8.9.2018 Month 11 Uganda
[This wonderful blog with all the pictures can be found here: https://amycook.theworldrace.org/post/wrecked]-[you can also read more about the specific details of our time that day on this blog by one of my other teammates: https://shannonsears.theworldrace.org/post/saturday-home-visits-in-uganda1 – *posted below]
Day five in Uganda: Our team of ten piles out of a little van and walks up onto sixteen children singing and clapping for us. Huge smiles spread across their faces and their radiance almost hides the dirty and ripped clothes they are wearing and the dilapidated shelter behind them.
This is the first family we visited in Kassanda, Uganda but not the last. A jarring yet typical situation for many of the families here is what we walked up on, and I can honestly say I will never be the same after witnessing everything I have here.
Part of our ministry this month is visiting the families our church supports to encourage, pray for and uplift them. This is something I have done in many countries, but what I have experienced in Uganda is vastly different from anything else I have seen. These families have nothing, absolutely nothing and even as I write these words I am getting a sick feeling in my stomach thinking of what they’re probably experiencing at this very moment.
The first family we visited was a young mother and her sixteen children. She is a widow, as her husband died of HIV a few years prior. She is also infected with HIV and many of her children carry it as well, contracted upon birth or breastfeeding. As the disease takes ahold of her, she barely has enough energy to function during the day but must somehow provide for all the children under her roof. Not all these kids are hers, but she has become their caretaker.
In Uganda, men typically have several wives and if the man of the family dies, the most recently married wife is responsible for taking the children of all the other wives and carrying for them. We’ve met many large families containing dozens of children with a young mother in Uganda, and this is why. Since HIV is ramped in Kassanda (60% of the population carries the disease), widows with large families are the norm, not the exception.
We arrived to visit this first family as the mother was cutting up a few cassava plants to boil and serve to the children for their meal of the day. Pastor Vincent pointed out to me that this meal is barely enough to feed all the children, but it is all they have. Pastor also showed us their “bathrooms” which are small holes in the ground without any privacy.
Diseases are easily passed throughout this area due to unsanitary conditions for fecal matter. The children in this family all sleep together in a little room, on a dirt floor. They wear the same ripped and dirty clothes day after day and since there is no money for diapers, children who are potty training do not wear pants. Many of the children have little white sores on their heads and I asked the Pastor what this was, “ringworm” he said. Yet another infection that is easily spread and running ramped among the little ones here.
The children laughed and smiled while we sang and played with them, but I fought back tears the entire time. I was desperately trying to be strong but found myself overwhelmingly wrecked.
I’m not writing these words to elicit an emotional response from readers, so please don’t misunderstand me. I am writing all of this because is a very real part of our world, and it is all truth. Real people are living this reality day in and day out, and most of us go our entire lives without even knowing about it – so I am delivering a message.
I visited many families that day and was met by the exact same situation time after time. Young mothers with HIV caring for a multitude of children in a small, dirty shelter and without any provisions. They sprang to their feet to meet us and lit up to receive these interesting white visitors, but I felt (and still feel) completely unworthy. They are fighting for their lives every day and in a few weeks, I will be sleeping in my comfy bed back in America.
I don’t know how to handle all the emotions in my heart and the heaviness I’m left with because my eyes have been opened, but I can honestly tell you I will never be the same again. I will never eat a meal without thinking of those who don’t have a meal, I will never go to the doctor without the realization that modern medicine is such a blessing and I will never put a clean shirt on my back and not remember the tattered clothing of all the little children in Kassanda.
So what now?
I’m asking the Lord for answers because my humanness has left me lacking. This is what He’s given me so far and these are the promises I hold onto for the people living in this reality, and for myself.
Matthew 5:3 – “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.”
Although most of the world doesn’t know these families, the Lord sees them. He blesses them, but those blessings may not be in this lifetime. Christ has not forgotten them, and their poverty might be what brings them closer to him and into his presence.
Matthew 6:19-21 – “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will be also.”
Treasures that can be enjoyed for all of eternity far outweigh treasures of this world. Because this life is all we know the things of this world seem so precious to us, but Christ calls us to think higher and focus our hearts on the eternity that has been promised to us.
