“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” (Mother Teresa)
Today we visited a woman’s prison in Ethiopia. It was intense, sad, humbling, and heartbreaking.
This prison is not what we expected. Yes, there are armed guards, tall towers, and barbed wire, but its not what we had in mind.
The women do not live in individual cells, but instead each woman resides in one of the 2 long rooms containing 30 bunk beds each. They keep all of their personal items either in their bunk area or outside in the dirt yard in their own “corner”.
One of our travel companions is shocked to see an old friend in here. This unexpected prisoner gives us a glimpse into the “hell” she has been living in for the last 6 months as she has awaited her opportunity to be heard by a judge.
She talks of terrible, bad food, and explains that if they want any fresh vegetables or fruits, any meat or protein, family members must bring it to them. Unfortunately, most of these women live lonely lives lacking family support. She tells us that there is absolutely no privacy, and thievery, bullying, and abuse among the inmates in common.
While the bunk beds and open yard seem somewhat appealing to us, we realize that these women would probably enjoy the privacy and safety of having the “luxury” of a jail cell.
We see makeshift cooking areas, and pans of dirty water for washing with.
Many of the children are barefoot, and some are without pants. We don’t see any toys. These children are cursed by their mother’s mistakes… they too are sentenced to prison.
My heart crumbles for one specific young girl, about 14 years old (not photographed), who is imprisoned for abandoning her baby on a sidewalk and running away. She is younger than my own daughter. I think of the complexity of her situation. What events led to such desperation? We live in a broken world….
Others are imprisoned for fighting, embezzlement, or even child abuse.
In shame, one woman tells us that she is here for trying to kill her friend. In truth… she murdered her baby.
Oh my heart.
Surprisingly enough, as is Africa, as we are literally walking into the prison the ministry director asks us to give a message to the women about Jesus.
What? We are “only” here to assess the needs of the pregnant/postpartum women and a 1 week old newborn, and bring some treats for the women and children. We aren’t gifted speakers or preachers! We aren’t prepared!
Anyone who knows me, knows that I LIKE to be prepared!
But not today.
On the spot we choose to speak on Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
From the look of it… they are the living definition of “disaster” : “a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life.”
They probably feel no “hope” and certainly have a difficult time dreaming of any “future”.
But, by the power of the Spirit, the words come, and they mean something! Tears flow and “Amens” are heard.
We talk about God’s power to bring “beauty from ashes” Isaiah 61:1-3
We remind them that the God of the Universe has not forgotten them, and that the proof of this is in the fact that we are standing in this prison yard today. For the same God who loves them, is the God who burdened our hearts for them. He is a God who calls women from America to love women in Africa. We promise to not forget them either.
We pray that our words don’t sound empty, but that these desperate, lonely, trapped women can grasp the fact that God is FOR them, and He really IS a God of HOPE and a FUTURE.
Then we love on them.
We gift them with treats of smelly lotions for the women, and balls and suckers for the children. We freely give rounds of hugs and kisses. They gift us with gestures of gratitude, tours of their compound, insight into their lives, and lots of hugs and kisses too.
Our mission at Delivering Hope is to improve maternal and childhood health, preserve families, and prevent the creation of orphans.
We started on this journey with our human perspective… assuming our care would focus on rural, village women, but we are beginning to see more fully the grandness of God’s love and vision.
Yes, His heart breaks for village women, but He has not forgotten the young, homeless pregnant teens with nowhere to go, no one who loves them.
Nor has he condemned the pregnant or postpartum criminal, who is now suffering the consequences of choices made in a fallen world. The same criminal whom society believes does not deserve an ounce of respect or grace, yet God has called us to forgive, love, and serve.
Or, as you will read tomorrow, women living in desperate situations in the capital city of Ethiopia, sleeping in shacks within slums, located adjacent to skyscrapers. Women suffering from abuse, TB, HIV, leprosy, or the effects of prostitution. Women who need someone to take notice and care.
We learn every day, more and more, why the Lord cares so for these women, and why He has called us to also.
Proverbs 14:31 Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.