My first trip to Kenya was life-changing. It was four girls heading to Africa having a plan to spend the entire time at an orphanage delving into the lives of the kids. One of the team, Joy, was Kenyan and we would be joining her parents there to do ministry with them. This was the plan until the day before where we learned we could no longer to go the orphanage. Our entire trip changed and God took over the details. Because of this, we were able to visit a village in the middle of nowhere bringing food and other supplies to needy families in the bush. The above picture shows Mrs. Kaleli (Joy's mom and a woman who I also now call "mom"), Joy's cousin, Joy, me, Maria and Liz with one of the families we visited. It was my favorite experience there; tromping through the African bush to bring food to these families deep in poverty. There was nothing like seeing dirt covered children dressed in rags nervous of our white skin. Looks of hopelessness were already filling some of their eyes as they realized the difficulties of life at such a young age. I will never forget the look of gratitude in the eyes of the parents as they realized that they would have food for at least the next week to give to their children. As I’ve shared many times, that was the trip that God poured His love for the people of Africa in and through me. I knew that my life would change forever knowing that I couldn’t just go back to America and live a white picket fence life with a husband and 2.5 kids living the American dream. I couldn’t walk away from what I’d seen. I had to do something to help. My life would never be the same again and I knew it.
That was five years ago.
Such experiences years ago make home visits one of my favorite things about living here in Uganda. There’s much that I love that Hope Alive! does but the most incredible thing to see is the relationship between the mentor and their children. Children aren’t a number in our project but instead, each child has a mentor who visits their home at least twice a month to see how they are REALLY doing. They invest in their spiritual life as well as seeing that they’re taken care of physically. Each mentor has about 10 kids that they mentor and care for. It’s personal. And I love it. Though I’ve gone on numerous home visits in Kampala, I’d never been able to go at our other sites. That is, until this past week.
The three of us girls took a trip to Gulu this past week. Kate was starting a tutoring program for the kids and Kacie had a lot of nursing things to figure out and implement. I was along for the ride to help both of them in whatever they needed. The biggest enticement for me to come was that we would be able to do home visits, something I’d been dying to do in Gulu.
Though most of our kids were once close together in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, they are now spread out in the villages surrounding Gulu. Because they are so spread out, the Ugandans we traversed with were concerned that we would tire too quickly.
For the most part, all Ugandans think we’re crazy weak. This is mainly because we have a car and we drive places whereas they walk everywhere they do. Hence, they think we’re incapable of walking. Anywhere. Ever. They think we’ll tire too easily. Even when we tell them how many miles we run in the mornings, they just think we can’t do it. It’s become hilarious. Once we convinced them that we’d be able to walk without collapsing in exhaustion in the middle of nowhere, we were off.
Our first stop ended up being right near the feeding center that we have for our site. There we met this adorable elderly man who was caring for his four grandchildren, all who are sponsored through Hope Alive! He is nearly blind and is disabled making him unable to support these children. His son and daughter both died leaving him as the only caretaker for these children. He told us many times how much he appreciates what Hope Alive! is doing and how much it has made a difference in their life. His grandchildren get breakfast and dinner each day at our feeding center. I can’t even imagine where they would be or how they would be surviving without such help. There were many moments during our conversation with him that I had to hold back tears. He apologized numerous times that he had nothing to offer us as his guests. We insisted that being with him was all we needed. I know that, culturally, that had to be hard for him. In the midst of him sharing his heart, baby chicks were walking freely around the living room area while neighboring children occasionally looking through the door at all the visitors, especially those white ones. We left their house to visit more kids. Our Ugandan friends, Concy (mentor and asst. site manager) and two Michael’s (both mentors) tried to then encourage us to drive as far as we could to get to the next location as it was far. We again told them that there was no chance of us tiring and we went. Storm clouds were brewing in the distance so we picked up our pace. I couldn’t even tell you how far we walked. We went from the IDP camp to the main road and walked that for awhile. We branched off the main road onto a small dirt path taking us deep into the bush. As we walked, we passed many huts with naked children running around and mothers at work. Living in the crowded city of Kampala, I had desperately missed being in a place like this. It was refreshing!
At last, we arrived at Josca’s hut. Josca takes care of four of her own children but also seven (yes, SEVEN) children of her brother’s and sister’s who have all died. If I remember right, four of them are sponsored by Hope Alive! She alone cares for eleven children in her small hut. ELEVEN, people. Can you even imagine!? When I heard that, my first thought was, “Oh, this would just never happen in America”. One woman caring for 11 children? The woman would have her own dang show on TLC. It’s truly unbelievable. What was more surprising was the state of her little mud hut. Everything was in its place. Space was used creatively and efficiently. It was extremely tidy. This is truly a remarkable woman. Her eyes displayed her intelligence as well as her kindness. I was drawn to her and kept asking her questions about how she does what she does. While we were there, her mother came from a couple huts over to greet us. Daffine, the one in blue, is one of our sponsored kids as well as the one next to her who I forget her name. We were about to leave but she said that she had already started a meal for us. Her hospitality was overwhelming and humbling. Concy asked if it we were able to stay and we left it up to Concy. Concy had plans so we sadly had to leave and tell them we would be back another time for dinner. Since she could not give us a meal, she handed us a bag full of sesame seeds (called “sim sim” here). I left full of joy, admiration and…humility.
We went on more home visits the next day after spending the day at Saturday Club with all of the kids at the Gulu site. But really, this is long enough. I’ll stop with those two families but each family had their own story.
Being where I am and doing what I’m doing, I hear lots of stories. Everyone has been though such heart wrenching times in their life that it is overwhelming. Sometimes, the reality of the situation doesn’t hit me completely. Spending time with these two families, it struck me so deep. It helps me to go to their homes because I see how they LIVE. It’s not just a picture showing the poverty of the situation. It’s not just words on paper. I’m seeing their life and how they live day to day. It’s overwhelming. It’s heartbreaking. It’s…amazing. Seeing life change like this is…indescribable.
When I was in Kenya, I wanted to make a difference. I knew that a bag of flour would not make a long term difference and I wanted to be a part of something that would. God heard my prayers and visiting those homes showed me how He had answered me. I could clearly see the difference in their lives! I was seeing the effect of the family of God in the most beautiful way. There are times that I feel so undeserving to be a part of this. Why me, God? Why do I get to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears how You’re working? I’m so honored. Often people ask me with how I could live here or say things like, “you’re so good” or “good for you”. Many times it’s in that “Oh heck, I could NEVER live in Africa so good on you for doing that” (which is seriously how I used to be). Oh, how little all of this is about me! That’s right, none of it is. I’ve said it a million times but…I’m the lucky one. I absolutely LOVE being here and being a part of God’s work here! There are times that His work just smacks me in the face as this trip did.
This trip was also monumental in another way. This was my absolutely first roach free Gulu trip!! Do I even need to tell you how exciting that is!?!? Every time I opened the door to my hotel room, I expected to see the scattered movement but it never happened. What a relief! I did have this fear that one would have gotten into my luggage just as a bit of torture for my life and appear here at the house. Kind of like, “you didn’t see us there but mwahaha, we came home with you!”. And then they’d twitch their nasty antennae, spread their wings and fly to divebomb my face. Because that’s just so what would happen. Did I mention that I have an active imagination, especially when it comes to insects? I swear I know their secret conversations and plans to ruin my life. But, no roach hid in my duffel bag and I was freeeee!
Now, how to get rid of that mouse in our kitchen…