We made a substantial effort to visit most of the jjajja’s in their homes during our last trip to Uganda. Our first visit was to go see Christine’s jjajja. (grandmother) Christine dressed up and oiled her skin and assured us she wanted to join us. We reminded her she didn’t have to go back there and that perhaps it might be uncomfortable, but she insisted she wanted to go.
We stopped first in the neighborhood where her Aunt lives. Christine spent some time living with her aunt taking care of her little children, and she received love there in that home. She’s so fond of her aunt and I can understand why. She has a genuine smile and a loving touch. She is a hair dresser so each time I come I wonder what color her hair will be, but regardless of the color, it always looks perfect.
The place where Christine’s jjajja lives has a tangible darkness. Faces are scowled and hard, and eyes stare distrusting and suspicious. I can sense the malice and I know each time I walk down the narrow path into the small area where people gather and live that I am not welcome unless I am giving things away. The homes are clustered small shacks with cloth in the doorway. At ten in the morning there are drunks leaning on the structures for support, tipping up a bottle of waragi, hard liquid fire sloshes down their throats. The eyes I looked into were cold and angry and careless. I wondered why. This is not the typical Ugandan reception. People are generally shy with mzungus, but always warm and welcoming.
We found Christine’s jjajja and her sister. She was so happy to see how good Christine looks. The truth is a child couldn’t look worse than she did when we found her. She was abused, malnourished, overworked, angry and in despair. Jjajja wanted us to come sit in her home. It is smaller than the space under my stairway and cluttered with broken furniture and what looked like heaps of trash. How eight people ever squeezed into that space I will never know. But we did.
Jjajja has a look in her eyes that haunts me. She’s ravaged by waragi addiction. She looks scared, unsure, and confused even if she smiles. I feel sad when I look at her. I sense she doesn’t want to be the way she is, but she’s too far gone. Jjajja tried to hug Christine but the girl coiled up rigid and withstood the hug without participating. Jjajja swung around, threw her hands in the air and clapped them several times at the surprise of how wonderful the girl looks now. She said it must be a miracle that so much change could occur.
Phiona said, “yes it is a miracle. The same God that rescued this child and changed her is who we want to tell you about. He wants to make a change in your life too.” Jjajja was kneeling behind us and willing to listen. My husband shared the full story of the love of Jesus with her, his sacrifice on the cross, and how he took responsibility for our sins so we could be clean to enter heaven for eternity. Jjajja prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior. I didn’t want to judge, only God knows what happened in her heart that day, but it felt flat to me. She cried and thanked us. But still the empty look in her eyes searched us all for a physical rescue, though we had offered her the true saving rescue of her spirit. Moments like these leave my heart aching and leaning heavily on my belief that God knows everything and I’m not supposed to understand it all. I’m just meant to trust and obey. Okay.
Christine was sitting between me and Vicki during our talk. I could imagine that stitting inside this place was like opening the vault of bad memories and having them fall on her all at once. I could feel her physically shrink. I pulled her on my lap and hugged her. I rested my chin on her small shoulder and stopped listening to what was happening in the room and I assured her she would never have to come back here again. She is safe. She is loved. Then I prayed and prayed for God to comfort her heart as only God can do.
Afterwards we stood outside her home in the alley way where people had gathered. A familiar drunk from my previous visit began to get noisy and demanding. Robert stood between him and us and distracted him with local conversation. Jjajja tried to kneel down and look at Christine and hug her but the girl looked away then down, and stood rigid while the lady hugged her. She was well trained to withstand anything an adult would do to her but she was strong enough not to pretend or participate.
I decided there that we will never take Christine to this awful place again, if we are to interact with her jjajja we will bring her to us. Christine was deeply thoughtful the rest of the day. Before we said goodbye we gave Jjajja some photos of Christine and she was so happy to have them. There were tears in her eyes as we drove away.
It was my husband’s first visit to one of the homes of our children. I saw him wipe away a tear. I know what an impact this place can have on a person. It is unforgettable and difficult to imagine people live this way every day of their hard life. I always feel a deep sense of gratitude that God used us to get Christine out of there, but I also wish there was more we could do. And yet, I’m not one to think I can save the whole world. I know what small work I’ve been given to do. We have 17 children in our home, and we feel secure knowing they are our responsibility. We are eager to work in the communities where they are from and share the love of God, but this community requires some professionals. I’m not trained or equipped to handle the risk or the darkness in that neighborhood. There are other organizations who can step in, there are other people God wants to use for the causes outside of our reach. I only hope more people will say, “yes Lord”, when they sense the need and feel the call.
I often wonder why a child orphaned by her parents would have to live like a slave in an environment like that. It leaves me feeling broken for the countless children living in such circumstances. I live with the great gratitude that God had a plan for Christine’s life, so I can only remain hopeful for all the children suffering that God will move quickly for their rescue.