On our most recent trip to Uganda we spent some time with our friends at the African Prisons Project. Their mission is “To bring dignity and hope to men, women and children in prison through healthcare, education, access to justice and community reintegration” which we can closely relate to. While we were in Kampala they were dedicating a new library and resource center that would be useful for released prisoners and their families that are looking to improve their knowledge and education. We were honored to be invited to the dedication and were also excited to meet many of their friends and partners with very similar concerns to Sixty Feet’s.
One such person was an Anglican minister, Fred, who has worked in the “upper prison” (adult prison) for many years. In fact, a few years ago he made the bold decision to move in. That’s right, while others are trying as hard as they can to get out, Fred was taking up residence on purpose in the prison. He admitted that it was not easy and we appreciated his honesty as it would be hard to imagine that such a home would be peaceful or relaxing.
Fred spends much of his time counseling and ministering to the adult males in the prison, most of whom are very young – late teens to early 20’s. He spends a lot of time trying to impart hope to these men who, if they are released, will be faced with incredibly daunting and sometimes insurmountable odds at making a way for themselves in the world. Unemployment is already incredibly high in Uganda, and with a prison record under your belt the chances of a job are, well, you can forget finding something legitimate and life-sustaining.
A part of pastor Fred’s duties include holding Sunday worship services for the prisoners and this is where the APP staff say they usually attend church. In fact, the service they attend is in the condemned section of the prison where those that have been sentenced to die or life in prison are held. What a name – The Condemned Section. Nearly as bad as Death Row here in the States. According to our friends who attend, they say it is quite amazing to witness these men with little hope left here on Earth, praising God and singing with joy.
The thought of having church in the condemned section got me thinking. It really isn’t any different from the rest of us if you think about it – we are all condemned. Everyone of us has sinned and falls short of the glory of God. None of us are righteous, not one. Whether you are a prisoner on death row in Uganda or an executive sitting in a plush office in New York, we are all under a death sentence with no hope.
If the story ended there it would be the saddest story ever told. But, boy do we have reason to sing and rejoice. God does not abandon the condemned or leave us as orphans. On the contrary, He invites the condemned to be adopted into His family. An open invitation to freedom and hope and everlasting security. No longer condemned but a free heir. Now that’s something to rejoice over!
This is why Sixty Feet’s mission is “Bringing Hope and Restoration to the imprisoned children of Africa, in Jesus’ name“. The last part is the most important. Without Jesus, there is no hope or chance of restoration. Only because of Him and His unfathomable sacrificial love do we have all the hope in the world – condemned no more.