Last Saturday morning at 6:00am I wedged into the back seat of Grace & Healing Ministry’s truck between Mama Esther and Pastor Musa, and we set off for the 2009 Lahash International East Africa Conference in Kampala, Uganda. The day ended at a Lutheran guest house in Bukoba in western Tanzania, just across the border from Uganda at just past 9:00pm. That’s right, 15 hours of driving. Oh, the bone weariness, and it wasn’t over yet. We left around 9:30am the next morning to cross over into Uganda. It was fascinating driving over the 10 miles or so that Uganda and Tanzania fought over during the rule of Idi Amin. I saw a Tanzanian church that had been bombed by Amin’s forces, and has been left as a landmark. It stands near the site of a girls’ secondary school (like a boarding high school) where Amin’s forces raped over 100 teenage girls. Even now that puts a knot of nausea in the pit of my stomach. We arrived safely in Kampala around 3pm on Sunday, and I cannot describe the delight of seeing so many of my dear Lahash friends from Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and the States.
We have spent the week going over the application of the Lahash values in our partnerships in East Africa. Most of it is probably not that interesting to the majority, so I’ll spare you the details. My day for speaking was yesterday, as I presented about five hours of material on Holistic Care and the sponsorship program. Again, not that interesting for most of you, but if you are a sponsor, you should be getting really excited for the direction our programs are going. Prepare to be impressed by the child you sponsor (Inshallah, aka God willing). One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the value of each individual child and each individual sponsor, and our partners really responded to that principle, and we had a great time discussing how that affects our programs.
One evening this week we watched the documentary “War Child” on the life of Emmanuel Jal, a Southern Sudanese musician. He’s just two or three years older than I am, but the absolute terror of his life was really heart-wrenching. I’d heard of Jal in a fantastic book called Emma’s War, recommended to me by my friend Frank So, and I’ve heard some of his music in different Lahash videos. (You can purchase his music on ITunes, I highly recommend the songs “Emma” and “Gua”.) Please try to get a copy of the film “War Child” if you’re at all interested in the civil war in Sudan, Darfur, the Lost Boys, child soldiers, or the Sudanese children we work with. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in just over a year Southern Sudan could be erupting into civil war again, and if that happens, it will be children just like those in our Sudanese sponsorship program who are picking up guns to fight.
On a purely selfish level, I received a great blessing this week. Since I arrived in Tanzania I’ve been sharing a room and a bed with Leah, and this week I am the only unmarried woman at the conference, so I got my own room! It’s not just a single, either, because they ran out of singles, and they charge by the person, I got a huge triple all to myself. My introverted self is eating this up, and it’s lovely to be surrounded by so many people I love, but still get time to just be alone. Mama Esther is so jealous of my room that she comes in sometimes in the evening to lay on the bed next to me and stroke my head while we watch a movie. (She really misses her kids, and I’m the next best thing. I’m not complaining!)
Finally, last night we went to Mama Susan’s home for the amazing feast she always puts on and a little worship service. Any of you who have eaten Esther Basa’s food or heard the Nsambya kids praise Jesus will know the pure magic of that night. I spent the two hours of the worship service listening to testimonies and prayers and Scripture with little Nancy sleeping in my lap. Nancy was burned in a fire when she was a baby, and my friend Jose took responsibility for getting the facial reconstruction surgeries that she needed. She looks marvelously better, and I think it is a tremendous privilege to get to snuggle a toddler who has already been through so much pain.
Thanks, friends, for caring about me, and putting me in the position to love these kids, learn from our partners, and sleep each night under the blanket of East African humidity. I love you, and all of the friends here love you, too, although they’ve never met you. They love that you love me, and yet still sent me to live with them.
Let us strive to be grateful and gracious followers of Jesus. Amen.