As we got off the plane, I remembered the smell almost immediately. As we drove through the night through Entebee and Kampala into Jinja, I began to reminisce about sights and sounds. It had only been about 11 months, but it felt like I had been gone for an eternity.
The next morning after we sorted supplies and changed money, we traveled to Sangaalo. We exchanged hugs and well greetings. We introduced our old friends to our new friends and immediately began squishing all the babies. We hugged them and kissed them and played with them as if we’d never left. We told stories and listened to stories from Damalie. As I looked into her eyes I began to remember why God had put us on this journey. You could almost feel the “joy” oozing from her words. You could feel the love of Jesus pouring from her heart. You cant meet Damalie and not fall in love with her.
The first day there, Steven, our nurse, got the chance to look at some of the sick children One child, Noah, was very sick, not drinking, and had a very high fever. With no other options in sight, we almost all immediately, without hesitation and without thought agreed to take Noah to our place, to give him fluids and care for him. Damalie was overjoyed that we would show such love to this child we just met. We took him to a friends home, and gave him an IV. Slowly the life began coming back to him. As his fever broke, he began to drink. We watched him close that night and the next morning he was so much better.
We soon learned though that our actions, though well intended could have dire consequences. Taking the child without papers put us in a bad position. We were told that if something had happened to Noah that night, that we all could have gone to Ugandan jail for kidnapping or murder. I can remember just like it was yesterday, one of our team members looking at me after we returned Noah and saying- “I would do it all over again”. That love- The love of Jesus compels us sometimes to do things that the rest of world would call foolish, or reckless, or crazy. But that’s what love does. Love makes you do crazy things.
We spent the next day loving on babies again. We had the opportunity to view the land that we purchased and began to see the beginnings of Gods plan for Sangaalo. As Damalie poured her heart out on video to Brantley and Jessica, we all knew, that this, THIS, was Gods plan! He put all the pieces together. He had orchestrated it all together to bring glory to His name.
On Sunday we were privileged to attend Acacia Church in Jinja. The church was a mix of both missionaries and Ugandans. The pastor preached and the praise team sang. But something was different. The words seemed so much more real to me, as they were being sung by a bunch of missionaries who had given up their lives and followed Jesus into Uganda. As we sang, “I will follow You”, the words touched my heart as I looked around and saw faces that I had read stories about. These people had actually followed Jesus, to the ends of the earth. Out of their comfort zones and into a land where they were caring for the least of these.
On Monday we drove into Masese and met with Serving His Children. This ministry cares for children who are severely malnourished. We could all feel the compassion and the passion flowing from Renee’s heart. The pictures on the wall touched my heart. How can we say that we love our neighbors like we love ourselves and yet I can see these skeletons wasting away due to lack of food and clean water. How can I say that I love my neighbor when I am sitting comfortably in the warm seat of my local church, singing about how Jesus loves the least of these, and yet at the same time, these children are dying from lack of food. I can sing all day long how much I love Jesus and how much I want to follow Him….But my words seemed so small as I looked at the pictures of these helpless children.
God did not bless America, He did not bless me or my family with plenty so that we could live comfortable lives, storing away in my 401K plan and driving my fancy cars and debating which fast food joint I was going to for dinner. He did not bless us with plenty so that we could hoard it and let the rest of the world suffer. He gave us these things so that we could use them to help our neighbors. We must do more. We must. We cannot call ourselves followers of Christ and not act.
That afternoon we got to see the children at Ekisa. As we left another heart wrenching place, and as more and more team members continued to get sick, I felt the weight of this trip beginning to fall on my heart. I felt helpless. I felt like I had failed my team. I gave it all to Jesus and prayed that somehow, He would use our team. That somehow He would heal the sickness and He would find a way to use us.
