Days 9 and 10 for me were about as different from each other as could be.
One was really challenging, the other really comfortable. One bringing forth some hard questions, the other making things more simple. One way out of my comfort zone, the other right in the thick of it.
Day 9 half of our team spent the day at Ekisa Ministries (www.ekisa.org), an orphanage in Jinja that care for special needs and handicapped children. In Uganda, children born with any form of disability (physical, mental, or otherwise) are seen as a curse and are literally abandoned and left for dead. Orphanages abound in Uganda, but very few take in and care for disabled children. Ekisa was started by two 20-something gals who had a heart for these discarded lives. They founded Ekisa and have a staff of around 30 caretakers who care for around 15 children with varying needs. I don’t have any pictures of my time at Ekisa because the staff asked that we respect these children who may prefer to not have their pictures taken but who do not have the ability to make that known.
Our time at Ekisa was spent with the children in several different ways. We helped with their school stations, we played with them during their break time, we helped feed them and tuck them in for a nap, and we played and fed them after their nap and before we left. Ekisa was a hard day for me and others on our team for a variety of reasons. Personally, I felt hugely inadequate and almost a hinderance to the children’s care while we were there because I had no real understanding of their situation and the specific care each child uniquely needed. And this would have been just as out-of-my-comfort-zone there as it would be in the US, plus add on cultural differences, language barriers, and a host of other disconnects.
I did, however, get the opportunity to spend the majority of my time there with one small child, Isaac, who I really connected with. I don’t know all of the things Isaac deals with, but I do know that he is a precious child and was fairly responsive to my interaction with him. Isaac was probably less than a year old, and I was able to hold and cuddle and help feed him a few snacks and meals. It was hard to understand what Isaac was aware of and what he wasn’t, but I will never forget how he cried and then was soothed when I just stroked his legs that it appeared he had no use of. Just a soft touch, and a soothing whisper was enough to calm his little heart. To know that he was held and loved and safe.
I look back on that day and thank the Lord for providing the strength that certainly did not come from me, to jump in and love on those children in the way He knew they needed. I thank the Lord that He gave me a sensitive heart that day to just bring love and comfort to even just one child that day, little Isaac.
And setting Isaac down on the blanket as we were readying to leave broke my heart into a million pieces. Yes, because I had to say goodbye to a precious little boy, but because of more than that. Much more than that.
That day brought on a lot of personal wrestling. A lot of questions taken before the Lord. A lot of heartache, confusion, and anger. Why them? Why not me? Why here in this country and not somewhere else? Why like this? Where’s the line? What are their needs? How do we love them? What’s truly the best for them? Just, why God?
And even in the wrestling that doesn’t produce many answers, especially the clear-cut kind I want most, I know that God is there and that God is enough. For these children, for this ministry, for my questions, for the anger, for the heartache.
His love is enough.
And the area may still be grey but isn’t He in the middle of it all? Isn’t He there and doesn’t He know and doesn’t He care much more than I will or ever can? There isn’t a final answer and that means the wrestling doesn’t stop, but doesn’t it mean something that He’s there and that His love is enough?
Doesn’t it matter that someday God’s dwelling place will be with man and we will be His people and He will be our God. That He will wipe every tear from our eyes. That there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21).
This doesn’t make the hard things go away, and it doesn’t make our responsibility to help bear them go away either. It just brings the peace that surpasses understanding and the trust in an ultimately good and loving God, even in the face of the dark and broken and ugly things of this world.
So yes, Day 9 was challenging in ways I know I am still unraveling out.
But Day 10 was a breath of fresh air that only the Lord could be the author of.
Day 10 was spent with Home Again Ministries which serves the people, and mostly women, of the Karamojong tribe. The Karamojong tribe is a large group of people from Eastern Uganda who are seen as total outcasts in Ugandan society. They are traditionally cattle herders and were relocated to the Jinja area due to war and unrest in the East. Like I mentioned previously, there are 42 spoken languages in Uganda and they can be vastly different from one another. So a large tribe of people from the Eastern portion of this small country can have a totally different language, culture, and customs and look totally different than other areas of people. Or so they tell me! My Muzungu eyes couldn’t tell much physical difference.
We began the day heading into one of the local markets to meet up with Pastor Andrew, the head of Home Again Ministries. He began building relationships with the Karamojong years ago before they ever would trust him. We spent time in one of three huge villages (800-900 people) where the majority are women. Because they are considered the lowest of the low, the main source of income for many of these women is prostitution. That’s the way they can survive and care for their many children.
Pastor Andrew and his wife are seeking to change that. The women have now learned how to make beads for necklaces to sell in the markets as a source of income. They now have a school that freely welcomes the Karamojong children, where in other schools they were not as welcomed. It is the dream of Pastor Andrew that the school would also double as a Vocational Training facility for the women to learn other valuable skills in order to better provide for their families, and to not resort to prostitution. This includes things like sewing, computer skills, bead making, and other avenues.
When we arrived, we spent time interacting with the women of the village who had gathered to meet us. Many of these women and their families have heard the Gospel and have accepted Christ, but many still have resisted Him. I had the incredible privilege of leading a Devotional for the women and shared some thoughts from a sermon on Leah by Tim Keller. It touched hearts, including my own, and when Pastor Andrew (who was translating the message) turned to me and thanked me and said it was beautiful I knew that the Lord had been in that place. If you haven’t heard TK’s sermon on Leah, you are seriously missing out (http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2006/april/girlnobodywanted.html).
Our team was blessed to be able to pray for many of the women’s specific prayer requests, touched by a sweet heart who asked us to pray that her relationship with God would grow. Oh sister, I’m right there with you.
After our time with the main group, we were able to spend time with some families in the village and bless them with food, prayers, and words that showed we cared and would not forget them. This place, these women, and the heart behind this ministry were things my own heart resonated with. I cannot even begin to explain the love Pastor Andrew had for these people, the peaceful place that it was, and the beautiful women that we spent time with.
My heart was full, and I knew that day in a way I had never connected it before that even though I come from affluence, wealth, and utter luxury, I too am an outcast. I too am the lowest of the low. Yes, in many ways I have little in common with these women because I do have a husband that is loving and faithful to me, I do have four walls that won’t wash away in a heavy rain, I do have enough money to not worry about tomorrow or the next day or the next, and I do have the love and respect of others despite the fact that I’m a woman.
But really, I do know what it’s like being on the outside with no way to get in. And so do you.
Without the astonishing grace of a Savior, you and I are always on the outside, always the outcast looking in. But through the precious blood of the One who spoke the stars into being, I know what it’s like to be fully included. I know what it’s like to receive the benefits of a Kingdom I have no business being in.
I know what it’s like to be loved and wanted for the remarkably simple reason that, I am.
And these women, who the world says are utterly nothing, they are hearing and being shown the love of the One who says they are everything to Him and so much more.
And this place felt like home in a way I couldn’t even explain, leaving me with their faces and the heart of this ministry impressed upon my heart for good.