I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Matthew 25:36
Meet the Rev. Christina “Chris” Mucuuthi N'gethe, a Federal Bureau of Prisons chaplain through The Episcopal Church’s Office of Armed Forces and Federal Ministries.
Share a little bit about yourself. Tell us about your relationship with The Episcopal Church and the Office of Armed Forces and Federal Ministries.
Ministry has always been part of me. Growing up back home in Nairobi, Kenya, I was always involved with the Church. I did part of my seminary training in Kenya and part in the United States. I was the first deaconess in Kenya at that time because they were not ordaining women to the priesthood. I was ordained a priest in 2000 in the Diocese of Oklahoma, and my bishop from Kenya came for my ordination. I lived in Oklahoma for a while and was a chaplain for the military. I was recruited by a fellow military chaplain and received an age waiver as there was a great need for military chaplains. Everywhere I went in the U.S., I was involved with soldiers in the Army and was counseling them. I served as a military chaplain for almost 10 years, and I found my way back to serving with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Serving military and prison populations was not that different to me. I was ministering to populations that were both in difficult, oftentimes dangerous situations. The difference was that one group was there willingly and the other was not.
Share a story in your current ministry or studies about a time when you felt blessed.
I am a woman in a male-dominated environment, and all I have with me is a thousand keys on my belt and a radio. But these inmates are our brothers, our fathers, our uncles. Some are there for things they did deliberately, while some are legitimately innocent of whatever they’re accused of; however, they all yearn for someone who is honestly there to help them, and they can tell whether you are genuinely there for them or not. They look forward to someone they can trust and empty their hearts to. They are more or less alone in this world. You become the only source of support, and you show them the love of Jesus.
The first thing is not preaching to them, just simply being with them. It doesn’t matter who – at the end of the day we are all human, whatever our sins, and we all need someone. When they see that they can trust you, then they can cry on your shoulder, they can empty their baggage to you, and you lift it to God. They hide so much pain because they have to be strong in prison and cannot show weakness. These guys are not scary, that’s why I make sure I said they’re our brothers. They made mistakes, just like we do; they just took things one step too far. Once I win them over to the fact that I’m not judging them, that I know they made mistakes and they’re paying for them, and that I accept them regardless of the crime, then I can bring the word of God to them. I go back to Matthew 25: “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Get involved with these communities. Be a volunteer. Every week, they have Bible study, which volunteers from the outside come lead. The volunteers train before they can be with the inmates, but you don’t have to be a chaplain to minister to this population.
Blessing is about being part of the cycle of giving and receiving and practicing generosity and compassion. In what ways are you called to pass on blessings to others? I’ve learned through my time serving in prisons that, in the simplest of things, we can become a blessing – just being able to shake a hand with an inmate, letting people know that I’m praying for them. They don’t get that from the other officers. No one else is giving them hope. To the other officers, they might be just a number. Even when they’re called up over the intercom, they’re called by their inmate number. When I call them, I call them by their first and last name. Just simple dignities that we take for granted can be a great blessing.
How has your work through Armed Forces and Federal Ministries impacted you and your community?
It’s helped make my prayer life a big part of sustaining me and my ministry. There is no way I can do this work by myself. I believe in being on my knees daily – not once, not twice, but multiple times. When I get to the office parking lot, the first thing I do is put up my sun visor in my car and I say my prayers before I go into the prison. Every day, that’s my routine. I keep that word of God with me and pray that if I can be a blessing to just one person that day, I will have done my work.
What about the Way of Love or the Jesus Movement gives you hope for the Church?
I receive great hope through my work with prison populations. It’s so easy to lose your faith and any hope you have when you’re in prison. The hope these men still have humbles me. It’s an important lesson for us: It is not easy, but there is hope as long as you’re alive today. It might be pitch dark now, but light will always come in the morning.
Are there any other thoughts about the practice of Bless that you’d like to share?
Don’t take your life or freedom for granted. Count your blessings. When I look into the eyes of these men in prison, they could be any one of us – they are us. There but for the grace of God, go I. God did not create something bad in his own image. He created us in his own image. What we have done is wrong, but even so, we are not bad people. The fact remains that we are all something beautiful in God’s eyes.
Lastly, I’d also like the Church to know that your support and contributions are not in vain. It falls in the hands of God, and God’s children are touched because of your commitment.