December 2013/January 2014 - Vol. 71

My Missionary Experience in a Ugandan Prison

by Paul Mahony

This past July 2013 I travelled to Uganda for two weeks with eight men from Dublin, Belfast, London, Glasgow, and Mumbai, India. We were all involved in Kairos University Outreach programs in Ireland and Great Britain. The mission trip gave us an opportunity to serve on mission together in Uganda.

There is one memorable day during our two week mission that I would like to share with you. This particular day I did not enjoy the trip we had to make to a prison in Uganda. I remember feeling sick as we made our way to the prison. At every bend in the road I would silently wish, "Please, may we not be there yet".

On this particular day we were all packed together in the back of a mutatu. A mutatu, pronounced moo-tat-eo, is a Ugandan taxi. This was our usual method of transport for the two weeks we spent in Uganda.The vehicle had 5 rows of seats, but was no longer than an ordinary family car. Our mutatu brought us on all our mission trips o schools, villages, hospitals and homes- whereverf our team went to serve those we met. I had begun to love our mutatu it rolled over the African dirt roads with a strangely comforting bounce. Everyone who saw you waved to us as we drove past them. The sight of eight white men in a mutatu is really unusual in Uganda. 

Earlier that day Patrick McFadden, one of our team members, had pulled myself and Stephen Robinson aside, "Today we are visiting a Ugandan prison, and we three are leading". Our assignment was to stand up in front of an unknown number of inmates and preach about the love of God. 

Before coming on the trip I knew I wanted to be challenged, I knew I would have to rely on God for strength as he tested my faith, but now that I was in the middle of it, all I wanted to do was turn the mutatu around and head home. 

After driving for an hour we arrived at the prison.1here was a small building inside the fence, with a larger Sports Hall outside. From the small building all the inmates came out and were lined up in the 
yard, guards with AK47's organized them into pairs and marched them to the gate. I found out later there is in factnot enough space for each of them to lie down at the same time and so they must take turns standing and lying down. 

Some 70 prisoners where all marched out in front of us into the Sports Hall. Our team sat on a mini-stage at the front of the room while the inmates sat in pews in front of us. 

Phil Morrison began speaking to them through our translator Shadrach (an impressive man who has adopted close to 100 kids and teaches them all, in the school he founded). 

Then the worship began. A team of Ugandans who regularly visit prisons lead the worship. The  feeling of sickness which I had experienced earlier in the trip went away. The 30minute worship time in that prison with the inmates was one of the most Spirit-filled times of praise I have ever experienced. African Christians have a beautiful way of praising the Lord through song and dance, but to see these inmates worshipping so openly and honestly was challenging for me. These men had lost everything, but they now possessed one thing worth everything else they believed in Jesus and worshipped God. They were like the outcasts mentioned in the Gospels, the Gentiles and lepers who were touched by the mercy and grace of Jesus. These inmates had faith unlike any I had ever seen. 

Patrick shared about the Gospel parable of the Prodigal son. And then it was my turn to speak to the inmates. I cannot exactly remember what I said. From my prepared notes, I think I talked about how my faith had grown, the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus, the power of grace, and how the Holy Spirit lives and works in each of us. Who knows what else the Spirit prompted me to say! As we were handing out some chocolate treats before leaving, one of the inmates came up to me, with tears in his eyes. He thanked me for what I had shared but without translation help it was impossible for me to really understand everything he was saying and vice versa. We managed, however, to say ashort prayer together. 

I left the prison wanting to go back. After being so unsure beforehand about what I would say or do, I left knowing that when you step out, and cover yourself in prayer, the Lord will work.

See related story > Evangelism and Service in Uganda

Paul Mahony is a member of Nazareth Community in Dublin, Ireland. 
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