Another post that’s going to be more personal than beautiful; but oh well.. since I can, I will..
A couple of days ago (He Heals Me) I announced that I would soon share another short-story, with its message surprisingly much in line with one of India Arie’s beautiful songs I’ve been hooked on lately. Today, something happened- yet again, very much in line with that song/story. It’s funny. Coincidence? I trow not! Oh well..
Weird, how often forces work together, you know, seemingly against you, just to (at the 11th hour) make everything work together.. for your own good. Earlier today, when the tram-driver turned at a junction he wasn’t supposed to turn, people were moaning and complaining, as that meant all passengers needed to get off the tram and walk back to the last stop (a roughly 55-seconds journey) and catch the next tram (which was just 70seconds behind -___-). Anyway, I wasn’t one of the complainers. I simply walked back, still reading Ken Follet’s “Pillars of The Earth”(!!!) and as I made to enter the coming tram, someone smiled and greeted me, “Hey!” I smiled cheerfully, Alex D! It’s been ages we saw last.
Having done the exchange of pleasantries and expected small-talk, he asked me, “I hope you still pray as much as before and still have that faith.” I smiled, “Of course I still pray.” I didn’t add the “as before” though, as I wondered whether I really still prayed like back in the days.
And this is where the story starts..
Alexander was one of our first church members.. many many years ago. He was in the choir. That is, until he was imprisoned and sentenced to 10 years. Now, in Austria, a 10-years sentence actually really means 10 years; 365 days times ten (minus the 1 or 2 leap-year days), but you get the gist: 10 prison years = 10 normal human years.
Now, he’s been out of prison for about 4 years, and actually completed his sentence of 10years.. and I did the maths, right there and then, when he asked me if I still prayed as before.. I had to ask myself “how long ago is ‘like before’?”
See, I started the Prison Ministry at my church in Vienna with another good friend (now Pastor) just a few years after Alex “left”. He was my first experience, if I may call it/him that. I had to do the maths; I needed to count, as I could barely remember. I was 14 years old then! It’s crazy. I don’t remember how exactly it started, but what I do remember was the impact it had on my brothers behind bars.. mainly for drugs. I don’t think I can go into too much detail here, but brothers weren’t smiling.
In a country and with a system that- for very many years- made it practically impossible for man to survive without legal residence or a work permit, who could be blamed? See, I’m not making excuses; but I understood, even then. I got used to the sudden disappearance of a brother. A friend suddenly nowhere to be found, with the next thing you’d hear someone else say being, “Oh that one? Dem don deported am since nah..”. It was a very common occurrence: spending a year or two with someone, just for the person to call you from Nigeria and tell you “Don’t worry. Trust me now. I’m coming back.”
But then, there were those who wouldn’t be deported; especially not for drugs. They’d simply serve time, and then walk the streets like before.. just to be arrested months later and put in “Schubhaft”.
Anyway, so when Alex asked me if I still prayed like before, it took me back..
It took me back to all the letters we wrote, for ten years; the couple of trips I took to visit him outside of town, and all the other prisoners Bro. Okafor (another friend who later joined that ministry) and I went to visit.. for years. It took me back to the telephone conversations I’d (secretly) have with brothers behind bars, just to let them know there were still people who cared. I remember the telephone/calling cards we would get them, so they could keep in touch with their families back home; wondering how they could have smuggled a mobile phone into prison.
I remember people coming to church to give us names of brothers they thought might be in prison, just for us to make a few calls, get their location, and keep them encouraged. I remember the church magazines we would send them, filled with pictures, just so they could once again see familiar faces. I remember them asking “Which one are you?” simply because many of them had never seen me in person.. or had spent too many years behind bars to remember.
Above all, I remember the released..
I remember the brother who quietly came into church, sat down, and when it was time to introduce himself (as a newcomer) stood up to say that he was just released and wanted to come and say thank you. He said he wanted to see Vicky. “Where is Vicky?” and I had to cry. I had to cry because, you see, sometimes you don’t know just how much your “very little” means.
The first Sunday Alexander came to church after he was released, he told the congregation “The only friend, the only sister, the only mothers I have in this life, is Vicky. For ten years, ten good years, when everyone had forgotten about me, she was still there.” I wasn’t present that day though, I had moved to London by then, still sending letters every now and then- from London.
I also remember the lady who came in from Italy, because she said someone from church had been sending her letters and magazines too.. and she just needed to come and see “that person” in person.
The saddest and most life-changing memory, however, when I remember the “Prison Ministry days” would probably be the day my best friend and only confidant, Br. Marcus (now Pastor), was arrested. It felt as though my life ended, my world came to a sudden halt. I remember seeing him off to the train station, as he was on his way to minister at a different branch, I remember begging him to stay; him eventually getting on the train; us spending hours talking on the phone; him telling me he would call me back in a bit; him not calling back, me panicking and calling his phone, just to find it switched off. I remember the way my heart beat and my spirit was in disarray; I remember him finally calling back at 11pm, having spoken to my mother and me furious that he would call someone else before me, just to say “Vicky, please, I don’t want you to cry or panic now. Just promise me you’ll calm down. I’m with the police. They’ve arrested me.”
Then, I remember my father and lawyers getting involved, and me visiting him for six good months in prison, every single weekend. I remember sending numerous letters, writing him poems, and spending hours on my knees praying for his release.
Today, I look back and don’t remember when or how things changed. Whether it was the fact that I grew up, faced life myself, or simply moved on. I don’t know whether it was because I moved to the UK, things happened at church, or life simply happened. Today, I remember all the boys that are no more, the ones that have been deported, or simply moved to Spain, Italy, or gone back home.
Today, I look back and don’t remember when last I loved and cared as much as I did then. Maybe it was my beautiful innocence. Or maybe, yes, maybe I really did pray more then, loved the Lord more then, cared about people more then. Well, it is never too late.
I thought about reviving that ministry. But then, you know.. over the years things change, you change.. I don’t think I could do it as well now, as I did then. Seasons change. Now I’m deciding: whatever I do next, I’ll just make sure I do it with just as much (or more) passion, as that is what ultimately makes the difference. As my parents – mother especially- love saying, “Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.”
May God give us the grace and strength to put our hearts passionately into worthy causes, no matter how small or insignificant we might consider them to be; to someone else they might mean the world.