Kairos Prison Ministry Australia

“I had met a new family” – Merry’s story of pain and forgiveness

Having a loved one in prison is not the most common of experiences, and it can be a troubling and isolating time. Merry didn’t quite realise just how much pain she was harbouring around the imprisonment of her son until she spent time with other women in similar positions.

It was there, at a Kairos Outside weekend, that Merry finally felt like she had permission to share her story. One weekend was all it took for her to feel like she’d found a new family in the women she’d met at Kairos, and this spurred her on in both her life and her faith.

A car accident that saved her

As a young woman, Merry survived a car accident that she says should have “wiped us out.” At the time she was working as a teacher in a Lutheran school in the remote community of Yalata. While the driver of the car, a fellow teacher, felt he was spared through divine intervention, Merry really wasn’t sure who had spared her life or why she had been saved. She began to question and investigate Christianity.

By her second year teaching there, Merry came to faith and was an active Christian. This is also where she met her husband.

Prison brought relief and pain

Merry and her husband had four sons, but as they grew, they faced challenges when their third son fell into addiction. Merry felt weighed down with the responsibility of parenting and caring for her children during a particularly difficult time for the family.

In 2002, their son was imprisoned. A strange sense of relief initially followed for the family, as they knew he was safe from the outside world and the hold that addiction had on him. It was still a difficult time for the family, and though they visited and wrote letters when they could, there was still pain and confusion.

Merry recalls this time in her life, saying, “It was fairly difficult because my husband’s a school teacher and so you can imagine what life was like living in a small town. We sought out assistance from the church but didn’t really feel terribly supported in that. It was really a difficult time.”

Isolated and hurting, Merry and her family struggled on alone.

Permission to share her story

When Merry was first brought along to a Kairos Outside weekend she wasn’t particularly keen, thinking, “‘I’m a Christian, I know it’s a Christian thing, I don’t really need this.’ I thought I was wasting my time a bit, in being involved,”

But Merry was pleasantly surprised that this was where she could finally find the support she’d been longing for.

“When I got there, and I heard the stories from the other women, I realised that it [Kairos Outside] was something that gave me the ability to look at our own lives and see the pain that we were going through with our son and finding out that all these beautiful ladies had stories too. That was when I realised I had met a new family that had a love for Christ and it gave me permission and to be able to share my story,” Merry reflected.

“I have made lifelong friends and we get together at reunions.”

The Forgiveness Service

The part of the weekend that Merry found most helpful was the forgiveness service, which attendees and volunteers take part in. “It’s really a very moving time and I think that’s probably when change happens. And on Sunday, it becomes real when you realise you’re not alone.”

Merry continues, “It’s quite interesting because the forgiveness service comes just after we’ve had a bit of fun and enjoyment and talked and sung about our learning from the weekend. Then we go into a very quiet place, we have already talked about anger and we have already talked about forgiveness and we’ve already written the people’s names and have it in an envelope in our pocket.”

image of hand with brick

Merry shared one of the more symbolic elements of the evening was removing a brick from a wall.

“We had a wall and we took bricks out of the wall, which represented the things that we were harbouring including unforgiveness and other things that we felt weren’t right within our lives.”

Merry says this was followed by a time of prayer and hand washing, an experience she describes as “very moving”. “We were free to cry, and we were comforted in a way that I don’t think I had ever felt before. For me, it was the highlight of the weekend.”

Merry’s volunteer work

Merry doesn’t like to dwell on thoughts about what her life would be like had she not gone to that first Kairos Outside weekend all those years ago. She sometimes wonders how she would have continued to cope with the complex pain and guilt she was dealing with, and whether her marriage would have survived. But she channels that wondering into her continued work with Kairos, seeking to give back and pass on the peace that she has found.

Merry has had a hand in many of the ministries Kairos offers, including volunteering at Kairos Outside weekends many times. Her husband also serves with Kairos, working with prisoners who are currently incarcerated.

Merry continues to enjoy and benefit from her time working with and participating in Kairos programs. She really values having the chance to talk with others openly and honestly, saying, “That really is what keeps me going, what helps me the most. I feel like I don’t have to be secretive, I don’t have to make excuses and I don’t have to wear the burden myself.”

Merry’s excitement is continually renewed by each Kairos Outside that she volunteers for, knowing that the people in attendance are about to have their lives changed by the love of God shown through Kairos and its work.

“My eyes are far more open to God’s call and to his presence than they used to be. That really helps me with Kairos because that’s what it’s all about; all of the preparation is about God’s calling in our lives and the encouragement to use it in times of unpleasantness,” Merry shares.

“It really has been quite a journey and I’m not done yet.”

Find out more about Kairos Outside here.

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