Today we met the front line. Brothers and sisters from many miles away came together in one room and we sat a table facing them for five hours. They are pastors, mentors, chaplains, elders who sat shoulder to shoulder so thankful for this time to meet one another, to be together again.
Brother Samuel began with singing. Harmony in high volume sent praises to our Holy
Father. I join in with smiling and swaying. The music comes from somewhere deep. It’s reverent.
Brother Samuel invited us to continue with prayers to God but rather than one quiet voice speaking with silence in between, all the voices spoke their prayers with the same intensity they sang with. Each voice spoke out-loud, asking of, honoring, and calling on the Presence of the Spirit. I join in with the same and find myself remembering the story in Acts 2 where the believers were meeting together in a room and suddenly they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages.
I don’t want it to end.
Let me introduce you to Jefferson. He has been the Director of Crossroads Extension Center since 2010, a leader of leaders, pastor of the African Inland Church here in Kijabe and newly appointed Committee leader; affectionately known as the “Mayor” of Kijabe. (More about Kijabe in another story). Jefferson and his staff coordinated today’s gathering of people, and he transitions us from worship to the program for the day. He speaks boldly, bright eyed, joyful. He greets everyone, welcomes us all and lays out the flow of our time. He encourages the front line, thanking them for the sacrifices they made in time and treasure to be together. He informs us Kenya has the most crowded (over-crowded) prisons in all of Africa. Later in the day I continue to hear how often, how much of what these mentors do for inmates comes out of their own pocket.
Sacrifice. This work costs the front line.
Cynthia brings Paul’s words from the Epistles thanking and encouraging these men and women. “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you.” Over and over she speaks of thinking of them and thanking God for who they are, for their partnership, and proclaims the love, protection, provision of our good God Almighty. I will join her in those thoughts and prayers from this day forward. These beautiful people cannot be forgotten once you’ve been in their presence.
To connect them to their partnership with Crossroads International Cynthia takes us on a tour around the world, introducing Extension Center Directors, mentors, chaplains doing the same work they do in over twenty countries. This is sacrificial work.
And then, wow…and then I cannot find enough words to show you what each brother, each sister stood up and shared. They spoke of the people in the prisons they meet, the ones they know, they ones who study the Bible with Crossroads’ lessons.
“Brothers and sisters, if we are faithful we will go far, we will accomplish much.” Is repeated over and over from one zealous hopeful heart to fellow zealous hopeful hearts. They encourage one another in a hard slow work. They share their challenges. And something that feels crazy to me happens over a period of about one hour.
One by one, these representatives of 45 active mentors share challenges/needs. And they share them because at their foundational they wholly “believe the written word transforms lives.” I have pages, JR has pages, Brenda has pages of notes. It is important to note here that the Extension centers do not get funds from the home office.
Pens. They need pens. I bang my hand against my forehead. Inside my head I scream “WHAT? THEY NEED PENS?” Plastic chairs. They need plastic chairs in Kambu because they have no chapel space, just the ground to sit on. They need more lessons in Kiwswahili. They need pens because they “do a lot of marking” when they are woking on their lessons. They need a way to keep good records, computers, funds for a 18 year old coming out of prison who is determined to go to the University that he has already been accepted to. He landed in prison because his grandmother called the police on him when he banged a stick on the door in frustration after being told his family would not sell land to pay for his university costs. That public disruption took him to juvenile prison for four months. He is out now. He still wants to go.
There is a need for more training; offices for meeting and training; chapel structures in the prisons; professional development for chaplains; places and funds for people when they get out for the hard work of reintroducing an inmate back into their communities. Often those funds come out of the pockets of the mentors, pastors, chaplains, volunteers. This is hard work because free people have a hard time forgiving. But given forgiveness, acceptance, another chance, these men and women can be a useful part of serving the Lord in their communities once again. They need more exposure to one another, one brother calling it “Fellowship and Swallowship” — meeting for coffee to network and encourage one another. They need studies heard for those whose previous education was minimal.
My mind headed into fundraising mode, into all kinds of ideas for getting the word out about these needs. Some of them are so incredibly basic. Some profoundly necessary. Some seem impossible. And then Cynthia stand and speaks into the growing list of challenges. She hears the people, she honors the sacrifice of stepping into suffering. And she confidently reminds them of the need filler: God’s CHURCH! The local church — the people the connections they have in their communities, must know of the needs. The church must rise and sacrifice and supply and show up. Cynthia boldly empowers them to seek resources here in their own country, to call the church to its responsibility to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner — to help the least of these. (Matthew 25: 31:45)
My fundraising idea sheet stops in its tracks. I was sitting in a seat of privilege and pride thinking I could be their provider, a rescuer, play God to help these poor people with so much need. Cynthia words speak a rebuke to those thoughts of mine. This need is so great, not simple. This need is ongoing and not in need of my attempts to throw money at pens and chairs. I do not fully understand all that is going on here but feel a sense of repentance. I sense an important wisdom coming my way. I set down my pen.
I stop seeing them.
I start seeing us.
The dividing lines of country, culture, & need blurs to invisible. It’s not about differences, It is about similarities — so much I hear, and who I see and those being served are exactly the same. No them and us. Just we. This must stop I realize, must change in the church. We must erase every line that keeps us apart from whomever we see as ‘them’. We ALL have needs that make us rely not on ourselves but take us to the Provider for help. We ALL need the saving grace of Jesus. We ALL are saved only by what He did in love for us. We ALL need the hope of salvation, we ALL have access to the throne of God, we All are called to become disciples and make disciples. We ALL have the privilege of having a personal real transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, son of the Almighty God. We ALL need Jesus – inmates, pastors, chaplains, mentors, staff members, ordinary people in Kenya in the US, everywhere. We ALL receive the love provision and protection of our Gentle Shephard, the Breath of Life and we all receive more than enough. Because God so loved and always will . We do not think or understand as he does. We do not remember often enough, His storehouses of gifts and the permission granted to each of us to ask for whats there. We have more than enough for ourselves because what we have is meant to come to us and go through us.
Church what do you have that we need?
I picked up my pen and started to listen differently. I started to think of the organizations and ministries I have a connection to and their needs. We have similar challenges of wanting more people, more funds, more harvesters because the harvest is great. This is what’s not different.
When Pastor Kenneth’s turn came he said: “I rarely talk about challenges because in every challenge I see an opportunity.”
We feast together, make attempts at a group photo, and finish with a ceremony of giving small gifts from Crossroads homes office and a little chocolate. Some of us will see one another later this week at the prisons they serve. I am eager to be in their world.
The story in Acts 2 continues with Jesus promising the men and women gathered in that room , that when the Holy Spirit would come upon them, they would be witnesses, telling people about Jesus everywhere. The front line we met is doing exactly that. We can as well. What a privilege to meet these people, truly our brothers and sisters faithfully loving humanity surrounded by circumstances in the prisons of Kenya.
Lord Jesus, let that never end.