The women were literally jumping with excitement as the guard let us into their small courtyard. Our whole team received warm, vigorous hugs as we entered. Although the courtyard walls are drab yellow with the expected barbed wire running high above where any convict could reach, the bright afternoon sun reflected off the walls and lit up the small courtyard -- adding emphasis to the joyful faces of the simply but brightly dressed prisoners. The Condemned Women wear a red-checked jumper similar to the primary school girls here in Uganda. The women were very clean; their dark shiny skin offset by their simple, bright "school-girl" uniforms as well as their multi-coloured "Bidco" sandals (cheap plastic sandals nick-named for one of the cooking oil product company that makes them.)
We had come late.Our small delegation of four other women, including Jane were in Jinja town , had been waiting most of the afternoon for a leak in my radiator to be fixed. We had spent the morning rounding up the remaining shopping items including half a sack of charcoal that we had obtained down near the Lake. It had rained earlier in the morning- making our shoes and clothes sticky with the Jinja clay but now, also making for a very clear and clean sky for the late afternoon sun to shine through.
After we had enjoyed our traditional Christmas dinner of Matooke (cooking banana), Irish potatoes, rice, meat, cabbage and ground-nuts accompanied by glass-bottle sodas, we had a brief formal time of sharing with each other. Charity, the buoyant, self-appointed representative leader of the nine death-row prisoners gave a brief speech describing how anxious they were when the appointed day for their Christmas dinner had come but their was not the usual food and charcoal brought the day before for the prisoners to prepare their meal. She described how she earnestly cried out to God -- yearning to have their Christmas Party, with the tasty food and fellowship that they long for. Then she told of the joy they all felt when they saw us, through their barred window around mid-day with all of the food and sodas they had hoped for. We had returned now, late in the afternoon, having given the women enough time to prepare the meal and thankfully, enough time for my mechanic to find and repair a major leak on my radiator. Charity finished her spontaneous speech by thanking us earnestly and said that it was the inmates prayer that our families would have a blessed Christmas and that our generosity and ministry would spread in ministry to others as well. This had now been their Christmas, she said-- they were now wishing us to have a joyous day with our families next week on the 25th.
I felt that we were the ones being blessed. The women were so thankful for something so small; yet their joy was contagious. The women enjoy our fellowship so much and their joy is evident for the duration of our time there. Yes, not all of them share the same Joy -- some have not yet accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour, some -- even the Christians still feel some sorrow, regret and condemnation for what they have done. Others are living -- even by the admission of prison staff -- as wrongly accused and convicted criminals. The work of this small team of women (and the group of men in the men's sections) is to bring the Gospel, biblical teaching and fellowship to these inmates; the teams in turn are blessed with wonderful fellowship, and the joy of leading people who can really see God's grace for what it is.
Please continue to pray for these women in Jinja Main prison. They have been given a chance for their sentences to be reduced from death to a lesser sentence so they are slowly filing through the courts in turn -- in fact four of them were not there as they had been taken to court for their hearings. Please remember these women as they struggle with their life of confinement in prison along with all the predictable but easily forgettable troubles like poor health, sleeping on hard floors, a monotonous and not-too-healthy diet, and separation from friends, family and society in general. Pray also that they will truly repent and find their forgiveness, life and hope in Christ.