Sunday, August 17, 2014

12 years

I miss my dad everyday.  Yes, today marks an anniversary, 12 years since he laughed at my silly jokes, sang You are my Sunshine to me, 12 years since I have seen his smile.  Today doesn't mean I miss him more, just means my heart is a little more sensitive to all the time that has gone by without him here.

There are many times during my everyday comings and goings that I wish I could pick up the phone and ask my dad his advice about something, that I could stop by his house just to get a hug.  It is in those everyday moments that I miss him the most.  Even though my dad and I did not always have the greatest relationship, I always knew he was my biggest fan.  He loved me in a way that no one else could.

I have typed and deleted, typed and deleted this post so many times and all I can figure is that I can't adequately capture what my dad meant to me, what he taught me and how much I miss him.  I wish he could have met the amazing kids I was able to teach.   I wish he could have gone with me to the airport as I traveled half way around the world to share God's love with the people of South Africa.  I wish I could tell him the stories of the young men who welcomed me into their community in Pollsmoor prison.   So many memories and firsts that he has missed.

But I am thankful for the times we did have daddy and I had a special bond.  I am thankful for the way he lived out his struggles and didn't hide them from me as it has made me more sensitive to people who silently suffer.  I am thankful for the way he found beauty in the everyday moments as it has made me more aware of the beautiful in the mundane.  I am thankful for the ways he took risks and it has made me less timid to try new things.  I am thankful for the way he picked himself up after he made mistakes and kept on going as it has made me persevere in times when I didn't really want to.

I know my dad shakes his head at me all the time as he watches me put myself into situations that probably not the best for me, and he might have even rolled his eyes.  But I sure hope he smiles as he watches me try to make a little difference in the lives of the people I come into contact with and to make my little corner of the world a better place.

I love you and everyday!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Change is Possible: Lessons Learned from Prison

Thank you all so much for reading about my adventure and experiences in South Africa.  It is such a joy to be able to share through the blog what has been stirred in my heart.  I appreciate your encouragement and support!  

On Monday we prepared to go back into Pollsmoor to spend time with our friends in the Adopt a Cell program.  After having one day behind us, my feelings of anxiousness and fear were replaced with feelings of hope and excitement to spend time with the boys and learn more about them.  The majority of our first day with the boys seemed like we were talking to them, we shared our desire with Steve that we wanted our time to be a little less structured on Day 2.  We were anxious to be able to just talk to the guys and hear their stories.  

One thing that continued to be on my heart from our first visit was how shocked they boys were that we could come halfway around the world to spend time with them in prison.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many of their families would not or could not travel several hours to visit them and that this concept of people coming to love and spend time with them was very foreign.  Many of them did not have childhoods like I did.  Many of these boys were forced to grow up way before their time, they saw and experienced things I can't even imagine.  This made the time we spent with them even more sacred.  I am so thankful that we did not try to cram every second with an activity or structured time so that we were really able to get to know the boys and learn more about their stories, their dreams and hopes.  So when we entered the White House for our second visit with the Adopt a Cell boys, I wanted to be sure to really listen, to look for ways to make connections with the boys, to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  

I had the privilege of sharing a little bit about my story with the guys on Day 2. I was a little nervous as I knew that my story might not be one they would connect with or would be relevant to them.  As I prayed and wondered what I would share the Lord gave me the Prodigal son story to be the foundation of what I shared with the boys.  My prodigal son experience is not the typical one, I don't identify as much with the younger son in the story but instead with the older son.  I felt the Lord telling me I needed to share with them how their choices affect the people around them, and that of course we all need the Lord to help us with all the trials we face.  I shared with them about how my experience with a dad and a brother who were addicts affected me and my relationship with the Lord and with others.  I talked to them about choices, and how even though they are hard to make we all have that power.  And I shared with them how much they are loved and cared for even in the midst of being in the pig pen.  I was amazed at how attentive they were, how they asked questions and wanted to know more.  Many times I feel like we feel that our story is not crazy enough or drastic or painful enough to share.  But I was reminded this day that we all have a story to share and we have no idea how the Lord will use that story to connect with someone.  Even a new friend in prison in South Africa. 

