Matthew 25 reminds us Jesus’ message: “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”
So, we did.
Yesterday, 13 Hesston College students and staff gathered at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility to sit at cafeteria lunch tables and eat lasagna with a group of about 20 inmates. And that’s simply all it may appear to be from an onlooker’s perspective. But across the Italian-inspired meal, community was formed.
The meal was organized by the Match-2 program through Offender Victim Ministries, which pairs each inmate with one volunteer. Or, in Hesston College’s case, two students to one inmate.
Trevor Oyer, a sophomore, and Joy Driver, a freshman, began participating in this program together at the beginning of the year.
“I knew this program would allow me to form a friendship with someone who lives a life different from me, allowing me to gain a new perspective,” said Driver.
One perspective for Oyer are the joyful expressions that those “on the outside” may take for granted.
“I would say seeing my M-2 inmate, as well as other inmates, laugh and smile has been the most memorable experience so far.”
Benjamin Kreider, Director of Prison Ministries and head of M-2 at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, opened the event by reminding everyone ‘the reason for the season.’ As a faith-based organization, a prayer also preceded the meal. Yet, for many of the prisoners who receive fewer than two visits a year, Christmas is just another day on the calendar. The rest of their days are filled with jobs, sports tournaments, limited yard time, and cell time.
As one inmate noted, “Christmas is boring in prison.”
And so, recognizing the needs of those in prison fostered the Match-2 program. As part of the international network of prison ministries, the program was founded in 1971 with a goal to fulfill the Matthew 25 scripture “by visiting prisoners, befriending them, giving moral guidance, and helping them to convert from offenders into non-offenders.”
Over the meal, an inmate curiously asked, “Why would you guys want to come to prison? What did you think when you first started coming here?”
In that moment, Driver hesitated, as if deciding whether or not to be honest. Then she opened up. She was, in fact, a little scared at first. But, she said, she felt called by the scriptures to “do for one what you wish to do for many.”
A moment to ponder.
And then discussion continued. For each pair, conversation flowed differently. Maybe the day was rough for both people and the time was spent in silence. Or, for others, discussion of favorite foods, hometowns, and fantasy football kept the conversation fluid. (For the record, it is important to note that Cowboys, Broncos, and Green Bay Packers fans can indeed all be friends.)
As the evening came to a close, the inmates and visitors joined together in “Silent Night.” Not all sang. Some sat and listened. But as another world continued to run outside the gates of the prison, inside, people, both free and captive, set aside their differences and basked in the peacefulness of the moment. Whatever religious beliefs each individual had, a certain reverence accompanied the singing of the common holiday song.
Christmas can take many forms. In this case? Cafeteria style.