I spent the majority of that day, the one ending in a Tanzanian prison, traveling by van. There were nine seats in the van and it was said by locals that vans arrived every half hour but most often the vans would drive by me full of Africans and no room for white Muzungus.
Darkness in Mwanza
It was dark in the city and full of people on the street of the pickup and there were few streetlights. Some people were simply standing around the bus stop though I could not understand why. They had lit fires for light. The entire street was full and many waited for the vans and many stood around not waiting for anything. It was very dark now.
The full vans make it necessary for two employees: the driver and the money collector. She sits in the back making sure everyone has paid for their ride. The door slid shut and I turned to the money collector. Her face was aged though she was no more than forty. Like most Tanzanian women she was chubby but not obese. Her face was soft but tired from presumably child-bearing and life and working late nights money collecting. I turned and I saw her and her staring at my backpack and it unzipped and open and empty. She was holding my cell phone.
I took it from her. The man that had bumped into me was gone because the door was closed and she pointed towards the door towards the outside. “He took your wallet! I reached to stop him and he pulled it away.” I looked at her. I yelled at the driver to turn around. He spoke back in Swahili and English. It just so happened, as I would soon find out, the local jail was across the street from the van pickup. We turned around.
The Police Station
The van door slid open again, louder this time. I looked around in the dark at all the faces and I knew I would never find him. I walked across the street to the jail. The money collector walked with me. The main room was the size of an average living room and a desk in front and two jail cells on the left side.
The jail cells were small and too dark to see inside. Black bars kept the prisoners inside and two dark hands gripped the bars of one of the cells. Those hands were the only sign of life inside. On the right side, across from the cells were two offices, one for the chief of police and one for a detective.
A heavy-set man with a thick mustache greeted me. I knew because I was a white man in Mwanza it would not take long to get help. I stepped into his office. The woman that walked in with me waited outside. The chief of police spoke English and I told him what had happened. Halfway through telling him, I realized I had no idea what the thief looked like or what he was wearing. I was wasting my time. But he was pleasant enough and I could tell wanted to help me.
Then he invited the woman, the money collector, into his office asking her to sit down. They spoke in Swahili, him with authority and her with despair. She began to cry.
Confused, I asked him what was happening. He turned away from her and came close to me. “She was the one that stole your wallet,” he said. His voice was deep. Swahili was his first language so he spoke slow.
“What?” I replied. “No. No, that is not true.”
“Yes. She was working with the man that got onto the van and opened your backpack. They are in it together.”
I asked him how he knew this. He said that he had caught her doing this before.
“You have seen this woman stealing before?” I asked and pointed at her.
“Yes. I have seen women just like her stealing from people like you,” He said.
“So you have never caught her stealing before!” I nearly yelled.
She was still sitting. Her cheeks were wet and she could not keep up with our English.
“You do not understand,” he said. “You are not from here. You do not know how it works. Just let us take care of this.” I asked him what was going to happen to her. “She will stay in the prison overnight,” he replied.
I looked at the jail cells and their darkness and at the money collector sitting in the chair. The detective was in there now and another man, perhaps their assistant or a police officer, and I looked at him too and I looked around for God and then back at the police chief. I prayed. “I’m not leaving this prison unless she leaves with me,” I told him.
As I said before, most of my life has been a struggle to maintain a dialogue with God. Every time I prayed I felt like I was entering some holy realm of which I was not worthy. There was pressure in prayer, the words needed to be write, balancing specifically what I was asking for and conscious to not offend the Lord. It was not an enjoyable time of conversation so I battled my desire to avoid it against the guilt that came with not praying.
I guess the paradigm shift began to slowly take place the same time I began to understand my identity. It was nearly time for Jesus to leave the world and his disciples. Thomas asked how they would possibly know the way without him. Jesus said, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I’m in you.”
Jesus Christ, the hope of glory, the redeemer and king of kings lives in me. He’s not somewhere up in the sky. He’s not waiting to arrive when I say, “Dear God”. He’s alive in me. In Ephesians, Paul says to be filled with the Spirit. Jesus is alive in me, I am filled with the Spirit, the one ‘that came to guide me into all truth’, and it’s hard to describe these days what praying looks like for me. I often do not understand when people say they need a lot more time to pray about a decision or about what to do in a situation. “What does your Spirit tell you?” I think. “What do you want to do? Jesus is alive in you!”
“You can not stay here tonight and she can not leave,” said the chief of police.
I had been at the jail nearly an hour now. My team back home would be getting worried. I knew, filled with the Spirit, I could not leave. It wasn’t a voice and no angel came to me, but “Stay with her,” is what I heard. It seemed she had accepted her fate to stay in jail over night. I wondered if her kids were waiting for her to get home from work.
I’m quite certain she did not steal my wallet, but maybe she did. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I knew I couldn’t leave her. In that moment, when the chief of police told me he would take care of it and to go home, I didn’t have time to get on my knees and pray. I couldn’t ask for a small room to go in and light some candles and say a prayer starting with Dear God. But I prayed, and I knew.
Is praying enjoyable for you? Do you feel pressure when you pray or guilt when you don’t? Did you actually read the longest blog of all time or just scroll down to the bottom?