Matthew 19:30 – “But many who are the greatest now will be the least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”
Jesus did not come into this world as royalty or with riches. He was born in a trough that horses drink out of and spent his life traveling from town to town and without many possessions to call his own. He was not a king as the world sees a king, and he wasn’t born into an affluent family. Jesus lived a life that many today would see as impoverished.
This was purposeful, to set an example for us.
He humbled himself to live a life showing us that the provisions of this world will not satisfy, and we should not find our satisfaction in them.
Probably not a coincidence that I’ve been reading Matthew this month.
The Lord is teaching me not to find worth in what this world has to offer because one day, none of it will matter.
He’s showing me that He does see all these families and is preparing a way for them in heaven, if they choose Him, and all the troubles of this world will one day be forgotten.
These truths are what I’m holding onto.
I’ll be back in America in nineteen days but honestly, I don’t feel like this is true. I am so absorbed in Uganda that I feel like I’m never going to leave (don’t worry I really am coming home in a few weeks, I promise).
For now, this village has captured all my senses and I don’t think America will become a reality until I’m sitting on the plane, in route. So until then, I will be completely here.
— don’t be mistaken, my heart is overjoyed at the thought of seeing my family and friends again and falling into familiar hug after familiar hug. I can’t wait for that.
Sending so much love amongst my very real words to everyone back home,
more info about the ministry we’re working with can be found here:
Saturday Home Visits
By Shannon Sears
August 4th, 2018
Today was a really challenging day. Maybe one of the most challenging thus far on the world race. Today I looked material poverty in the face, and was not given the option to turn away. I held children with open sores on their hands, bumps on their skin, ring worm on their scalps, and a high chance of HIV in their little bodies. I hugged moms who were HIV positive, widowed because their husbands had died of HIV, and now are taking care of all 17 of his kids- some hers and some not hers. I was welcomed into homes that housed 20+ people, that were smaller than my parents’ living room, had dirt floors and had 1 mosquito net in a 9×9 room that more than 10 children slept under…on the dirt.
No sleeping pad,
and maybe 3 small blankets to share
between all of them.
Our ministry today was going to home visits with our wonderful host, Pastor Vincent and his friend, Pastor Nelson. Both of these men founded/run an inspiring organization called Kassanda Children’s Aid (KCA) which I will elaborate on at the end of this blog.
I want to preface this by expressing that I am still figuring out what I’m supposed to do with what I saw, my shattered heart, and what God is asking me to do with all of it. By no means have I fully processed this, nor do I have a conclusion. This will probably end up being both informative, and long and messy. But I don’t apologize for that. I’ll start with a brief run down of what each visit looked like. And hopefully the pictures will load, too.
- Mom was alive and HIV positive
- Her husband died of HIV
- When he died, all his children from his other wives came to live with her because she was the one he left with the house
- There were 16 kids living with her
- Pastor Vincent showed Jon and I where they use the bathroom and it was essentially two different holes in the ground marked by some sticks laying across them. One was out in the open with zero privacy, and the other was tucked in between some bushes and trees. Coincidently, I really had to pee at this moment, but when I asked him if that’s where I should go, he said it was too dangerous….so it was too dangerous for me, yet this family of 17 does it every day, without shoes, with often times diarrhea. I understand why he said that, but it’s so disturbing to me that this is how they are forced to live. Little kids in such risky circumstances. I thought about how he said the mom was HIV positive and how none of the kids wore shoes (because they don’t have the money to buy them), and then they get cuts on their feet then go and use the same “bathroom” that she has. Who knows what kinds of bacteria and diseases they are exposed to? And what about the young girls? How embarrassing to have to squat over the hole when they’re on their period or if they’re sick and the neighbors can just look right across the lot and see all of it. I know when I’m sick, I really appreciate that privacy.
[the bathroom for the younger children]
[the yuca and potatoes the mom was preparing for their lunch, which Pastor pointed out was not enough food for everyone]
[Amy holding two of the younger kids with ringworm on their scalps]
[the whole family and our team]
***After this visit I had to stop and ask God for help because I didn’t know how I was going to keep going to more of these today. Thankfully He did. He told me to go love like He would. So when we got to the 2nd home I went straight to Rosemary, sat down in the dirt and gave her a huge hug. She received my hug whole heartedly, embraced me right back, and I realized that hug was more than just for her, it was for me, too. God knew that.
