A week from today, I will be back in Africa! Did you know I have family there…
Eph. 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory.
Shortly after arriving in Uganda (July 2007), this verse was given to us by the Spiritual Leader of our trip, Sandi. She asked us to really think about it for the day and see if we could apply it to our own experience…
I woke up early on Monday, 7/30/2007. I was way too excited to sleep. Today was the day a few of us would travel to the northern edge of Kampala to meet our sponsored children. This area was used for mass graves during Idi Amin’s regime. Africa Renewal Ministries (ARM) and Word of Life Church have partnered together to bring life to an area previously known for death. It is their belief that with support Deo School can rise above the tragic history of the area and become a place where children receive a chance at a better life.
Our family had been writing and praying for 9 year old Ronald for almost a year now. Sponsorship cards were made available at our church and many of our members took advantage of the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. I was dying to know if this whole idea of “give $30 a month and give a child hope for the future” was all that we thought it was. I was well prepared with a backpack full of school supplies and letters from my own two children to present to Ronald upon my arrival. In addition, I also had gifts and letters for 4 other sponsored children. Tricia, Amanda, Shelley and Annette had all given me items for their “kids” who attend school at Deo as well.
Due to this excitement I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor of our hotel at 5 am journaling my thoughts. I didn’t want to wake my roommate, so it was that or try to lie still in bed for another hour. I had stuffed the paper with the verse on it in my journal the night before. When I came across it, I thought about how it would apply to my soon-to-be experience. If God would allow me to be able to see all 5 of these children, take pictures with each of them, and feel like we really are making a difference in their lives – what more could I ask for? Yet the verse says, “more than we ask or imagine”. So according to God, not only will my prayer be answered, but additional blessings (that I can’t even imagine) will also be occurring.
I’ve gotten better at trusting God (I mean after all, I’m praying on the bathroom floor at 5 am in AFRICA!). But still, if God could just pull off my initial request I would be amazed.
The moment has finally arrived and I join 4 other hopefuls from our missions team in a jeep traveling to Kampala to visit Deo School. Between the 5 of us we are prepared to see 12 children who have no idea that we are coming. After an hours drive in the rain we pull into the school parking lot/play yard/nothing but dirt. The students are all in blue uniforms (boys in pants and collared shirts, girls in dresses) playing happily on a large flat area. The only thing on the yard (besides well dressed children and dirt) is a single ball. Yet, everyone seems happy and well amused. As I open the door to get out, there is a small boy in a red striped shirt standing before me. I remember thinking : he’s awfully happy for a boy who forgot to put on his uniform that morning. I knew I’d run into children that I wouldn’t have a gift for. So, thankfully I had a large roll of stickers and apparently this was my first customer. I handed him one. His smile got even bigger and he proudly stuck it in the middle of his forehead.
We gave the administrator (who was beautiful and looked more professional than any of us) our list of hopefuls. Before she got to work on collecting them she led us to an empty classroom (which was 4 cement walls with a roof and more dirt). As we walked the news of the “sticker lady” soon got out. The group of children around me were all pointing to their own foreheads. As I held tightly onto the 5 sets of gifts, I managed to peel off stickers and say the words “God Bless You” as I attached one to each child’s desired forehead spot. Most of the children either said “God bless you too” or “thank you” before running back to their classes. Soon all had dispersed leaving only The Red Shirt Boy at my side. He smiled, put his finger up and said, “1 more”. How could I refuse? As I was about to enter our “waiting room” I noticed my new friend was still with me. I bent down and held out another sticker. This time, I put it on his finger and said “This one’s to share, go find a friend who doesn’t have one.” I turned and entered the room. There were 4 wooden benches positioned into a square for my teammates and I to sit and wait on.
I sat down and looked ahead, surprised to find The Red Shirt Boy standing directly in front of me, only now with 3 stickers on his forehead. He then sat down next to me. I knew he probably wasn’t supposed to be in here, but today I’m not in charge…and he is warming my heart.
Children began to arrive one by one. The administrator would sweetly introduce them to us and once the child looked comfortable, she’d leave to go and get another. All of the kids were so well mannered and naturally pretty shy.
