Written Thursday July 18th
I rarely cry about the things I see in this place. Today I have cried. Today I’m reflecting on the things that broke my heart instead of placing them in the back of my mind. It hurts to see such innocent little lives affected by the bad decisions of their parents. It’s also painful to see parents that really love their children and have absolutely no way to care for them in the way they want to. Both situations are so sad. Sometimes I have no idea what to do to help them. Sometimes I think I feel just as helpless as the ones who need help.
Last week at our weekly childhood malnutrition program on Wanale Mountain, a mother brought her son carrying him on her back, just like the majority of the mothers here do. This boy was different though. He was 17 years old and he couldn’t walk because he was so frail and malnourished. His muscles were completely wasted away and all that was left was a skeleton with skin. I’ve never seen anything so disturbing. The mother began to tell the story about the boy. He was healthy until he was 15, and then something changed. He had been in the hospital some time back but nothing had been done to identify or treat his condition. Now the mother had waited this long to get help.
The day she brought him to us, the local community chairman (LC) showed up to explain the situation a bit better. The village health workers had visited the home after some neighbors had reported that the boy was being mistreated. The health workers were chased from the home by the husband who told them they had no business interfering in his family. We learned that the husband of the mother was not the boy’s father. He had been tying the boy up like an animal and leaving him without food. It was like they wanted him to die.
As I heard the translation of the story from the local language to English, I felt angry and helpless at the same time. I didn’t know what to do or say so I continued to listen. The local authorities decided that day that they would visit the home again and threaten to involve the police if the husband refused to allow the boy to go to the hospital. I just wanted to shout at them and tell them we need to take the boy now no matter what the parents say. Instead I didn’t say anything because I knew I needed to respect the local authorities and their way of handling potentially dangerous situations. All I could do in that moment was pray over and over again in my heart that the Lord would intervene and help this boy. A couple of times I felt I should sit down next to him and just pray for him – like any good missionary would do. For some reason I couldn’t do it. It was like I was paralyzed by fear and helplessness.
I watched the mother lift the boy onto her back, tie a scarf around him to hold him in place, and set off up the hill with her other three children until they disappeared into the trees. I didn’t even know the boy’s name and I didn’t know if I would ever see them again. Throughout the week our nutritionist called the LC to follow up on the situation. The man never answered his phone.
As we headed back up the mountain today, we just hoped that we would arrive to hear that it was OK for that boy to be transported to the hospital. With that in my mind, I also prayed that God would give me the words to share a message with the women and children again this week. I had in my heart to teach them about when Jesus told the disciples “do not let your hearts be troubled” and how He told the disciples He had prepared a place for them. I wanted to tell the women and children about how Jesus said He is “the way, the truth and the life”. Before I share a message I always pray that the Lord would speak through me to the hearts of those who are listening.
When we arrived, I walked through the door and the first thing I heard was the news that the 17 year old boy had passed away. My heart sank. My first feeling after the sadness was the guilt. If only I had held that boy’s hand and prayed over him. Maybe the outcome would have been different. I didn’t even have the motivation anymore to share a message. Instead I just prayed with them. I prayed that the spirit of sickness and disease would leave that place, that they would be healed, and that God would show them the way, reveal to them the truth, and give them life in Jesus name. After that I had no words. I felt really defeated from the moment I walked in that door. On top of that defeat were three more stories that broke my heart yet again.
One mother brought her baby and his belly was distended and hard. Winnie, the nursing officer explained that this condition is brought on when kids are left on the ground. They eat things like grass, dirt and twigs and their stomachs become bloated. There were also about 20 little vertical scars on his belly and I wondered what they were. Then Winnie explained that the scars were from the witch doctor. She said that the mother probably took the boy to the witch doctor who decided cutting the boy was the solution to his problem. Instead of the mother being ashamed, she just laughed and shook her head in affirmation that the witch doctor had made the scars.
