Have you ever been unsure of your current circumstances? Feeling like God has a plan for you, yet not sure what it is or how you will get there? If so, this story is for you…
In Uganda this past summer I met a little girl named Sharon who never spoke a word, yet forever made an impression upon my heart. She sat still on my lap, probably a bit nervous, most certainly quiet and shy. Just the kind of girl I had once been.In an effort to bring some joy to her face, I gave her the two half-empty water bottles pictured here. It was the most simple of gifts, yet she clutched them tightly and fought off older kids to give one to her little sister. Just as I imagine my own Audrey would have done for Anna.
Sharon stayed silently by my side, seeking me out when we were separated in the chaos of handing out necklaces and “sweeties.” As we sat on broken steps with shattered glass at our feet, I racked my brain for a way to communicate with this sweet girl. I pulled out my journal and asked her to draw a picture. She didn’t understand, so I drew a heart, gave her the pen, and pointed for her to do the same. She tentatively drew her own version of the shape. We continued this process with a smiley face, flower, and tree. I was gently showing her the way as we traded the pen back and forth. Soon the older girls crowded around wanting their own turn to draw, and I was able to ask them her name.
I became so enthralled with these girls and their drawings that I didn’t noticed the rest of our team had disappeared. On the way to the bus where everyone was waiting for me, Sharon continued to hold tightly to my hand. I told her goodbye and climbed the steps only to realize that she was climbing them, too. The other kids quickly pulled her back laughing and it dawned on me… she thought she was coming with me. The force of that realization hit me, as I frantically searched the crowd. She lifted her little hand in goodbye and was pushed to the back of the throng of children. See her way in the back lifting her little hand, precious water bottle to her lips?
We pulled away and there she stood, still clutching that bottle. She hadn’t known me for more than a few hours and never spoke a word. Yet, she had enough trust to get on a bus to go who knows where?
I’ve been in a place of uncertainty lately. Feeling God’s whispering call, but not clearly hearing His voice. The opportunity to return to Uganda in a few months presented itself, and this memory kept coming back to me as I struggled with whether I should go. I wonder if I’ll see her again, and if she will remember me? I wonder what she thought of the stranger who shared her pen that summer day? Most of all, I wonder if I have the kind of innocent trust to propel me to get on a bus without knowing where it was heading or if/when it would return?
In my own life the bus isn’t literal, but I know that God does indeed have plans that take me outside my comfort zone. Returning to Africa being one of them. Instead of trusting in Him, I shut Him out with my fears. When He seeks me out, I reason Him away instead of taking the pen and tracing the very words that show me the way. Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from a little girl in a remote Ugandan village. To take pleasure in the simple things and hold on to them tightly…to be still…to listen with my heart instead of speaking with my mouth…to follow Him…and to simply get on the bus when He calls.
Note to Reader: The following narrative is based on information I learned through informal interviews and witnessed with my own eyes while visiting several villages in Uganda in June 2011. It does not describe a particular woman or family, rather it is my attempt to create a picture for you of their daily life with as much detail as possible. Any similarity to a real family is purely coincidental. As you read this narrative, picture yourself, your wife, your children. Perhaps then you will begin to understand not only with your head, but also with your heart…
She wakes just before the first rays of sun pierce the black hole of darkness. With no clock to help raise her weary body, she relies on decades of the same daily rhythm. Her body feels the rising sun as a sixth sense. She picks herself off the red dirt floor and gingerly removes the dress that covered her 4 sleeping children throughout the night, protecting them from the chill and disease-bearing insects that constantly threaten. As she puts on the dress – all she owns except for another reserved for Sunday and special occasions – she wishes for the thousandth time that she had a few blankets or scarves to cover her sleeping children so that she, too, could be warm in the night.
She takes a moment to pause and ask God to protect her children for just one more day, to provide enough food to fill their bellies and keep them safe from the daily threats of insects, dehydration, and malnutrition. “Amena,” she reverently whispers. She quietly lifts the 8 month-old baby out of his deep sleep to nurse him. She is grateful that her milk is keeping him healthy and wishes there was a way that her body could likewise sustain even the older children.
She puts the baby down near the oldest daughter, 10 years old. After one last look at her sleeping children, she heads out of the two room mud hut into the breaking dawn of the day, stopping at the outdoor “kitchen” where there is still a bit of water in the dirty yellow jerry can. There is also a bit of leftover matooke (steemed plantain, otherwise known as green bananas) that she grabs and swallows down cold. It only serves to make her stomach rumble more, but she prays it will give her the strength she needs until she can stumble across some fruit in her morning work. She heads to the garden with a machete and basket to do what she can to nurture the garden – the lifeblood of their lives.
