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Spreading love behind bars

Local couple shares ministry at Virginia prisons

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March 20th, 2012

I can t believe you go in with those people! I hear that all the time, says Jim Bayne, who, along with his wife, Diane, volunteer their time with Kairos Prison Ministry International (KPMI), an ecumenical ministry designed to offer prison inmates the opportunity to receive God s love and forgiveness. It s just something you have to experience, says Diane. Then the question becomes, How could you not go in?

Tradition of giving

Giving of themselves comes naturally to Jim and Diane, who live atGreenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va. After attending a Christian Family Movement retreat with their three children in 1971, the couple knew that one day they would like to lead similar family retreats. It was such a powerful experience, says Jim. I prayed that when I retired I would be able to do something similar for other families. When Jim retired, he and Diane moved to Rappahannock County, Va., and opened the Bethany House Retreat Center for the Arlington Diocese. Over the course of 80 weekends, the Bayne s brought the message of God s love to more than 500 families. They then moved to North Carolina, where they continued to lead family retreats for the next 15 years.

New directions

When the Baynes returned to the Washington, D.C., area, Diane attended graduate school for pastoral counseling. I knew that if I was able to help someone else, then I would worry less about my own problems, she says. It was then that a friend told me about KPMI and an upcoming retreat at Goochland, a women s prison near Richmond. Diane agreed to go and was moved by her experience. Each retreat is three days long and introduces each participant to the idea of God s love and forgiveness, she says. On the first night we kicked things off by socializing with the prisoners. Oh my goodness, it hit me: these are just people. You wouldn t know by talking with them that they had committed a crime. Over the course of our three days with the prisoners, I witnessed the magic of KPMI. When we arrived these women were depressed. But when we left they were smiling and spirited. I felt that I had gotten as much, if not more than they did, so I kept going.

It takes two

As Diane continued to volunteer at the three-day retreats, she worked to convince Jim to volunteer for a retreat at a men s prison. In 1991, Jim agreed and joined a volunteer team preparing for a three-day KPMI retreat at Buckingham Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in Dillwyn, Va. As I sat around the table on my first morning I couldn t help but think that all of these guys could be my sons, he says. From that moment on I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

The three-day retreat

After spending hundreds of hours preparing for each weekend, the volunteer teams enter the prison and begin the three-day retreat. The first thing we do is give the prisoners a lot of cookies, says Jim. It s a small gesture that means so much. Addressing the topics of God s love, forgiveness, and thanksgiving, the volunteers work with the prisoners in small groups throughout the weekend. These are men who have been locked up and abandoned, says Jim. We come in eager to listen to them and share the message that they are worthy of God s love, despite what they have done and what they have been told. You would have to be a stone not to be blown away. Their pain becomes your pain, but that makes life so much richer.

Breaking through

Seeing the love from the volunteer team really gets their attention, says Diane. Over the course of the weekend they hear a variety of talks given by the volunteer team members. We share how our own life experiences have led us to the decision to give God a very prominent position in our lives. Like their fellow KPMI volunteers, Jim and Diane keep in contact with the prisoners long after the weekend retreat ends. In addition to sending support and encouragement through letters, they attend monthly KPMI reunions run by the prisoners. These reunions provide an opportunity for the volunteers to visit the prisoners again, share stories, and provide support. You see and hear a lot, says Jim. But being with the guys keeps you going. I liken it to the story of the Prodigal Son, a lesson we share during the retreat. In the story, the father welcomes back into his home both of his sons, one who has done everything he has been asked to do and the other who has turned his back on his family. Yet, no matter what his sons have done, good or bad, they are welcomed by their father with open arms. That is God s message for these prisoners. They are loveable, and they are worthy of God s love.

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