I met Tricia’s and Shelley’s girls first and even though I was not “the real thing” they were just as happy to see me. They posed for pictures and when asked, recorded messages for their sponsors back in America. This whole time The Red Shirt Boy is sitting on the bench watching and nobody seems to know he exists, but me.
My sponsored child, Ronald, was very quiet. At first I thought he didn’t speak English. (Ugandan is the primary language, but once they are in school English is taught and used.) We went through the contents of the backpack together. I pulled out Blake’s and Ryan’s letters to him and began reading. By the 2nd sentence he had joined in and read quite well. I asked if he had just started school this year when I became his sponsor. He quietly communicated to me that he had a sponsor before, but for some reason they stopped sponsoring him. Due to the fact that he was doing so well in school, the ARM program allowed him to stay, in hopes that another family would come forward and provide support. I had thought it was odd that he already had a uniform shirt on in his picture on the sponsored card. Now it all made sense. Having already been left by one sponsor I could only imagine how he must be feeling. He was probably nervous that I wouldn’t like him or that he might say the wrong things. Poor kid. We talked about his family (5 brothers and 1 sister) and then we took some pictures together. I even let The Boy in the Red Shirt take a picture of us.
Suddenly it hit me! He’s wearing a red shirt because he doesn’t go to this school. That’s why no one is looking for him. I knelt down and looked him in the eyes, “Do you have a sponsor?”, I asked. He no longer could look at me as he shook his head – No. He most likely thought he would be asked to leave the room now. Without hesitation I knew what to do. I asked, “Would you like me to sponsor you, so you can go to school?” He took my hand and humbly whispered, “Thank you”. I had brought a small teddy bear (an extra one) to give to one of the 5 I had come to visit. But I realized then that the bear was intended for him. He had been eyeing it throughout my visit – but never touched it or asked about it. I gently pushed the bear into his chest and said, “This is for you.” Again, a whispered “thank you”.
When the administrator returned I inquired about him. She said she was so busy locating the proper children that she hadn’t realized he was with us in the room this whole time. He lives in the area and is being raised by his grandfather. Because of his situation and sweet spirit she has developed a soft spot for him. He doesn’t attend the school, but often visits to be around other kids. She said that his grandfather would be so happy and that I would really bless this family by sponsoring him. I informed her that I was the one who was blessed. For I did not choose him, but he chose me.
Cheryl, a volunteer from ARM, was accompanying us and was a little concerned that I had already told the boy I would sponsor him. She said sometimes people feel that way when they are here, but then go home and change their minds. Children are left devastated and feeling rejected. I assured her this would not be the case with me.
The Administrator wrote down the information I needed and told me he is 6 years old and his name is Arafat. Wow! I had heard that 85% of Ugandans consider themselves Christian, 10% Muslim and the other 5% practice cults such as witchcraft. Well, apparently his legal guardian would feel blessed if he went to this Christian school. So if he is Muslim he’s about to meet Jesus in a whole new way. Cheryl knew this was not the proper protocol, as there is a long list of children already waiting for sponsors. Never-the-less, she could not deny the divine circumstances. She removed all 3 stickers from Arafat’s forehead and placed them on his shirt, in order to take an identification photo back to ARM.
The rain is now coming down in buckets and the team is trying to all pile back into the jeep. The administrator is going to accompany us up to the preschool where the remaining 4 of the 12 children are waiting for us. As I look up from my spot in the back of the jeep I see Arafat clutching his bear and crying loudly. This is rare in Ugandan children. In fact I think that was one of the biggest differences I saw. They just don’t wear their emotions like Americans do. The Administrator said, “He is crying because you are leaving”. My heart sank. All I could think to do was pass up another sticker to Cheryl who was sitting by the window. She rolled it down and as the rain beat in she stretched out her arm to Arafat and said, “This is from Mama Kim”. He quickly took the sticker and added it to his well displayed collection. Unfortunately, the crying continued.
Our driver (who I later learned was Cheryl’s sponsored child for the last 7 years and is now going to University) gave Arafat a Ugandan coin in exchange for a smile. Arafat complied. We drove away and I couldn’t help but praise God for giving me “Immeasurably more than I asked or imagined”.