There is always a lot of emotion for me going into a community development project of any kind, but especially our prison projects. This year was no exception with lots of added drama. Our national women's president wanted to visit the prison in her home town rather than the super huge one in Abidjan. Her city is small compared to ours, but at just under 100,000 people it isn't really all that small.
The planning stage went well, but when it came down to getting authorization to get it, the project turned into a nightmare. We were being completely refused access. We were welcome to drop our gift off at the gate, but other than that, we were told that we difinitely couldn't enter.
I was really frustrated. A lot of time and energy goes into planning these things and the painful process of getting funding was done. We had needy prisoners, money for the gifts, but for lack of access, we couldn't give the gift. It is just not smart to give a gift when you cannot see if the recipient receives it. We drew our line in the sand. No access, no gift. They drew there's too. No access. I got some friends praying about that time and our great God answered our prayers. For seemingly no reason, the director changed her mind. With a little over a week to go, we got the green light for our project.
Thousands of dollars worth of supplies needed to be purchased, sorted, and packed into 300 kits. That may sound like no big deal, but it is. We took Monday as a day of rest knowing that many days to follow would be without rest. Monday evening I got a terrible call. My national partner had tripped and badly twisted her ankle. I held out hope until I saw the damage on Tuesday when we would normally have started our purchasing. Not only would she not be helping me prepare the project, I wasn't sure she would even be going with me.
I plugged on, quite dejected, but determined to make it work. Because I think I can do more than I can, I also had agreed to make up 100 kits for an evangelistic hospital visit the day before the prison visit. Everything had to be ready to go on Saturday, so that we could make the trip out of town to train our evangelists and prepare for the execution of the two projects. Everything went wrong. I went to the store and forgot this. I went to another store and they did not have that. I left the warehouse without getting an essential thing. If it wasn't car troubles it was crazy down pours. It was horrible. I was running on too much adrenaline and missing my sweet African sister that grounds me. I was up past midnight on Friday night just trying to get things done. I had to be up before 5 AM to get the guards to help me load the kits. I could barely even move by 10:30 AM Saturday when it was time to leave. My car was loaded beyond capacity and I was wiped out.
Vivian did get to go with me to train evangelists and do the projects, but she was handicapped for sure. The stories coming from this prison were a little worrisome. It seemed that every other day they were grabbing somebody and changing clothes with them for some kind of prison break or holding them hostage and threatening to throw them off of buildings. I think now that the stories may have been slightly exaggerated, but going on, the idea of a hint of truth is enough to make you nervous. I'm really ready to meet my Jesus, but I don't want to be stupid! ;)
We make it in, no troubles. The dreaded pat down never even happened. The officials we met on site were very happy for our visit. We were able to walk easily into the yard with the two women prisoners. They were sisters there for assaulting their brother. Glad I'm not from that family. They were super appreciative of us and kept thanking us and hugging us. No shanks in the back. Wow this is going really well!!!! My African sister got to share the gospel with these ladies and they prayed to receive Christ with tears in their eyes. I hope and pray that their decisions were sincere and that this will be a new start for them.
And so we were off to see the men. We headed right out into the TINY yard that they were in where some of our Baptist pastors had shared the gospel with them and sang until they were tired and hot. By now it was around 1 in the African sun and we were all feeling the heat. With little advance notice, we were shuffled out into the yard with the prisoners to greet them! We had a few guards with us, but it was a little unnerving. They were polite and attentive and definitely ready to get their gift. They were super excited that the gift contained a towel. Nobody wants to rile up prisoners, so we kept our little chat brief and started handing them their gifts. Within a few moments a gift was sent to me. One of the guys had made a pen with a design on it and he sent it to me to say thank you. Each of the men were very polite as we handed them their gifts. Later another man gave me a similar pen. They must have had a craft project at some point where they braided thread around pens to make a design. It was touching that they had chosen to give me something of the nearly nothing that they owned.
Without incident we finished quickly and headed out. Join me in praying for these guys (and 2 gals) at the Agboville prison. My prayer is that their hearts will truly be touched and that their lives will change because of the power of the Spirit at work in them.