Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tracks of Tears follow recent Kairos event

Most readers will recall that I have worked in the Kairos International Prison Ministry for nearly fifteen years now; matter of fact, I’m state Kairos Chairman for 2007-8.  

Kairos, meaning “God’s Special Time,” now holds weekends or reunions in seven Mississippi institutions, plus we have a ministry to the families of incarcerated people called Kairos Outside.

All of this involves two per year four-day retreats in each prison with usually 42 more inmates each time, plus we go back monthly to check on them, as well as some volunteers returning weekly for Prayer and Share grouping.

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Stats from over 30+ years of Kairos, in 32 states and 10 foreign countries, show that a Kairos inmate has a five times better chance of staying out of prison once he/she has served his/her time and been released.  A collateral benefit is that often a unit requires as much as 40 percent less security once a Kairos community has been established therein.

But nobody goes back just because of statistics. What draws nearly 1,000 Kairos volunteers statewide back into prison is what we’ve seen God do behind bars, the lives changed. There is a comparable free-world retreat movement that is variously called Emmaus Walk, or Cursillo, or Tres Dias, or several others.

They just operate without razor wire and striped britches.

I was leading the music on one of these weekends not long ago, and without revealing too much, there is an evening service wherein a lot of people gather, usually with candles, to wish the retreatees a wonderful experience. It is a very spiritually-motivating thing, sometimes moving strong men to tears.

However, the guy whose job is leading the music must control his own emotions, though often vicariously experiencing those through his view of the people whom he is leading in song.  

That happened to me and my assistant music leader, on a recent weekend.

We – the retreatees and part of the team, about 45 men – were to sing a “round” song, which involved me starting the first group, then an assistant bringing the second group in on signal from me.  

To lead the second group, I picked a young man who had been pointed out to me as having some musical ability. I pulled Matt out of the pack and positioned him in front of his half of the group, our backs to the congregation with their candles, who would soon be filing out.

Got my guys started, gave Matt the signal, and he brought his men in on time. They all continued to sing as the congregation began to file out, though their attention was not on me or Matt, I noticed: they sang mostly on automatic pilot, watching for folks they knew who had come to wish them well.

I saw several of the men in my group with tears tracking down their faces, glanced sideways at Matt’s group, and saw the same phenomenon. It occurred to me that I should relieve Matt of his arm-swinging responsibilities, so that he could turn and watch the crowd as they left the room too.

Then I looked back at my bunch – and witnessed the strangest thing.  Linda Ronstadt had a hit song back in the late ‘60s called “Tracks of My Tears.”  I saw the tracks of tears on many faces, then realized that those tracks were lighted!

The wet faces were reflecting the light of the candles as the crowd moved toward the exits, waving their lights.

I turned to wave Matt back into the ranks so he could see the crowd himself, and I saw on his face the same expression that must have been on mine: he was in awe, and tearing up hisownself, because he was also witnessing those lights reflecting from the faces of the men whom he was conducting in song.

What a moving moment, for both of us. Matt glanced at me and I knew that he had caught onto the same blessing that was being bestowed on me.

I left him alone, facing the lighted tracks of the tears on those faces. Later, he bear-hugged me, in thanks for choosing him to lead half the music. What a blessing for us!