Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Joy Despairs

Joy does despair, but meanwhile widows, orphans and soccer moms save the world.

I had just given a short lesson during church on Matthew 6:33 and how when you seek first the kingdom of God all these things matter less so that you share with one another and so create just kingdom relationships. After standing at the door to shake hands, we began to walk home only to see a crowd gathered around a single girl on the ground weeping. She had lost her money while playing. How much? Only 1000 shillings? Can I give it to her I ask myself. I hesitate a bit, because I'm stingy, but I do. But she is still crying. Oh, it was 10,000 shillings. I cannot help. I have the $5 that it amounts to, but American money doesn't help in Kapchorwa. The church members say they will try to pull together so that by next week they can give her a gift. Some of the members walk home with her so that they can reason with her short-tempered mother. I ask my mother the girl's name. Joy. I ask why her mother would be so angry. I learn those 10,000 shillings would have fed the family for the whole week. I do the math. Even if that 10000 shillings was for only one person, that was less than a $1 a day. The statistic I learned at a 30-Hour-Famine so many years ago of extreme poverty being living on less than a $1 a day suddenly has a face. Later I learn that the mother chased the girl at least a half mile down the road before leaving her to stay with a relative.

My mother in Kapchorwa is Reverend Diane. She is 36 years old and leads the church here. She has her bachelors and masters in education and teaches at the secondary school maybe 4 kilometers from our home or nearly 2.5 miles. She walks everyday. When she was finishing her masters degree her husband died. Her two boys were about 5 and 1. My mother is a widow. After her husband died she went back to school and became a reverend. She's a leader trying to help her community. She built a new home behind her old one and she started a kindergarten in the old one and paid women from the community to teach in her old home and use her kitchen to make porridge for the kids everyday.

Her husband came from a polygamous family, so he has many 10 siblings. Two of the other men have also died in the past ten years. One of those died in 2001, and in 2003 the widow left the children and ran away. I found this out after I'd spent most of three days hanging out with Ronald, a 22-year-old who was a month late going to school because his family was struggling to get school fees. We'd spent the days talking about the power of music and cutting matoke leaves and pounding g-nuts into sauce and shelling, winnowing and frying coffee beans. Ronald is one of the kids that woman left behind. Ronald is an orphan. And guess what? He doesn't wear one of those bright orange Orphan t-shirts that we were using at Biola to raise awareness. He's like you or me. His father was a military officer who imprisoned a soldier for beating his wife. The soldier decided to kill him and several other men at the court. Ronald wants to be a lawyer. But in his private life he wants to use music to sing about orphans and love and relationships.

Samuel's about the same age as Ronald. He's a partial-orphan. After Idi Amin was out of power, a lot of weapons were left behind in this area. One tribe, the Karamoja, managed to take many of these. They live in a very dry part of the country, and they took to cattle hustling, stealing cows from many people in Kapchorwa through violence. Samuel was a baby when they raided a village once. Samuel was with his mother when she was shot dead. Samuel didn't know she was dead and  continued to suckle from her breast. That's how his mother found him. I didn't know any of this when I was introduced to a young man on our walk back to school. I only knew this guy Samuel in front of me could speak English and kept joking with the Reverend about whether stealing was wrong or not.

One of the boys with him looked about twelve to me. He had a way of sticking out his chest that made me think he was trying to look like a man. A couple days after meeting them we were sitting staring out across the great valley that's my momma's backyard and staring at the falls that go down the cliff and attract tourists that provide jobs as guides and the opportunity to learn English for guys like Samuel. As we sat there sipping tea and talking, she pointed to caves along the cliffs. She told me the story of one day in 1997 when five boys of about 8 years old went into the cliffs. She told me the story of the one little boy who was a Christian and kept refusing to drink the liquor they brought down, because here to be born again includes a somewhat frustrating legalistic but powerfully life-transforming standing in front of the church and rejecting of the past way of life including alcohol. She told me the story of how those boys beat him until he died and tossed him over the cliff. She couldn't remember his name when I asked.

When I met those boys I didn't see those things. I just saw a tall young man and what looked like a boy trying to seem like a tall young man. That boy is actually 16 years old. Those boys, my mom told me, are thieves. But they're also guys that the community hasn't found a place for or a way to help them. I know only part of their story. But there's another side and I don't know it. I can only tell what I know.

What's a muzungu from California doing here? Preaching at the church and giving encouragement in five different classes at the secondary school and going to the market. What am I doing here? What's my role? Part of me never wants to leave Uganda. Part of me didn't want to leave Kapchorwa. Because I haven't answered that question yet.

Here's the thing. There is a place. There's even a place for Obama on my mom's wall on a magazine fold out with his pictures of him and his girls and his wife with her name spelled Mitchele. There's even room for muzungus to wear jeans and act like muzungus at all the resorts dotting the cliff. But where's my place?

I don't know. But it was odd to hear from my friends about their moms and dads in Kapchorwa who work with Compassion International and help children sponsored to go to school write letters to muzungus like me in America. It was weird to realize many of the students I talked to were only at school because of those sponsorships.

We're reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen right now. Compassion is to suffer with somebody, just to be Present with them and not always try to fix their problems but care about them and be in relationship with them. Emmanuel God with us is the ace of this kind of compassion. And I'm really not the ace at it. Because it's in fetching water and grinding g-nuts with them that I get to share with them their lives. But it's not my life, cuz after ten days I left, and in two months I get to leave and go back to the states. But I'm learning.

Cuz widows and orphans aren't just victims and helpless. They're reverends and musicians and lawyers and they have something to say and something to contribute. Even those boys I was telling you about out of the community, they have something to contribute. It's people just living their lives and walking a little girl home when she loses her money and getting the community together to pay for what she lost. It's walking 15 kilometers just to visit with somebody. It's holding a women's conference so that you can encourage and pray for one another. It's having compassion. And it doesn't take a super-hero.

We had a discussion, and one of the girls said was wondering about the choice between being a soccer mom and saving the world. But soccer moms can save the world. Soccer moms do save the world. Seriously. There was a group of five Christians in the slums of a major Mauritanian city who decided to actually live in the slums. The slums were full of rural immigrants who were illiterate and not used to urban life and from different tribes and different religions. There wasn't enough jobs and not even enough water. Talk about tension. They organized the youth in the midst of all of this for soccer games and speaking love into their lives. Those kids decided to make a newspaper. And then a radio station. And they made a community where before there was only a crowd.

Soccer moms can do that. And I don't know exactly what my place here in Africa or on planet Earth might be but I know I want to have compassion and I know I want to have community and I know that those things change everything.

1 comment:

  1. God bless you my dear. Your place is where you stand your feet on this glorious planet of ours. I do admire you for being there so you can share in the experiences you are having. While the teachinging you are giving is so worthwhile it sounds like they are in return giving to you. Please keep us in touch with your life there, Margaret