Once again, prison ministry has collided with orphan care…this time in a different fashion.
One of the students (an orphan), whom I will call Paul, has been sponsored since 2006. He is 16 years old. Sadly, he was recently convicted of a serious crime and is now in prison.
This is a hard post to write. I cannot re-tell the details of Paul’s life without flooding my desk with tears– but I really want to share this, because it demonstrates God’s amazing grace.
Paul is from northern Uganda–the area of the Invisible Children*. One night in 2005, when Paul was 12, he and his family were sleeping inside their home. Members of the rebel army (child soldiers) stormed their home and slaughtered his father in front of his eyes.
He and his brothers and sisters fled into the inky darkness to avoid being kidnapped by the rebel army, who would either subject them to or force them to commit heinous acts of torture. Because of the darkness, Paul was separated from his siblings and has not seen them since that horrid night. He doesn’t know if his mother is alive.
He wandered in the bush for TWO MONTHS, surviving off of what food he could find growing on trees. It was on a day late in 2005 that the Lord sent John Mugabi north to this area.
For security purposes, I cannot share with you all that happened to John Mugabi on that trip, but I can tell you that it was at great personal risk to his own life that he went north. While there, he found two young boys, Paul and his friend, wandering around naked in the bush.
John took them in his pick-up truck and drove them the 5 hours back down to Nkumba. He kept them in his home, and e-mailed us about these boys, and God supplied a sponsor for them. She is a woman who lives in another state, and I have only met her once.
When we were in Uganda in 2006, I sat on the ground next to Paul and listened to him bravely tell me his story–with tears welling up in his eyes, but retained there by the force of a grief so deep that the tears wouldn’t fall. I don’t know how any person, let alone a child, can bear to talk about such atrocities. But somehow he did.
I feel a very personal connection with Paul, having met him, having seen the sadness that haunted his eyes. Frank and I don’t have children, so I don’t know yet exactly what it feels like to have a mother’s love for a child, but I’m guessing this might come close.
Since Paul is in prison, I had to notify his sponsor and find out what she wanted to do. She wrote back the following:
Thank you for your note. My heart breaks for Paul. There is no way for us to even begin to fathom what they have endured in their young lives. I will continue to send the same amount and John is to use it as he sees best for both young men. May God bless Paul and protect him as he serves his time there. John may use the funds to supply what Paul needs. (Prisoners are often fed only one meal a day, and are not supplied with blankets, beds, hygiene items or a change of clothes.)
Grace in action.
But the story doesn’t end there.
We let John know what Paul’s sponsor had said, and he took the message to prison. This is what John wrote two days later (3/24/09):
I told Paul that his sponsor still loves him and he got amazed. Today I preached a sermon (at the prison) on ‘the God of a 2nd Chance.’ I took it from Luke 15. Specifically I wanted to speak to all the young boys that are in this section of prison. At the end Paul came forward to give his life to Christ. I whispered in his ears “you are still loved”, and he burst into tears.
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7
Rejoice with us. A lost sheep has been found.
* The Invisible Children documentary was filmed in northern Uganda during the height of the war led by Joseph Kony’s rebel army. Thousands of children walked miles in the darkness from their villages into the night shelters–to avoid being kidnapped by the army. Because of the pitch black darkness (NO electricity) and the color of their skin, they were literally invisible at night. When we drove up there in 2006, shadowy images would emerge out of the darkness–children walking into the shelters.