Meanwhile, back in the home, which is so small that two adults joining hands could each touch one wall, the baby has roused the other children. They don’t even look for their mama, for they know the routine. There are no clean clothes to change into (wash day is usually once a week, and they only have a few articles of clothing anyway), so they tumble out ofthe home to search for a place in the grass to empty their bladders. The baby, wearing no diaper, goes as he pleases. The children also search out the leftovers from yesterday’s early evening meal. There is no “I want this,” or “she got more.” They are grateful for their portions and eager to share with the youngest of the bunch.
The 10-year-old straps the baby to her back and begins to tidy the area around their home. She sends the two middle children to the water well – a good 15 minute walk – to fill the jerry can with water for the day. As they set out on their journey, they are grateful for the well in their village that cut down their walk from several miles one way. A generous congregation paid $6000 to have it installed, and it changed their world.
On their way to the well, they encounter many other children on common missions, and also pass the chickens and goats that make their homes in the yards of their neighbors. They are always on the look-out for a ripe mango or jack fruit that would help their bellies feel full for awhile. Thank goodness the rainy season is over, so the chance of finding fruit is much better.
As the mother and children work, they hum and sing the songs that are as much a part of them as their physical bodies. They do not, however, dream about their future as one might expect. “In Uganda, we don’t see beyond the nose on our face,” I was told. It is enough to get through just one day at a time.
Around noon, the mother comes home with some cassava (similar to sweet potato), maize, and firewood that she gathered on her way home from the garden. She is storing up the maize to sell, in hopes that she can earn enough money to send her oldest daughter to school, as there are no public schools around. She begins preparing the cassava for the evening meal using the open fire and kettle. The children sit around the home, occassionally playing with a stick and old tire or makeshift ball made of dried grass and cornstalks. The girls have no need to “play house,” as they have real babies in their care. If their stomachs get too hungry, they may find some sugar cane to gnaw on.
Around 4pm the evening meal is ready. Once again, it consists of matooke along with some rice and maize. Salt is the only seasoning in an attempt to bring life to the bland food. How the mother wishes she had some chicken or beef to provide much needed protein for her children. She notices the younger children developing distended abdomens – the result of so little protein in their diets, but livestock is a luxury that is out of their reach.
After dinner there is not much else to do. The woman uses a razer blade to shave the hair from her children. With no hair, cleanliness is easier. The sun will set before 7pm, and with no electricity there is little reason to stay awake in the pitch darkness. The family does have a bit of paraffin remaining in their only lantern, but the mother wishes to reserve it for emergencies. Another day has come and gone.
With food in their stomachs, they settle down for another night. The mother once again removes her dress and covers her children. They are blessed to have a thin mat to sleep on, but no mosquito net for a barrier against the dreaded disease of malaria. One child has already been lost, and the mother prays that her other children will be spared. With their physical father no longer in their lives, their collective prayers are sent up to their Father in heaven who watches over them. “Sleep well, my dear children. One day your pain, hunger, thirst, and toil will be no longer. You will rest in my arms, for the kingdom belongs to such as you.” With this promise as their only hope in the world, the family sleeps only to do it all again tomorrow by His grace. Amena.
The next post will show actual pictures I took of the homes and people in Ugandan villages along with some true stories of their spirit. Stay tuned…
Imagine that you wake up one day in a place very different from all that is familiar to you. Everywhere you look there is something new to see and experience. You stare in awe at the unfamiliar sights and sounds, trying to take it all in, but sensing that you can only absorb so much.
Your first reaction is amazement and wonder. You try to discern what it must be like to live “like them,” but your mind can’t even wrap itself around that possibility. With each new discovery, you make comparisons between here and home. Your first instinct is to determine which is the better of the two. At first it seems like no contest. Home, with everything easy and familiar, is certainly superior to this strange land. With every heartbreaking story you hear, you wish you could take these people home to experience the wonder of our luxuries and conveniences.
Yet, as you see into their hearts, you wonder…do I really have it better at home? Am I really “better off” than they are? On the surface it’s an easy answer, “Of course!” I have running water coming from several sinks, a refrigerator and cabinets filled with food, electricity that allows me to work any hour of the day, televisions, iPods, excellent schools, cars, stores, opportunities, and the list goes on and on.
