(Each week I will attempt to post a story or reflection about some aspect of the work that our missional community, NieuCommunities South Africa, is currently engaged in here in Pretoria. I’ll simply attempt to answer the question, ‘What stories are you co-writing with God in South Africa, and how does this story fulfill your unique mandate to apprentice South African leaders into sustainable mission around the globe?’)
Pulling into Baavianspoort Youth Prison this morning behind the Pure Hope Quantum, I felt a familiar sense of excitement and anticipation as I joined Maxie’s team walking the long halls of Emthomjeni, the cell block area where we began a fresh round of our Life Compass course just a few hours ago. This past year we ‘graduated’ seven inmates from a multiple-month course in leadership development, a holistic look at one’s past influences, preferences, personality, and gift mixing, all focusing upon a directionality and life vision that God is birthing in each one of us.
Not sure how relatively young inmates would digest the material, Maxie and I were stunned at the depth of relationship, commitment, and authentic vision these young men displayed as they wrestled with envisioning a path different from the one that had landed them behind bars. I found myself wiping tears from my eyes most weeks, deeply challenged to embrace my own Life Compass vision, a central piece of which is “to form the Church to discern + engage their vocation in community for the world.”
Needless to say, my anticipation level was high in returning to partner with Maxie and her Pure Hope team once again for another round. 16 (!) inmates filed into a cramped room this morning, relatively identical in their matching maroon sweatsuits, save a few ‘designer’ labels attached through an ingenious bit of sewing (Many inmates pass the time behind bars through learning skills such as sewing, and thus ‘design-up’ their clothes with Nike, Adidas, or Puma self-stitched labels!). After introductions and a lively discussion as to who would win the latest Soweto Soccer Derby this weekend (Seems to be a split between the two local soccer teams, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, with one’s hometown playing heavily in who one roots for), Maxie got down to business, laying out the hope that with commitment and hard work, the material presented in this course has the power to literally transform one’s life.
Conrad Damies, who completed the first round of our course in December this past year, then stood up and testified to the power that vision has to help one stay the course in the long tedium of life behind bars. Imprisoned for 14 years, he certainly captivated our minds this morning as he spoke eloquently of the task ahead of each one of these young men. Maxie and I quickly appointed him ‘Vice-President’ in charge of everything from corralling these men together each week, to the ‘point-man’ in charge of answering questions. Looking in his eyes, it seemed as if there was fresh purpose filling them, Conrad eager to walk alongside us in leading this process, and in some future day, bringing this material back to his hometown.
And so, a fresh round of discovery, struggle, and listening for the heartbeat of God within our own begins. I couldn’t imagine spending more valuable time in my week than this!
(Here is Conrad’s vision statement from this past December)
The Encouragement Lake
I want to e a place where there can be peace, a place where people can come who think they have made mistakes, a safe place where they can speak out their problems. I want to be a source of life for those who spent most of their time with me; I want to be a place that provides encouragement for those with broken hearts, I want to be a place for those who come from afar and a source of life for those that are close and around me. I want to be a place where people can come and fish, get some advice or to just get fresh air and maybe even spend the night. Even if some just come and throw their garbage in me I will never change — that is what makes me different from the sea, I like being a lake. There is no other metaphor I will take that is more powerful than The Encouragement Lake.
(Conrad Damies, December 2010, Baavianspoort Youth Prison)