Saturday was a good day. I woke up sick and didn’t feel like getting up, but I knew I had a commitment to work in the village with Mbale Christian Women Ministries on a medical/gospel outreach. My friend Cheyne Pizzino back in Roanoke had sent a donation of 144 pairs of reading glasses from his newly formed organization called Seeing to Read. I knew I couldn’t just send the glasses and not go myself…besides, I was really looking forward to being a part of this new project.
So I got myself together and I went. I’m really happy that I did because the day was really a success. I enjoyed working with Freda and Janet, two eye specialists from the Regional Hospital who volunteered with us for the day. We started out in a little mud walled building, home of Deliverance Church. There were about 60 people in that little place and they had been patiently waiting for us to arrive. They sang, they praised, they made introductions, and then my friend Phiona shared a Word of encouragement with them. Next, we called them in groups of 10 to a nearby building for a variety of services including general exams, HIV testing and counseling, and vision screening. The entire community was invited to come.
Many were old, some were young. Many were believers, some were not. All were in need. Nobody showed up just to get something for free or take advantage. Everyone had a genuine health concern. Surprisingly, all were polite and well behaved – rare to have a village gathering without something wild happening.
Freda and Janet screened those over 40 years old in need of reading glasses and I chose the frames that would flatter their faces and took down their names and ages. It was such a joy to be a part of the day and we worked late until everyone that needed a pair got them. They were happy because once again they will be able to sew, read their Bibles (if they can read), clip their fingernails, and enter airtime codes into their phones. Before, they just got by as best as they could and struggled to do the simple things that they used to be able to do with ease.
I loved hearing each “shank shou” (thank you with a heavy accent) and watching their smiles and laughter as they saw themselves in a photo I took of each of them. It was funny that many of them didn’t even know their age or highly underestimated it. Some claimed to be in their 50’s when they appeared to be not a day under 70. I think we have that problem in the US too.
The day was organized and calm (not usual in Uganda) as we took time with each person and listened to them respond to the questions they were asked during the eye exams. Only a few of them spoke any English. The deep lines on their faces made it obvious to me how difficult their lives had been. I wondered how they had even survived for so long. I wondered what their stories were, how they lived, what they had seen in a lifetime of toil and hardship. I wondered how many babies they had raised and how many didn’t make it past the age of 5. I wondered how they lived through the terrors of Idi Amin’s killings (president during the 70’s) and how many of their family members they had to bury over the years. Still they carry on. Still they can smile. Some life still remains behind their tired eyes.
I cut the tag off of each new pair of readers and polished the lenses with my skirt fabric. I hoped that each of them would wonder why this little white girl would do such a thing for them. I pray they understand that the care I took with each pair was a display of LOVE for them and respect for their lives of labor, suffering, hardship and strength.
I’ve always loved old people, but on this day I gained a new respect for them. I had to look into their eyes and see their determination. They haven’t given up on life, even though they are nearing their last days. They still bathe (most of them) and dress themselves – quite nicely at that, and they groom themselves rather well considering most have no mirror or can’t even see well anyway. They cared enough about their quality of life to walk to that little mud building and wait in line for hours just to have a chance to get a new pair of reading glasses. I think for some people these glasses could really change their lives and give them more freedom for how ever many days they might have left. What a blessing freedom is.
Most of these old timers had such a peace about them and I believe it’s only because they have confidence in their eternity. Their long life on earth was short compared to their next life with Jesus. Behind those eyes I saw glimpses of our Savior.
The Bible says this about SIGHT: “Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. – Luke 21-22
Oftentimes the elderly are forgotten and neglected. Their hair is white, their hearing is bad, and they shuffle instead of walk, but they live each day like it’s their last. The truth is, all people regardless of age need to realize that today could be the last. I remember the day I was with my grandma Hubbard when she passed away in a nursing home in 2002. My grandpa loved her more than life itself. By that time he couldn’t hear a thing and he was getting a little bit kooky from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The thing I’ll never forget is the clarity of the words he said to Grandma after she took her last breath. Through his tears he managed to tell her “Bye bye Sugar, I’ll see you in heaven”. What faith he had to be sure that they would be together again someday.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight…”- 2 Corinthians 5:7
Being sure about your eternity all comes down to FAITH. If you have faith in Jesus as your Savior and the only way to God, if you turn away from your sins (we all have them) and toward your loving Creator, you can have the peace that these old Ugandans have and the confidence to look forward to that day when you leave this crazy earth and settle in that room He has prepared for you in heaven.
Maegan, Grandma and Grandpa, 1989
You can see from this picture how much I love old people!