Last week, we were invited to work in the Goma womens prison for International Womens day (which was the 8th). The women are there all day with nothing to do. The conditions are bleak and we wanted to teach them a skill they can use when they are released from prison. We loaded up the bus with some of our mamas, bread and juice, and a ton of supplies to teach the women how to make soap.
We were only an hour and a half late… So right on time (Africa central time). The women’s prison holds 65 women and 17 children under the age of 2; some were born in prison. The children stay with their mothers in the prison until they are weaned. As we came walking in each of us carrying a bag of supplies, the women spotted me and had a lot to say about the Muzungu who came. I politely let them know that I wasn’t a muzungu, I am a woman and my name is Jenni or Kapinga, they could choose. This is my standard response when I am going somewhere and people think I’m just some foreigner who can’t speak Swahili (which, I really don’t speak it well, but I can fake it well enough). The standard response usually gets a lot of laughs because they can’t believe I knew what they were saying.
this is mama Sarah… she may like to dance more than me.
We get inside and get situated. There aren’t really enough chairs for everyone, so some of the women sat on the floor; babies and toddlers accompanying them. Mama Sarah gave a short introduction of who we are and what we’re going to do. Then mama Annette lead us in a worship song. The atmosphere changed as worship began. Vanessa, my friend and fellow pastor from my home church in DC was here for the past two weeks working with me. I know she was praying over our time there as was I. What started off as a bunch of women divided by their physical freedom became a room full of women united by worship. Towards the end, I just sat back and watched the room transform. It was beautiful.
Since we are not allowed to bring in our cell phones, I don’t have photos of this. HOWEVER, the UN woman’s prison representative with us is allowed to have her phone and she took a video.
Mama Claudine gave a mini sermonette in Swahili about the woman caught in the act of adultery; Jesus drew a line in the sand and said “anyone without sin can cast the first stone”. After her sermon, she invited “Pastor Kapinga” (that’s me) to lead the women in prayer and do an open invitation for any woman wanting to make the decision to follow Jesus or rededicate her life. My prayer time, turned into a mini sermon itself. Go figure! I just had a lot I felt like I needed to say.
Side note: While Claudine had been talking, the rain came. Many of the women were drying their clothes outside in the courtyard (the only outdoor space they have). They all jumped up and ran outside to get their clothes out of the rain. One woman, named Aziza, slipped and fell as she was running. She fell backwards, cracked her head on the concrete and passed out. As I was talking they were carrying her in, soaking wet because she had been unconscious on the ground, in the rain for the past few minutes.
The preamble to my prayer was simply that Gods love for us doesn’t change depending on what color our skin is, what country we live in or where we live. It doesn’t change for the woman who goes to church vs. the woman who doesn’t. Jesus died for us all. I gave the baboon analogy… (if you don’t know what this is, please enjoy this youtube video) about letting go of the things we think we want so we can have freedom from the things that keep us captive. When we let go of those things we are free to take something else. Then I called up a woman and asked her to take a piece of paper from me. She took it. I took it back and told her to do it again. She did. This happened about 5 more times before I explained that when something is freely given it’s not a matter of not being able to take it, it’s only a matter of making the choice to take it. Twelve women chose to metaphorically “take the paper”… made the decision to follow Christ.
As the soap making lessons began, I decided to invite myself to the infirmary and check on Aziza who was brought in while I was speaking. She was still unconscious. She was so dehydrated; we could not find a vein (yes, I also invited myself to help the doctor, which he did not object). Finally, “we” went in through the neck. She would occasionally moan and her face would twist up, but she did not come back to consciousness. As I held her head, I was praying; praying for a miraculous recovery. If Jesus said that I will do greater things that He did, why don’t I pray for others like I believe that? I had one woman who worked there go get Vanessa and we prayed for her together. She didn’t wake up and we eventually went back out to sit through the soap lesson.
I sat on the floor in the middle of the other inmates and took the chubbiest, cutest baby! I was bouncing her on my knee and she was laughing and cooing… then, 5 minutes later she must’ve realized I wasn’t her mom (the women said “ah! She just realized you are white and she’s scared) and she started to cry. Usually I would give a baby back when she starts to cry, but I simply turned this one around and she was fine! HA! I guess it was my face that upset her so much!
As our time there was finished, and I had to give the baby back… I went to check on Aziza one more time. She still had not woken up. I prayed for her again and left. But Vanessa felt we needed to do it one more time. I think one can never have too much free prayer so back we went to pray again.
our sneaky shots of the outside of the prison before we left and the houses just outside.
We went back the following day to do counseling sessions with our resident Psychologist. I was greeted with “Pastor Kapinga!!!”… I love it! I asked the women where Aziza was and I was lead to their sleeping quarters. It’s a large, dark, wet room with mattresses (very dirty ones) crammed on the floor next to each other. Their personal belongings stacked on their mattresses. Aziza was laying on her stomach and very groggy. I laid on her mattress with her and asked her how she felt. She was still in pain. I prayed some more and went to talk to the doctor. They brought Aziza back to the infirmary. Vanessa and I went in to try and get them to let Vanessa see Aziza’s back, she is a Physical Therapist Ninja (that means she a good one). They wouldn’t let Vanessa examine her, so we just went to pray again.
me and Vanessa March 8th, International Womens day… we’re sooo African.
Now for the big finish to my update. I was wearing African pants. As I bent down to pray… they split right up the back. Thanks to my church and family for sending so much chocolate to help me split the pants! All in a days work.
Please pray for the women who made the decision to start a new life and please pray for Aziza as she recovers from a very bad fall. Pray for the women and children who are living in the prison, that their atmosphere continues to be changed. That their circumstances don’t determine their identity or their attitude.
Much love from Goma,