The story of Patrick–well, long one, actually. My husband and I teach at a Christian school that is heavily involved in supporting a World Vision village in Zambia. One of our students has a real heart for people and the poor and medical care. She tried to go on a couple of trips to Zambia (one of which my husband went on), but was unable to. She also goes to our church, and when a trip to Uganda opened up at our church, she was able to go. She fell in love with the place and decided to go back after she graduated from high school in May. She left for Uganda literally two days after graduation. She found a baby at the orphanage who’d been brought in severely malnourished and near starvation (nearly 18 months old and about 8 pounds). He still wasn’t getting the one-on-one care he needed at the orphanage, so she took him home to stay with her and some of the other Ugandan women living with her. She had to come back to the States in September but went back in late November, and Patrick is back with her. When I went to Uganda in January, I met Patrick, but I’d been hearing about him for months by that point. I spent a lot of time with him because he and Jody came with us to all the orphanages we worked in, and I even was able to babysit him some so that Jody could get out to do some errands. He’s an intense little guy, a thinker (a lot like my son Jake) but quietly happy, too. I left from Uganda wanting to bring him back, but I also felt that I didn’t want to pressure my husband into feeling that way, so I prayed that if the Lord wanted us to pursue this, that He would put the urging in Dave’s heart. The very first day I got back, Dave said, unsolicited by me, “I think we should pray about adopting Patrick.” And that’s where we are now. I have pics of him, but not computer accessible at the moment. I’ll try to send you some later. Thanks for listening.
My email to Jody and Aaron, who were still in Uganda caring for Patrick at this point, asking her about adopting him.
I feel so bad about not having written you since I’ve gotten back, but there’s been a good reason. I just couldn’t until I got the go-ahead to ask you a certain question. Before I get to that question, though… Jody, I’ve been reading your updates and praying lots for you and the women’s group–sounds wonderful and heartwrenching. God will make you more than adequate for the task. Aaron, I have no idea what you’ve been doing, but I’m hoping that will change. If you send out updates, please put me on the list so I can be praying more specifically.
Okay, when I was in Uganda, I was definitely feeling urges to have Patrick in our family, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to push it on Dave and have it be a “me” thing that he was merely “adopting,” so to speak. So I began praying in Uganda that the Lord would put it completely separately on Dave’s heart without any prompting on my part. (That rhymed, and I really didn’t mean it to). Sorry for the rambling. I think I’m nervous. So the day I got back we were in the car headed to get lunch somewhere–we hadn’t even gone home from the airport yet. I was sitting in the backseat with the kiddos. Dave asked me, “How’s Patrick doing? What’s he like?” I replied, “Oh, he’s a cutie. If I could have put him in my suitcase and brought him home I would have.” Suddenly there’s this silence. I look up and meet Dave’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He says, “Well, maybe we should start praying about that.” Turns out the Lord had been putting it on his heart while I was in Uganda, too.
SO, I’ve been doing some initial checking, talking to Troy and Shane, and yesterday Troy gave me the go-ahead (based, I think, on the research I’ve done, which has turned up no concrete answers, but lots of questions, but still) to contact you.
So I’m sure hoping you check your email soon, because I’ve been waiting for more than a month to talk to you about this.
Would it be all right with you if we pursued adopting Patrick, and, if your answer is yes, would you help us with the process?
This is a group email sent in February 2008. I was not ready to share our plans with everyone yet, so it doesn’t mention the adoption. Following the email is an essay I wrote about the slums in Kampala, Uganda.
Hello Everyone, Though it is more than a month since I’ve returned, Uganda is on my mind every single day, and I am happy that I have been able to stay in contact with several people from there. I’m copying in an essay I wrote about Uganda. My hope is that it will prompt you to pray. I will also be sending some pictures as attachments next week (I finally got some downloaded to a cd). Love you much and thank you so much for your prayers and willingness to be a part of my life.
P.S. One specific prayer request: pray for a little guy named Patrick. He lives with Jody Schwartz right now, and she doesn’t want to leave him without a family when she returns to the States this summer.
Essay on Kitanga
Careful steps—the mud is sticky and slick as congealed oatmeal, rust-colored, more orange than the red clay of my Alabama home. The rains of the past two nights make it shine with wet, our feet slip, and I feel the muck ooze in through the holes in my sturdy hiking sandals. I cringe, just a second, and envy those in my group wearing tennis shoes. Who knows what is in this gunk that supports these slums of Kitanga in Kampala , Uganda , home to 30,000 people? It’s not “just dirt,” what my mother said growing up when I tattled that my younger brother was actually consuming bits of our mud pies, “just clean dirt.”
