Every team member brought two large suitcases, one with our clothes and personal items and the other completely stuffed with medications, which were a combination of donations from medical offices and over-the-counter medicine we’d bought with donations. These were mostly simple items that we take for granted every day but that are badly needed by others. The doctor had told us if we'd like, we should bring clothes we wouldn't mind parting with because at the end of the week we could give them away to folks who would love our old, beat-up jeans and t-shirts. It's a great idea. I'll bet someone is still walking around with my Bass Pro Shops and Guinness T-shirts and old jeans.
The prison was small, and while I thought we would be escorted at all times by the armed guards carrying machine guns, I was mistaken. We were free to roam the prison population with all the inmates in the courtyard. One of the first things I witnessed was garbage being thrown over the walls into the prison by the public outside, to show their contempt for those inside. I snapped my first shots and was instantly surrounded by a dense huddle of inmates, eager to view the images on my camera's LCD. I was told by the doctor what certain tattoos meant, such as those that indicate that an inmate has killed a person. Despite my worries, the inmates were extremely non-threatening. Tattoos are permanent, but it's possible for one to change on the inside, and I believed many of these young men were making amends and getting themselves on a better path.
Dr. Daniel Holt examined a gang member had been stealing in his village for a long time. His neighbors finally had enough so they resorted to vigilante justice, beating him with rakes, hoes and shovels. Being arrested and taken to jail was probably the better part of his day. I was told that in areas where there is little or no law enforcement, townspeople often take the law into their hands and dole out their own brand of justice.
One thing I noticed very quickly about my fellow missionaries was the different teams from all walks of life, religious denominations and other organizations that we kept running into, doing what they felt called to do. It's a life-changing opportunity. I'm really eager to do a trip like this again. Photographically it was such a gift to be exposed to things so far removed from my normal existence... to use my camera to capture images that move me and hopefully others. I saw things that I'd only seen before on TV or in magazines, but here I was seeing them for myself, and it impacted me a great deal. We witnessed sad moments, hardship and abject poverty. Thankfully, my camera’s autofocus took over in many instances while my own eyes were welling up. Often the mechanics of image making were a useful distraction for temporarily shielding my mind from the reality in front of the lens. It was only later, when reviewing the images, that I finally had time to react to them more fully.
I will cover more of this life-changing trip in an upcoming newsletter. While my trip lasted only a week, the experiences and images I captured are enough for several more stories. It was a profound experience, and I want to do justice by giving it the space it deserves.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Perhaps it moved you in some way. If a mission trip is not possible or practical for you, there are thousands of legitimate groups with feet on the ground—people who use 100% of donations to legitimately provide help, build houses, drill wells and more. If you can't go, maybe you can donate, even some old glasses that are rolling around in your junk drawer. Contact me if you want to connect with some very good people who inspire with the good work they continually do.