Her son murdered a man, she asked God ‘why?’
To outsiders, Carol Kent had the perfect life: a strong Christian faith, loving marriage and thriving ministry.
That all changed on October 25, 1999 when her beloved son, Jason, was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
“It rocked our world to get a phone call that our son had pulled the trigger of a gun taking a man's life,” said Mrs Kent, whose son was sentenced to life behind bars following his conviction in 2002.
“Jason had been in the US Navy and met and married a woman who had two daughters from a previous relationship. There were multiple allegations of abuse at the hands of her ex and when Jason learnt that the man, the girls' biological father, was to receive unsupervised visitation with the girls when they were just three and six years old he began to unravel with his fears for them.”
It's a tale the bestselling author and speaker will share with the island at a two-day conference hosted by the Evangelical Church of Bermuda next weekend.
She managed to maintain her faith in God despite the painful experience and eventually got used to “a new kind of normal”. People at the conference can expect to learn about spiritual principles that can be used when life “turns out different from what they ever expected or ever wanted”.
“I want to help people understand that no matter what has happened to them they can choose faith in the midst of that hardship,” Mrs Kent said. “They can learn to laugh again and I encourage them to reach out to others with tangible compassion because when you do that it takes the focus off of yourself and allows you to offer a helping hand to someone who needs it more than you. You will discover your own burden is lighter.
“My goal is to have people go away from this conference knowing they have participated in good worship and with the ability to look for and find splashes of joy in their journey. I use humour, as well as examples from God's word and principles, that will help them to choose life.”
The police call about her son came in the middle of the night.
“I had to crawl my way from the office where I answered the phone because I was so sick from the shock,” she said. “I called the jail where I was told that my son was being kept and they didn't have his name in the system yet. For a brief second my hope returned and I thought I was just in the middle of a horrific nightmare, but then it was confirmed that our son had pulled the trigger in a public parking lot and the man died.
“Before that I was a Type A woman who was obsessed with being a high achiever and getting every item crossed off my to-do list. I transformed into someone who couldn't hold more than one thought in my head at a time.
“I asked God ‘Why?' and felt haunted with questions. I wondered if I was less busy maybe I could have stopped this from happening. I asked if I had read more of my Bible or prayed more consistently maybe I could have prevented all this.”
A Christian since she was a young girl, someone who had come to know the Lord “at her mom's knee”, she found herself wavering in her faith and questioning how a “good God” could allow something so horrific to happen.
“It's been a journey to say the least,” she said. “Jason will cross his twentieth year of incarceration in October. The thing that has gotten us through this is our faith in God and by giving what encouragement and support we can to other people in similar situations.”
Over the last two decades she and her husband Gene have met many wives and children of inmates — people they otherwise wouldn't have met — and saw how hurt they were emotionally, physically and financially.
The Kents started a non-profit, Speak Up For Hope. The boxes of ‘hope' they give include a coffee cup, comforting book, encouraging CD and writing paper or a journal; if the recipient has children there is a small toy.
They also fill waiting rooms with games, colouring books and crayons so children have something to do with the person in jail.
“One woman I met when I went public with our story came up to me to say how she used to think I was perfect but that we could now be friends,” Mrs Kent said.
“I realised once we get off a pedestal and are real about the pains in our life, it opens people up to talk about their own experiences and allows them to say, ‘I need help. Can you point me in the right direction?'
“I know now that my journey has not been wasted. I try hard to take whatever has happened in our lives and use it as a platform to give others hope.”
• The Unquenchable Faith Women's Conference takes place Friday 7pm to 9pm and Saturday 8.30am to 2.30pm in the Evangelical Church of Bermuda auditorium on Mission Road, Paget. Tickets, $75, are available at www.ptix.bm. For more information visit www.carolkent.org