From Gail

We have finished a five day Institute on Christian History and are resting up.

When we first arrived in Bugembe, we were so happy to see Alfred and Julie, our good friends. It is always nice to see friendly faces to help us get back to this new-all-over-again-to-us culture.

Julie and I had been in touch by email a few times while we were in the U.S. She has a ministry in the local prison in Bugembe.  She goes every Sunday morning from 8:30 to 9:30 and shares with whatever prisoners come to the meeting. They consider her their “Pastor” and seem to enjoy the services. Julie asked me to come and minister with her and I gladly accepted.

We passed through several locked doors and then went outside to an open courtyard. We climbed several steps to a cement stage of some kind that took up about one third of the courtyard. About 50 male prisoners were expectantly standing and waiting on the stage for the service to begin.

I was feeling quite nervous – I had thought I would be talking to the women prisoners, so I was surprised that no women had gathered. This was my first time to visit a prison for the purpose of speaking, and, in fact, I had only been in a prison setting 3 times ever, one in the U.S., and now twice in Uganda. Another woman regularly ministers with Julie, and they opened the service with prayer and some worship music. Finally three women prisoners arrived but they sat directly behind us.

All of this was so new and strange. We were all up on the “stage” together, the men were standing, but when I started to speak, they had no seats, so they sat down on the stage in front of me. The women sat on the only three chairs, but directly behind me while I was speaking, so it was impossible to have eye contact easily.

I had picked Psalm 139 to share, which I normally share with women. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knows all about each of us, and He is always with us. This always flows well with women and is a message they especially need to hear. Surprise indeed as I retooled these now familiar words to the needs of the men! Of course the words of the Bible are for anyone and everyone, so it was really only my own mindset that had to shift.

I have taught this beautiful psalm several times here in Uganda and it is one of my favorites. Each time I have shared it, the message comes out in a different way – an emphasis on a different section of the psalm. It was true again that Sunday, and I pray that it spoke to the men. Julie was my translator, and, though we have not worked together before, we were a smooth-running team.

After speaking, Julie opened the floor for questions. The men asked not about the lesson, but questions about their lives, something about the judges who sentenced them. I was way in over my head, but gave it a game try anyway. I have no idea even now what I said to them.

I was still in shock that I was speaking in a prison to male prisoners when I had predisposed myself so thoroughly to talk to women. It gets surreal when you assume something is going to be a certain way, and then, when you step into the actual event, it’s nothing like what you prepared for. I’m certainly not afraid to talk to men, and have on many occasions. In this case, reality trumped my pre-conceived notions of what the meeting would be like. It became even more peculiar when the women sat behind me, and I had to swivel back and forth front to back while I was speaking.

As to the women’s questions, they asked to speak privately to me because they didn’t want to speak in front of the men. I mentally prepared myself for some significant spiritual ministry with these hurting women, but when we pulled aside privately to hear their important question, they asked for money for food, pretty much as if I hadn’t spoken at all.

It was a humbling experience for me. These forgotten and marginalized people seem to live at the daily level of need and gut-level survival, not at the level where abstract concepts have any impact. I realized as I left the prison that as far as the life I live every day, I had just visited a whole other world. It’s a world which exists side by side with the one I live in, yet so far away. And I have no experience at all with that world – a great deal of sympathy for them, yes, but no experience…and maybe a little dismay, if I’m being honest.