Most days I feel like a baby learning to walk in this new culture. It is such a fascinating and different world, and learning to live here is a lot of fun, but I’m stumbling and falling along the way too. This past week and a half has been filled with so many amazing things, but also some humbling lessons.
When people in the States asked how they could pray for me before I left, I would usually say, “Pray God gives me a prayer and ministry partner, and also someone who will help with practical stuff.” I was expecting it to take time to build relationships, but He almost immediately answered part of that prayer.
Suzy is the daughter of the family I’ve been staying with. She and her brother have been extraordinarily helpful with all the practical details of being here. They have spent hours and hours showing me around Soroti and helping me find an apartment and with anything else I need. I’m so incredibly thankful for the huge amount of time they’ve spent getting me situated, but beyond that they have also been helping me understand the needs here.
Last Wednesday evening when it cooled down enough for a walk Suzy and I decided to go to one of the slums. As we approached it I saw a young girl on top of a small home. The roof was made of old plastic sheets held down by tires, and she was trying to dump the water off the tarp-probably so it would stop leaking inside. As we went into the slum the children kept shouting, “Muzungu hi!” which means “Hi white person!”. They would break into giggles when I waved and said “Hi” back. Sometimes they would follow us giggling, and I began to wish I had some candy so I could make friends. After a short time, we turned off the main street and approached a small home where Suzy’s sister lives.
She brought some chairs outside and we sat and talked for a few minutes. As we were getting ready to leave Suzy asked if there were any children in the slum who might need a place to stay. (Earlier in the week I had asked Suzy if she knew of any women or children who needed somewhere to live temporarily since the apartment I will be renting has two bedrooms.) Suzy and her sister were speaking in Ateso, but Suzy turned to me and translated. “There is a single mom with two children ages 4 and 5, and she is having trouble caring for them. Maybe the children could stay with you.”
Before I left the States, some of you had given money -part of which was specifically designated for needy children-so I have been praying God would connect me with the ones who need the most help. As we were talking with Suzy’s sister I inwardly asked God if this was part of the answer to my prayer. “What if we paid the children’s school fees and gave them some food?” I asked. “Maybe she could care for them if we help out a little.”
That conversation continued later in the evening with Suzy’s parents as we discussed the needs of children in this area. They have worked with Compassion International and have a heart for impoverished children. I learned that the small villages are desperate right now due to a drought that killed crops last year and caused food prices to rise. (There is no irrigation here, so crops are completely dependent on rain.) The main source of income in the villages is farming, so the famine has especially impacted them. Thankfully, the rain has been good this year, but they have not harvested all of the new crops yet, so food prices remain high and families continue to struggle for food.
Compassion sponsors many children in this area, but they are not able to sponsor all, and Suzy is not aware of any children who are sponsored in one of the nearby impoverished villages called Apapai. We sat down to think and calculated it would cost around $75 a year to pay for school fees for primary school children as well as their school uniforms, shoes, books and to have a Saturday Bible program where we feed the children breakfast and lunch.
On Friday (one week after arriving in Soroti) we drove to the village. The village leader and Baptist pastor there had gathered the neediest families at the church. As we arrived, some of the villagers greeted us and gave a shout similar to the tribal shouts the Native Americans gave on the old western movies. I think this is a traditional way of showing excitement and maybe welcoming people or saying thank you. The church was tiny and appeared to be made of mud. We ducked under part of the thatched roof to get through the door and inside it was dimly lit, decorated with pink flowers and packed with children and parents who were looking at us as we were ushered to several chairs up front. That day, we ended up choosing 21 children (one from each of the neediest families) to help with school fees, uniforms and books. Although we could not pay the school fees for all the children, we decided to open up the Saturday Bible program to all the children who were there. We plan to start this Saturday and are expecting 80-100 children to show up.
Yesterday we went back to the village and paid the children’s school fees and brought them their books and one pencil or pen each. The school fees were only about $3 per child, but they were so thankful. One elderly gentleman said, “We have been praying for help for so long, but everyone passes by our village. We thought maybe God had stopped listening.” Later, they fed us chicken and rice. That might not seem like a big deal to most people, but in that village where families sometimes only eat one meal a day (if that) I knew the little pot of chicken in front of me represented a sacrifice for them. Another lady gave us a bag of cassava, and another gentleman brought us soda before we left. The fact that they were giving us their best so enthusiastically and out of their own need was very humbling, but beautiful to see.
So, my week has been a bit eventful. I certainly had no idea all this would happen when I arrived less than two weeks ago, and it almost felt like it happened on its own before I could catch my breath. Last Wednesday after we registered the children and I had a chance to think about it, I realized I had jumped into this very quickly without spending enough time in prayer first. With that realization came so much disappointment with myself. I really want my time in Uganda to be surrendered to God and used for His purposes, not mine, and I dread creating a ministry on my own apart from His leading. And so, I have been coming to God in my weakness and asking, “Where do I go from here?” Quietly, as I asked Him, I remembered the verse that says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted in the world.” James 1:27, and I was comforted to know that although I am not doing all this right, and I rushed into it so fast, He still cares deeply for the widows and orphans. He is still able to redeem even our mistakes and to use a broken vessel for His glory, and He is still able to do an eternal work. And so, please pray for the village of Apapai, and for me as well that I will be able to rest all this in His hands and learn to know Him deeper through it.
Also, please keep sending updates and prayer request from back home, because I love to hear from you!