Stepping Back

Having had some time now to step back from things and view my trip holistically, I couldn’t help but put this list together, of what I believed Children’s HopeChest was doing right in Uganda. At least for them, it isn’t just about orphan sponsorship, it’s so much more, it’s about relationship.

While we were there, we met with a number of different people in the community and I could see now, what each of those meetings meant:

1) integration of leadership through meetings with subcounty officials
2) integration of schools through meeting with the headmaster and teachers of Adacar Primary School
3) integration with the local churches–the backbone of that small community
4) integration with the community as a whole through a meet and greet session (with a translator) and later a community feast

More than providing support for these children, through our meetings, we were engaging this community, a community that has been devastated by a number of tragedies, and only recently out of their IDP (internally displaced people) camps–still reeling from the effects of war and death. Children’s HopeChest’s goal, our goal as people on the ground, was to partner alongside them to meet the most pressing needs, by offering financial support, relationship and encouragement. Our hope, our prayer is, that we can help provide the help needed to bring up a generation of responsible, educated, well-equipped adults. As our trip leader, Melanie, put it, we create dependency in order to later create independence. Does that make sense?

It’s a long road, but I believe Adacar will get there.

Meeting Martin and Lillian

July 5, 2011–After 3 long days of travel: 3 flights, several bus rides, a couple of overnights, driving on the same dirt road through the Katakwi district, for what seemed like forever, all we could tell that morning through the windows of the bus is that things were getting more and more rural and we found out later that that we were two hours outside any power source. The cattle and goats roam free and mommas carry all manner of things on their heads while babies were tied to their backs. We’d been traveling this way for what seemed like forever when our guide, David, said, “This. Is. Adacar.”

Getting off the bus, the air was absolutely electric. There were children everywhere: running in front of the bus, cheering, yelling, singing. And 11 of us filed off the bus into a throng of these sweet faces. Little hands reaching out to say, “Yoga noi” (Very nice to meet you) and a few bigger hands to say in halting English, “How are you?” These children were remarkable, many of those without school clothes were in rags, and even those in school clothes had tears, rips, missing buttons. And their feet…their sweet little feet. Almost none of them had shoes.

After our initial greetings at Adacar Primary school, we were introduced to the headmaster and sat down for the songs they had prepared for us, like this one

After that, we all introduced ourselves and told the names of our sponsor children. This was the moment I had been waiting for. “Hello, my name is Rachel. My sponsor child is Martin Ikorit“. “Ikorit, Ikorit Martin!” our guide started to yell into the crowd (I found out later that their Christian names were tack-ons and they went primarily by their Ateso names). It took a few seconds, (what seemed like an eternity) for a tall, skinny boy in a blue t-shirt and gray pants to be pushed forward. I offered him my hand and then went in for the hug. It was awkward and the some of the kids giggled–as kids often do. And then he went back to his place. Then I said, “And my parent’s child, “Lilliam Atimo“. “Atimo, Lillian!” They shouted and a shy little girl, shoulders hunched, no smile whatever came over and solemnly accepted my hug.

I took a few pictures with Martin and Lillian that day: note Lillian’s (in green) serious expression–and tried communicating some with Martin over lunch that day to no avail. He was a little stand-offish, understandably so with this white woman invading his territory and taking pictures, but I could tell he was smart too, he had a mischievous little grin and a brilliant smile.

It wasn’t until a few days later when our speech therapist, Jan, sat down one on one with Martin did the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together. I know I’ve posted before that Martin is mute–this was the only information I had about him, and yes, he is mute, but Jan confirmed that he is also deaf. My heart was crushed and I walked around with this heavy burden–what could I do? How could I help when I was only here for just a week? As I’ve stated before, this was a week of contrasts, as sad as it is to know that Martin lives in silence I was completely astounded to see how God provided for that little guy: that he has two very good friends who have developed their own sign language with him: their names are Simon and Daniel. Beautiful kids–and you can tell that Martin trusts them implicitly. It was amazing to sit back and watch.

Now, Lilian is also a different story. When my parents received her profile description, describing her as shy, studious, enjoys reading, that pretty much summed it up. However, to see the difference in the pictures of Lillian from the beginning (see above) to the end of that week were remarkable. Our last day there, she was wearing her new orange pillowcase dress and was sporting a cute headband that my parents had included in her care package. Next to her is one of her good buddies, Rose–how adorable is it that Rose got the one pillowcase dress with the rose on the front? Lillian had given Rose one of her headbands.

