A mouthful of bread (That time I visited the youth prison)

A few weeks ago, 6 of us guys jumped into a 4-seater car with the intention of visiting the youth prison in town. Sadly, the car broke down on the way there and has been out of commission ever since. Last Thursday I was finally able to go.

This time in the car was myself, Woody, TK, and Prince (the last two are Malawians). It was a first time visit for the white passengers, so I expected that we would mostly just observe. But a few minutes into the car ride, TK asked us “so which one of you is giving your testimony?” Apparently the white guy who usually shares was gone this week, so I impulsively volunteered myself. Malawians share their testimony with the prisoners too, but it means a lot to these youths to see people from America come and talk to them. I ran through a few passages until I settled on Matthew 13:44.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

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When we got there, we handed our cell phones to the guard at the gate, and walked into the prison. 284 teenage malawians crammed into an incredibly small space with tall walls and no ceiling. I would guess it to be about the size of where we congregate for Holy Trinity Church. They don’t have individual cells, they just sleep in lines on the brick ground. Upon arriving, we walked into the middle of a soccer tournament. 3v3 games of barefoot prisoners playing on a concrete field within the prison walls. The goals were doorways, and they had to do their best to avoid the giant polls holding up the tent roof. Picture above provided for reference.

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While they finished up their games, our clan of 4 went to talk to a few guys in the corner. As you can imagine, they didn’t know any english. So anything I wanted to say had to be translated through Prince. But during this time I mostly just listened. Prince and TK have been coming every week for several months now, and the boys were saying how much its meant to them. Apparently, the youth have even started prayer groups.

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The guard came out, and ordered everyone to line up where the soccer games were being played. Prince went to the front of the men, and spoke a few encouraging words before introducing the guest speaker: me. I had to talk one line at a time, so Prince could translate. In short, I reaffirmed that the kingdom of God really is like finding a treasure of inestimable value. The only natural reaction is to give everything away, because all of it pales in comparison to the newly found treasure. I then told them that, after God’s calling, I left my job, family, and friends back in Washington D.C. to come to Africa because I loved them. And I love them because Jesus loved me first. And Jesus loves them too. Those concluding words came from the Holy Spirit, because, with so little prep time, I had no idea how I was going to end that talk. And those concluding words were met by a round of “Amen’s.”

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After the talk, we passed out bananas. I’ll never forget all those hands reaching up for a small piece of fruit. This was a highlight of their week. And those poor guys are living within those walls right now, eating a miserable diet of nsima and beans, and suffering from the sanitation consequences of living in such close quarters.

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I’m reminded of John Valjean who cries out,

My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number, murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

But these prisoners have people like TK, and Prince. They also have Joshua, another fellow I met there. He’s an ABC alumni who spends everyday in the prison teaching the kids agriculture, liberal arts, and Bible. Joshua reminds me of the next lines to Valjean’s soliloquy:

Yet why did I allow that man, to touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust, he called me “brother”
My life he claims for God above. Can such things be?