Sometimes God works great beauty out of what seems to us most awful.
We saw that on Monday. (I was unable to get onto Internet to post this blog yesterday, so I’m a day behind.)
We first went to the Kitanga slum in Kampala. It’s far smaller than the Kibera slum in Nairobi, but we also got a far more personal look into it. A little over five years ago I visited this slum and met a pastor who had begun a church in it. When he started sharing Christ with the community, children and teenagers began coming to him. They either weren’t safe in the homes they had or they had no homes to go to. The pastor began letting them sleep in the church, and then moved in himself with his wife so they could keep the children, especially the teen girls, safe at night.
So Kitange had a good church. It was a start.
Well, just a few months ago Kitanga also got a school. Preschool classes all the way up through 5th grade meet in a building on the edge of the slum, and administrators plan to add another grade each year. When we pulled up near the school in our vehicles, Kitanga children, most dressed in their uniforms, flooded to greet us. They showed us the inside of their school, and presented a small program. I asked their principal if they have to pay school fees, and he told me they use a sliding scale, and that many do not pay anything at all.
There’s some beauty!
We went back outside, threw a couple soccer balls into the field, and the older boys were off, leaving the girls and babies free to show great interest in us. I listened to a couple of folk tales from the ringleader of a group of 11-year-old school friends while the soccer girls swung babies onto their hips and played with toddlers.
Light the World has an active ministry in the slums. Several of the children at Mercy come from there, and Mercy works with their families to try to rehabilitate them until they are able to take the child back. L the W also offers microfinance loans to women who need them.
So after a little while, we split into groups and went with LtW staff members to visit some of the families in the neighborhood they are working with. We all have different stories, but I will share mine with you. My team (Dave, me, our Em, Emily Mascari, and Anna Lindus) had Wilfred as our leader. We went first to Florence’s home. Florence is leading a women’s prayer and Bible study group in Kitanga. She and her husband Moses accepted Christ a few years ago. She runs a small duuka (shop) next to her house and hopes to expand it to provide
more income for their family. We entered her home, taking our shoes off at the door so we did not make a mess on the tarps spread across the dirt floor. They sat us on the couches that nearly filled the room, honoring us while they sat on the floor. Florence took their baby from Moses and we learned a little of their story. Their baby, Asfa, is five years old but looks about two. She had a fever when she was very young and it resulted in brain damage that has left her mentally at the age of a baby and physically with very stiff limbs.
I have to be very American here and say this: any middle-class American would enter the slums and say, “This is no place for a child to grow up.” That is what our first impression would be.
That impression would be wrong.
The best place for Asfa is exactly where she is. Her parents adore her, and it was clear not only by the ways they looked at her but by her physical condition. Her skin was clean and perfect, with no pressure sores. The entire time her parents were talking with Wilfred, Florence was unconsciously doing physical therapy with Asfa, stretching her feet and hands, moving her elbows and knees, making her stand up for a few seconds and catching her when she tottered. Florence showed me the notebook she keeps for Asfa’s medical records, carefully filled out with every time they could afford medication and the illnesses and treatments she has had.
Moses sang us a song he wrote about his faith in Christ, about how we should all bear fruit because we are connected to the Vine. That, too, was beautiful.
Dave prayed over that little family, and as he did, I was so glad to once again see Wilfred and Light the World in action. Wilfred knows that the best thing for both children and their parents is for the child to be in the home God placed him in. When you take a child permanently away from parents, they lose hope and motivation. Of all the children at Mercy, only a few are adoptable because all of the others have some form of family who can—and who deep down want to—care for them. Wilfred wants to share Christ with the families and work with them so they can become fit families for children. Then fathers work hard to pay school fees and put sufficient food on the table, and mothers can really care for their children.
We next visited Asmin, a Muslim lady, at her home that she has made clean and even pretty with a lovely curtain separating the sleeping and living areas. We asked if we could pray for her, even though she follows Allah. She said yes and prayed first before I prayed over her, asking that she would know the Christ who will draw her close to God. Asmin has a sweet presence about her, and she hugged me, drawing my head close to her own, when we finally left her.
Then came the surprises. Someone came up to Wilfred and told him of a baby that was in trouble, so we trekked through some narrow paths, avoiding line-drying laundry around our heads and water runoff at our feet. When we arrived, neighbors handed Dave a tiny little girl (at least we think it is a girl). Nine months, they said, and she couldn’t have weighed more than 10 or 11 pounds. They told Wilfred the father had abandoned the family, and the mother goes off working but does not care for her baby. They were angry about the state of the baby, and the women’s raised voices drew several drunk men to the area. “Take her,” they told Wilfred. “She needs care.”
But Wilfred, without talking to the mother, was not ready to just take the child, so he had Dave hand her back (Dave was all set to take her, but we know we are also, to put it plainly, CLUELESS about the bigger picture!) because he wanted to get out of there before the crowd got too agitated. He will send Julius (his assistant who does a lot of work in the Kitenga slum) to the house quietly to make more inquiries—and then he will probably take the child.
We visited one more house, another Moses who has a child being cared for at Mercy. He showed Wilfred the progress he is making so that his girl Prossy can return home.
That was, honestly, enough to process and pray about for an entire day, but we were also scheduled to visit the hospital, with its rows and rows of metal beds with children in various stages of sickness, their parents camped out on straw mats by their sides because they have to administer the majority of the care. I first prayed with a woman whose two year old came down with a fever four days ago. His body still radiated heat, and she patiently urged juice down his throat, sip by tiny sip. She was so calm, and I couldn’t help but think how frantic I would be in her shoes, watching my child grow more listless by the day, knowing that hope was slipping away.
