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.

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