As Christmas approached this year, the women of the Reformed Church of Guadeloupe decided to do something special for the women in prison. A plan was set in place to fundraise and buy toiletry kits for each woman. Within the French prison system, each prisoner must obtain the things that they need for themselves, so gifts like shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste would be much appreciated. Out of approximately 1000 prisoners on the island, only 18 are women.
The women of the church hosted a bake sale with all kinds of goodies including cakes, breads, fried plantain chips, and even homemade samosas. After the money was collected, a crew of women went shopping for the items and also purchased a card for each gift. I was lucky enough to write all of the cards for English speakers and deliver the gifts with a few volunteer chaplains from the church. I assumed that these small gifts would be well-received, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much they would mean to the women.
One of my duties here in Guadeloupe is to visit the women’s section of the prison every Thursday. I meet individually with any English speaking prisoner who wants to talk and I generally try to be aware of and friendly with the other female prisoners that haven’t asked to see a chaplain. Up until that point I was only meeting with one woman individually, but toward the end of our time together each week, some of her fellow prisoners would come into the gathering room where we met. They would do word searches, small crafts, and chat together. As the weeks went by I participated in the conversations – working to make myself known so that if they would ever need a chaplain they would know who I am and that I care about them.
I sensed fairly quickly from most of them that they couldn’t care less about a chaplain being available to them and they felt they were doing fine on their own. One woman in particular, C, seemed to carry the attitude that no one actually cared about her so she didn’t really care about anyone else. In her mind, she was a true loner. She only came to this gathering space at these times to break up the monotony in her life. It is difficult to connect with people who have no desire to connect with you, but each week I would ask light questions to get to know them a bit better.
Two weeks before we delivered the gifts, I had a small break-through with C. I was chatting with another woman about a new flower arranging class that would be offered and I said, “Oh that’s interesting. My grandma used to be a florist. She even made my corsage for prom.” C instantly chimed in and we all began chatting about prom, high school, friendships, and life in general. I knew that I still had a long way to go with C, but I was glad that she was starting to open up a bit more. When we all ended the conversation with, “See you next week,” I knew that she was starting to see me as part of the fabric of life there and that trust was being established. I could feel God at work.
And then the gifts were delivered. We explained that the church was thinking of them and wanted to let them all know that there are people who care about them and love them. Each woman offered her deep thanks and sifted through her gift bag with excitement and joy. When C received her gift, she responded as all the others did, sharing her thanks with a wide smile across her face. Then, she came over to me and we started chatting casually about Christmas and such, but it wasn’t long before she began opening up more about what was going on in her life. In that moment, with a mixture of the Holy Spirit and courage, I said, “Well, if you’d ever like to meet individually and talk about this more, I’m here. I come every Thursday and I’m available if you’d like to talk.”
And what did she say?
“Yeah, I think I’d like that.”
Ever since then, I meet with C each time I’m at the prison.
I have to say, it is so amazing to have a front row seat of the Holy Spirit at work, of God at work, in a person’s life. It is a blessing to sit with someone who generally feels so rejected by society and tell them that they matter, that God has not forgotten them and neither have I. It’s a beautiful, holy thing.
In my life, sometimes being a missionary means creating advertising materials for a new program. Sometimes it means sitting with a recently widowed woman and attempting to be a source of comfort as she describes her loving husband. Sometimes it means driving halfway across the island to lead a weekly Bible study. Sometimes it means teaching a group of children a new song in English. Sometimes it means buttering bread for a hospitality hour. And sometimes it mean meeting with men and women in jail as they examine the choices they’ve made and resolve to move toward a brighter future. For each of these moments, and the ones left unsaid, I give God thanks.
Beth Guy serves with the Reformed Church of France as the Pastoral Assistant for Diaconal Ministries in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Beth Guy serves as a Global Mission Intern. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.