the actual ministry.
“It’s exciting to see who God will send our way in terms of volunteers and see how he will move through this ministry,” he continued. “We see this as a beginning of a long-term ministry that will affect this community and the lives of these young men for years to come.”