Twice a year, men from churches through East Tennessee, including the Community Church at Tellico Village and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, visit Morgan County Correctional Complex.

Part of the Kairos Prison Ministry, visits begin Thursday night and run over four days. There is a waiting list within the prison to be part of the Kairos weekend.

“It’s all a progression toward forgiveness, a friendship with God,” Dave Twesme, a member of the ministry, said. “You’re not alone. You can find your best self through Jesus Christ. So what it is is drawing them close to the Holy Spirit.

“... It’s our job just to plant the seeds,” he added. “It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the seed grow. So we just go up there and try to show them that God loves them, and we love them too and want the best for them. They really respond to that.”

The ministry includes delivering thousands of cookies to inmates, feeding them warm, home-cooked meals, writing letters, delivering encouraging messages from outside the prison, singing songs of worship and teaching the message of Jesus.

“It’s been a life-changing event,” Bill Macklem said. “I thought my two tours in Vietnam — I was with the Marines in Hu during the Tet Offensive and along the DMZ, and I thought that was my most significant event, but the time you spend in the prison in Morgan County is just absolutely unbelievable. It’s probably the most perfect example of God’s love. You sit there and all of a sudden you start building relationships and trust and having fun and singing and eating and praying with these inmates and it’s just an awe-inspiring and life-changing event.”

The local Kairos group will make its next visit April 12-15. For Bob Kryter, the visit will be his “fourth or fifth.”

“Every one has been a very lifting and uplifting mountain experience for me,” Kryter said. “It is hard work. You come back from the prison feeling emotionally drained. It’s very deep and demanding of you, but at the same time that you’re emotionally and physically tired or fatigued, you’re uplifted in the feeling that something good is going to happen. You don’t know what. It may be that one or two or five of the insiders, or the people coming in from the outside will have their lives changed as a result of the experience.”

Kryter joined the ministry when he was looking for direction after the death of his wife. Through Kairos he feels he can make a difference.

“These people are amongst the most forgotten, the most lonely men spiritually and emotionally that you can possibly imagine,” Kryter said. “Our penal system just isn’t working. I don’t mean that these men are saints — obviously, they’ve committed serious crimes — but in most cases it was done under the influence of drugs and they really didn’t know what they were doing and just were not in their proper frame of mind. They’re very repentant — not everyone, but most of them are very repentant. They wish more than anything they could turn the clock back and undo whatever they did. Many of them really feel they’re going to hell when they leave this earth. Our job is to try to give them hope and show them God has forgiven them no matter how terrible their crimes.”

Those involved in the ministry have seen it work. Some former inmates serve as members of the ministry.

“They still know their old prison numbers, old inmate numbers,” Denny Brandon said. “Of the men that go in with us, three of the men were convicted of murder. Two of them now are full-time pastors.”

About 70 percent of inmates who leave prison will reoffend, Brandon said. The number is only about 35 percent for those who have been part of the Kairos ministry.

“It seems to make an impact,” Brandon said. “It’s not us, they make a connection with the Lord, and they get to know him more personally.”

Hitting a snag

The ministry is currently going through a hardship after a trailer used to transport supplies was stolen in late February.

“It had tables and cooking utensils and supplies because we make meals for the prisoners and carry them in and they have special meals,” Twesme said. “Then, of course, the conference supplies like flip charts and pencils and Bibles and stuff like that that you need to run a weekend like that.”

With the next Kairos weekend a little more than a month away, there is some shifting of gears going on to make sure the weekend isn’t missed.

“We’ve gotten just a modest amount of supplies that are going to get us by this weekend,” Twesme said. “We’ll have to make some changes in our menu. It will have to be a lot simpler menu. We won’t be able to make meat loaf and the trimmings, stuff like that.

“... We’re going to be just getting by with it,” he added. “We’ll either rent a trailer or borrow a trailer from another Kairos group if we can. So we’ll get by with it. God will have his weekend. It was a surprise and not a very pleasant one.”

Right now, hopes are to hold fundraising drives over the summer to replenish supplies in time for the fall visit. The total value of the loss was about $9,000, Twesme said.

To make a donation to the ministry, contact the Community Church at 865-458-1516.