A Study in Contrasts

I’ve been back from Uganda for almost a week and I’m still thinking, processing, wondering what to say first. The trip was amazing. God stretched us and found each one of us in tears at some point or the other, sometimes at the same time. We saw extreme poverty, sickness, festering wounds, hungry faces, depleted resources, hopelessness and the opposite: a community feast, new clothes, letters sent with love, smiles, hope. Did the good outweigh the bad? Yes. Is there still so much work to be done? Yes. Almost 600 children visit the Adacar Carepoint every school day, only about 165 of these children are sponsored, this means that the sponsor dollars have to stretch, stretch, streeeetch that much more to cover the cost of feeding all these children.

Throughout the next few days, I’ll give more specifics about each day there, but I wanted to start with our last day: Sunday. Church. I begin with this because it was heavy on my heart as I got ready to go to my home church this week. I want to preempt what I am about to write with this: I LOVE my church. It’s been my lifeline for the last 3 years, but I couldn’t help but draw contrasts.

In Adacar I sat on one of only two benches in the whole church.

In Atlanta I sit in a nice, cushy stadium seat.

In Adacar we knelt on a dirt floor to pray and raise our hands to a leafy ceiling.

In Atlanta we allow our music director to pray for us.

In Adacar they started an hour late and went for 3.

In Atlanta we start on time and eye the clock for an hour and a half until we can beat the rush and get home to watch the game.

In Adacar the “choir” consisted of the whole congregation singing and two men playing a very crude version of a lap harp (strips of metal mounted on a wooden box).

In Atlanta we have an orchestra pit.

In Adacar babies cry on the floor next to their mommies.

In Atlanta the babies are safely tucked away in another wing of the building.

Even before I left for my trip, this verse from James 2:5 kept repeating itself in my head (I had to look up the reference again lest you think I’m a biblical scholar): “Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him?” I saw this, in that church with brightly colored strips of material hanging from the rafters and a homemade cloth with a cross sewn into it draping the front altar. These people, despite having so little, were joyful, were grateful to God for what they did have. By the time the church service was over people were spilling out from the entrances, surrounding the small dirt structure and they were all singing, all dancing, grateful for the fellowship and the ability to worship their Creator.

Can we say the same here?

Samuel and the Sleepy Church

I’ve been reading Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love this week–I know I’m about 3 years behind on the evangelical Christian required reading list, but bear with me here. Truthfully, it’s one of the most difficult books I’ve read in a long time, not because are a lot of three-syllable words (there aren’t) and not because it introduces a lot of difficult theological points (it doesn’t). It’s hard to read because it is challenging me. It’s pulling me up and out by the collar so I can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night because many of the attributes of the lukewarm church I see in myself. I am ashamed, because there is nothing safe about God’s love for us. He loves us with reckless abandon, and that’s how he wants us to love Him, love others. He heals the broken hearted, he binds up their wounds, He lifts the needy out of the ash heap, He weeps and here I am sitting, waiting to pull God out of my box for a small portion of time every day, instead of taking Him out and putting Him on like a second skin.

I desperately want that.

I want everything I do to have the imprint of a holy God upon it.

I want to enter or leave a room and people feel the presence of something different settle over them.

Almost every time I’ve been in public lately, I begin to think what made Christ’s personality so magnetic.

Was it his compassion, His words, His being there? Yes. Whatever it is, I want it on me.

I started this post with the intention of drawing a parallel to Samuel, the boy priest-in-training (1 Sam. 3) to what God wants for the church. God called Samuel out three times, but Samuel had no idea what or who these voices were coming from. How many times does God have to call us out before we answer him? In this particular scenario, Samuel is “guarding” the presence of the Lord (the ark). What are we guarding? Are we laying so close to his presence that we forget to abide? I’m going to cut Samuel some slack here, as it was probably late, he was sleepy and truly, I don’t think he knew exactly how to recognize God’s voice, because it says in verse 1 of this chapter, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”. I think a lot of this may have to do with the way Eli’s sons were behaving in the temple. And too, we see “Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Finally, Eli the head priest, knew enough of the Lord to tell Samuel that these voices he had been hearing were from the Lord Himself, and next time he heard them, he should reply.

And Samuel did:

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

God went on to explain to Samuel what He was about to do:
-something in Israel that would make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle
-carry out the judgement on Eli for everything that his family did to dishonor the Lord

Then Samuel has a tough job to do, he had to tell Eli that judgement was coming. He did, and amazingly enough, Eli accepted this fate and said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

And it says, “the Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground”.

May we be tested, approved and carry out what it is God has set aside for us:
a testimony and the good news for a lost and dying world along with the desire to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”