- 21 kids all with their great grandmother (Rosemary) and their grandma (Ruth). The parents of the children had died so Rosemary and Ruth became the caretakers for all the kids
- Rosemary was making mats that she sells for 20,000 Ugandan shillings, equivalent to about $6 USD. I’m sure it takes over a week to make just 1 and that helps provide for their family.
- Rosemary gave our team a mat as a gift!! And you can’t say no because that would be insulting…how do you receive such a self-sacrificing gift like that? It’s anything but easy.
[Grandma Rosemary and all the children]
[the family & our team]
[Sweet Rosemary making a mat]
- Another widow with kids of the husband who died of HIV
- 17 kids
- Just like the mom from the first house, she was given all her husbands children to take care of when he died. The other moms don’t help support the kids in any way and they don’t visit the children.
- This is the home that had all the children cramped up in a small 9×9 room under a mosquito net at night.
- This family grew maize as their main income. Right now they only get about 200 shillings per kilogram of maize…this is practically nothing and this past season wasn’t a good harvest season. They eat porridge made from the maize for breakfast and then something they call posho for lunch, which is also made from the maize. It’s not a balanced diet by any stretch. No fruits, no meats, no veggies, no Chick-fil-A.
- Luckily, they also have a jackfruit tree and can eat the jackfruit from it. Pastor said they usually eat some of it and go to bed- meaning it’s their dinner, and then they handed us their jackfruit…the one they would had for dinner that night.
- Again, another sacrificial gift that I didn’t want to accept and was painful to receive.
[the family & our team]
[all the kids taking the kernals off of the maize]
[the eldest daughter and Kelsey with the jackfruit they gave us]
- The mother, father, and grandmother of this family had died, so the children came to live with this lady, who had recently become a widow, also.
- 7 kids total
- There was a little bitty girl who had big crocodile tears in her eyes. Her face was dirty with snot and stained with tears that had been running down her cheeks. She had snot stuck to her chest right above where her shirt hung, and she clung to her brother while we talked to them. I sat down next to her and ended up lifting her into my lap. She didn’t know how to react, and the tears kept flowing. Her hands sat neatly in her lap and her fingers curled in as she held a lose fist. I gently put her hand in mine and flipped it to see her little palms. They were partially black from dirt and soot, and then partially blood stained from cuts and small wounds. Peeling skin draped between her fingers in the other palm. I asked Pastor Nelson why she was crying, if it was something wrong with her eyes or if she was in pain or scared. He responded that she was very sad and is crying every time they come visit. My heart broke for this little girl. She couldn’t have been more than 4 years old. I thought about what all she has probably seen, the hunger pangs she feels on a normal basis, the worry she carries that she’s probably never lived without.
- Then I thought about my little niece who is probably the same age as her. She sleeps safely in a comfortable bed in her own room or with someone who loves her tremendously whether that’s her parents, her grandparents or another relative. She doesn’t want for anything. She’s always known clean water. She’s known a larger variety of food than she can specifically recall. She has more toys than she knows what to do with. She has the privilege and freedom to dream of what she wants to do one day with her life. She has access to the best healthcare in the world.
- Why? Why was she born into all these wonderful things, but this little girl in my lap was not? I don’t know. And neither of them had a choice about where they were going to live, who was going to raise them, what they were going to eat. I don’t have the answers and I probably never will.
- Another little girl, probably about 9 years old or so, had an open sore on the temple of her head. It had been there and hadn’t healed for 2 YEARS! …But they can’t afford to go see a doctor when they can’t even afford food to eat each day.
- The last home we went to was one that KCA helped build for the family living there
- We met the great grandmother first, and then the cutest little grandma (Florentine).
- She invited us in and gave us a huge pot of mangoes, 2 bundles of small bananas and a bowl of roasted peanuts that she had grown and prepared for us. She was full of joy and so happy to welcome us.
- She had a cough so we prayed for her health, her home, and the family before we left
- There were 7 children who lived with her
- As we were leaving we met her son. He explained how he really struggles with alcoholism and wants to stop but every time he tries to, he ends up drinking and being drunk again. Jon prayed for him and prophesied how he would be an honorable man that people from the village would come to for wisdom. It was very powerful. I actually got to pray over him again at church the next day and the Holy Spirit had me weeping for this man. I don’t know how to explain it, but I would really like to see what happens with his life and what the Lord has for him.
