I recently read an article about international social justice written by a young lady who had developed an organization in Africa and arrived there hoping to change the world. Her lessons learned touched my heart and have prompted me to begin sharing stories of the individuals whom I have truly loved here in Uganda. People should not be seen as projects to serve our own interests. We should look for the human and for the divine inside of every individual and love them for who they are.
Here’s a link to the article:
And an excerpt:
<“The I-Thou relationship occurs when two people see each other, simply, as people created by God in His image. There is no qualification of poor or rich or us or them. I-Thou sees the humanity and the divinity within each person. Conversely, I-It exists when a person sees the other as an object to be used to serve his or her interest. It gives a person permission to define, label and objectify the other person. To romanticize Africa is to make an “it” of the place and the people.”>
So, the first person I want to tell you about is Phiona.
I’ve mentioned her in previous posts, but this one is just for her. The woman is truly an angel. I met her by divine appointment only 3 weeks after I arrived in Uganda. I’ll never forget first seeing her on the sidewalk by the main road in Mbale Town. I was in a truck on the way to a village medical outreach and we were stopping in town to pick up some more volunteers. As soon as I saw Phiona I knew we would be friends. I could tell she was different and I saw Jesus in her immediately. She was a true beauty, wearing a black skirt and top, red earrings, a red belt, and cute little flat shoes (African’s are very fashionable by the way). We greeted each other, she got into the truck, and we talked all the way to the village. From then on she has been the sister I never had. One day we went to have dresses made and found that we were exactly the same body measurements. Our hands are even the same size. I think God created us, at different ends of the earth, to one day work together for His mission. Not a day goes by where we don’t communicate. I can always count on her. She’s never disappointed me, not once. I can’t imagine my life in Uganda without her.
Phiona’s life hasn’t been easy. She grew up in the village, was mistreated by her step father whom she thought was her real father. She found herself living on the streets and doing shameful things just to survive. She was raped by a friend of her brother and conceived a child at the age of 19. She was able to put herself through nursing school and find work in a hospital. By that time she had given birth to two more children and was so poor that she had to hide her children at the hospital during the day, and then they all slept on the floor there at night. She had become an alcoholic to dull the pain of her problems, which only caused more problems for her. One night she decided she would just have to end the lives of her children so they wouldn’t have to suffer with her anymore. At the lowest point in her life, God intervened and saved her from the life she was living. She accepted Christ as her Savior and from there she began serving Him. She met a handsome young pastor named David who befriended her and helped her support her children. After a few years of friendship they married and had their first child together and named her Divine.
Pastor David was also a street kid and spent many of his teenage years living in the church orphanage, meanwhile being groomed to become the associate pastor because of that obvious calling on his life. Many people advised Pastor David not to marry Phiona because of her rocky past. David responded to them that Phiona was the woman for him, and that if He serves a God of transformation, then he believed that Phiona was a new woman in Christ. After five years of marriage, these two love each other more every day. Their family continues to grow, but they are praying for a biological son. You see, this couple loves and cares for more than 10 children in their home, many of which are not their own. Because of their experience of being street children, David and Phiona have a big heart for children in similar situations. They have taken in my 13 year old friend Brian as their own (See Brian’s story beginning in the February posts on this blog). Brian recently shared that his new Mommy and Daddy are the only people in his life that have ever had patience with him. The only people who have truly shown him love.
Isn’t that the kind of follower Jesus wants all of us to be? Pastor Rick Warren of “The Purpose Driven Life” says: Love is about sacrificing, serving, surrendering, sharing, supporting, and even suffering for others.
On a salary of about $100 per month, this couple struggles to feed their children, but they continue to serve the Lord with joy and love. I know Jesus more by knowing them. I see Him in the way they live their lives of sacrifice.
Despite being a talented and experienced nurse, Phiona has been unemployed as long as I have known her. Instead of giving up, she has used her time wisely to learn, grow, and find ways to provide for her family. She volunteers her time serving as the nurse at the orphanage, working with our nutrition team on outreach days, and expanding her small food production and packaging business. She is the women’s fellowship leader at church, organizes conferences, prays for the sick, leads worship in the choir, and has a passion for sharing the gospel. She is a woman of dignity, character, and strength. She never asks for a hand out, and chooses to be a woman who walks in the Light of truth. One of the most difficult jobs in the world is to be a Pastor’s wife. People are always looking to you, analyzing you, judging you, and counting on you. It’s a job that can break you if you’re not strong enough.
There are only two times I’ve seen this lady broken, but I’ve never seen her defeated. Once was when she lost the baby she had been waiting on for so long because of a miscarriage. Even then, she was up the next day doing her normal tasks and trusting in God’s perfect plan for her life. There have been many times when I’ve called Phiona on the phone and we’ve discussed when and where to meet each other. Before we hang up the phone she always says, “Maegan, I’ll be waiting for you”. When she says it I feel like I’m so important to her that she won’t be doing anything but waiting for me to arrive.
Isn’t that what Jesus’ love is like? No matter whom we are, what we have done, what our past looks like, or how many mistakes we’ve made, Jesus’ love is always there waiting for us. He loves us so much that He will continue pursuing us no matter how many times we try to run away. Because of my sister Phiona’s life of sacrifice, I see living proof of the power of love. She continues to wait patiently for her breakthrough. She continues to pray for provision for her family, for new opportunities to serve, for one son to carry on her husband’s name. The constant struggle she faces only makes her stronger. When something brings her down she gets back up again with more passion than before. Her dream is to open her own orphanage on family land in the village. She wants to bring hope into the lives of children that have stories just like hers. Rejection and abandonment are commonplace in Africa, but there are only a few that live through it to give their testimonies. I am thankful that God chooses people like Phiona to change the world; an abandoned street girl whose life was transformed by the living God. People like me won’t really change the world, but I know God sent me to Uganda to love the people who can.
My eyes well up with tears when I think about what will happen in December when I leave Uganda for a Holiday break. I’ll say “bye for now” to my dearly loved friend and she will reply “I’ll be waiting for you” as if she won’t be doing anything but expectantly preparing for my return.
Phiona and baby Musa – recovered from malnutrition
Phiona with her mother Florence
Anna, this Italian/Ugandan orphan stole Phiona’s heart
As Phiona prepares for the return of her friend; likewise, let us all live life as though we are expectantly preparing for the return of our Redeemer.
These words of King David remind me of my strong and courageous sister Phiona:
“I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous.
Wait for the Lord”
*In my next post I will share the story of another individual who has helped me to see the beauty of life in Africa.