As I wrestled with the difficult decision as to whether to return to Uganda, faces began to fill my mind. There is the face of the little boy - no older than three - who crouched outside his home in the slum, sick and all alone. Less than 100 yards away just before seeing the boy, I had seen the devastation of alcohol in this community, as men sat around, inebriated well before lunch. Maybe his father was there, or maybe this boy was one of the estimated 2.5 million orphans living in Uganda. Perhaps his mother was off working and did not have a choice but to leave him alone.
Something in me changed that day. I remember the Ugandan I was with telling me the boy had malaria, a preventable disease that can be easily treated when diagnosed early. For days, and now years, I wondered what happened to that boy whose height and size reminded me of one of my precious nieces back home. I felt the tension of being a Mzungu (white person) in Uganda, wanting so desperately to make the right decision, balancing the desire to extend mercy with the desire to not create unnecessary dependence and hinder development within the community. For days (and still years), I question whether I made the right decision. It's in those moments, in the hard questions, I have no choice but to press into the sovereignty and grace of God.
Although my encounter with this boy was brief, his face is familiar to my mind. And then there are the faces of the Ugandan women crowded around a dark hut. These women had at least two things in common: HIV/Aids and a shared label by the community: outcasts. As I think back on these women living with this disease in a shame-based culture, I rejoice at what they found in this group: acceptance and belonging. For different reasons, I could identify that day with their shame and the need to be deeply known and fully loved. What a joy it was to share the Gospel with them, to tell of one who knows us perfectly and loves us deeply. What a privilege to tell of the freedom offered by the one of whom we can say, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him" (Psalm 103:11).
Two young girls who were labeled as street children when we met are among the many faces. By age 10, they had experienced more than their minds could possibly understand. Their resilience and even their willingness to still trust and extend love overwhelms me. As I think of even the little parts I know about their stories, a fierceness in me arises - a fierceness that draws me to labor toward the day when children in Uganda experience the love and protection of a family unit.
I see the face of my dear friend, Gloria. A Ugandan entrepreneur in her mid-30s who founded and operates a successful chain of coffee shops. I think of her heart for business as ministry, longing to invest profits toward children whose lives have been torn apart by war in the northern part of the country. Her ability to turn vision into reality and her hunger for the Lord inspire me to the same.
And I see the faces of the JENGA team, the 35 Ugandans who are gifted, joyful and working for a restored Uganda. Maggie, Aidah, Michael, Grace, Andrew, all these faces flood my mind and my heart fills with gratitude for the way in which they are working to bring about God's Kingdom in Uganda. What a joy and honor it will be to labor with them, while we rest in the truth that God is the one making all things new and He will have His way in Uganda. As we wait for the day when we will see Him face to face, I pray our lives will testify to His goodness, grace and unfailing love.
"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." - 1 Corinthians 13:2