As many of you know, I have been on several overseas mission trips. I’ve traveled to Hungary, Nicaragua, and most recently- Uganda. Today, I’ll be talking about the things I witnessed daily while on my short term mission trip in Uganda. While there, I worked alongside orphans in a Children’s Home.
Everyone knows that poverty exists. Every once in awhile a television ad with sad brown faces appears that’s trying to get you to donate. You’ll hear the occasional joke when you don’t eat all of your food to think about the starving children in Africa. You’ll see a twitter post with a picture of a skinny child attached that is telling you to be thankful for what you have. Not everyone, however, spends a week with these people who are starving, sick, and hopeless. Not everyone looks poverty in the eye and is overwhelmed by the dirtiness and pain of it. During my senior spring break I met these people and fell in love with them.
As soon as I set foot on the African soil, I quickly took in the difference between this foreign place and our Western culture. I landed in Entebbe, Africa, one of the largest and wealthiest cities of Uganda. As I walked off of the plane into the airport, I was hit with the heat and cloud of bugs swarming the dim lights. In one of the largest and only airports in Uganda, there was no air conditioning. After we left Entebbe and headed for Gulu, which held the Children’s Home, the industrialization only continued to diappear. The streets of Entebbe were full and buzzing with desperate street venders. The landscape soon changed to red, soil roads with green bush on either side that was dotted with tiny villages. A large number of natives live in huts that consist of clay walls, a dirt floor, and a straw roof. The village children run around with large bellies. These large bellies are not the same large bellies that Americans have; these bellies are full of gas because they having nothing in their stomachs to digest. Most of these children are malnurited, have worms, and cannot afford to get an education.
HIV/AIDS is a large and growing problem in Uganda. It is a virus that many children are born with due to the lack of sanitation. People in America often make jokes out of this condition that is taking so many lives with it. This virus is a silent killer that breaks down a person’s immune system until they die of common illnesses. Around 1.46 MILLION people in Uganda are struggling with HIV. There is no cure for it, only treatments. It is transmitted through bodily fluids and can make a person who is infected feel dirty, worthless, and a burden to their loved ones. I was told that there probably isn’t a single person in Uganda who hasn’t lost a family member or friend to AIDS or the to the civil war. In as recent as 2010 there was a man named Joseph Kony who led a rebel group called the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) of which abducted children, killed parents, made child soldiers, and sold children into sex-trafficking. The Ugandan government was “unable to find and stop Kony” despite many other nations offering to find Kony in the Uganda bush using their updated technology. Many believe the government officials rejected this help due to the foreign aid they were receiving and pocketing. The people lived in constant fear of Kony for nearly 28 years while the government sat by absently. Nearly all of the children I worked with in the Children’s Home had been affected by AIDS or Kony in one way or another. Four of the children were actually living with HIV and many of their parents were murdered by the LRA.
When I first arrived at the home, I was in shock. It was small, it was (from an American viewpoint) dirty, and it was plain. Coming from a place where the most poverty I experienced was the occasional commercial, it took me a while to take in the situation at hand. Slowly, I adjusted. After comparing the children’s home to how the rest of this country lived, I realized how blessed these children were. 25 orphans that were hopeless, malnurited, deathly sick, homeless and depressed were now having their physical and emotional needs met. They now had a home, medicine and treatment for their illnesses, full bellies, education and a future, love, and hope. The restoration that Jesus was bringing to these 25 children absolutely blew me away. One of them is a little seven year old boy named Kelly. The first day I met him, he was running around with the largest grin I have ever seen a child possess. Throughout the week, the stories of the children were told. When Kelly was first brought into the home, he was on the brink of death. His father had committed suicide and his mother was paralyzed from an accident and was unable to take care of Kelly. He was malnurited, deadly sick with malaria, and was in bad enough shape that no one thought he would live for a month in the home. Despite the odds, he lived. Now he is healthy, happy, and can’t stop smiling and laughing as he plays. Without the people who started the home, the people who gave up their normal lives and saw the need of these people, Kelly and the 24 other children would probably have died without ever knowing what love feels like. If they have never felt love, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to accept the love of their Savior.
There were many days on this trip where I felt so overwhelmed by the need of these people that I was almost brought to tears. I felt helpless and I wondered how I could ever make a difference when the need was so great. As the trip continued, I realized that no one person can save the world. We can, however, make the a difference in one person’s life. The rest of the week I spent loving one person at a time. “This is a country of broken people. When people in the USA have problems they talk to someone and allow healing to happen. Here, there is no healing. When you try to talk about your problems no one will listen because they’re dealing with the exact same thing,” a local missionary told me. The only person who could possibly help these broken people is Jesus and, despite the vast amount of need, He is working in the lives of these people.
The United States of America does have its problems, but they do not begin to compare to the immensity of need in places only an ocean away. Children are starving, people are dying, our brothers and sisters in Christ are losing hope. These are people that God has created in His image, people that he loves dearly, people that He calls us to love as well. This is not new news, yet not nearly enough people are doing something about it. It’s time to wake up. Too many christians, myself included, are comfortable with their cozy lives. God has blessed us with financial prosperity and opportunities, yet we are using it to only further our own “success”. Where in the Bible does it say to be comfortable? Where does it say to further your own plans? The Bible instructs us to love others boldly, to be uncomfortable in the name of Jesus, to give until it hurts. It’s time to do something more than we’re doing now. I don’t have a simple solution on how to end poverty, but I do know that Jesus is a miracle worker and that He is already working in Uganda and restoring lost souls. I challenge you to pray and see how God will lead you to step outside your comfort zone to further His kingdom. Our purpose here on Earth is not to fit into the world, it is not to live a comfortable live, it is to glorify our Creator. Our mission is to spread His name to people of ALL nations and to love others in the way that He first loved us. It’s time to do something more.