I guess its been a week since I have been able to sit down and write. Between power outages, travel and keeping up with three children, there is not a lot of time left for reflection. Last Sunday, Candace spoke at several different churches. It was really interesting to see how worship and fellowship looked in Africa. The people were very responsive to her testimony and it is always humbling to listen to her story of loss used for God’s glory.
The original plan was to head to Uganda on Sunday evening. We said goodbye to Peter and his incredible family. His 2 year old daughter, Joy, and David cried and hugged and loved on each other as they were dropping us off at the airport. We entered the airport and as some of you may know, international travel within the foreign country is torture. Our flight was at 11 pm, we arrived at the airport at 8. There are 10 people in our group with about 20 some odd pieces of luggage. Let me preface the rest of this story by saying DON’T EVER EVER FLY ON KENYA AIRWAYS! We were informed at the check in desk that they had decided to downsize our plane and that only 2 of us would be able to go on to Uganda that night. We quickly decided that the best option would be to wait and go together in the morning. After about 90 minutes of Candace attempting to deal with Kenya airways about hotel vouchers and making sure that we could get boarding passes for our flight the next morning, we were not getting anywhere with Kenya airlines and Candace decided to use our travel insurance so that we could stay at a nice hotel. We went to the Intercontinental, arriving close to 1 am (long after we would have been in Uganda). We had hot showers, a good meal, a heavenly glass of wine, and a wonderful night’s sleep. We got up and went to attempt our flight again. We got on and about 20 minutes into our flight, word got around that our luggage was not on the flight b/c they needed to use the weight for fuel. Upon arrival in Uganda, we dealt with customs and stood in an hour long line for lost baggage. We were told to come back around 11 that night. Stepping out into Uganda was an eyeopening experience. UN forces were incredibly visible on the ground and men with machine guns were present everywhere. I will admit, I was pretty scared. We were met by our Ugandan contacts (Pastor Fred and Fred 2). As we drove through Uganda, the poverty that we saw was overwhelming. Men were target shooting with machine guns in their front yard. It felt like something from a movie. We went back to the airport at 11 to get our bags….however, mine did not make it. I cannot put into words how disgusting I was, but I’m sure you can imagine. We arrived at the guesthouse we stayed in for the week…and there was no electricity or hot water. We wiped off with baby wipes, I put back on my dirty clothes and I laid in bed thinking about how much I would pay for a cold beer.
We began our day Tuesday by visiting Pastor Fred’s Restoration Home. It is a ministry of Wakiso Baptist Church, started about 1996, as a refuge for girls who have been abandoned or abused, many of them orphaned by war and HIV. 16 girls currently live there in a room comparable to a small dorm room. All 16 in one room. They work hard to earn money to pay for their own education. They walk long dirt roads to a well where they carry 50 pound containers of water back to their ‘home’. These circumstances are so unfamiliar to us but these girls stood proudly where they lived, showing us their way of life. They take care of each other, so grateful to be ‘safe’ from the situations from which they came. One of Candace’s main focuses of this trip was to see the Restoration House as she begins to pray about what her ministry can do to improve the living arrangements of these precious, young survivors. It is so difficult to sufficiently describe any of this to you with words, b/c the sights and smells are so unique and real. I can’t wait to put my pictures online so that you can get a glimpse of how these stories really look.
After leaving the Restoration House, we visited Wakiso School and Saint Elizabeth’s School. One of the most significant observations that I have been able to make about the African people is how much they value education. Other than their faith in God and their belief in Jesus Christ (which is profoundly devout and sincere), the most important thing to them is their education. Of course, kids are kids no matter where you go. That is one of the most beautiful things I have learned as I have traveled. But for these children to be able to overcome whatever circumstances they have grown up in, and go to school everyday, and laugh with their friends and have the perseverance to strive to get to ‘University’, well its just truly remarkable.
Staying at the guest house, we have gotten to interact with Steven, a young man, aged 24. The owner of the house took him off the street several years ago and gave him a job and put a roof over his head. He is an incredible servant to those who stay there and has a heart for people. But late at night and early in the morning, you can find him sitting at the kitchen table, by candlelight, working on his homework. Steven is 24 and in the 8th grade. He works hard to pay for his upcoming exams which will allow him to enter the next level of schooling. A man in our group brought him an English workbook and during his time off, he sat pouring over the rules of the English language. His dedication to providing a better life for himself was and is inspiring. It is difficult for a teacher who struggles to excite children about learning to watch this. If only my students knew what they have…..or what their life could be like.
Wednesday morning began with the arrival of my suitcase! It was a joyous reunion. I felt a little silly being so concerned with where my things were…but I’m not gonna lie, I wanted clean clothes and my toothbrush!! We ran general errands and then decided to take the afternoon to go shopping. I LOVE international shopping. Most of you know that I am a true pro as navigating the Chinese markets and bargaining with the locals. However, I just didn’t have it in my heart here. While I usually just bargain for sport, how could I spend time arguing over 2 dollars after seeing the dire situations of the people in this country? So….I supported the Ugandan economy and bought some pretty fantastic prizes.
