I’m seated with dozens of other mothers under a pink jasmine tree in the Pearl of Africa.
The air is sweet and sticky, like toffee melted in the 95 degree sun, and we’re hunting shade by the long wall that circles this two acres of school dorms. Pink feathered chickens peck dirt with their chicks and a nearby cow grazes with her calf.
Mothers in blue aprons are cooking thick groundnut sauce over a charcoal fire. They’re steaming matoke – a dish made from plaintains — cooking rice, and frying flat bread in the outdoor kitchen, and I’m surrounded by my children, and the babies of teen mothers, gurgling and giggling in the grass. Beyond those babies are the teen mothers themselves, and then their mothers, and finally pastors, and we’ve all gathered to celebrate what God is doing in their lives here in Namagera village near Jinja, Uganda.
I’ve been coming here for five years now, but this is the first time I’ve brought all of me (that is, my family) to the red dirt roads I first traveled on a blogger’s trip back in 2014.
And now my husband and babies, who are three, seven and nine, are entering this humble cathedral of baobab trees and tin-roofed churches and kiosks, and I see the same transformation taking place in them. My children being quiet souls, take in the scene with gentle grace, holding little brown children in their arms and playing soccer with the Lulu uncles – eight men who make up The Lulu Tree team, even as Mommy Esther, the National Director of Lulu Uganda, brushes away hair from their faces and gives them plates of food.
Family meeting family. Because this is what it is, and this is what broke me when I first arrived, years ago; I was an author in bleach blond hair running the rat race — and I was hit with the fact that I had family in Africa, that they were suffering, and I needed to help them.
There’s no other way to describe the bond that travels faster than blood, that courses through veins and into prayers and tears and draws out the vision to partner with mothers and their babies in a foreign land.
And five years later, we’re working in four different African countries, this motley crew of volunteer mothers in North America who desire to learn what Love is.
I’m seated here with Aria, my three-year-old daughter, and Aiden, my nine-year-old son, our firstborn, while Kasher is back at The Mission House with Trent, my husband (because the flu is making its rounds and they’ve been hit hard). We’re watching Love make its way through the babies, and then teen mamas – all of whom live in this dorm and each day go to school while babysitters watch their children, bathing them in tubs, feeding them large plates of rice, and laying them down for naps under mosquito netting – and finally it reaches the teen mothers’ mothers, too. Families that were broken and ashamed, reunited and dignified.
Love has made me want nothing more than to serve the One who first loved us. A love that met me through a mother I met on that blogger’s trip long ago, the mother of a boy I sponsored. She’d walked four hours to meet me. I waited for her at the children’s home where her children were forced to stay even though she worked sunup to sundown as a peasant farmer. She couldn’t make enough to sustain her kids so she had to give them up. And as I stood there between this mother and her son – the son staring up at me with shining, adoring eyes, because I was somehow able to pay his school fees, and she couldn’t – I became angry. I thought, we have to do better than this. There’s got to be a way to keep families together.
This woman had worked harder than I’d ever worked and yet had lost her husband to HIV Aids and her kids to some strangers across the ocean.
This woman was my sister. This boy was like my nephew. And he needed to look up at his mother with those shining, adoring eyes. Not me.
And now I glance around from my place beneath the jasmine tree and I see babies looking up at mothers who are looking up at their mothers and the pastors, surrounding them all, the church holding the community together, and I could cry.
Because the One who adopted me and made me His daughter is here healing families, and just that simply, He is fixing everything.