I spend much of my time in a little slum outside of Jinja called Masese that is heavily populated with Uganda’s outcasts, the Karamajong. Those in the community who are not Karamajong are shunned by society for other reasons, extreme poverty or illness or uncleanliness or all of the above. To say that I am in love with the people of this community would be a huge understatment. I do not really even have words to describe the way I cherish these beautiful people. They challenge me, they love me unconditionally, and they allow me to see Jesus in their faces. They have taught me much, one of the biggest lessons being the tension between inefficiency and faithfulness. I want to help them all, to fix all their problems, to successfully find a solution to their horrendous living conditions. But sometimes in an unideal situation there is not an ideal solution. The projects Amazima has strated in this community, are wonderful, but only meet the needs of some of the people, only scratching the surface of the problems. God assures me this is ok. If I continue to preach the Gospel and more importanly LIVE the Gospel in this community, though the outward conditions of the people may never change or may change very slowly, but if these people can come with us to Heaven, a few years of suffering will pale in comparrison. In the mean time, He allows me to see Him in their faces and to love Him in bandaging their wounds and letting their charcoal and mud covered children curl up in my lap.
I have recently been humbled by the privledge to get to know twenty of this community’s women on a very personal level. Juliette was a prositute, sneaking quietly away from her home after her children had fallen asleep and selling her body to be able to put some food on the tabel for them in the morning. Veronica was brewing alcohol as a quick way to make money to support her children, one of whom was litterally dying of starvation. On days when alcohol didn’t sell, she would bring the mash that it is made from home to her family and they would swallow it until they fell asleep. She was making her children drunk so that they were unable to feel the pains of hunger. Todi, widowed after her third child was born, had recently taken in her sister’s five children after her sudden death. “What was my choice?” she asked when explaining the situation to me. “God says I look after the orphans, I look after the orphans.” The of them sleep together on the floor in a home about half the size of my giant kitchen table. Jja Jja Maria looks afer her three grandchildren thought she can barely walk due to severe back pain. Kasifa only has use of one arm as a result of polio when she was younger but uses her one good arm to pick through the trash for some food for her 6 children. They each have a story that would blow your mind.
About 8 months ago, I gathered this group of women in the local mud-and-stick church. All different tribes. All different ages. All different hardships. They had one thing in common: they were all trying to support their families and feed their children and they were not succeeding. And they all had stolen my heart. With the help of some sweet friends, I began teaching them how to make these recycled-paper bead necklaces that are all the rage in Uganda. We spent the first few months just getting to know eachother as we learned, crying with eachother when someone announced that their HIV test had come back positive and laughing with eachother when someone made an awfully mishapen bead. And through this porcess something happened that is incredibly rare in this slum community: we became friends.
Last months, one of the members of our group died suddenly. She called me in the morning to tell me that she had a headache, and by the time a friend got there to check on her, she had passed on, probably due to very advanced AIDS that she had been fighting for as long as she could remeber. I was devestated by the loss of sweet Christine with her huge smile and her gentle, cheerful spirit. But I was also full of joy. Just a few weeks earlier, after a lengthy conversation amoungst the women in our group and lots and lots of questions, Christine had given her life to Christ. The next Sunday at church, we celebrated her baptism. Christine may be gone from this earth, but I KNOW where she is. Death does not claim the victory, Christ does. I watched Jesus Christ make Christine a new person in her time on this earth. Her once frail sick body was suddenly able to move with more energy and work with more vigor. Her smile expanded to fill her whole face and there was a new light in her eyes. Praise and thanksgiving were always on her once cracked and bleeding lips; she was quick to encourage all her new friends. While before she complained that she did not have enough, her new Christ-following self thanked God for EVERYTHING right down to the bitter leaves she used to brew her morning tea. At 47 years old, Christine found what she was looking for. He makes all things NEW. And I know that now in Heaven, Christine’s once ailing body is now fully restored, made perfect in Christ. I am so thankful.
At her funeral, the remaining 19 ladies stood up and said beautiful things about Christine. And afterward, in a community where the culture is strickly every-man-for-himself, where people can hardly feed their own children, let alone their neighbors, those 19 women pooled their rescources and cooked everyone lunch. The community shared a meal together as they never have before. My sweet friends made sure that Jesus was not only glorified in Christine’s life, He was glorified in her death.
For those of you who have been wondering what happened to Jja Jja Grace, our sweet grandma that I had wanted to move in with us: the women took that into their own hands as well. At a loss for what to do one day, I asked the women in 7 of then would volunteer to spend a few hours with her one day of the week. To my wonderful surprise, not seven, but all 20 of them volunteered. I put Jja Jja Grace’s 9 different medicines in seven envelopes, one for each day of the week. On Mondays I go to her house, taking enough food and charcoal for the week and the envelopes of pills. Each day, two or three ladies go to Grace’s house and wash her clothes, cook some of the food, make sure she swallows all her pills, and just visit. They love it, and so does she. There is only one thing I can think of that feels better than helping your neighbor: empowering your neighbor to help their own neighbors.
There are still days when I walk through Masese and feel completely powerless and totally overwhelmed. The illnesses are more than I can treat even if I sit in the make-shift clinic in the back of my van for 15 hours a day. Sometimes the sadness seems almost unbearable, the problems unsolvable, the wounds unhealable. I will keep trying anyway. In an unideal situation, there is often not an ideal solution, this side of Heaven. But this is what I know: Resurection is real. Life is more powerful than death. Light can pierce darkness. I may never see the end of horrendous situtaions on this earth, so instead of trying to fix the situation here and now, I will focus on helping these people come to Heaven with me, so that we may say together “Death and sadness have been swallowed up in a victory. Oh Death, where is you victory? Death where is your sting?” Christ has overcome the mess that is this world and I am humbled to get to witness His salvation on a daily basis.
Recently, one of my favorite men in the world, my dad’s big brother and my Uncle Denny passes away after a long and gueling battle with cancer. He may have been one of the kindest, gentlest men to ever grace the planet. He knew what it meant to live simply and LOVE deeply. I believe that I am a better person because of his example of selfless, unconditional love. (If you haven’t noticed, I have been blessed with A LOT of examples of selfless love in my family, and I am so thankful.) I know that every person in my family and everone in the town of Williamsport is morning the loss of this wonderful man. But we know where He is. Unlce Denny, like Christine, found what he was looking for. He is now a new creation. The way he lived his life makes his death a celebration of the day we see him again. I bet he and Christine will be friends. How I can’t wait to embrace them both one day.
**Will you please consided buying a necklace (or 10!) from these sweet ladies who are working so hard to support their families and see positive change in their community? You can purchase them here http://147millionorphans.com/uganda-necklaces
. Check back often because we have four new designs coming soon! Thank you, always, for your continued prayers and support.