Thursday we visited the Watoto Children’s Village. Wow. I shared the link on my facebook page and it is definitely worth reading about. We visited 2 campuses. One houses about 950 orphans and the second houses 1500. The children are in homes, 6 to a home, with a housemother who cares for them. They attend school at the village and there is a clinic on each campus for medical care. As I spend my time keeping up with David, we often fall behind the group. Falling behind this time, I realized that he and I were quickly gaining a group of our own. About 30 children were following David and I across the campus, one reaching to hold my hand. This is when I met ‘Doctor’. I asked him his name and thought it was strange but I just called him Doctor then. He said he was 2 but I think he was more likely 4. He followed David and I around, playing with David, and asking me to pick him up. I gladly carried him around, showing him the same kind of love that comes so naturally for me as I love the little ones in China…loving the least is a truly Universal calling. I spoke with one of the directors and I had to ask why this little boy was called ‘Doctor’. He told me that it was because his housemother thinks he is so smart and he loves school so much that she tells him he will grow up to be a doctor…so now, that’s what he calls himself. I would love to know what his life holds for him. I was so impressed with this community and the campus and how this organization is reaching a nation to provide orphan care….it would not surprise me if I go home and begin to research how I could serve there for a summer.
We had no set plans for Friday but had heard that there was an orphanage that we could visit on an island in Lake Victoria. So……we got on a boat. And I nearly had a panic attack. I actually don’t even know if we could call it a boat. The guy ‘driving’ it said ‘Don’t worry, it takes on water, but not too much’. It sure did. We seriously scooped water out while we were crossing the lake. I did not love the boat ride. But it was so worth it when we got there. Again, David and I were behind the main group. They had all gone up to the clinic to take a look and when we reached the porch, I had about 20 some African orphans following me. I didn’t know how much English they knew but I asked them if they could sing and they said yes.. So I sat on the porch of the clinic and they surrounded me and we all sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ together…a sweet sweet sound that I will remember all my life. As it always seems to go with me and children, one in particular grabbed my heart. She climbed into my lap and started touching my face. She looked me in the eyes and said ‘I love you, Madame’ (that’s what they call women here). I asked her her name and she told me it was Victoria, I asked her her age and she looked at me and said ‘I don’t know’. That broke my heart……she doesn’t know how old she is but I’m sure she knows much more about life than I ever will. We continued to walk around BEathany Children’s Home, Victoria in my arms, and I asked the director if these children ever get adopted. He said ‘oh we have babies if you would like to see them’ and I said ‘no, I mean children like Victoria’. He responded that ‘It is acceptable but not as much as babies’. Sad, sad reality. I wanted to get on that boat with Victoria and come home. It was time to leave and she would not let me go. She said in her quiet little voice ‘oh you’re leaving’. I cried…more than a little. I should know by now that I leave a little piece of me with each orphan that I hold.
Saturday we left the guest house ( taking both Freds and 2 of the girls from the Restoration House) and traveled to Jinja. The girls, Victoria and Becky, had been staying with us and caring for us while we were at the guest house. They were excited to go to Jinja because they had never been in a hotel before. And we are at a beautiful hotel on the Nile River as we are ending our trip. Unfortunately, Candace, the kids and I have stayed inside all day after being up all night with many stomach bugs…these little ones are sick, but troopers. We are resting and processing as we wrap up this incredible experience. Tomorrow we will visit Akisa, an orphanage for special needs kids…inevitably, a heart-wrenching day.
I know that when I get home this week, and I try to settle back into American life, people will ask me ‘Do you like Africa better than China?’ Seeing another part of the world has opened my eyes to the fact that its not about what part of the world I am in, its about the children around me as I am there. My heart is where the plight of the orphan is. I want to be with them, showing them love that they don’t know and learning more from them than they would ever know that they are teaching me. I know that this is the part of me that humbly does the work of Jesus. He said ‘Let the little children come to me’….as I walk the streets of Uganda and look behind at the children who follow me, I am reminded of these words and that Jesus has called all of us to care for these children. I will admit that each time I pick one up, I am reminded of Theo and flooded with thankfulness for all that I have learned from him. He opened my heart up to loving all of them freely. It hurts. It hurts every time I say good bye to one of them. It hurts every time I can’t be with him. But when I hold any of these children, I cant help but feel like I am holding him. I know that I will come home and deal with more struggles about what all of this means for me, and I guess that’s just part of my ongoing journey. But my heart is filled with gratitude and a new awareness and the realization that I will obviously be leaving some of it behind.
Love from Africa