Post by Norah Kennedy, Executive Director of the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Center, who recently traveled with Emily and Erica to Uganda
It’s early in the morning on Monday and I’ve been awake for a while contemplating Africa. I cried all the way from the airport as I tried to share some of the things I saw and experienced. I’m finding that words are hard to find.
How do I find words to express the wonder that Jesus wanted to share His heart with me? He wanted me to see these people He adores. He wanted me to see and smell and hear and watch with tears flowing, these people who literally have nothing, but whose eyes are absolutely lit up with such joy that their faces literally shine with the holy light of Jesus. How can this be?
How is it that my love for Him is so stale and so shallow that I complain and whimper when I’m inconvenienced or bored or lonely or in pain, or tired or (fill in the blank) and these people who have nothing; who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, who have watched children and spouses die of sickness and disease and who walk 15km to go to church service – they’re the ones with joy! They have no fancy instruments for worship, sometimes a drum, most times just their hands or a brick cut in half and yet they make more beautiful music than any I could ever imagine. They lift their voices to the God they love, and their faces are transformed. You see the joy building and hear it in their music and the women tie scarves around their hips and that’s the sign that they’re going to dance and my heart leaps with anticipation and joy; I long to be free enough in me that I could just join them.
I listen to the women cry out their noise of “kee, eee, eee and of course this isn’t at all what it sounds like, but I have no words. I only know that when they stop, I lift my hands and give a victory shout of Whooooooo! unto God. These precious people accept that as my white gift and they laugh and clap, and I want to gather them in my arms and let my tears anoint them; but they need no such anointing from me, they have Christ’s Spirit anointing and flowing through them.
How is it that our church services are so carefully planned for time so that no one will be inconvenienced, and yet these people get up before dawn to walk to church for prayer service at 7:30 and they’ll stay at least until late in the afternoon!
How is it that the church in the slums of Katwe, where the smells of feces and decay touch your nostrils before the sights of rusting metal pieces leaning together that represent shelter and home, register on your eyes; that this church’s sign states that weekday services are every day from noon to 2:30; that Monday night prayer meeting is from 7:00 pm to midnight and Wednesday night prayer is from 7:00 pm to 3:00 am and people come! They come because they love Jesus and because they are desperate for God. They know He is the only One who can change their hopelessness to hope and their sorrow to joy.
We arrived 3 hours late to the meeting in Katwe, but twelve people stayed to meet with us. Each one stood up to share what God had done and their joy and thankfulness to the Lord.
They shared the hope that came from their microloans. One woman shared how she had found an old sewing machine and that with the microloans she had bought some material and was taking lessons and she believed she would be able to design clothing and lift her family out of the deadly poverty.
One by one they stood with faces shining with joy and shared what they had been able to do with their little loans and the joy and hope they’d been given.
Mothers shared stories of miracles of sick children being healed because they had been taught to pray that Jesus had power over all things including sickness and that they should always pray for their children. They prayed in Jesus name even as witch doctors stood outside their huts waiting to give a spell or a charm and be paid for it. Instead, Jesus brought healing for free.
How do I give voice to something that I hope and pray has changed me forever? How do I tell about the people who live in poverty such as I couldn’t even imagine and yet their faces radiate joy and when they greet you; their eyes shine with a holy light! How do I share about pastors with holes in their shoes, who sometimes walk over 15 km a day to minister to their flock and for the congregation who is so desperate for God that they’ll get up before dawn and walk ten or more kilometres to start prayer at 7:30 and sit on hard unyielding benches until one or two in the afternoon?
How do explain the miracles I saw which were straight out of the Word of God, but most North American’s wouldn’t believe.
On the road to Jinja…road…whoever came up with that word didn’t know what the definition meant. Unpacked, uneven; not potholes but craters. To go more than 20 km an hour would be a death wish and the Lulu Tree van has obviously bottomed out more than once. Clutching at the hand-hold to try to ease my back pain as we wound our way up the Jinja road, I prayed for grace.
We passed by many villages along the red dirt road and watched as women bore loads on their heads that no neck should be able to bear. We watched children playing in the dirt with the only toy available, a stick, or if they were lucky an old bicycle tire. We watched as some school children would come running excitedly waving at us while some ran away afraid of our white faces. It seemed that it was the women we saw working hard to break up the resistant soil so that they could plant beans. And we watched men sit around in groups watching us with suspicious sometimes hateful eyes.
At last we saw a green roof ahead and mama Esther excitedly proclaimed it was the roof to the Lulu Tree dormitory and then we pulled into the yard and saw dozens of individuals sitting under a white canopy waiting for us in the hot sun. We self consciously got out of the vehicle and were met by teen mamas running out to greet us and we were given a tour of the new buildings and pride was evident.
My western mind was expecting something much different from the word dormitory than what met my eyes. A large room with bunk beds of three tiers lined up along the walls and down the Center of the room. No dressers or side tables. Clothing hung from either the beds or attached to the wall and moms and babes sharing the mattress together. But this was shelter and for most if not all of them it was better than anything they had experienced previously
We went outside to those waiting so patiently for us and we sat down in places of honor left for us and the day started. Pastors and their wives were introduced, and I was in awe of their beautiful dresses and pride they took in the way they presented themselves. Each pastor started off by saying, “praise God”, and then greeted us and expressed how happy they were that we were there and each one gave a testimony as to why or how they supported the Lulu Tree and the difference that the program had made for them and their congregations.
