Opportunity Knocks

Tim Abbey

Tim Abbey

Chaplain at Kirkconnell Correctional Centre

A Story from Kirkconnell - March 2024

I used to be an agronomist before becoming a pastor many years ago, looking after broad acre crops like wheat and barley. Hence why I love when Jesus uses agricultural stories to make deeper theological points. 

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)

When you’re planting or sowing a crop, there’s usually a narrow window to get the seeds in before the climate blocks you one way or another. This is because the moisture window for the seeds to be able to germinate doesn’t last long in dry arid climates, and similarly in wet climates, it might only be dry enough to get on the ground for a brief period. Either way, if you miss that opportunity, the crop may never get in the ground, and potential yields are reduced with a shorter growing season.

At the other end, there’s usually a mad rush to harvest the crop before the rain comes, as this could downgrade the crop or wipe it out totally. Hence why there is still a great need for many labourers, even with all our high-tech machinery these days as you can’t put it off. You have to act decisively, be flexible and act when the opportunity knocks. We’re fortunate in this country to still eat if the harvest fails, thanks to our wealth in many other ways. But in many places around the world, it’s literally make or break.


As Christians, we know we’re playing for far more than ‘sheep stations’, to slightly mix the metaphors! We know souls are at stake. We need to be proactive in seeing the windows of opportunity God opens for us to spread the seeds of the Gospel, water them, and hopefully see them flourish and go the distance with Jesus.

Working in a prison setting, God seems to delight in making some of the ground easier to plough and plant. Doing time can give you time to think and be open to deeper questions that the busyness of Western life can easily blur. It’s great how God has opened doors for Christian Chaplains to go into gaols in NSW.

But this opportunity still needs to be grasped.

“It’s great how God has opened doors for Christian Chaplains to go into gaols in NSW.”

In prison, there can be many changes. You can be in the middle of a Chapel service or Bible Study Group, and the next thing you know the muster siren signals an immediate lockdown. An inmate may need to be escorted to Hospital and suddenly the low staffing levels don’t allow inmates out of their cells. There may have been a fight or a drug bust and everything stops in the gaol. I might be in the middle of an 8-session Christian lifestyles course with an inmate one-on-one, and then they get reclassified and sent to another gaol, or they may get a ‘promotion’ and get to work on community projects or works release which are outside of the gaol. They may get asked to work back in the Engineering workshop with an important production deadline looming, which means they can’t make the sessions at the times they used to be able to. They may also simply lose interest if things drag on with so many obstacles. The reality is that the regular routine in the gaol can change at the drop of a hat so easily.

As a Christian Chaplain, I must be flexible and earnestly pursue the opportunities as they arise. My preferred schedule needs to be open to editing, as inconvenient as that can be, often on the fly. When an inmate wants to talk about significant things, within reason I need to do some quick shuffling. I need to be creative and see what other ways God may have to still get the access to an inmate or to keep a Bible Study Group going. Service times have needed to be changed 4 or 5 times now in my 8 years of outreach at Kirkconnell. Coming in regularly on a Sunday for these services is so important, there being less competition for access to inmates – with work and education taking a break for the weekend.

“As a Christian Chaplain, I must be flexible and earnestly pursue the opportunities as they arise.”

No doubt on the outside, time needs to be made for that coffee, dinner, visit or phone call. Church outreach events aren’t on every week, so it need to be prioritised in the diary. Being at Church regularly is also important so when that outsider does turn up, they can be welcomed well. This is all part of harvest work. Enabling pastors, missionaries, and Chaplains to be in the field is crucial.

It’s so worth it though, despite all the hurdles, when you get to see some of that harvest, when a life is turned around forever.

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