Tuesday we went to the Jinja Childrens Hospital. As I walked through the doors, I felt like I was in a movie I had seen. The hallways were dark. The smells were real. The screams came from every doorway. The rooms were stacked from wall to wall with beds. Iron beds with foam mattresses. In every bed lay a sick child. As we handed beanie babies to the children and to their mothers, who lay on the floor, because there was no more room for them, my heart again sank. The floor was dirty. Room after room was full with children. Our guide told us that when it gets too full the mothers, who have to stay by their childs side, will sleep under the beds, on the concrete floor or sometimes in the bed with their sick child. Family members who bring food for the mothers and children, will usually sleep outside under the stars. I hoped that the smiles and the toys would be enough to get the children through just one more day.
In between these gut-wrenching images, we spent time in the markets, we shopped, we met with shop owners and tried our best to share with them smiles and hugs. Brantley and I stayed late one evening and took a boda boda back to the house. A truly amazing experience. This trip I really felt like I was in Uganda.
On Wednesday we traveled back to see Damalie one last time. We hugged and kissed the babies as many times as we could. Damaile cried when we gave her our donations. She told us that in Uganda, it is seen as weakness to cry in front of others. It again showed me a picture of her heart. Her great big heart. I am the blessed one here. I am blessed because I get to come see these people who have so little, and yet are so full of “joy”. Sangaalo. Maybe we are not the blessed ones in America. Maybe our plenty is a curse. Maybe the ones who are the most blessed are our friends in Uganda. They have so little and yet they are so full of JOY. They lean everyday on God. They trust Him completely for provision. Damalie prayed with us and told us how she was confident that God would provide for her, for the children, and for the permanent home that one day would be reality. She did not speak as if she doubted. She spoke with complete confidence, that God would provide. I am blessed because I get the privilege to serve alongside these brothers and sisters of mine.
That afternoon we traveled north to a remote village with Healing Faith Ministries. No longer behind gates and bars and gaurds. No longer surrounded by the busy markets and bodas. Out in the village we get to see again, true poverty. They live in huts. Huts made of sticks and mud. I wondered what happened to the mud when the rains came. The children always run. They reach for your hands. They come by the hundreds. As I looked around I always find myself wondering. I could count maybe 20 mothers, but hundreds of kids. All we needed was a soccer ball and they were playing. They didn’t need the newest x-box. They didn’t need 200 channels on cable. Those things are not bad. But it was amazing to see children, being children. Girls got their nails painted. Some of the boys too. Kari and Jason and Steven began to triage and deal with the sick. There were so many of them. The line never seemed to end. At one point, Brantley was swooped away with Kari, to go see if they could help a pregnant woman. Brantley took her gloves, checked the womans cervix and then went to get Steven. Steven suggested that she was only a few centimeters and after some translation it was found that she had been to the clinic earlier that morning.
I remember Kari asking the women where they have the babies. Of course they had them right were they were. Where else would they go…? We did what we could. We helped the ones we could. The hours flew by. I felt helpless with no medical background, and so much need. Perhaps the hugs and smiles and soccer game were enough. The kids ran circles around me.
My feelings that day were bittersweet. I knew that our trip was nearing an end. I was so happy to have shared all the memories. But so sad that it was almost over. So sad to be leaving my friends. We all shed tears. Then I remembered. I remembered why God sent us to Uganda. It was not just to bring supplies to the ministries we worked with. It was not just to begin working on plans for the permanent home of Sangaalo. It was not just to love on the babies and show the love of Christ to the least of these. It was also so that we would come home and tell the rest of the world about what we saw.
We cannot go and then return unchanged. We cannot experience this and come home without a change. This is not about a high school mission trip or a youth retreat where you go listen to a few speakers and come home on some mission high and then a few days later it fades and you return to your old routine. This was something different.
I want you all to know that we are all called to care for the least of these. Gods call to care for the less fortunate is NOT a suggestion. It’s a requirement. Gods command to love our neighbor as ourselves was for real. He wasn’t joking when said that. I am praying about whats next. I am hopeful for the future. I know that God has a plan for these people. I know that His purpose in us all, is to make more of Him. To make much of His name. There are so many more stories. So many more faces and hands that we touched. So many more things that we experienced. I hope that my words don’t just leave you void. I hope that God will use them to touch your heart. I hope that He will stir in you a passion. I hope that your lives, that all our lives, will reflect the love that Jesus has shown us.
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