If you had told Jim Gash at the start of his legal career that he’d end up representing a wrongly imprisoned teenager in Ugandan High Court, he probably wouldn’t have believed you.
In the last five years, Gash has traveled to Uganda 17 times, has planed a role in reforming the country’s criminal justice system, has written a book and been featured in a documentary telling the story of this journey. And now he serves as the director of Pepperdine’s Global Justice Program.
Gash’s new book, Divine Collision, will be available for purchase on campus, and the new documentary Remand will be screened on campus at 7:00 Thursday night in the Core Classroom of the library. Gash and producer Randy Brewer will be present at the screening.
How did someone who didn’t ever really plan on going to Africa end up in the middle of this story? It began at a legal conference in California.
In October 2009, Gash, a 1989 ACU graduate, accompanied a group of Pepperdine law students to the Christian Legal Society’s national conference in San Diego. It was there he met Bob Goff, a fellow California lawyer and a New York Times best-selling author of Love Does. Goff has served as the general counsel for the country of Uganda and has worked to free children imprisoned in the country.
But at the conference, Goff invited Gash to be a part of the work in Uganda that altered the trajectory of the Gash family’s future.
“I always had sort of a ‘here are they, send them, Lord’ mindset, rather than a ‘here I am, send me’ one,” Gash said. “When Bob was done with his speech, I knew I was going to Uganda. I didn’t know when or why or how or to do what, but I knew it was time to put the excuses away and use my legal knowledge to serve kids in prison.”
Several months later, Gash’s feet touched down on Ugandan soil for the first time. In January 2010, he visited what Ugandans call “remand homes.”
At one of the homes, Gash met a young prisoner named Henry, 16 at the time, who had been wrongly accused of murder. The two became friends, and Gash has since called their meeting a “divine collision.” After hearing Henry’s story, which Gash said clearly proved he was innocent, Gash had to act.
“I decided it wasn’t OK with me, so I dove deeply into his case,” Gash said.
Over the next five years, Henry’s case became more complex, and Jim didn’t want to forget any part of the journey. So, he wrote down everything that happened.
“I didn’t ever want to forget experience and everything happening there,” he said. “And that’s when this whole idea of a book started.”
Back and forth trips to Uganda, including a seven-month extended stay with his whole family, marked these years. Jim’s ties deepened to Henry’s cause and to judicial reform in Uganda.
“At this point in the story, I had several chapters written in my book, but I wasn’t telling anyone,” Gash said. “Because who wants to be that guy who’s writing a book.”
Gash began conversations with the individuals who would eventually become his agents, eager to learn what it takes to tell a really good story.
“I learned that something can be a great story, but it’s that really, really hard to write a book,” Gash said.
Gash sent off early drafts of the manuscripts, only to receive responses from the agent saying, “This is a report, I need a story. This is an architectural manuscript, I need a painting.”
This propelled him on a quest to read as many good stories as he could find. In fact, Gash read more than 100 New York Times best sellers in two years and crafted his and Henry’s story based on what he learned.
Now a complete and published account of this unexpected adventure, Divine Collision will first hit the shelves at ACU this week.
After all that has transpired over the last several years, Goff and Gash have remained closely connected in their work in Uganda. Goff said he couldn’t be more proud of all Jim has done in Uganda.
“Jim is just a boss,” Goff said. “He does things because he loves people. One thing about Jim is he doesn’t wait for invitations. He assumes friendship and lives in anticipation. In Matthew 25, it says hungry people, thirsty people, sick people, strange people and people in jail – Jim’s helped a couple of those.”
Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book and said, “The story is as emotional as it is thrilling, and it reads like a major film.”
In fact, the story has been made into a film called Remand, produced by Revolution Pictures, a company founded by 1993 ACU alumnus Randy Brewer.
“Revolution is really about this kind of stuff, and this is what we love to tell stories about,” said Brewer, Revolution executive producer. “This is such a compelling story and people are always surprised at what they see. the film is really about empowering people to not be afraid of things they don’t know. When you step out in faith, a lot of good can come from it.”
Gash said he’s pleased the story continues to be told across the world.
“I am excited to see how the book and the film can encourage others to find their own connection with God’s hand in their life.”