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Monday, July 22, 2019

Journey of Hope Back to Africa This November!

This African Journey of Hope will be great. It will be great for Bill Babbitt, Randy Gardner, Curtis McCarty, and me. The four of us are dedicated to going. We hope more can join us. It will be great for Edward Mpagi and his struggle for abolition of the death penalty in Uganda. We want to help strengthen Edward for his continuing journey. This will benefit the African abolition movement, and all those who want worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

A lot of wonderful people have asked about joining the four of us. People like Delia Meyer Perez, whose beloved brother Louis lingers on Texas’s infamous death row and Terri Steinberg who son Justin was sentenced to death in Virginia.

A prime example of pain and suffering inflicted by the state on the family members of death row inmates would be Terri Steinberg. Terri is on an apex of a roller-coaster ride with extreme ups and downs that seems to be everlasting. The death penalty inflicts much more than just cruel and unusual punishment on family and friends. I politely called it torture. Delia and Terri are part of the Journey of Hope family and we have traveled around the world together. They would love to join us in Africa. I hope they can.

About another ten or so people have expressed an interest in joining us including Scott Langley, of Scott Langley Photos. Scott, a former Journey of Hope Board member, would like to document the Journey to Africa with his camera. He takes great photographs. Colleen Cunningham of EJUSA is thinking of taking vacation time and joining us. Colleen helped organize the Journey of Hope’s 20th anniversary World Day Against the Death Penalty tour and conference last year in Indiana, the state where the journey got its start on June 4, 1993. Colleen’s organizing and personal skills were instrumental to the conference’s great success.

Kathy Chism, Founder of Dream One World, informed me that Stacey Robyn, the new director of Dream One World would like to visit Edward’s School. When Edward was on death row he promised his God that if he ever got out of prison he would build a school and orphanage for the children of parents who were in prison and on death row. Kathy learned of Edward’s dream and through Dream One World; the Ugandan School Project was started. They have basically completed phase one with the library, which is being used as a classroom and are moving ahead with phases two and three. All this has been as a result of Kathy’s passion for Edward and the children he is helping. From long distance Kathy has helped build that school brick by brick. 

Kathy, a former flight attendant, wishes she could come with Jon, the love of her life, but she developed an ear problem and can no longer fly without tremendous pain. Their spirit, love and support will be with us I know. Kathy’s sister has also expressed an interest in joining us to see the school.

I have been corresponding recently with a woman who has a nephew on death row and she has thoughts about joining us in Africa. 

When we start to promote this event I know others will want to be join and part of it. Other murder victim’s family members and death row family members have already expressed an interest in joining the tour. An African Journey would be great for all involved.

The Uganda portion of the trip is the heart and soul of the reason I want to go to Africa. It is a chance to help Edward Mpagi get the attention he needs for his causes. His good works with the school project will get attention and help for sure. That is great. What drives me with such fervor is the knowledge that the Journey on Hope would be helping Edward and the abolition movement in Uganda. It bears witness with my soul. I know that our message of love and compassion will be well received. 

Edward and I believe in the same God and I believe that our Heavenly Father wants me to help my brother Edward. I know the four of us, and maybe more, will help him tremendously with our presence.

In 2011 four of us went to Uganda to honor a request Edward made of Journey of Hope. He asked if we could help him in his lonely battle against the Death Penalty in Uganda. 
While in Uganda we attended a faith service in the men’s death row section of vast prison complex. The service was organized by a group of nuns that Edward works closely with. 

When we walked into the room we saw over 200 condemned men, all dressed in white prison garb, standing and singing praises to God. There were some blankets and mats on the floor and during the sharing time later on, a few sat down. There was plenty of room to spread out. Our group stood in front and the others were spread about facing us. We all felt very comfortable. They were swaying, clapping and smiling as they praised God. They let us know by their gestures that we were very welcome there. There were at least 7-10 men that were playing instruments, mostly different types of drums, reeds and tambourines. We shared some of our stories and they shared some of theirs. It was a fantastic experience. I knew right then and there that I wanted to go back to Africa again sometime and bring a film crew to document what we saw taking place. 

The next day we went to the women’s death row facility in the prison complex. Same as the day before, it was a faith service arraigned by the nuns. There were 42 death row woman and maybe another 100-150 other ladies with LWOP sentences that joined with us for the service. They wore light red, almost pink dresses. The ladies on death row had white running through theirs to distinguish them from the lifers. These ladies were also standing and singing praises to God when we walked in. Some played instruments and others waved hands and danced in place with the rhythm. 
We shared, they shared. The warden thanked us for being there. 

Earlier in the day she had us join her in a room near her office where we were treated with snacks and drinks. We conversed with her for several hours as we waited for the organization of the upcoming program to be completed. We all loved her. She had a wonderful attitude toward us and the women prisoners. After the service was over, the warden shook our hands and once again personally thanked each of us and then proceeded to walk over to one of the inmates who had shared and gave her a hug. I have never seen that kind of interaction on death rows in America.

