A water buffalo in prison? Yes, he did arrive in a creative way. The story continues……….
All our fears and concerns slowly disappeared in the next three hours. There were two chapel services. We shared our Otino Waa stories in both. Both started with the worship band (yes, those same inmates with the made-in-prison eyes) and the music had an amazing calming effect. The first remarkable discovery was they loved the same music we did! They were sincere in their worship and were delighted in sharing this time with us.
That day, in two sessions, we communicated about the Otino Waa kids in front of 220 men. What amazed us the most was their interest in orphans so far away. The room was full of questions. Everyone wanted to shake your hand and thank you for being there! We were stunned by it all.
Back at the car, we intently compared notes. Was that fun or what? We never knew prison could look like that. Our concept of an inmate just got turned upside down. Get the calendar out. We need to do this again! God just revealed Himself in the last place we imagined it could be possible.
Our next visit was about three months later. We had more Otino Waa stories to share with them. We continued to toss out our former definitions of inmates. We began to appreciate the lives behind the blue uniforms. We found ourselves being drawn into these lives AND our fears and concerns disappearing.
You’re still waiting for the water buffalo….. OK, our third visit to Snake River Correctional found us in a conversation with an inmate who surely qualified for having been locked up the longest. His tattoos, long hair, stern look and deliberate approach, sets off your internal alarms. David quickly introduced himself and stated he wanted to help the Otino Waa kids. He said he had been awake late at night considering how. His next statements took us off guard. “I want to use my art to help. Will you take it, sell it and send the money to Otino Waa?” What? Think fast. You don’t want to offend, but what the heck are we supposed to do with art? Quick, say something….
In the back of our minds is a blank spot waiting to be filled with adventure. Prison adventure was beginning to show up – all these amazing new concepts were filtering in. For the life of me I could not find art listed anywhere in there. We don’t do art. We are discovering inmates and orphans – but no art. Our best quick response was…..”Oh sure, we can consider that.” Note to self. When a sentence contains “sure”, within prison, it is the opposite of the all too common, “NO”.
Fast forward to April 2009. Next visit to Snake River. We are getting better (creative?) with our presentations. All is well. Wait. The inmate artists have formed a group. They have been busy. They just presented 38 pieces of the most astounding art we have ever seen. Ever been captivated by a piece of art which demands your eyes stay a while? They nailed it and we are now responsible for what happens next. It better be good. We have inmates to answer to.
To make a long story shorter, we found help back in Bend. The art got framed, matted and glassed. We found volunteers and arranged to be part of an Art Walk downtown. The very first piece (#1 in our inventory) to come out of Snake River was to be given a prominent place in the large window up front.
Arriving early to set up, our best (borrowed) easel was compelled to hold up all 10lbs. OK, one up and 20 more to go. Within minutes, a senior gentleman came in asking about the magnificent buffalo. Five minutes later he eagerly gave $975 and walked away with it and a huge smile. (It remains one of our all-time highest priced items.) We were stunned and ecstatic! What just happened?
At first, I never imagined any of this would really succeed. New things are sometimes like that, as you mentally search for how things should be. Mix inmates and orphans? Yes, God had convinced us. Art to support those kids? He knew that as well. That Friday evening at 4:45 the water buffalo spoke and the sound of his voice still carries 10 years later.
Thank you, Lord, for being patient and persistent. You determined to include us, the unqualified. Your faithfulness takes us to places we never dreamed possible. Your joy can be found in the voices of inmates and the compelling voice of an African beast.