One of the pastors that we called “happy face Steven” shared how he had not been able to help anybody in his village or congregation and that he would be spit on and have stones thrown at him when he went into the village, but since receiving his micro-loan to invest in the community he was now respected.
These were not short “westernized” messages as each pastor (and there were about 15+ of them), spent somewhere between ten to thirty minutes speaking. Their wives shared in the same manner; and sometimes for longer periods of time.
Soon it was time for the teen mom’s mamas to speak and I began to grasp the shame this culture faces with an unplanned teen pregnancy. We heard of daughters being beaten to unconsciousness and the baby dying in her womb, but she didn’t know the baby had died as she didn’t miscarry. The baby was rotting in her womb and she was very sick before going to the hospital.
Another testimony of being beaten and the baby being born with deformed feet legs as a result. A crippled or mentally handicapped child is seen as a great shame and indicative of a curse and something being terribly wrong with the family, but at the Lulu Tree they are given proper medical care and the little girl is expected to learn how to walk.
I heard Zion, who was born a Muslim and changed her name to honor Jesus when she accepted Him as Lord, talk about her pregnancy.
She shared how she had heard about the Lulu Tree, so she fled there for refuge. Her father found her and came to the Lulu Tree site and was threatening to kill her if she didn’t come with him and then turned to bribery to return to the Islamic faith. But Zion had already found Jesus as Lord and Saviour and nothing would make her recant her faith.
When she heard that her father was there, she ran and hid, praying desperately as to what she should do.
She felt God telling her to leave her hiding spot and walk out to where her father was and to kneel before him. She did so, and her father demanded to know who made her a Christian: Her response was simply “Jesus did”. He looked at her and then turned around and walked away!
This young girl is so love in with Jesus and seeks Him so strongly that you can feel His presence in her and while we were there it was actually prophesied over her and two other girls that they would carry the Lulu Tree torch to other parts of Africa.
How do I explain the Mama Kit outreach event? We arrived at 9:00 am (the first time we were on time for any event. There had been several pastors who had volunteered to spend the night on the grounds there praying and interceding for the event. From them, we learned that the first woman arrived at 5:00 am and later learned that some had walked for two days in order to take part in this event; because in Uganda a woman cannot access a hospital birth unless she has a Mama Kit.
These women sat for hours in the heat and as they continued to arrive, it became apparent that we weren’t going to have enough kits for all the women there.
We had 500 Mama kits but knew that there were far more women than that there.
We wondered how we were going to divide up the kits. We were trying to use human logic and God says, “get rid of that and watch me work”.
Throughout the day, the women were led in prayers of forgiveness for the way they had been treated by parents and baby daddies. They were prayed over against miscarriages and for healthy deliveries; to restore relationships, for wisdom in naming their babies, and they were given the gospel.
This was followed by hours of Bible reading and more prayer, much singing and joyful dancing. A police officer named Elizabeth went forward to ask forgiveness for the corruption that exists in the police force. She knew that one of the girls at the Lulu Tree was pregnant by a police officer’s son and that they had lied about this and beaten her. Until then, it had been her desire to become a police officer.
Elizabeth found Eunice and brought her forward and asked forgiveness and then together they knelt and dedicated themselves to however God wanted to use them. Eunice declared that she wanted to be a godly police officer!
Then the invitation was given to those who wanted to accept Christ as Lord and hundreds of hands went up as women surged forward.
Then as one of the pastors was praying or preaching (not exactly sure) that evil spirits were not welcomed, a woman stood up and started going into convulsions. She was being thrown around violently as pastors ran to her and commanded the demons to leave as she screamed and screamed. It took at least six men to hold her so that she wouldn’t be hurt, and the demon did not leave gently or quickly, but the name of Jesus is so much stronger that the light won over the darkness
We saw at least four or more women being set free in this manner and it surprised no one except maybe us white people.
They were fed dinner and we served them. There wasn’t enough food to feed them all, but the food never ran out! We kept going back for more plates and seeing that there was maybe enough for three or four more, but they kept scooping huge portions out – they never started skimping like we would in Canada; they just kept serving and we never ran out. Even the village children were fed and that never happens!
I was blessed to be asked to start giving out the mama kits and the women were called up at first by how pregnant they were and then faith took over and they believed that everyone would get a kit. We started with 500 Mama kits and watched as the pile never went down. There about 800 pregnant women and they all got a kit with 118 left over! Miracles straight from the heart of God!
I fell in love with these people, with the girls at the Lula tree who speak surprisingly good English and who called me mama Kirabo (cherabo) and who hugged me and when I told them that I loved them, they held me so tight I thought my heart would burst from joy!
Unwashed with no deodorant bodies who were not offensive to me at all, but dearly loved. I could see Jesus in so many of them and felt that a great anointing was on three in particular.
Throughout the next days, I would continue to see God at work in miraculous ways. I would continue to have my heart scraped, rubbed raw, broken and yet filled with joy as I watched, listened and prayed.
May God reveal what to do with all this – for His glory!