That attitude seemed to permeate throughout the vast correction system at the Luzira Upper Prison near Kampala. Luzira is the principal penal facility in Uganda.
We were also able to go to the main prison facility and walk among those in general population. There was a soccer game going on in the middle of the prison yard and we had to walk down the sideline the length of the court and turn at the end zone and walk along the back of the field to get to our meeting place. The guys were having fun playing soccer while scores of convicts stood on the sidelines cheering their favorite team on. We were later taken on a prison tour that was amazing. We visited classrooms, yes classrooms. Prisoners were teaching prisoners. They all seemed eager to learn. What they have done at this prison with a barebones budget is fantastic. I would like for people in this country to take some of the things that are working in that correctional system and apply them here in America. In Uganda the prisoners are treated with respect from the guards and the prisoners respected the guards. The guards want the prisoners to do well. They treat them as human beings. What a concept! 

The nuns had a lot to do with getting educational supplies inside the prison and training other prisoners to become teachers. The Journey helped the nuns by purchasing some paper supplies for the educational program. 

As we drove down the lane to exit the prison, prisoners who were working out on the vast lawn turned and waved goodbye to us. At the check points for leaving the prison property the guards thanked us for coming and welcomed us to come back again. Not the normal reaction I have gotten when visiting American prisons.

While in Uganda we also spoke in schools, churches and a radio interview at a Christian College. We visited a widow whose husband had been recently murdered, and spent some time at Edward’s School. Edward was recovering from a stroke when we arrived in Uganda and he remains partially paralyzed to this day. He arranged to have his good friend Ronald Katongole take care of our housing, travel, food and all of our basic needs. We did get some great pictures at various locations as Ronald drove us about and took care of us. Ronald has pledged to help take care of us again when we come back to Uganda. He will also help with the planning and organizing.

Kenya is the other stop planned for this trip. Bill Babbitt is the reason we are going to Kenya, in fact Bill Babbitt is the reason for the 2014 African Journey of Hope.

On the 2011 Journey of Hope Bill met and befriended Evangelist Martin Ndolo. It was a very spiritual experience for Bill. When Martin enrolled in Bible College several years ago, Bill made a monthly pledge towards his education and personal support. Martin graduates November 8. Bill planted precious seeds with Martin and he wants to go see the harvest and the fruits of his labor at Martin’s graduation. Bill asked me to go with him. Bill is going to use his credit card in order to cover his and my travel. I am using my credit card to bring Randy and Curtis. This is how the four of us are going to go to Africa.

While in Kenya, we will be welcomed at a number of churches through contacts with Pastor George Thiongo and Martin. Pastor George has a church and elementary school in the slums of Kenya. And it is the slums. The ride from the paved road is only about seven to ten blocks to the church, but due to the mud and holes in the road you spend a lot of time stopped or moving very slowly. The mostly one lane road is packed with a lot of people walking, carrying loads on their heads, or gathering in front of the little hutch shacks and tents where one can purchase drinks and other paraphernalia. It seemed like each of the shacks had a radio blaring out music. Once it took about 30 minutes to cover the few blocks and we sat in front of some of the huts and establishments for minutes at a time. Although it was warm, we were riding with the windows mostly up.

At the church and school we had a wonderful welcome from Pastor George and the beautiful people who were members of the church and school. At the children’s assembly they were asked if they had ever seen a white person before. They all said no. Each class sang a special song just for us. At the end of the program Babu Bill passed out hard candies to all of the students. Then I went to where the children were seated waiting their next instructions and shook each of the two hundred children’s hands. I should have done it before Babu Bill passed hard candies out to each of them. Hand wipes anyone? On Sunday we spoke at the morning and evening services. Between Pastor George and Evangelist Ndolo and their contacts we should keep pretty busy in Kenya this November.

Bill Babbitt’s life was changed when he went to Africa. Today he is a different man. He is known in Nairobi simply as Babu. Babu means Grandfather!!! It is a status that brings great respect. Bill has been practicing and learning Swahili preparing for his return trip. The time to go is right.

Yes, this will be something great for many. You can help make it even greater.
Maybe you could join us in Africa. Maybe you could help someone else come. Maybe you could promote and share the African Journey through your organization or Facebook Friends. Maybe you could use frequent flyer miles to send one of us so Bill Babbitt doesn’t have to put so much on his credit card. Maybe you could pray for us. Yes, I know you can do that for us. Babu would say. Bwana Asifiwe (Praise the Lord)

Detailed plans have not yet officially begun; it is still on the ground floor of planning. It could include more countries and may cover the entire month of November. Right now all we know for sure is that we will be in Nairobi, Kenya on November 8 and at least four of us are going.
If anyone wants to jump in and help with the planning stage, now is the right time.

Peace, Bill

Join us in Africa. The more the merrier!!!
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