My sweet friend Laura Leigh who traveled with me on this trip felt that we should do a journaling activity with the boys, allowing them to create their own journal cover and then teach them about journaling in their quiet time.  We were both a little hesitant as we were not sure how the boys would react to craft time!  I think we were both shocked when we saw how attentive, careful and thoughtful the boys were with this experience.  We had brought scrapbook paper, magazines and other supplies for the guys to use to personalize their journal covers.  This was such a sweet time for our team, being able to really talk with the boys and help them with this particular project.  The choices they made for their covers provided lots of opportunities for discussion and reflection with the boys.  I was overwhelmed with honesty in which they shared their desire to want to change and to do more with their lives.  One young man in particular had a picture of a big open field on the cover of his journal, I asked him about it and he told me that it represented freedom and a new start for him.  He knew that he was not free right now, but he told me that one day he would be free and he looked forward to that freedom.  One prisoner asked me to punch out the letters for the phrase "Change is Possible" for his journal.  I asked him why he decided on that phrase and he told me that he knew that his past was terrible and that he had done awful things but that he also knew that he could change, with the Lord's help. 

Many of the boys wanted their names punched out as well for the covers of their journals.  I had asked them to write their names down, as I was sure I couldn't spell some of them.  To me this seemed very important, for me to remind them they are known by name, by the one who created them.  During my testimony I shared with the boys that as much as God cares about the birds of the air and the flowers in the field how much more he cares about us.  I hope that these journals were a reminder to them that they are loved,valued and cared for.  Laura Leigh found this list in her journal when she returned from our trip...what a wonderful reminder to hold these boys close in prayer.  My prayer is that everyday they remember that change is possible, I know that is a lesson I sure learned.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

my first day in prison

What do you think of when someone mentions the word prison?

If I am being honest, my thoughts before this summer would have been negative, fearful, judgmental of the kind of people that would end up in a place like that.  I am sure I pictured a movie or TV show I had seen that took place in prison, maybe something like Con-Air or Shawshank Redemption.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would start to equate the words hope and faith to the idea of prison.  Funny how your view can change after spending time with the people who live that life day in and day out.

Friday, July 18th, I entered Medium B for the first time at Pollsmoor Prison.  And I honestly had no idea what to expect.  Steve, the missionary we were working alongside, had given us lots of information about the prison.  For instance that Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned there for a stint, that currently there were over 7000 inmates in the prison, and that the facility was grossly understaffed.  He shared stories of violence, gang culture and secret languages.  He shared about the high percentage rates of inmates with HIV/AIDS and TB.  And again, if I am being honest with my self, at that point, I wondered why in the world the Lord had brought me, a sheltered girl from NC to spend time in this place.

On Thursday evening, the night before we were to enter the prison and meet the young men in the Adopt a Cell program for the first time, I was a nervous wreck.  My mind was racing, I was fearful, anxious and contemplated many times how I could claim jet lag and get out of serving.  I spent some time praying that night and asked the Lord to replace my uneasy feelings with feelings of peace, confidence and strength.

When we drove up to the gate for the first time, I read the sign where the mission statement of the prison was clearly displayed. "A Place of New Beginnings".  I prayed as we entered the property that God would use our team to help the boys that He had called us to work with see that in their own lives.  That it wouldn't just be words on a sign, that they would come to believe that they were more than than their decisions, more than their backgrounds and that they would feel loved and valued.

We entered the building and were introduced to wardens and escorted to the "White House" where we would spend the next 4 hours with the boys.  Steve went to gather the boys and bring them to meet us and they immediately shook our hands and greeted us with smiles and good mornings.  I was ashamed that they could sense my anxiousness as one friend quickly asked me if I was afraid to shake his hand.  Deep down, yes I probably was and that makes me sad to say, in that instant, the Lord reminded me that these were His children, and that they deserved to be treated as such.

When we introduced ourselves to the boys and their immediate response when I told them my name was Brooke, was "Oh, like Brooke from Bold and the Beautiful."  This made me smile and giggle!  They told me later on that that was the only TV show they watched, well that and Days of our Lives.

During our first day with the boys one member of our team shared her story of how the Lord has worked in her life in difficult circumstances.  The boys hung on to every word and were anxious to ask her questions and know more about her story.  We shared information with them to educate them more about HIV/AIDS.  We talked to them about the Lord.  One of my favorite moments with them from the first day was playing a silly Minute to Win It Game with them and hearing the laughter and seeing the smiles.  They boys were respectful, full of questions about America and why I was single!  :)

As our time came to a close, my feelings of fear, anxiousness and worry had turned into feelings of friendship, care and love for these new friends.  When were gathering our things to leave for the day and saying our goodbyes, one of the boys quietly came over to me.  I shook his hand and told him that we were excited to see him again on Monday.  He smiled and then asked if he could ask me a question.  Of course I said yes and he asked a question that I will always remember.  He said, "Brooke, why would you come to prison, why would you come to a place like this?"  My answer was simple and but I think he understood, "I came here for you, I had been praying for you and wanted you to know you are loved and cared for."  He shook his head, smiled and moved into line with the rest of the group.

My heart was forever changed by that first day in Pollsmoor prison.  And this was just the beginning.
Blogging tips