I’m re-running some old posts from my Uganda trip. This one was originally published February 12, 2008.
UGANDA TIME: 8:10 pm
OKLAHOMA TIME: 11:10 am
It’s our first full day in Africa, the day when they warned us our jet lag would be maxed out. And they were right. I have a million things to tell/show you, but my brain is not at full power. Bear with me, and I’ll do my best. (On top of the jet lag, I appear to have some sort of bug–fevery, achy, etc.–please pray this ends QUICKLY.)
First, I promised to tell you a little more about our hotel. It’s one of the nicest ones in the country; it actually hosted Queen Elizabeth here for a summit in November. The rooms are perfectly lovely–even air-conditioned–and they really look just like a hotel room in the U.S. (I mean, except for the mosquito netting on the beds and the Al-Jazeera on the TV). Compassion specifically picked this place because of the reliable internet access, which has turned out to be not-so-reliable. This many bloggers in one spot appears to be sucking all the bandwidth right out of the place. Because of these technical issues, I’m unable to post any photos at the moment.
Which is terribly disappointing, because I cannot imagine that I even possess the language ability to tell you, without the aid of photos, the things I saw today. Needless to say, the contrast with our gorgeous hotel was a stark one.
We began the morning by visiting Deliverance Church, a church in the heart of Kampala’s slums. In every single one of Compassion‘s projects around the world–without exception–they fund their projects through the local church. Compassion keeps a low profile in these projects, letting the church take a higher profile position.
They shared with us the work they did with the kids–basically an after-school type program and a weekend program, in addition to providing school fees for the 300 children (even public school costs money here). The children eagerly showed us their Sunday school rooms and their new bathrooms.
And then, we were split into groups and taken to some of the children’s homes. This is where it’s so hard not to be able to post pictures. I’ll have to do my best with words.
The slums were just exactly like every picture you’ve seen of African urban poverty. The children ran around in rags, while adults sat outside their doors, many trying to sell things, others begging. Raw sewage ran in various open channels through the streets. Cows and chickens roamed freely, and the open air market sold raw fish absolutely covered in flies.
It is just exactly like I pictured a hundred times, just exactly like I’d seen in countless photos of Africa. And yet it was profoundly different, standing there, seeing it, smelling it, holding the hands of the children who just wanted to see a "mzungu" (white person).
I was taken to the home of Annette, a woman who fries plantains on an open pit, and she sells them to passersby. She is a single mom of five children, one of whom (Brenda) is enrolled in the Compassion program at Deliverance church. Annette proudly showed us her little business, and then she took us down a crooked maze of alleyways to her home.
Her home was simply a room, about six feet by eight feet. For her family of six. Beds were somehow bunked along the dank stone walls, and clean clothes hung from the ceiling. There was room for a small table, where she kept her savings in a wood box. The room was dark and dusty, and there was the unmistakable smell of many people living in tight quarters, yet things were very tidy. A red jute rug lay on the floor. With the help of an interpreter, I complimented her on how neat her home was.
I asked her if it was hard raising five children alone. She sadly nodded. "Yes," she said. "It is very hard." I asked her if our team could pray with her. She said she would like that very much. Anne and I took her hands, and the rest of our group did their best to crowd in the small room. I prayed aloud, pausing for the interpreter. And I will tell you, in all honestly, that my own words (even my words offered in prayer) felt empty.
I know that He is the God of the universe. I do not doubt that He sees Annette, and loves her, and I don’t even doubt that suffering can exist as part of His divine plan.
But there is so much need. So much to be done. Maybe He just wants to kick all of us in the pants to get off our duff and do something.
After our meeting with Annette, we walked a few more streets and then headed back to the church. Several of the very young children, too young for the church program, saw the mzungus gathered and ran up to touch us and gleefully grab the candies some team members handed out. One sweet boy took a jawbreaker, took a few sucks on it, then took it out of his mouth to hold in his hand. A few minutes later he’d pop it back in.
He was trying to make it last as long as he could. He was probably about four years old.
And I will tell you, as I watch a little preschooler trying to savor a piece of candy, it is impossible not to think of my own children and everything they have. It is impossible to see Annette’s tiny little home and think of my own family of six, living in a four bedroom, two-story house.
We have so much–we all do. I saw a new definition of poverty today, and in doing so, I saw a definition of wealth. I am wealthy. You are wealthy.
What are we doing with it?