“Where we love is home- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
So, I am back in America. I got back in the afternoon of Dec. 5 (this past Friday) on British Airways flights #193 from London. 24 hours of travel, 18 hours of flying, 6 hour layover, 2 difficult goodbyes, 1 completely shredded heart.
It has been a long time since I have written and believe me, I tried my hardest. Aside from sketchy internet connections (I was in the African bush), in the past month, words just wouldn’t come. Writing, for me, is just one of those things that just comes and if no words are coming, then I can’t post something until they do. However, I believe the inability to write was a gift from the Lord. It allowed me to take in a complete 360 degree view of Uganda and the children that the Lord loves tremendously.
This past month I was in Bobi, another VOH Uganda location that sits about a 30 minute drive south of Gulu town, the main development in the northern region and the city where most of the children reside on holiday. Bobi is an incredible village. It is smaller and not as developed as the main location in Bweyale, with only P1, P6, and P7 children residing there, but it is just as beautiful and radiates the presence and love of the Father the minute you step on the property. Some of the land has not been cleared yet, so you are surrounded by beautiful Ugandian flora and fauna on a daily basis. Although the locals don’t regard the fauna as ‘beautiful’ (more of pests actually), for me, it was just another glimpse into the creativity and majesty of our Heavenly Father.
For example, monkeys are prevalent there, specifically on the boys’ side of the village, and these monkeys sometimes can be quite rude. Okello Fred (pictured right of me in the above photo), filled me in on the militaristic style these monkeys have. First, there is the Food Commandos. These is an elite squad whose main goal is to get as much of your posho and beans as it can with your back turned, even for a split second. Fred described them as “the group that disturbs you the most.” Along with this clandestine faction, you have the Maize Group. These monkeys, along with the Food Commandos, are specifically trained to go behind enemy lines and raid the boys’ maize crop. So while the Food Commandos are creating a diversion the war front, the Maize Group embarks on a black ops mission to steal the most important food component in every meal. (Maize or ‘corn’ flour is required in large quantities to make porridge for breakfast, and in even larger quantities to make posho for lunch and dinner. Most of the boys are adolescents so if you can just picture how much a teenage boy eats, imagine how much posho is required to feed 100 of them.) Those monkeys just do the darndest things, don’t they?
I could honestly write five posts about Bobi and the amazing children that live there, but until I do that, I will just share an incredible moment I had there one evening. This moment I will title Dancing.
The Saturday before we left, the children and the staff all went out into the field in the evening. The sky was painted a mixture of gold, pink, and orange and the air was crisp after a rather hot day. The boys brought their gords and drums, and the girls brought their wraps. And then, there was dancing. And singing. And beauty. And laughter, And Jesus. Hope, Erin, and I even joined in and during this time of laughing and singing, I had a moment. Here I am, in Northern Uganda, in a village, dancing traditional Acholi dances with African children at sunset. I will never forget that moment. And then the Lord said, “I love you and this is a treasure I have placed just for you. Have fun, my child.” And we had fun.
Saying goodbye after a month of being together, learning all the names of the children, laughing, playing Capture the Flag every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, sleepovers in the girls’ homes, cooking with the house moms and aunties, gaining many more Acholi brothers and sisters, I think, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The thing is, these kids are so easy to love and freely love, becoming family to you and teaching you things and filling your heart till it is overflowing. So, you can imagine what leaving is like- your heart is completely shredded.
After leaving Bobi, Erin, Hope and I still had one last week in Bweyale. Aside from the sadness of leaving the kids in Bobi, it was good to return back to Bweyale and see those children as well. Being tackled by little Oliver in ‘Love’ upon our first sights of each other since my return that afternoon, was again, another moment where God was using these children. I was walking to the girls homes to come say hello, and when I walked upon the girls playing a game on the side of the ‘Love’ home, Oliver leaps up, runs at full speed, and jumps right onto me in the biggest, best hug ever. It was like a reminder that He sees our sadness, cares about it, and reminds us that there is still joy and His love is endless. It was like a huge, comforting hug from Jesus, but from little Oliver. Gosh, I love these kids.
