First time I have survived a whole month without electricity. First time I have ever shared a house with a family of mice. First time I slept in a house with dirt floors. First time I have taken bucket showers. First time I have eaten things like goat meat. Definitely lots of new experiences to add to the list.
However, my favorite first of this month was one I never would have expected...
During the last week of our ministry here, we were surprised by our contacts with the opportunity to visit a local prison to share the love of God with them. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The most I have ever seen of a prison before is the back area I was escorted through in order to get fingerprinting done for my teaching licensure! I was quickly beginning to think that it was probably not going to be quite the same experience.
Don't forget... we are in Africa. Government buildings and facilities are not quite what they are in the United States. This prison is located in the middle of a couple villages, its a small, rectangle, brick building. Nothing special. No barbwire. No armed men. Only one small gate that served as the way in and the way out. From outside, it was already evident that this place had the potential to get pretty rowdy. Outside the walls, we could hear the violent banter and rustling of the abundance of men inside. The presence was almost overwhelming and we had not yet even stepped inside the door. It was intense, and it was harsh, but we did all we know to do... we spent some time in prayer and trusted our God to lead us.
The prison itself it a square courtyard type setting with rooms all along the outside walls. As we step inside, it's clearly evident that this place is overcrowded. There are people everywhere. Hanging out the rooms, sitting on window sills and on top of ledges, pouring in and out of the bathrooms. Everywhere. We boldly step in, being escorted by one and only one guard. Here we are, in the middle of this mess of chaos, but still fully expecting God to show up.
They seat us up front on two long benches and begin to attempt to gather the crowd. The banter continues until our pastor begins a worship song in the native language. Suddenly a hush comes over the group and people begin to congregate near the front. Many of them know the words to the song and begin to sing and dance along. The atmosphere of the place is slowly changing. This new peace is beginning to wash over the chaos.
After the song is over, the crowd is completely silent. The men are sitting quietly. The faces are attentive. The large courtyard I stepped into just minutes ago looks like a completely different place. As we begin to share with them the wonderful news of salvation, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
For a split moment, I actually forgot that I was in a prison.
God continued to do his thing, and the day ended with over 60 men dedicating their lives to Christ. Over 60 men, bound by prison, but now forever freed by the love of an eternal Father. Amazing. Ridiculous. Mind blowing. 60 men who no longer have to live under the bondage of the past. 60 men who can now walk in a new life with a new beginning.
What a great reminder of God's ability to calm a storm. A great reminder of God's ability to let His light shine in even the darkest of places. A great reminder of God's grace, His forgiveness, and His love for even those people who have fallen far from Him.