Also that day, the Auntie for Rachel came (Rachel’s story is in an earlier blog post). She came in hopes that we had found someone who could make a long term commitment to helping them. We had to turn them away again, as we had no way to provide the help they were looking for.
Finally, there was an 11 year old girl named Fatuma. She had never been able to walk. When she was five, her mother took her to a rehabilitation center for therapy in hopes she would be able to walk. She was never able to go back for follow up after the therapy because the father refused for her to go. Then, the father died and they had no money for transport. So for 6 more years the girl hasn’t walked only because the family wasn’t able to transport her to the center. The mother asked us for a wheelchair for Fatuma. We instead suggested that we provide transport for them to go back to the rehab center. The mother began to cry as she accepted our offer.
By the end of this day, the suffering that I have seen is too much to push to the back of my mind. All I can do is let the tears fall and type this to you in hopes that somehow you will gain a broader view of the fallen world we live in. I don’t share these stories to exploit the suffering of the people here. I only share them because I want people to understand how blessed you are to have access to the simplest things like shoes, transportation, qualified medical treatment, and family members who care if you live or die.
I, along with my colleague Lindsey, have recently come under the fatherly wing of a local doctor named Peter Olupot-Olupot. The doctor explained to us that people often ask him how he can be a believer in medicine and a believer in Jesus at the same time. People usually think that science and faith don’t mix. His answer is that there is no conflict between medicine and faith because the medicine only treats the symptoms and healing only comes from the Heavenly Father. What a simple yet profound explanation. I came here without a background in anything medical and I still become faint at the sight of blood. Since I’ve been here though, I have been able to gain a bit of knowledge on the subject and I’m really blessed to be around such intelligent and passionate people.
Another common question I’ve heard people ask is “Where is God amidst all this suffering in the world?” and “How can God let such terrible things happen to people?” The best answer I’ve heard to that question is in the book called Kisses From Katie. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. It’s written by a girl named Katie Davis who moved to Uganda when she was 18 and began a ministry in a small village in Jinja. Since then, she has adopted 13 Ugandan children and her ministry is known world-wide. I read her book a long time ago when I had no clue I would also move to Uganda. I recently got out the book to give to a friend to read. Before I handed it over, I turned to the back and found a short interview with Katie about her work in Uganda. In the interview she says this: “In the book and in my blog when I talk about people giving more I am speaking mostly to people who look at the poverty and hurt in this world and ask, “Where is God?” God is right here living inside the hearts of all who believe. So maybe the question is “Where are we?”
This is really a challenge to us all as believers in Jesus. Jesus spent his three years of ministry healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out evil spirits. Now that same authority He had was passed along to us who have Jesus living in our hearts. We are called as believers to do those same things. We don’t have to be “missionaries” living in a foreign land to claim and use that authority in our daily lives. Furthermore, just because I’m a “missionary” living in a foreign land, it doesn’t mean I’m automatically a saint or I automatically take this authority as I am called to. Leaving home and crossing the ocean to live in Africa is one thing. Doing what God has called me to do HERE is another thing. Every day is a challenge to actually DO what the Word says to do.
Last Sunday I heard a sermon based on Luke 6:46-49 about the Wise and Foolish Builder (doing the Word, not just hearing the Word). Jesus said “As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.” This Ugandan pastor said that the Word of God only changes you when you put it into action. If we just sit in church and listen to the Bible but don’t do what it says to do, our foundation is sinking sand. When a storm comes everything will just fall apart.
There have been many times over the past 6 months that I’ve felt like I have failed. There have been times when I have questioned why I am here. There have been times I have wondered where God’s hand is when I see people suffering. All very typical things missionaries struggle with. I’ve also understood that we all have a choice. We can choose to stand to the side, ignore God’s voice, and let opportunities pass us by; or we can be obedient, follow His voice, be different regardless of the cost, and DO what His Word tells us to do. The first option eventually leads to feelings of failure and regret. The second option always leads to a blessing.
If you want to bless someone today, pray for an opportunity to DO God’s Word. Please also pray for me that I will have the boldness to do the same.