In Arizona I climbed ragged, rocky desert mountains. Near the top between two cracks in a rock there would be a yellow flower blooming. I often wondered, how can it do that with no care, no love, no water? Really it’s persistence and ability not just survive but thrive captivated me. I realized when no one was looking somehow God provided so it could flourish and bloom, and that would be in his original plan to create it for its environment. I never dreamed I would experience a little girl blossom out of a desert environment. And again, I see it is only possible by God.
One little girl was in such a miserable state when we met her that we couldn’t get her hurt angry face to change to the least glimmer of a smile for her photos. She was so distressed for those photos I couldn’t begin finding her a sponsor until she had warmed up and given us some that showed her pretty smile a few weeks later. Christine’s transformation from that damaged, sullen, angry child into the beautiful happy child she is today gives her a significant edge in my heart. Phiona explained that the day she picked up Christine her jjajja had refused to feed her and then had given her a harsh beating because she would not go the long distance to fetch water. She is six and this happened six months ago.
During my most recent trip with the family we visited all the jjajjas where the children came from so I could meet them and so we could give them gifts from our garden. Also the children wanted to see them again. Driving to Christine’s jjajja’s home uprooted visible anxiety for her. She hid, buried her long worried face and she was tense all over. She had put on a pretty dress and her Sunday shoes. Phiona sat next to her in the car, patting her leg now and then to reassure her.
She didn’t come from the village, she grew up in a city slum. We walked down a smelly alley way where people at three in the afternoon were stumbling drunk. They had small yellow jugs that once kept cooking oil, but now served as the communal bottle of waragi. Waragi is an alcohol that is so strong it burns the lips, oversteps the tipsy stage and takes the drinker immediately to slurring stumbling drunk. It costs pennies which means there’s too much of it flowing in poor communities. A straw was sticking out of the yellow bottle and men passed it around taking long draws on it with their lips, while they locked their eyes on me.
This was the first time in seven visits to Uganda that I ever felt unsafe in a new situation. I could see them elbow each other and point at me with expressions in their faces that were animalistic. Someone slurred, “that one looks gooood to me.” Women huddled with resentment in their eyes, arms crossed over their chests, whispering. As I absorbed this environment I wanted to fold in half and clutch my middle at the thought of Christine alone here like prey among predators, no parents to protect her. I couldn’t’ find one soft face in the crowd. Phiona saw my face fall and whispered, “This is the neighborhood Musa grew up in also. His jjajja lives around the corner.” I thought of how needy he is for role models, and watched the drunk men getting bolder and tightening their circle around me. Musa is a big ten year old boy, he would have followed them and been a drunk before he finished puberty only so he could fit in and find approval. It saddened me at the thought of him losing that bright smile to waragi.
We followed Christine through the maze to a small closet with the door open wide. There were three babies inside all alone. One was an infant lying naked on the tattered sofa. Two about the age of one were seated on the filthy floor with a bowl of food sat between their legs. They were dirty, covered with sores, and flies were eating from the corner of their mouths and eyes. The space was cluttered with trash and the smell was sickening. Honestly, it was a trash heap inside this home. I don’t know how they could sleep in there because there wasn’t a clear place to stand let alone stretch out and sleep. Christine stood at the door way with a sad long face and stared, remembering. My heart broke for her then in a way it never has for a child.
Where was the jjajja? That was the big question. The people were crowding in towards us. One drunk continued to repeat a question in English, “eh, what the big deal here?” He probably heard it from a movie and was showing off the one phrase he knew in english. I could smell his foul breath as he boldly said it in my face thinking I didn’t hear him. I was trying to ignore him, unwilling to encourage bad behavior. People were whispering to one another, “eh, look at that Christine, she looks so good.” It wasn’t long before everyone was angrily telling us to take their children also. There was a sense of entitlement to the free help and an angry response that they weren’t getting improvements too. I know there are missionaries gifted and called to come into an environment like this and compassionatley help by living among them, investing in their lives with the heart and hands. I am quite sure that was not our calling. We organized ourselves to help orphaned children have the opportunities to grow up in a Christian environment of family and realize their God given potential. A place like this caused a sprint and hide reaction in me. It could be a flaw, but it is the truth.