But these “things” can be misleading. How many times do they get in the way of the non-tangibles in life? How often am I too busy to pray or spend time with my family because of all those “conveniences” and “opportunities.” How often is going to church a burden because I have so many other things to do?
As these deeper thoughts start running through your mind, you realize that the answer to which world is best is that there is no answer. My world and their world were created by the same amazing God and were contaminated by the same sinful people. They are both equally beautiful and ugly in their unique ways. The challenge is to get past the “I am right, you are wrong” and do what you can to enhance the beauty and diminish the ugly.
In essence, that is what I learned from my visit to Uganda. That we, who have so much in terms of material wealth and conveniences, can do so much to fill in the ugly gaps of the people in Uganda who have so many physical needs. At the same time, the Ugandan people have so much to teach us about living in faith one day at a time and honoring the truly sacred things in life.
In the next series of posts about my experience in Uganda, Africa, my goal is to share with you both sides of the Ugandan world – the intense beauty of the land and people, as well as the shocking state of their living conditions. It is my prayer that through this examination of their world, your eyes will be opened to how you can make a difference there and also in your own life here at home. Please check back tomorrow to read about a typical day in the life of a Ugandan woman and child. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
Planning is fun. Leaving is hard. Over the past few months I have managed to compartmentalize this trip into a neat box sitting on the shelf. Every day I knew it was getting one step closer, but still it remained an adventure yet to be fully realized. About a week ago, reality began to set in, and my emotions went into full overdrive. How in the world could I leave my family to travel to a third world country. Would they be ok? Would I be ok? So many things could go wrong. Before long I was planning my own funeral, and the reason I was going in the first place was left far behind.
Why do I do that to myself? The what-ifs consume the present and strip my life of all the joy God intends. Is my need for drama so significant that I have to invent it out of thin air?
Last night was a tough night. My bags were packed, last-minute preparations made, and all I needed was to get a good night’s sleep which was easier said than done. 11pm, 12am, 1am…the hours ticked on with no apparent relief in sight. 7am finally arrived. Saying goodbye to the girls and to Justin was difficult. Both girls not wanting me to leave…Audrey’s tears and Anna’s “I love you, Mom,” ringing in my ears. 12 days seemed like an eternity. By the time Justin dropped me off at the church with a tearful goodbye (from me), I was a walking zombie just trying to keep my breakfast down! A prayer and send-off picture was all that was left before heading to the airport.
Thankfully, once the journey really began, my nerves settled down, and I actually started to enjoy myself. Now, two flights later and with a few Dramamine-induced hours of rest, I am sitting on the plane in Brussels waiting to travel another 8 hours to Entebbe, Uganda!
I don’t know what God has in store for me on this journey, but I do know that I am grateful for every bit of it, even the pain of leaving. Stepping out in faith has a way of making everything a bit brighter and the most important things more clear.
So thank you for your prayers! I have already had the most fascinating conversations with my team members and with a Ugandan man I sat next to on the way to Brussels. It’s amazing how God gives us exactly what we need, when we need it!
This is a story of how whispers become action. How God works in, around, and through us to open our hearts to things we never could have imagined. This is the story of how last week I was looking forward to a relaxing summer, and this week I am looking forward to a summer mission trip to Africa…
I remember hearing my Grandfather preach a sermon called “Just Around the Corner.” It was a long time ago, so forgive me, PopPop, for getting some details wrong. But the gist of it was that we can plan all we want in this life, but the reality is that we simply don’t know what is just around the corner. I’ve seen this truth played out in so many ways. Sometimes the thing just around the corner is wonderful and joyous. Other times it is heartbreaking and devastating. Other times it is neither good nor bad, just unexpected. But ALWAYS, it is part of a grander plan than we can see or fathom, and ALWAYS our Heavenly Father sends his Spirit and His Son to accompany us through it.
So, back to the story about how I find myself going to Africa. It would be much more dramatic to tell you that I heard a voice from God telling me to go, or that I spent hours on my knees praying for guidance. I’m afraid the truth is much less exciting. The truth is that I have known about this mission trip for months. Our church has sent teams of people to this village in Uganda every summer for close to 10 years. I always thought that I would like to go SOME DAY, I just didn’t think it would be TODAY. So, I heard the announcements about informational meetings and dismissed them the same way I do other things that aren’t on my immediate radar.