No, there is nothing clean about this dirt. Filth is everywhere. I can smell it, the sick, sweet odor of rot and the acidity of unwashed bodies. It is strong enough in moments I can taste it in my mouth, in the back of my throat. I can feel it, at this moment, on my feet; later it will seem as if it covers my entire body. I can see it—the litter everywhere— Kampala has no trash service, so these people can fill cans until they overflow or toss garbage on the ground to begin with, and the choice has obviously been simple. There are times I step on mounds of litter and wonder how thick it is. How deep down does the orange mud lie? Is this literally an island of trash?
I can see it, too, in the only water source for this entire area of the slums, a single spigot trickling water into a stream that snakes through the shacks and overflows into the field the children play in. My mind knows, empirically, this water is not clean. It cannot be: this is Africa . Water coming from a shallow hillside carries parasites, viruses, causes typhoid, conjunctivitis.
But my mind is not needed. I would know this was not clean without my knowledge of wells and contamination. My eyes tell me. Three feet from the spigot a small boy pees into the creek; a girl washes some plates further down; trash floats on the surface; the water runs brown with milky foam. And they dip water for drinking from the pool just below the spigot. It does not run fast enough that there is not backwash.
Each snapshot my eyes and camera lens take reveals more of what makes even poor people in other areas of Kampala (and that is mostly what Kampala is) shake their heads when Kitanga is mentioned. Except for this one field beside the water source—and it is often a swamp—and the narrow paths that meander maze-like, houses are packed on these acres so tightly it makes me claustrophobic. And it is generous to use “house.” At best these living structures are misshapen mud bricks roofed with a conglomeration of tin sheets, at worst they are long sticks chinked with clay and a plywood or cardboard roof. The floors are dirt, packed hard except in places where rain has seeped in. Few doors, just pieces of cloth. Merely entrances, not protection, entrances to one room that shelters, sleeps—how many? Up to ten? Ten lying on woven mats on ground so uneven my bones ache thinking of it.
Children flock to us in the field we have slip-slid into. They cling to our shirts, pants, hands, hug our legs and arms, ask to be swung up onto backs and hips. I hold two small brown hands, one in each of my own, and when a few of us decide to go for a walk through the slums, the children join us. We are the Pied Pipers of Kitanga today, and soon our numbers are probably five children to each adult. I help my two small charges negotiate board bridges and slippery spots that they could probably handle better than I, but they enjoy the attention, and others, unclaimed because of our simple lack of extra hands and arms, ask for help they, too, do not need. They show no fear of us Mzungus, us foreigners, us white—no, one of our number is African-American, but they call him Mzungu as well. They know he is different, too, is not like them, is not trapped and scrounging for survival, feeling lucky if they consume enough food to keep stomachs from bloating and bones from stunting.
Not only do they not show fear, they show love, or at least the desire for it. More than once I feel my hand being stroked and examined. One of them finds a hangnail on my pointer finger and shows concern. Personal space has been forgotten; perhaps they never knew it. It is a luxury they do not have. But we have forgotten it, too, held as we are by their arms and hands and eager, ravenous hearts. They are so blatant about their needs, their hope that, at least for a little while, someone will hold them, protect them, let them be, truly, a child who is cared for and cherished.
For these are not cherished children, not in my American-biased way of looking at things, nor even, I find out when I attend African church the next day, in the African view. This is not to say there are not any cherished children in the slums, but the ones with us range in age from 8 months to possibly 7 years in age, and we have no idea where their parents are. Nor, I’m assuming, do their parents know where they are. Or do they have parents? Or even mothers? Again, my knowledge bank chides me. AIDS-ravaged Africa is missing a generation, perhaps two of them, and there are more orphans and single-parent homes than I can fathom, and many of those single mothers are little more than children themselves. My eyes, now here in one of the places I have heard about and studied, concur. The women, mothers, I assume, sitting in front of shacks, cooking and cleaning, are young. It is hard to guess their ages—Africans, forgive me for the generalization, age beautifully—but I have not seen one woman I would guess to be anywhere near my own age, 37. I have seen many grandmothers caring for children in other neighborhoods in Kampala , but even that age is missing here in the slums. There is young, and younger still, and very, very few men.
