By Dale Russell
It has been almost 10 years since we first set foot in a prison and now have been in and out of various facilities hundreds of times. Each time we encounter inmates (or Adults in Custody, AIC the PC term now being used) our lives are touched and changed in ways we never imagined. Sometimes, we just don’t quite fathom God’s plan. I’m sure you have been there, waiting for a lightening strike or a big low pitch voice. In this case it was that water buffalo.
The precursor goes all the way back to 2003. Simply stated, God provided the opportunity to go to Uganda. We said no. He laughed and turned on His graceful insistence. His resolve led us to falling in love with 78 Ugandan orphans in a new place called Otino Waa Children’s Village and a wonderful, sometime baffling country. OK God, we now get it. Thanks for your patience and forgive our shortsightedness.
Fast forward to about 2006. We have long since made Otino Waa part of our everyday routine, gaining momentum. Within that wide-ranging endeavor as the US Operations Manager, a strange thing happened. Funds started trickling in from a couple of inmates. Interesting. As the months go by this continues and increases, as the first two must have twisted the arms of two more. Surely this is how things get done in prison? By 2007 a group of 8 were faithfully giving what must have been a sacrifice, considering our guess as to what they made each month.
God always has perfect timing and purpose. It seems His determination was for us to go meet these guys. Hints and strong persuasions filled the atmosphere. We said, “Yeah, somebody should go, but we don’t do prisons!” This challenge continued for months. You would think we would have learned from the 2003 episode. The final blow was a teaching within Matthew 25:36;
OK, been there, done that………..except the last part. What the heck are you supposed to do with that? As quick as an impression can jump up, the Lord reminded us of prior hints. OK God, we got this. We will go one time, check it off the list and we are good! Simplicity and resolve. Love it.
A few weeks later and across 265 sprawling high desert miles of eastern Oregon, Sandy and I found ourselves in the parking lot of Snake River Correctional. Wow, that was a long drive. Even passed into a different time zone! That should be worth extra credit? We calculated the time we would be back to the car with imagined relief.
Prisons have multiple doors with intimidating sounds as they close behind you. There were five of them, which only ramps up the intensity of your apprehension. The body alarm with the big red button did not help. (We thought if it were pushed, nets might fall from the ceiling and German Shepherds would bolt out of closets.) We now find ourselves in the first chapel service with 100+ men. All eyes on us. Some of them attached to bodies which were surely born in prison. And then, in that well-worn space, the unexpected happened…………(to be continued…..)