Family is awkward and difficult and real. It abandons pretense. It is runny noses and hiccuping laughter and singing in the hallway. It is joking and staying up until 3:30 in the morning to deal with conflicts, and it is praying and rejoicing when all is resolved.
Family is Love.
It calls us to live with one another under one roof, to share utensils and dishes and bathrooms, and to worship and play and pray. It calls us to realize similarities versus differences – and skin color becomes as irrelevant as eye color because we’re all just arms and legs and faces and smiles, stretched far across a wide open sea in an effort to know God more.
We’ve been packing Christmas hampers (with rice, brown sugar, laundry soap and matches) for jajjas (grannies with no family to care for them), and the next day is the Jajja Outreach. Two long white tents have been set up and countless plastic chairs and 233 jajjas have gathered – men and women, but mostly women in their long African dresses, perhaps their only dresses, and some with no shoes, and they wait patiently as the program starts and the gospel is shared and lives come to Christ.
They raise hands in worship and then I step up and share with them – Mommy Esther interpreting for me, this single mother whom we partnered with four years earlier to plant The Lulu Tree in the slum of Katwe.
I stand there and share with these precious wrinkled souls beaming toothless smiles. I share about Mum who passed away this summer after 15 years of brain cancer, who served as a missionary in Nigeria when she was newly married with me strapped to her back; who gave birth in a hut in the Congo to my brother; who taught blind women how to knit. Who, later on in life would dance with me to the worship songs and sing off-key and lift her hands shaky to her Saviour. Cared for by my father, a pastor, Mum was a jajja to many and faced numerous challenges but every morning rose to give glory to God, much like the women I’m surrounded by.
And it was after her passing that Mommy Esther started the monthly “Yvonne Jajja Fellowships” through the local church, and the donations from Mum’s funeral went into packing these Christmas hampers.
And again I see the thick cord of family wrapping us tight, across the hemispheres, and from this union, spiritual children being born. It’s not about doing something good and feeling good about it. In fact often it’s about doing something very hard and suffering for it. But unless a seed dies, it will not bear fruit.
Even as I sit down in my plastic chair and take Esther’s daughter into my arms, even as the jajjas take the microphones and begin to shout a resounding “Hallelujah!” to the skies, and we all collectively respond “Amennnnnn!” — I know this has nothing to do with us at all and everything to do with God sending His son down at Christmas to not only give us salvation, but a family.
Jesus left the comforts of home, the comforts of his Father’s embrace, the comforts of understanding everything around him and being understood, to travel to a place where they didn’t know him, where they scorned him and made fun of him and eventually killed him, all because of love. And then he rose, and drew them close once again, and they became family – because they saw that He wasn’t going to leave them as orphans, that He wasn’t like others who’d come and promised things and then hadn’t fulfilled them; that He was there not only to be their Brother, but to introduce a heavenly Father and a nurturing Mother-type person called the Holy Spirit who would comfort them long after He returned. Unless He returned, in fact, the true work of family couldn’t begin. The third person of the Trinity couldn’t come to them, bringing Heaven to Earth and with it the very thing we all long for: a place to belong.
I’m baptized in the Nile River a few days later with my husband and children standing in the water with me. We’ve traveled to the Source of the Nile by boat, and a pastor on our team named Apostle Frank is the one to baptize me. He lowers me into the water, the rushing source of life that flows throughout eastern Africa, and as I lift my head in the equatorial sun, I know my Family is watching. Not just my physical family; not even just my African family, but the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are all witnesses, and they’re cheering me on.
This great cloud of witnesses, not only comprised of the saints of old, but including each member of the church as we gather to witness what God is doing today in our midst, through each of us and in spite of us too. This love that gathers us and wipes away our tears and feeds us and clothes us and fills us with love for each other.
This is dying. And living. And doing family. Forever.
Friends, if you missed it, one of the first things we did in Uganda was to visit the amazing children’s ministry going on in the slums of Uganda… please check out my friend Jeanne’s post HERE, which includes photos of my daughter and I as we had the privilege of leading kids to Christ and serving them Jesus Birthday Cake.