It was late at night when our plane landed in Kampala. I hate landing in a new country at night. I want to see the people. I want to see the landscape and houses. The darkness surrounded us so completely that the stars were touching the earth. I would have to wait until morning to see this new land. On the way to our hotel we passed through several villages. Even though it was late, fires were burning near the road and a wonderful smell of spices hung heavily in the air. I strained to see through my backseat window the people standing on the sides of the road. The driver of our van turned the radio on and suddenly "Can You See the Love Tonight" boomed in our van. It was straight out of the movie The Lion King. I guess I really had arrived in Africa. It was almost comical. I would hear several Lion King songs on the radio over the next few weeks while we traveled across Uganda. This movie celebrated their land, animals and culture. It brings pride to their people even today. After an hour, we arrived at our small hotel in the slums of Kampala. This hotel was nice though. I took off my shoes and the cool tile felt good on my feet. I slipped underneath the mosquito netting along side Eric and fell deep asleep. It had taken twenty-nine hours to get here. I knew it would be worth it.
Morning came and with it the sounds of cows mooing and cars honking. I love foreign countries. I love the sounds of the car horns announcing their presence on the roads. From my window I could see people walking everywhere - some with packages underneath their arms and others with bananas in baskets balanced upon their heads. I could hardly wait to get dressed and walk the streets. What was Uganda really like? Would I find joy or heartache? Are the people friendly or suspicious? Eric ordered breakfast for us and before I could even get out of bed a girl appeared in my room and handed me a plate of scrambled eggs and toast and a yellow banana. I sat in bed eating my breakfast quite content with the start of my day.
It was already sticky out when I got dressed. I knew it would be a hot day. By 10:30 we left the hotel and began the mile walk to our missionary's school. Here in the slums, an education was offered along with food and clothing and love. A lot of love. The school was surrounded by a tall brick wall and a gate with a tiny window in the door. We knocked and it swung open. It was just like The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opened her door and the colors filled my eyes. There were children everywhere playing and chasing each other. There was shouting and wrestling and laughter. It was nothing like I had expected! The children were instantly interested in the mazugoos (foreigners) that had arrived. They surrounded us and began to bow on one knee when it was their turn to greet us. These children were not unloved and uncared for. I found just the opposite. They were clothed and fed. They were loved by Cari and her staff. They were learning to read and how to hold a pencil and how to write. I have never been so delighted! I was such a disruption that I couldn't stay in the classrooms to watch the morning session. All the children strained to look at me and to get my attention. If they only knew how much they captivated me! At lunch, Cari and I sat on the school porch and she would point out a child and tell me his or her story. "That one over there is a war refugee from a neighboring country," she said. "This one's mother just died of AIDS. She lives with her aunt now. That boy's dad was just killed on a motorcycle last week. We are loving on him a lot right now. This little girl is losing weight. We think she has HIV. That child lives in a house in the slums that floods with sewer water when it rains. And this one just came to live with me. He is a total orphan and needed a home. So he is mine now." And she smiled. I would have never thought any of this was true just by watching them play. It was loud jubiliant play! I would return for recess day after day just to sit and witness this while I was there. I didn't want to miss it. In the middle of the slums, Jesus shines brightly.
