Today was one of my better days in mission in recent memory. I had a reunion with Dismas Omondi. Dismas recently served 13 years, wrongly accused, on death-row in Kenya and was released in 2010. Dismas and I first met in 2005 as I began working with the death-row prisoners at Shimo la Tewa. During our time together I assisted him in some very small ways making some visits to some of his family members, but more often he helped me understand the circumstances and cases of his fellow prisoners. Dismas indeed served as the “jailhouse lawyer” helping his fellow prisoners prepare appeals and address other legal issues. Furthermore, Dismas also served as the Catholic leader on his block of prisoners leading prayers and small faith community.
Today we met with an embrace and spoke for more than 2 hours sharing a meal and time together on the “outside”. As indicated above in his legal knowledge and ability, Dismas is a very intelligent man and continues to assist prisoners free-of-charge in minor legal preparations and advice. Likewise, several times a month he visits the women’s prison offering legal advice as well as prayer and spiritual support. As you can tell, Dismas does so much to assist those in prison and all in his “free-time”.
After our greeting, Dismas was eager to show me his paid-work. We walked to the court where I knew he was working and we walked around the back where we sat down near the public toilet. With pride and joy he explained to me how he had arranged with the courthouse for he and another former-prisoner to maintain and clean the public toilet and in return patrons pay roughly 15 cents to use the facilities. This earns he and his co-worker roughly $5 per day (he works at that from roughly 7am-5pm). While the wages are low they are higher than many un-skilled factory workers in the area, on these wages he is at least able to provide for he and his new wife (recently married in June) to live in a 200 sq foot rented room in a traditional Swahili shared-house to live in .
Dismas was someone long-ago I thought I might have come to Africa to serve and he became someone who now serves as a role model for me to follow. Dismas, providentially carrying the same name as the one who suffered the death penalty alongside Jesus, is a Christian to emulate. As I spoke with him the joy and peace poured forth from him. In word and spirit he expressed the deep daily gratitude for every minute of life as a free-man despite the many challenges he faces daily. As Advent draws to a close and we prepare for the birth of our Lord, my prayer is that I can follow the example of Jesus as Dismas does, for all too often I lament my daily struggles and frustrations (which might accurately be considered laughable “wealthy-westerner-problems”). Yet I know that our loving merciful God looks upon me too with mercy and love and enters into my daily struggles regardless of how trivial I am beginning to recognize they might be.