Today we are scheduled for one prison service. We were hoping for two but Pastor Abel does not have confirmation for one of the prisons and it is far away so by the time we get there if we aren’t able to get in it will be too late to return to the other one so, at this point, we are planning one service at a prison where we already have confirmation.
We are meeting for breakfast at 7:30am. My devotional today will be a reading from Psalms and then we will all watch the “I Believe” video with clips from “Planet Earth” and music from Brian Doerksen.
Today’s prison was a youth prison/institution about 50 miles outside of Ouagadougou. The institution was built in 2004 and can house 64 boys and 24 girls. When we arrived there was a UNICEF truck there already, which left shortly after our service was completed – just a few minutes before we left.
We entered the offices and met with two men, the Director of the center and the man in charge of production, the lady in charge of Social Welfare and Information, and two other ladies in charge of Education & Training and the Chief of Security. We were welcomed warmly and the director explained to us a little bit about the institution. I’m not sure the reason the children are here. After introducing ourselves Pastor Abel offered a prayer and then Brent offered our gift bag. The Director stopped him and told us that tradition in their country is for them to talk to us for a while and then we could present gifts. We all laughed and Brent sat back down. The Director then thanked us and assured us that we are welcome to return anytime.
After some further discussion Brent presented the gifts to the Director. We then prayed for all of the staff (which they welcomed warmly) and then, as we were getting ready to walk out to the children, the director of the entire area arrived. He talked briefly with Abel and his team and then we went out to a covered area about 25 feet square where the children were all seated. One of the staff told the children to stand as we entered the “cabana” and 39 children rose to their feet. They were all seated after we entered and Jeff, serving as Emcee, introduced our team. Then he introduced me to give my testimony.
I think my testimony was quite appropriate for the situation as I explained to them that my parents had been divorced when I was 5 years old. Although I knew my father was nearby and I saw him very often, I still didn’t understand why he left us and moved away. I grew up with two parents that taught me completely different things, one parent holding to solid values and holding me accountable to my behavior, and another parent having very loose values and allowing me to do things that were wrong. I told them I was confused about what was acceptable and what was not and, probably due to an empty feeling inside, I started hanging out with the wrong kids in my neighborhood. I began getting into trouble and drinking alcohol and taking drugs at the age of 11. My mother tried really hard to keep me from doing these things but I made life really difficult for her. After many years of being very disobedient and disrespectful to my mother and getting into a lot of trouble my mother didn’t know what to do with me so she sent me away to school 2,000km from home. I felt very alone while I was so far away from my family. I told the children that I probably felt a lot like many of them feel right now – confused, lonely, and without direction, not knowing what to do next. I told them I got into a lot of trouble at this school and eventually, when I went home, I lived with my father, who continued to let me do a lot of things that were wrong.
I had a lot of fun when I was living with my dad because I enjoyed doing the wrong things, and I continued to drink a lot of alcohol and do a lot of drugs. I told them that doing the wrong things can be fun for a while but it eventually will hurt you and everyone else around you. I had hurt my mother badly by my behavior. I told them that I eventually met a girl and married her and we had two little girls. When my oldest girl was five years old I divorced their mother (the same age that I had been when my father left my mother). I told them that I continued to live a bad life and, although I had known it was wrong all these years, I finally realized that I was hurting a lot of people by my behavior.
I told them that my mother and my grandparents had told me about Jesus when I was a boy but I had ignored Him. I had a bad feeling in me all the time that I was doing these things but I had ignored the feeling and made it go away with drugs and alcohol. I knew in my heart that what I was doing was not what God wanted me to do. He told me that if I would turn away from my bad life and give my life to Jesus, and follow Him, He would forgive me for all of my sins and He would love me as his own son. It was then that I realized that God loved me no matter what I had done, but that I couldn’t keep living like this.
I explained to them that when I gave my life to Jesus he took away my desire to do the wrong thing and he gave me a new heart, a heart that desired to please Him. I told them that God loves them, too, and if they give their life to Jesus he will forgive them for anything and everything wrong that they have ever done, and he will love them as his own children.
I then introduced Carol and she came up to tell them more about Jesus. I was not aware of it but while I was sharing my testimony with the children Jeff had been told that we only had 15 minutes because the children needed to get back to class. Carol did a great job sharing with the children from John 3:16 and led them in a prayer. Many, if not most, of the children prayed the prayer with her.
