It’s no simple task to get to know fifteen children all at once. Naturally some children are more memorable than others. Some cause trouble unconsciously because they are craving any attention, even if it is trouble. It might be the shy approach like when Desire sneaks up on me with his cute smile and silly tricks. Or it might be Dickson’s big smile and consistent happy ways. It might be Angela’s take over like a mama and boss everyone into doing what they are supposed to be doing way of leadership. But there are also some children who slip into the back row and don’t want to be noticed.
When I taught fitness classes for years and years, there were always regular attendants who hugged the back row and turned bright red if I acknowledged they were there. But then there were those who would slug another woman for taking her front row spot where she had a full view of herself in the mirror. Before and after class I would seek them out and try to get to know them. I personally prefer to observe a party rather than direct one. I like to be behind the camera lens working and creating rather than in front of it performing. It wasn’t always that way for me, but that is who I have become.
In June when I came home from our month long adventure in Uganda with several mission teams coming and going, drama on the sides, and my children in tow, I kicked myself because I couldn’t keep three of the boys in our home straight. Peter, Paul and Daniel are three boys who don’t take the front row. When I traveled in October one of my goals was to know these three boys better, and I can say I met that important goal but it wasn’t easy, they are slippery. I had to slip into Kampala and out without announcing my presence to the outer circles of people and groups I know there. My aim was simply to work with the team and the children for ten days straight. I didn’t want meetings about court proceedings, land deals, or get involved in family feuds. I really didn’t want to enter the dramas that rise up from the wicked who spread false rumors and make all sorts of trouble for the innocent to deflect their own false practices onto someone else. I’m tired of the social dramas that circle outside of the heartbeat of our ministry. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time with the children and team if I allowed myself availability to those busybodies. (It’s kind of impossible to hide my pale skin and red hair. Quickly everyone knew I was in town. I just tried my best to keep a low profile and zero in on our kids.)
So happily I can report that I know Paul and Daniel are brothers. And I know Peter lived with his Aunt and Uncle whom I met. All three of them love to play soccer. They are older and are more self conscious than the other children. They are on the edge of puberty and we are smart to take a jump start on what that will mean for them. They can be sneaky and whisper trouble in ears and get it spread then look so innocent in the back row. Oh yes, I know about sneaky. I’ve raised four boys. Even Kira at two and a half knows when to ask her brothers for something because she knows I won’t give it to her.
I love Paul’s smile! He is quiet, works hard, does what he is told and likes being in our new family. He is so shy about using English with me, but I know it will get easier with practice and time.
I’m crazy about the personal swag that Peter has in a group. He doesn’t have to say anything, and people are drawn to him. He has high potential for leadership. Our challenge will be to help him understand the value in being humble.
Daniel is smart and a very good student. He doesn’t show much interest in the younger children, but he is highly interested in learning about life from Robert and George who come to visit.
I am so relieved that I can scan across a photo of all fifteen kids and not only recognize their faces, and place their names, but I can close my eyes and feel the connection in my heart to theirs. They’ve only met me twice. I don’t want them to think of me as “the big boss who comes over from America” and I don’t want them to feel like they have to perform and be perfect for me. I want to see how it really works between all of the kids and the team. I want authentic relationships with each one of them. I don’t want an obligatory respectful hug. I get so embarrassed when their custom is to kneel before an adult. I want to squeeze them and have a moment of connection where they know I love them deeply and I am trying to understand them better. I am open to every detail of who they are, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I’m not going to judge. I’m only going to look for options that will provide help and positive development.
Believe me there’s some ugly business when you bring fifteen strangers younger than twelve to come together and share a home and become a family. I just got an email from Phiona asking me what to do with a child who puts superglue on a seat knowing another child will sit there. (sorry but that’s funny) There’s lying, stealing, cheating, gossip, shouting, but thankfully there’s been no physical violence from one to another. Our team has disciplined the little things well enough to prevent big problems from developing. With their backgrounds, each child brings big hurts to the family. They have all suffered and endured hardships that children should never know. They have been so hungry for so long it hurt, they have watched their parents die and known the loneliness that comes from that loss. They have been abused, neglected, and some have been terribly violated. Many have suffered severe beatings. They’ve traveled far to have a little water for the day, and they’ve slept on the hard dirt floor swatting mosquitoes that carry a deadly disease all night long. Some will take medicines every day of their lives because they inherited a disease that killed their parents.
It will take some time for them to overcome what they have experienced so they can be emotionally healthy, and prepared for functional relationships as adults. We keep teaching them that Jesus heals all that hurts. I personally am fully committed to use every resource I can gather to help them heal. We can teach them new behaviors as they overcome their past practices. We can point them to the hope that God gives them. We remind them they are in our home because God keeps his promises. He promised he is the Father to the fatherless, and here they are cared for by the body of Christ who comes together joining our sponsor family, to help them have safety, security and the opportunity to grow up to become who God designed the to become.
Doing this ministry has taught me things about myself I never knew. I am a fighter! To think I used to hide in the closet only shows what God can do with a wimp. God shows up in me in big ways to confront injustices and speak loud and clear for the cause of the orphan. I will step away from the comfort of the back row, or out from behind the camera lens to speak for these children. I’ll even humble myself and beg for them. I have realized there is very little I won’t do to protect them and give them a second chance in life. I never forget that God has given me a second chance through forgiveness and redemption that comes from the cross. I am just like each of these children in our home.
I have also learned that hardship and suffering makes me stronger, smarter and brings me closer to Jesus. It doesn’t break me, it builds me. And the more trouble we encounter in Uganda the more I cling to God’s word and time with him in prayer. I trust him when he tells me just do what I asked you to do, and I’ll take care of those who get in your way. And I am often reminded He will provide with or without me.
You know… I wouldn’t want to be one of those people who got in the way of what God was doing for the fatherless children. There’s some heavy consequences mentioned in the bible for that offense.
It’s much safer in my opinion to put my head down, care less about me and more about those kids. I know God is protecting the good work he has begun. I have no fear when I am under his wing. The gratitude I have for the work I’ve been allowed to do makes my arms long enough to hug the whole earth.