In the meantime, several other things were converging. My Sunday Morning Women’s Bible Study was reading The Hole in the Gospel, by Rich Stearns, President of World Vision. It is an amazing story about the immense human suffering occurring in our world and our responsibility to do something about it. You should really put in on your reading list. Secondly, I had been feeling a nudge to be careful about becoming too comfortable in my middle-class existence. It’s nothing I can really put my finger on, just a feeling that I am blessed and often don’t appreciate it enough. Thirdly, I had a strong desire to write about something other than myself. I love blogging, but it seemed time to branch out to something different, as well.
This was the backdrop when our Sunday Morning group invited the leader of the Uganda mission team to talk to us just one week ago about what our church had done in that small village. Although I have paid close attention over the years and was even on staff at the church when the ministry first started, I was overcome to hear about all the ways God has used our little congregation to make a difference in a tiny, remote village in Africa. Building a well, sending dozens of orphans to school, building a church, providing seeds for gardens, fabric for sewing and of course the much-anticipated annual mission trip of providing food and activities for over 1200 orphans and widows. THIS is a story worth telling, I thought. And just like that, the seed was planted.
What if God could use my writing ability to record this story of two unlikely communities partnering to change the world one orphan at a time? Wouldn’t it be neat for our church to have this story preserved, so we could share it outside our four walls? Past mission trip participants, the Ugandan children, the Ugandan Pastor, our leaders, everyone has a unique perspective to share, and God has woven it all together. It would be amazing to share their stories with other churches, organizations, and people.
And then, like many ideas do, it went off to sit on a shelf somewhere in the library of my head.
Later in the week, I happened to see our pastor while waiting to pick up kids at school. In the second it took to decide whether or not to tell him about the idea, I debated whether it was silly. But, I got up and walked over, anyway. It turns out that it wasn’t silly and sharing the story of our church’s partnership with Nakabano, Uganda might be a great tool in spreading awareness about how we can all make a difference in this world by the Grace of God.
I was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know what would happen from there, but I could certainly start documenting how the mission had started and begin talking to people who had been impacted by their involvement. Something still lingered, though…like a whisper or a nudge. I didn’t “hear” the voice of God, but I am a very intuitive person – just ask my Myers-Briggs type indicator – so I generally “know” when something is prodding me. Maybe I should go.
This is where the story gets interesting. On a whim, I sent an email on Friday morning. Yes, just 3 days ago!
When is the Uganda mission trip this summer? Is it too late to sign up to go? I’m thinking about it…
I honestly thought that might be the end of it. I figured that the deadline had come and gone, so the reply was surprising:
Today is the day I order tickets…We had been waiting on someone to get their birth date in so she could make that purchase. IT IS NOT TOO LATE…but I would need to know soon…like by Monday at 9am. I can get you started. GO!
So much for being off the hook. Through a series of unrelated events, the deadline had been serendipitously extended on the very day I happened to inquire. Thus, events were set in motion. I wasn’t anxious about going, but there was the small matter of how I could acquire $3000 to pay for the trip with the money due just over two weeks away. As an aside, let me tell you that I am not a person who really wrestles with decisions. As I mentioned, I am intuitive and just tend to know if something feels right. I don’t need a list of pros and cons or a weighty deliberation. I usually just decide, and that is that. So, after an enlightening conversation with our pastor, I was leaning toward going on this trip and trusting in God to help me find the money. However, there was still the question about how my husband and kids would handle this bit of information.
As usual, Justin was more than supportive. With the added encouragement of other family members, I decided to take the plunge. Four drafts of a request for sponsorship letter, 70 envelopes, and a passport renewal form later, here I am.
Anna and I dropped off the letters at the Post Office this morning, and it felt so surreal. I knew there was no turning back after we dropped them into the blue box, so before we got out of the van I asked her if she would pray with me about these letters. Anna is 4 years old. She immediately closed her eyes as tightly as she could, clasped her little hands and said without a word from me (imagine the sweetest little voice you ever heard),
Dear Heaveny Faver, Please let Mommy go to Africa. Amen.
Such are the moments we carry for a lifetime. I couldn’t have said it better, myself. So now we wait. We wait for the logistics to play out. We wait to see how God works through the wonderful people in my life to help me raise $3000 in just two weeks. It seems crazy and impossible, but we hold on to faith and let go of fear. You never know what you’ll find just around the corner…
Stay tuned to this blog for updates about my journey to Africa! The story has just begun! If you are interested in being part of this story and would like to pray for me or give a financial donation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that I will not receive any monetary reward for anything I write about this trip or mission. Any proceeds will go directly to the people of Uganda.