Carol then showed them the soccer ball that we had brought for them and she went around to all of the children giving them candy. Jeff got back up and taught the kids our new handshake. All of the kids started laughing and shaking each others’ hands.
As we all grabbed our bags and began to leave the cabana where we had held the service I went up to two little boys in the front row (about 12 or 13 years old) to shake their hands and teach them the new handshake. The first little boy grabbed my hand and laughed as I was teaching him how to grab my hand to shake it properly as a gesture of friendship, how to flip his fingers up and grab my thumb as if we are best of buddies, and then to flap his fingers as our hands flew away together, and then to give each other a high five as if to say “Love ya, man”.
As I reached out and took the hand of the second little boy I could sense immediately that something was wrong. As I lifted my eyes to his face I saw tears running down both of his cheeks, cleaning the dirt from below his eyes and dropping to the ground. As I looked more closely at him I saw such despair, such hopelessness, such confusion, a sense of loneliness. Immediately I felt my heart drop as I imagined his situation. This little boy was separated from his family and in this prison. I was only able to imagine how lonely he must have felt at the time. I imagined that he may have been so glad that we had come to visit them and tell them how much we loved them…to bring them gifts…to tell them about Jesus…to spend time with them, valuable time. We hadn’t come to tell him what a bad boy he had been, not to yell at him or punish him, but to come and talk to him, to love him and show him that somebody cares about him. Somebody had come from the other side of the world just to tell him that they love him, that God loves him.
But he wasn’t sure if that was true. It could just be another lie. He’d been told that before…or maybe he hadn’t. We could just be somebody else coming to try to make themselves feel better about themselves. We could just be someone else that is going to show up with candy and never come back. He could be right.
I couldn’t help but think that the story I had told him of my life as a child may have been similar to his, at least in a minute sense. Perhaps he knew that, just maybe, I could have some sort of understanding of how he felt at that very moment. Perhaps he wanted to talk to me. Maybe he was hoping I was going to stop and talk to him.
I wondered if he could have been feeling like I had come to tell him that I understand how he feels and I want to help him. I thought of how horrible it was that we only had 15 minutes to spend with him and he was hoping we could stay longer and play with him.. and now that 15 minutes had ended. In fact, I didn’t even have 15 seconds to spend with him. I could relate to him but I couldn’t speak to him to comfort him since I didn’t speak his language and everyone else was already walking out ahead of me.
He looked at me with sad, lonely, confused eyes. I immediately let go of his hand and bent over to give him a gentle hug. He was seated and I was standing so I couldn’t hug him as I wanted to. It was a warm hug but inadequate at best for both of us. I wanted to hug him closer but because he was seated I wasn’t able to – so I held him for a few seconds and, as I held him, he began to drop his head toward the ground as if to say “I know you’re leaving me now”.
As I let go of him (not because I wanted to but because I was feeling rushed) I hugged him again, even less adequately this time, and began to walk away as he looked up at me. We looked at each other, both of us knowing that it was the best we were going to be able to do, and I turned and walked away. I hope he could see that I wanted to stay and hold him some more…but did I? I didn’t do it. I was still leaving.
As I slowly strolled away I looked back to him again as I saw the tears continuing to flow. He looked away, down toward the ground, the only area where nobody else could see him, the only place he could hide, knowing that he was alone again.
I wanted to go back. I wanted to run back to him and embrace him with all the love I had. But I didn’t. I kept walking. My head dropped, but I didn’t cry. I didn’t even begin to cry. I thought again of how he must have felt. Maybe I understood. But no. I couldn’t understand. I had been alone, but I still knew that people loved me. I wanted to go back and hug him again. Really hug him. Just grab him and squeeze him till he had no tears left to cry. But I didn’t. We kept walking…and we left…left him all alone.
Is he still thinking of me like I am remembering him? Will he be OK? I wonder if he knows I love him?or does he think someone else was just doing their job?
I can’t close, because the story continues.
He’s still there, and I’m going home.
What did I do?
I walked away…
We returned to our hotel around 1:30pm, ate lunch as a team and rested for the afternoon.
Tonight was our farewell dinner – our American team, Edwige, Blessed, Martin, Abel, Claude and four others from Burkina Faso were all there. Each of the men from BF introduced themselves and then we each shared from our hearts, a few of us crying.
Jeff and i conducted the ministry audit with Abel, Claude was interpreting.
We went downstairs to pay for the rooms so we can depart at 5:30am for Kara. I got to bed at midnight. This may make for a long day.