I checked on the soccer girls who were holding babies and chatting with mothers. As I walked down the hall to find another group, I passed an open doorway and saw a room that, though full of beds, held only one boy, skeletal, sitting up on a crib at the far side of the room.
Skin stretched across cheekbones, neck reduced to the size of the spinal column, eyes that were far too big for a shrunken face. I’d seen faces like his in pictures of concentration camp victims, but never, never in real life.
I pretended I didn’t notice the open door and continued down to check on the other group.
But on my way back I was with my friend Angel (I lived with her during the five weeks I was in Africa several years ago), and she said, “Mama, do you want to visit here?”
Holy Spirit took over, and I said yes without thinking much about it. We met Agnes and Eugene, and they introduced us to Earnest, who is 7 (same age as my PJ) and who began having diarrhea 4 months ago, and is now vomiting and coughing besides. I put my hand on his foot, and felt his cool, thin, dry skin. We looked at the x-ray and prescriptions given by the doctor (not that we could do a thing, but it just felt like a way to express sympathy). We listened to their calm recitation, and I fought to keep my face as smooth as theirs.
I asked if I could pray. Both said yes, and Agnes told me that she was a believer in Jesus. “God is my only hope now,” she told me.
“He is our only hope all the time, really, isn’t he?” I said.
Her smile stretched wide and she nodded.
Suddenly, just before I began to pray, soccer girls filed in. They laid hands on me, and I let what was in my heart spill forth in words, and I knew the Holy Spirit was groaning in far better utterances than my limited language in the very presence of God.
In the middle of my prayer, I felt something cool and dry touch my hand, and when I opened eyes, I saw that Earnest had put his small hand on top of my own, his fingers curled over mine. That did it. I had to turn away and sob quietly.
The girls filed out, and I stayed behind to talk more with the parents. Eugene showed me the medications the doctors prescribed and admitted that they could not afford it all. I told him I would be back.
I gathered Angel and Rachel (our two wonderful Ugandan guides for this day) and Dave, and Rachel came up with a plan. We went back and told Eugene that we would take him with us to the pharmacy and buy him the medication. Then Rachel began telling him he needed to accept Christ. “Dave,” Rachel suddenly said, “Do you have anything to say to Eugene?”
Dave, taken off guard at first, said no, but then he asked Eugene why he had not yet made the decision his wife so clearly had. “I’m not ready,” Eugene answered.
So Dave simply and wonderfully reminded him that it is a gift, unachievable by ANY of us, EVER. We have to simply accept it. “Do you want to?” Dave asked him.
“Then there is nothing standing in your way. Your sin does not keep you from the grace of God.”
Dave wanted to be sure that Eugene was not making this decision simply because a muzungu was asking him questions. “No, no,” Eugene answered, and then he prayed with Dave while Agnes beamed, and she and I clasped hands and lifted them to the heavens in thanks.
We drove with Eugene to the pharmacy down the hill and filled the prescription for his son. Dave gave him his email address, Rachel gave him her phone number, I waved at him from the van window, and he was gone.
The ride home provided time to pray and think because we got trapped in a traffic jam caused by an 18-wheeler that was trying to fit into an incredibly narrow driveway. (I’m always amazed at how patient people are here with this. School children gather to watch; men walking by stop to give advice; and cars and bodas wait patiently until the truck moves out of their way.)
By the time we arrived home, it was time to grab a quick bite and go to Light the World Church’s cell groups. Most of the team stayed here for the group Wilfred and Vena host, but Dave and I, along with our Em, Julia, and Britta (and Ugandans Isaac and Rachel) headed up the hill in the dusk to a cell group that meets nearby. They welcomed us in and translated all they said into English. Babies nursed, one little girl came and sat on Dave’s lap, and a small boy sitting in a chair in the corner fell asleep and didn’t even wake up when his chair toppled over.
And through all the life that was happening, the members shared testimonies and requests and we sang and prayed and even cried a little. And then, in the dark, we trekked down the rutted dirt road by the light of Julia’s iPod.
The water was off when we arrived, so Wilfred heated water on the electric stovetop, and we had jerry-can showers.
It was a beautiful day
*Please pray for Earnest, Eugene, and Agnes. Pray for Earnest’s healing. I’ve been thinking about him much today.
*I will write about today later (we visited Jinja, where an American friend of mine works with a women’s jewelry-making business—beautiful stuff and a very cool model).
*Tomorrow we are painting at the babies and toddlers’ home and playing with the children there. Julius already rescued the undernourished baby from the slums, and tomorrow I will be going with Isaac to take the baby to the hospital for a checkup and some testing. Please pray for this, too.
*I do have pictures. I’ll try to post some tomorrow. Sleep beckons.
Thanks for reading,
4 thoughts on “Beauty from the awful, Day 3 in Uganda”
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Praying and rejoicing! Tears of joy are washing down my face. Hugs and continued prayers for your trip.
My heart is overwhelmed. I know you all must be as well. What a gift to see God working in such dire conditions. Good reminder that His Arm is not too short to reach people in the most remote places. My heart aches for these little ones and their families. Praying for God’s grace to be poured out on Winferd and all those helping the children and their families. I can’t stop thanking God for giving these young girls an opportunity to see Him working powerfully in these conditions and the believers who have so little by the world’s standard but richer in faith than those who have wealth I.e. those of us living in the U.S. Love to you all! Mom U
Gulp. Your living stories are shaping lives in my house. Through them our God is bigger (and growing) and our prayers are more “real” (if that’s even possible). I don’t know Agnes’ family but I feel like I do!
Thanks for taking time to frame these lifescapes with words, Jen