Cari took me on a walk around my hotel in the slums later that week. I had been sponsoring a child with her for over a year and wanted to meet him. He lived in the slums with his grandmother that was crippled and old. Both of Edwards parents had died and she was caring for him and his cousin. The houses in the slums were made of mud bricks. Some had doors and others had sheets hung on frames. There were children everywhere by the dozens. I found out walking with her that fifty-two percent of Ugandans are under the age of fifteen. That is a staggering number. This is the result of AIDS that has ravaged this land. She told me that Edward did not have AIDS. He was healthy and doing well in school. We walked down packed dirt alleys and around a mud brick shed and there was Edward sitting with his grandmother. I recognized him instantly from his picture. His grandmother was preparing to cook dinner for him. Edward immediately knelt down in front of us with respect. I still don't know what to do with that. The children are taught to speak quietly and softly. I always think that we Americans can learn so much good from other cultures. Just think what the whole world would be like if we were all so respectful of each other like the children of Uganda. Edward was a bit shy. He was clean and well mannered and talked quietly to Cari when she asked him how his day had been. I watched him sitting among us and loved him immediately. I had brought him a soccer ball all the way from America in my luggage. While walking to his house I noticed that the children were playing with sticks and can lids. They had nothing. The soccer ball would be a big hit in his part of the slum. When he saw it he immediately wanted to go play and suddenly ten or so kids showed up to join us. We played for some time with him and we all had a really good time. When we went back to his house I asked him if he needed anything. He got up without saying a word and went into the house. I looked at Cari and she just said wait. He came back out with a pencil and a piece of paper. He wrote his name down and then began writing a list: shoes, pencils, a math set, shoe polish, writing books, colored pencils and a piano. He handed me the list. The list was so precious to me. I have it upstairs in my desk drawer. He gave me his list of needs and then threw in the piano for good measure. I smiled at him and told him I'd be back the next day with these things. I knew I couldn't get him a piano but the rest I could most certainly do. I had him put his bare foot next to mine and I measured them so I could get at least close to his right size. We had all had a good time visiting this little boy in the slums. The joy is always mine on encounters like this. Why is that?
As we walked out of the slums Cari told me that witchcraft was practiced heavily in that area of Kampala. Did I know that Edward's grandmother was a witch doctor? I was stunned. She was kind to us. Edward was clean and well mannered. It never dawned on me that she was a practicing witch doctor! I'm so naive. And then Cari said, "When a family gets really strained and there is absolutely no money they still sacrifice a young child for wealth." "Are you serious?" I asked? Cari told me that of course she was and that it had happened just recently. The child just disappears one day and then the rumors begin. Kampala may be prominently a Christian country but evil still crawls around in the dirt among the people. What do you think about that? Sometimes I hear stories like this and I just can't believe that they are true. But they are.
I did return the next day with Edward's list. I went to his school and met his principal who turned out to be a hoot and flirted with Eric before he could tell her that he was married - to me! She just giggled. She is something else. She runs a huge school for the poorest of children. I could tell that she ran a tight ship too. She had it up and going well and was quite serious about her task. She was glad that Edward had our support and encouragement. Edward came in and I gave him his new shoes, the colored pencils and even a couple of story books that I had picked up in town. I'm just smitten by him. I want him to do well in school. I want him to be happy. I want him to know Jesus.
So in Uganda I found great joy! A sea of laughing, happy children at Cari's day school and I found despair in the slums where witchcraft is practiced and poverty drives people to do unthinkable things. I'm going back to Uganda in October. There is much work to do there. I want to watch the kids play at recess and I'll go up north to the village where we are starting a missionary training center for Ugandan believers. There are land deals to be made and papers to be signed and a little boy named Savior to be checked upon. I'm looking forward to it.
Does anyone have a tiny piano?
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
John & Jamie started this church in a coffee shop that sits among the strip clubs of Valley Brook, Oklahoma. It has been a light in the darkness for many of the residents of this tiny town. Many have come to know Christ in the coffee shop over a cup of joe and an orange roll.
In a town poor and full of despair, Jesus shines brightly.
In a town poor and full of despair, Jesus shines brightly.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I realized that I don't take pictures of American children. I think it would be kinda weird in a way. But I do take hundreds of pictures of children overseas. Their little faces just move me - sometimes to tears. These photographs are the souvenirs of my trips. When I get home I'll scroll through them over and over. I can remember each face and where I took their picture believe it or not - even if I took them several years ago. I rarely forget a child and where I took their picture. So here are some of my favorites. If I had the money, I'd have each one printed and framed and put up on my wall. They are why I go overseas. They are why I have slept in hot beds full of ants, gone to the bathroom in stinky squatty potties where my shoes stuck to the floor, lost sleep for 29 hours at a time traveling and sat at dinner tables with intestines, chicken feet and heads and dog meat on the menu. None of it matters...at all. These children need Hope. They need to know of the love of God. They need the unwavering acceptance and grace that Jesus gives. When I board a plane to go overseas, my camera disks are empty and I have up to 4,500 image capacity available to shoot. I'm ready to meet them and know them. What a joy it is to travel this earth and see God's children.