by The Lulu Tree Founder re: her latest trip to Uganda
Pastor Soka stands tall and lean in Kiranga village, in a church half-built, red bricks stacked painstakingly by an arthritic man in his congregation. A grandma they call Jjaja Hallelujah sits across from us in a faded second-hand windbreaker with a broken zipper over a traditional African dress. When she cries out in worship and runs to the back of the church everyone rises and responds “Amena!” and she runs back to the front with a toothless smile and the loudest Hallelujah I’ve ever heard.
The elders greet us and children wave shyly in dresses sliding off their small bodies. It’s the heat of a Uganda mid-day and I wonder if they ate supper the night before. The mothers nod, babies strapped to their backs, necks strong from bearing jerry cans full of water across long red roads.
Pastor Soka’s mother sings to us a worship song in Luganda, her thin frame swaying, eyes closed and her son smiling proudly behind her. He looks like he hasn’t slept – his sister in law is seven months pregnant, badly beaten by her husband and staying with her four kids in his family’s two-room home.
He rises and speaks of what it means to be a pastor in the villages of Uganda. What it means to stand in front of a congregation that’s starving and shoeless, declaring to them — assuring them — that God IS good and that he DOES see and hear and he WILL act on behalf of his people.
“And then,” he says, his voice shaky, “I would go home and cry because my own children don’t have paraffin to light at night, or soap, or school fees.”
Later under an avocado tree in his yard, chickens scratching the dirt and the air smelling of hibiscus, he tells me he has a dream of planting food — not for himself, but for the teen mothers whom his culture has declared worthless, the “girl-children” they’ve beaten in school to set an example for the others who haven’t yet “ruined” their lives by sleeping with a man for food or because the man promises he can take away her period for nine months (a horrendous embarrassment for girls in villages that don’t have income to buy underwear let alone menstrual pads).
He wants to plant food for these girls whom he calls his “daughters”, girls that now attend The Lulu Tree School of Hope — the first teen mother school in all of Uganda — because right now they only eat posho and beans and they need a wide variety of foods, he says, because they’re breastfeeding.
This man who can’t even afford school fees for his children. He could ask for anything. We are, after all, visitors from one of the wealthiest continents in the world. Yet all he asks is to be able to help feed someone else’s children.
Later we all meet with the Lulu Jinja board of six pastors and their wives and we pray and intercede for their communities. We commission these men to give out of whatever little they have to love their neighbors.
Pastor Peter is a tailor and volunteers to make school uniforms for our teen mamas. Pastor David is a nurse assistant and will oversee the little medicine Lulu has, administering it to the Lulu family. Pastor Samuel is a teacher and volunteer director of the teen mama school, overseeing the other volunteer teachers. Pastor Steven, Pastor Soka and Pastor Richard will grow food and graze farm animals to feed the teen mamas and their babies.
“They used to laugh at me,” one teen mama tells us softly. “They threw things at me and I lost all my friends. My teachers beat me. My mother cried all the time. I was told I was useless now that I had a baby. I wanted to die.”
She looks around at the room full of pastors and teachers and we wait, expectant.
“Now I have hope. I have a future. They don’t laugh at me anymore.”
Would you like to know more about the Lulu Tree School of Hope? Please visit our website to read about this new venture and learn about how you can help.