Often, when talking about PF’s work, I am asked about the impact of our programmes. While we can quantify the number of Angel Tree presents sent out to children and celebrate the connections the programme has renewed and strengthened, it is much more difficult to measure the overall impact the work of our volunteers is having in the lives of people in prison. This is particularly the case when we consider ‘unofficial’ ministries
I am a firm believer in the transformative power of the ministry of kindness. One of the easiest ways we can show kindness is through a smile. A simple smile to someone in prison, or to the person at the supermarket checkout can have an amazing effect. Research into the power of smiling has shown that it is neurologically contagious—when we smile, or see someone else smile, we mentally reciprocate the action and feel happier. Even if we are not feeling happy ourselves, the very act of smiling can boost our mood and cultivate a feeling of happiness. For people in prison, just a kind, smiling face can help improve their mood and bring a spark of joy to their lives.
We see wonderful acts of kindness throughout the Bible – particularly from Jesus. I find it very easy to picture him smiling and embodying what kindness looks like.
But I have a little more trouble picturing God as kind. When we read through the Old Testament, it can create a picture of God the Father being a punitive judge or a powerful creator. Often, kindness is not the main characteristic that we ascribe to God.
But God is kind!
There is a beautiful image in Genesis 3 where God ‘made garments of skin for Adam and his wife.’ I picture this as God sitting down and sewing together animal skins for them to aid their predicament. This is quite different to the actions of God in Genesis 1 who ‘spoke’ things into being. Here we have an incredibly relational and— I would argue—kind image of God where he ‘makes’ instead of ‘speaks.’
It is this relational element of kindness that I found myself reflecting on after asking some of our volunteers what they think kindness in action looks like. The top three answers were listening, compassion and caring.
All three are beautiful expressions of Godly kindness that we can seek to outwork in whatever context or ministry we find ourselves. And remember, even just a smile is an act of kindness that can help to turn someone’s day—or even life—around.
Peter Holloway is the Chief Executive of Prison Fellowship England and Wales.
This article was first published in our quarterly magazine in:sight. You can sign up to receive our free magazine by post or via email by visiting prisonfellowship.org.uk/subscribe