We make two stops, the first to visit a little girl from the orphanage our group supports. She is on school holiday and has come to the slums to visit relatives. This seems ironic: the orphanage is far nicer than this. The second stop is at a home where a woman is making banana pancakes to sell. We buy a large stack and hand them out to the children with us. Suddenly a few more join us. I wonder how acute their noses are, how far away they can sense the scent of food. We pipe our way along the back side of the slums, the brown-white creek on our left, until our tour ends back at the common field, and we join up with the rest of our group. Together we clamber up the hill. Our vans are parked on the road above, but we make one last stop, at a tin-sheet building longer and larger than any of the houses. It is a church, still rough and rude with a dirt floor and open patches in the roof, but a church all the same, and the sign hanging outside its doorway is the first revelation of a different heart than any we’ve seen all day. I blink as we enter, my eyes adjusting to the dim interior. It’s a large room with wooden benches arranged pew-style. Probably twenty children, ranging in age from ten to sixteen, sit on the far side. Pastor Godfrey comes to greet us, clean and neat in his short-sleeve button-down shirt and dress pants, cropped hair and trimmed beard. (I am continually amazed at how dapper many of the Africans remain in the heat while I feel and look grungy mere hours after my shower). He welcomes us to his church and asks us if we would like the children to sing and dance for us. We tell him we would love that, and the young Africans rise and move to the small platform in the front. Their voices are sweet and their bodies have a rhythm my own white hips have never, will never know. I am drawn to the leader of the group, a beautiful girl, probably one of the oldest, who is confident in her role and, somehow, unhampered by a badly mauled and scarred leg. Because of its twisting she can only touch the ball of that foot to the ground, yet she is grace in movement, grace, it seems to me, in person. After they finish, Pastor Godfrey rises again to speak. He is soft spoken and dignified, but intense, his Luganda carrying weight and passion to me even before it is interpreted into English and I understand its full meaning. He speaks of God’s love for orphans and God’s desire that we, those claiming to follow Christ, be concerned for them. He tells us the children in the room are orphans, either literally or by abandonment, and that there are another twenty of them, younger children, in the room behind this one. He and his wife began this church, feeling led by God to serve the least of the least, only a few years earlier, and shortly after it opened, the orphans began coming, seeking help. Now the church houses and feeds more than 40 children, and for the past nine months this couple has been sleeping at the church to protect them from those who would want to abduct or molest them. “For the love of Jesus,” Pastor Godfrey says, “and for the love of these children.”
I, too, am here in Uganda for the love of Christ, for the love of children, but my love suddenly pales in comparison with this couple’s. I am giving ten days, and my group will return in a few day’s time and hold a kids’ camp here in the slums. We will tell them of Christ and his love and sacrifice for each one of them. We will feed them a meal and we will continue to give money even after we are gone so that this church can continue this work. But our ten days and our money are nothing compared to what the Godfreys are giving, will continue to give. My days are offset by nights spent at a local guesthouse with a real bed and plenty of food and running water, even, sometimes, hot running water. At the end of ten days I will return to the States, to a comfortable house and healthy children and a loving husband and, again, plenty of money for plenty of food, a surplus of food. But the Godfreys are the ones giving their lives, continually, so that these children might have hope and love.
Five days later we come back to hold the kids’ camp. We sing and dance and play with the children. We put on a puppet show and teach them new songs. We hold babies and dish out rice and meat and beans. Best of all we have leftover food that we are able to give to Pastor Godfrey so he can take it straight to the families he knows with the greatest needs. Finally we are finished with the packing and the carrying and the organizing and are merely waiting for the signal to head to the vans. Exhaustion and sorrow both drag at our bodies; we are ready to go, but we will not see these people for a long, long time, some of them, perhaps, never again. The signal is given, and we begin to straggle up the hill. And then I feel a touch on my shoulder. It is Pastor Godfrey. He pulls me aside, motions to my camera, and nods his head toward a group of four children. “All orphans,” he tells me in halting English. “Please take a picture. Remember to pray for them.” I snap off a couple of shots and lower my camera. He reaches out and takes hold of my forearm. “Never forget orphans,” he says. “They are special to God.”
They are special to God. I must never forget.