At 16 years old, I looked at my life, and realized I had no clear direction. I was still trying to figure out how and where I was called to serve. So at 16, I made the decision to be intentional, and left for Uganda on June 16th, my 17th birthday. Flying across several states, I landed in Atlanta, Georgia to attend a training camp with Adventures In Missions. More out of desperation than joy, it was there that I learned the cute songs and hand motions to follow – they said it would help us connect with the children we met. Later that week though, I took another trip. And this time I crossed the water, all the way to Bugiri, Uganda, in need of more than hand motions and songs to hold the lessons I would learned.
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In less than a week, my heart looked like the world after a natural disaster. All I could see in my vision was the broken, messy, ugly devastation of life in poverty. And I couldn’t help but question how there could be beauty in all that rubble. Definitely not hope for the people.
I can't do this. Were the words I whispered often.
I was with a team traveling Bugiri district, and we reached into hospitals and cared for orphans – fulfilling the call to love, to serve, to seek hope in every waking moment. Hope Home and Orphanage, where we spent our days, was filled with 35 children, who we knew by name almost instantly. It was huge. There was laughter and happy noise to spare, and there was too much joy for my traveling heart to bear when children called my name. My heart rested, even when my hands worked, and I was home with them. No matter the poverty surrounding us.
Despite the suitcase by my bed, the breakfasts that went uncooked, the corners that collected the dust of life with all those children around, and the beds that were made and slept in again by the people I called friends, I knew it would be home forever. There was more love shared in that place than I’ve ever known before, and it became a heart home, and a piece of my traveling community.
I have never felt so included in the joy of those around the world like I did with those individuals. Similarly though, I have never felt so confronted with their pain. That summer, I saw people face the death sentence of AIDS, lives waste away in self-destruction, and most tragic of all, loving mothers endure the loss of their beautiful babies.
I feel overwhelmed with my experience of people suffering horrible losses, tragedies that have no answers, and diseases existing without cures. I struggle with asking myself if life is simply meant to be challenging, to teach us to love more. Or is it meant to teach us to find joy and to reach for the beauty in the moments that we can? When a memory of happiness becomes all that is left, when laughter and time spent together are gone, are we to look for the joy in the small and simple moments? Or are we to realize that life is hard?
I didn't have an epiphany and I don’t have answers for life in Africa. In Uganda though, people danced. That has forever replaced my picture of poverty with joy.