This past week was full and amazing. Many hours were filled with activity, from hours of guitar lessons with Ojok Moses, ukulele lessons with Ogen Justin, sitting in the field while little Ayaa Tracy put flowers in my hair, singing One Thing Remains with Angwech Lucy Daniel, basketball with Okello Peter, observing S1 students paint the new map for the village, movies every night, futbol games (Staff vs. Students and S1 vs. S2), love, laughter, joy, and of course, Jesus radiating through His Acholi people.
The process of leaving was hard but in a deeper way. I had already gone through the experience of leaving those kids in Bobi and therefore, my heart was more prepared to leave Village of Hope after my 3 months being there. I hugged my brothers and sisters tight, we took pictures, we exchanged letters, and then, we embarked on the 5 hour drive to Entebbe. I pushed my emotions back into the deep parts of my heart, because knowing that if I allowed them to seep through, I wouldn’t have enough emotional strength to get through the next 48 hours. Some did escape through a shred or two in my heart though when I had to say goodbye to Hopie the following afternoon. After 3 months of being together, meeting for the first time in Uganda, and only spending 2 days out of the 90 apart, it was hard to say goodbye. You love and have ups and downs but grow so close to each other, like sisters…it was just hard. I love you Hopie, and can’t wait till we are reunited soon. You are so cool.
Then, at 10 PM, Erin and I left the Anderita hotel and began out journeys home. I was so thankful she was with me on the journey to London. We laughed, looked at pictures and funny videos of the kids, drank coffee, ate a chocolate croissant, and said our goodbyes. Erin is an incredible chick also and another blessing from the Lord given to me in Uganda. Amari metek, Erin!!!!!!!!!!! You too are also so cool.
At 10:45 AM, London time, I stepped onto my final flight. BA #193, row 46, seat A. I sat there with my eyes closed (I cannot sleep on planes). I watched Home Alone. I organized all 4000 photos of the kids on my computer. I laughed at some videos of the children. I read their sweet words in their letters. I cried as more emotions began to seep out of the shreds in my heart. And their faces never left from behind my eyelids.
I met my family at the airport. I was overwhelmed with America and tired from travel and a wreck from not being with my beloved Acholi brothers and sisters. I was happy to hug my dad, mom, and sisters, but the moment I hopped into the car with my dad, tears came like a flood. All the strength it had taken to hold back emotions was depleted and it all came in loud sobs and tears as we drove home. The faces of the children were behind my eyelids and had not left.
It’s been 2 days and each day becomes easier. I am still overwhelmed but not as bad as Friday afternoon. I am the American Christmas Grump of ’14 though. I cry every day, looking over pictures of the children and thinking about moments I had with them. I miss Mama Donna and the Douds and the amazing Ugandian staff. I am burdened for the children since they are back in their homes for holiday which means hardship for many of them, and I have to remind myself that Lord has them in the palm of His hand and is bigger than anything and takes care of His children… And the faces of the children are behind my eyelids and still have not left.
I have loved sleeping at night, for I have had dreams of being back in the village and hanging out with the kids and hugging them and laughing and love and joy. And then I wake up, and my heart is flooded with conflicting emotions. I am happy to be in my own bed but am sad to be in my own bed.
I know their faces will never leave from behind my eyelids and my heart will forever have scars from those shreds. I know I will be reunited with my beloved Acholi brothers and sisters soon and this isn’t goodbye forever. I just wonder how my life is going to look now that these kids have shredded my heart and I am not the same spiritually and mentally. The Lord did work in this heart and in Northern Uganda and I can’t just walk away from that. How can I? This can’t just be #11 on my list of missional experiences. The children and Village of Hope can’t become a distant memory. So many questions and thoughts and emotions and wonder and prayers but God is God and knows and that is my comfort.
It’s hard to end a post like this since I don’t know think this is the end. I invite you not only to pray along with me for my Acholi brothers and sisters, but to invest in Village of Hope. Sponsor one of these incredibly amazing children and help complete the development for the Bobi location. Pray for the safety and protection of the kids on holiday until they return in February and that they would continue to grow in the identity as children of the Most High.
Thank you for all your sweet words these past 3 months and 2 days. Be praying for me in this hard transition. I can’t wait to see all of you soon.