We waited a long time while the search for her jjajja continued. Christine stood looking into the home where she grew up watching the three babies who were once in her full time care. The infant’s cries moved her into the space, she lifted the child over her shoulder, and she held him to comfort the child. Christine’s face remained long and her eyes were retreating back to the darkest place of her life. George video taped the encounter. I swallowed hard knots in my throat. I looked at my watch and wondered how long must we make her endure this agonizing reunion. Phiona and Robert went around the corner to get some plastic bags from a shop to put the cabbages and sweet potato gifts we brought. I pressed against George, asking him over and over, “are we safe?” He didn’t reply just nodded while the women there asked him to make them his wife.
Jjajja was found at the “drinking place”, the bar, drunk and ragged. She wobbled into the courtyard with a big happy face realizing she was the focus of all this attention. She dropped to her knees in the dirt and stones, held my hand, looked up to me with red glassy eyes and bagan to sob thanking me. She didn’t even acknowledge Christine who turned to her and gave her an obligatory hug. The jjajja sobbed from her knees, looking around, confused by the scene, muttering “webale” over and over. (thank you.) The infant in the closet home continued to cry while no one heard. I wondered what do they feed this baby? I looked around for bottles. I went inside and lifted the naked child to my chest, and I wondered what I would have to do to get it to a safe place like the baby home where Kira lived. Jjajja was embarrassed that I was holding the child so she took it from me and let it rest in her arm on her lap. Whose child is this? Who would leave three babies in the care of an old woman who would go to the bar and leave them alone?
I couldn’t find any reason to remain in this place. As soon as Phiona returned and gave jjajja the cabbages and sweet potatoes I watched Christine trembling and clinging to Phiona’s side. She was terrified that we had brought her back to stay. We held her small hand, walked out and didn’t look back. I caught Phiona’s eyes and said, “Christine will never go back there again for any reason.” Breaking up with family goes against everything in a Ugandan’s heart, but for this situation Phiona agreed. George said, “I heard the women say it’s a good thing you got that girl out of here, those men used to do terrible things to her.” His words only confirmed what my heart suspected. As we drove away we were all in the van feeling the disgust for the place, feeling the suffering Christine endured before coming to our home, and we all built up a strong fortress of protection for this child. She will not endure torment again. I wouldn’t want to be the person who tries to cross that line. When I have a fierce feeling like this, I fight fierce.
I want you to know who Christine is today, and see the open flower she has become. She is the first to greet us when we arrive, she is a loving sister to the other girls. She’s a little mama for the boys. She’s eager to help Auntie Julie. She doesn’t have a harsh word for anyone. She dug and planted her own little corner garden at the house, loving her plants, checking on them every day after school. When one of the boys peed on her plants and burned them she didn’t have a harsh word, she just started over. She skips, she jumps, she hugs, and she always has the sweetest smile for us. She likes to cuddle in Phiona’s lap during movies, and is the best student she can be at school. She is an overcomer. I have high respect for those who can overcome and rise out of the rubble. All she needed was the opportunity to feel safe and to know she is loved. She likes to wrap her head with anything, and when I found a remnant of mosquito netting wrapped on her head, I could only think of her as a little old woman. In her short six years she’s lived through what most old women might have wished they hadn’t. And here she is sweet, and full of joy. This is possible only by the grace of God who rescued her from that pit.
It is possible for children like Christine to blossom in this way because we get support from generous loving people who want to help us make a difference in the lives of these children. We need help. If you are interested in helping us help our family reach their potential as God has intended before they ever took their first breath, please contact me. We need more people to join our family of sponsors and help us support our family of fifteen orphaned children who are now discovering they are not alone but greatly loved by people all over the world. Most importantly they are learning how much God the father loves them.
And if you haven’t seen our four minute video you might be interested to see Christine holding the naked child. She is wearing a pink plaid dress. Look into her face there, and then see her later dancing with cabbages she harvested from our garden. This is the great reward for the sacrifice of our time and finances to see a bruised child open into a delicate forgiving loving beauty. I am humbled and thankful to be useful in this way to God.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAgjgDEHL2I if you click on this linke it will take you to our short documentary about our children at Kirabo Seeds Uganda