[From left to right: the son who we prayed for, Grandma Florentine, great grandma, & Amy]
[the freshly roasted peanuts, mini bananas, and mangoes Florentine gave us]
After the last house visit, we went back to where we are staying and had lunch. I’ve never been more thankful for a squatty potty, bucket showers, a bed, and rice and beans. I pray I remember the things I’ve seen and time I’ve spent here in this small town in Uganda whenever I get home and even begin to complain about anything.
How I feel right now:
- I feel clouded with tons questions
- Why are some people born into this?
- Why was I given the privilege of living in America?
- Why do these kids have to think about if they’ll get fed today, before they could ever dream about what they want to do with their lives one day?
- What actions do I take from here? Now I haven’t just heard about it. I’ve seen it and cannot neglect that God cares deeply for widows and orphans. It’s in the scriptures, over and over and over again.
- Will my actions help more than hurt?
- What are long term, self-sustaining ideas that could help these families?
- If I bought them blankets, would they use it, or sell it for food because that’s more of a priority? Would it be better to just buy food?
- How do I accept what they were going to eat for dinner without insulting them?
- How can I use a real toilet and not feel guilty in the future?
- Am I supposed to feel guilty or burdened?
- What do you want me to do right now, God?
- What do you want me to do when I get home, God?
- How do I even try to explain this to people at home who I love, without getting frustrated with our American comforts?
- Should we just go build a bathroom for that family while we are here?
- Should we just take that little girl with the 2 year open wound to the doctor ourselves?
- I feel frustrated with myself for all the times I’ve ever complained. Including today.
- I feel burdened to pray for this area in Uganda and intercede for them until I hear what God desires for me to do. Will I be okay if all He wants me to do is pray?
- I feel thankful for just about anything I can think of.
- I feel angry that our human sin affects innocent children. But then I feel grace because my sin has affected other and God still offered me grace and forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it.
- I feel defeated because there’s not enough time, money or resources for me to help all these people and solve all these problems. And there are problems. It’s not just cultural differences or a different life style. People are full of sadness. Basic human needs are not being met.
- I feel a tremendous admiration for Pastor Vincent, Pastor Nelson, and Rhoda for the work they do here to try to help make a difference. They see these things day in and day out. They do what they can, yet they lack a lot of funding, also. Pastor Vincent told me that it’s hard because there are days where it just seems hopeless, but He puts His faith in Christ and sees how He continues to help, even if it’s in small ways sometimes.
- I’m reminded of how I felt after being in Kenya for the first time in 2013 and a conversation I had with my friend, Michael. We talked about our American comforts and how sometimes we get so comfortable that we think we don’t need God. We have the money to put our own food on the table, and we can even choose between option upon option of what we want that to be. Yet these people HAVE TO rely on God for their daily bread. It’s not just some words they say, but earnest prayer and total dependence on Him. I remember talking to Michael about the meaning of the word “blessed” and who Jesus says are blessed in Matthew 5 to His best friends :
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
Fun fact: The Greek word for blessed in this text is makarios (meaning “happy” or “fortunate), and often indicates someone who is favored by God.
Jesus never says that we are blessed by having fancy houses, nice cars, designer clothes, or material things. Per usual, He examines our hearts.
What really makes us blessed? Having material things and comfort, or depending solely on the Lord? Or some of both?
This blog has become quite lengthy now, and I still don’t have a conclusion, but I would like to say thank you for caring enough to read this, 10 and a half months after I’ve left. I really do appreciate your time and investment in this journey God’s taken us on. I know many of you will be compelled to give me some encouraging scripture and try to answer some of these questions I’ve word vomited into this blog, but I want to ask that you don’t. I know there is sin in this world and it’s broken, and I am not seeking answers from you, because only His words will satisfy me and He knows me better than anyone else. I also know many of you will not be compelled to respond and might have your own questions or feelings now. Neither of these responses are wrong.
My one request is that you will pray for the homes and ministry I mentioned earlier in this blog right now. Take 3 minutes instead of scrolling through social media or watching tv today and tell God whatever is on your heart. Whether that’s for the kids, the moms, our hosts, our team, your own heart, the village in general, if God’s asking you to do something with what you e read, whatever. I have no expectation on anyone and there’s absolutely no pressure. But please don’t just close this tab and go about your day like any other day. Please just pray with me. I believe in the power of prayer and praying with expectation.