It turns out that English can sound like many different languages. New York English sounds different that Louisiana cajun English which is also different sounding than Texas English or Midwest English. Some parts of the US speak plain ol English but when those of us who speak plain, talk to those that are in Louisiana, we have to listen a little harder and might miss a word or two in conversation.
It turns out that the same is true in Kenya. A large part of the population speaks English. I lean forward, watch their mouth, and listen closely so I can understand most of the words and piece together the rest. Sometimes I ask them to spell things. Cynthia points out, our US English has a strong accent for native Kenyans and they have to do the same thing we do to understand. Huh.
The week is full of opportunities to see the world from a different perspective other than my own.
Today is the day for Langata prison visit and I’m up to share the Good News. We enter the prison much the same way as the day before, stopping before the first gate. Our driver and Jefferson leave the car to speak with the guards (the ones who hold large guns). We’re granted permission to enter because Jefferson has done the work of going through the proper chain of command to request our visit. Once inside we go to a second guard house, show our passports, hang the visitor pass around out necks and step into separate male/female rooms to be patted down and scanned. They don’t mess around.
They can’t mess around because they know what humans are capable of. Kenneth told us a story the previous evening about Nivasha prison where 1000 men every single night lined up, backs to the thick brick border wall of the prison and in unison banged their fists: one, two, three. For six months every single night the men banged on the wall. One, two, three. One night, the wall came crashing down.
No one ran away. They made their point. And the guards made theirs. Stricter consequences were put in place. The wall was rebuilt. The guards don’t mess around.
We spend time with the Officer in Charge and her deputy. Jefferson introduces us. We’re told we are most welcome. There is prayer for these women, for prison staff and the inmates. Not casual words, no half-hearted prayers, but sincere thanks, requests for the favor of our good Father. Honestly, I spent more time in prayer with people this week then I have in a very long time. Everything we did was bookended with prayer. We didn’t leave for our journey in the morning or on the way home without it. We prayed with staff, over inmates, before a meal, when we left each others company at night. They are serious about calling on the Lord, giving God glory, praising Him for all He has done and will do.
I learned a thing or two about prayer again.
Crossroads Prison Ministries brought me along on this trip to tell you the story of what they are doing Internationally. I will continue to tell you stories until I run out. Or they stop me! What is natural for me is to tell the story in person, especially in front of women as I have been a speaker for close to 25 years, and a writer only a couple years.. On this day, I get to speak in the medium prison gathering space that holds around 100 or so. The same thick brick walls border our space but this time black and white striped dresses and bright orange sweaters hang from the top of the wall, from curled barbed wire hooks. They’ve been washed and will dry on the line.
Following their worship leader who uses clapping and a small hand drum (that I secretly wish I could play for a minute) to keep the rhythm of the singing going, Jefferson greets the women, introduces the Crossroads Kenya team. Cynthia introduces Crossroads US. This time Jefferson brings his wife Beth to speak first to the women. She encourages them in KiSwahili, her tone urgent and her body language so full of love & kindness. I follow, beginning my testimony of only knowing only one thing I wanted to be when I grew up — a mother. There are mothers and mothers to be in the crowd. Truthfully the babies are distracting. I secretly want to hold them on my lap. I smile at the moms and they smile back, proud of their littles.
My story is one of having to wait for years before I would have that one thing I knew I wanted. When I share the revelation of our pregnancy ultrasound and the doctors’ pronouncement of not one, (women clap), not two, (clapping louder), but three babies in my belly I get something akin to a standing ovation. The enthusiasm shocks me. Another different perspective hits me hard. They hear that news as a sign that I was a woman greatly blessed. I’m now very concerned because I know and they don’t, where this story is going. I have to tell them the part where my triplets were born early and though they lived briefly, now reside in the presence of Jesus. I speak about anger, sadness, confusion and the path of bitterness I was headed down. I ask if they have anger, fear, sadness, bitterness in their heart. I see serious faces, heads nodding. I tell them about a walk six months later, down a path with my dog where I shook an angry fist at heaven and asked God if He was for real and if he was “What do you want with me?” I omitted the harsh words. I included what God said immediately into my raw grief:
“I want All of you.”
I made eye contact with many and said, “Jesus wants all of you too; and you, and you too, and yes, you too.” Eventually I connected the testimony of God’s love story in my life, the one that called me to choose the path of joy, to His love story that happened long ago on a hillside. It’s the one where Jesus was about to go off with His tired disciples for a rest, but instead He had compassion on a crowd that interrupted their plans, and later needed dinner. Jesus asked His disciples to bring what they had to feed the hungry people. Jesus let them experience what happens when we give God all that we have, even if it seems like very little, not enough, or impossibly inadequate. I told the story using green felt for the grass, wood figures for Jesus and disciples, and paper cups & paper cutouts for the baskets, fish, loaves. I told it in my own words as it was interpreted line by line by Kenneth. Women stood up, leaned in, listened closely to the English accent and KiSwahilli interpretation.
“Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14
“Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, an he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” Mark 6:34
“He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God and he healed those who were sick.” Luke 9:11
I wish I could have stayed with those women, mothers and mothers to be and led a small group afterwards like I do when I’m at a retreat in the US. Instead we left that space following prayer, praising, and a graduation ceremony for those who had completed Crossroads Bible Study courses. We then departed for the maximum security prison, for another graduation ceremony.