How to Care for the Jajjas
By Mommy Emily
“The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help…”
~ 1 Timothy 5:5
We almost miss her, a whisper of a silhouette leaning against the tree, but the pastor knows she’s there and so he stops, and we do also.
And there we find Jajja Elizabeth, her eyes closed against the bright Uganda sun, and even when she opens them she cannot see us for the cataracts. Beside her sits a plastic bowl, and in that bowl, a single boiled potato. Beside the bowl sits a plastic cup and in it, some tepid water. These are her portions for the day.
She’s wrapped in a thin cloth that keeps coming open at the bottoms of her feet and her feet are bare and swollen and twisted. She occasionally reaches as though to adjust the cloth and then stops. Her lips are dry, like the air, which is stifling hot and smells of wheat grass and jasmine. The silence of village life is broken occasionally by the long song of a short-tailed warbler and the occasional bleats of neighborhood goats. The world passes by Elizabeth, a tiny branch of a tree wilting away in the sun.
“Hello Elizabeth,” I say, wondering if she knows how royal her name is, how her predecessor was an auntie to the King of the World.
I bend low beside her, touching her hand, and her eyes crack open to peer at me. She looks so thirsty and hungry and worn. I lift the plastic cup to her mouth, and she is almost too weak to drink. She cannot keep it all down but she wants more, and then she sighs and leans back.
Behind her is the small brick home she lays in at night. “Who brings her out here each day, and gets her the potato?” I ask.
Pastor Richard shrugs and says it’s one of the neighbors. Many families here with their dozen children and lack of steady income find it hard to see beyond their doorstep, even when the fathers don’t take off leaving mothers to fend for themselves. The jajja is merely the one to care for the children when a desperate mother abandons them all, leaving the elderly woman to pick through garbage and try to feed the tiny mouths entrusted to her.
The longer I travel to these sacred parts of the world, the more I witness the paradoxical power of poverty.
Poverty has the power to produce paupers or princes. One’s character determines one’s response. A poor person with a sanctified character has discovered the hidden treasure, and will act as a prince, respected, caring, generous, and joyous. A poor person without upside-down kingdom standards behaves like a pauper and makes destitute all those around him. Some of the wealthiest people I know have been the poor, and it’s all because of the richness of their character produced by faith in Jesus Christ.
I massage Jajja Elizabeth’s feet and we lift the potato to her lips, but she turns away. She wills to die, it would seem, alone under this tree, and even as we go on to visit countless other jajjas — some without even a papyrus mat to sleep on, flashing their gummy, toothless smiles and wrapping their thin arms tight around me — I cannot forget Elizabeth.
All last year the Uganda pastors conducted outreaches for these jajjas — inviting them to church where they worshiped and ate together once a month — but those too sick could not make it. Some would walk for hours to get to the outreach, literally falling into the entrance of the church, too tired to move any further.
But for months now we’ve been praying about how to better fulfill the mission God has given us (to equip families through the local church) when it comes to both orphans and jajjas. We don’t want to create dependencies, and we want to strive for long-term, sustainable solutions. If families are available, we want to help them to help their own. As it says in 1 Timothy 5:4, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”
Then there is the startling verse just a few lines down. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (v. 8)
Yet even as we wrestle with what to do, Pastor Richard catches the vision and, together with his congregation, begins approaching jajjas whose houses are dilapidated. Despite being empty-handed themselves, they still go, and in return, the families of the jajjas begin to step up, providing the resources and tools needed so the church can rebuild their mother’s home.
In cases where families were not willing to provide the resources needed to either fix the house, or buy a mattress, or medicine, or cataract surgery, or food, we would then resort to two alternatives: first, the church would use the little tithe it gets each month from the microloan program to assist as it could, and then The Lulu Tree would make up the remaining amount through an Emergency Jajja Rescue Fund.
In the refugee camps of South Sudan, Pastor Santos has begun caring for jajjas in a different way. In December, following the heavy rains, he and his congregation will build turkools (small clay huts) on his church compound for the 18 children from child-headed homes to live in. Then he will prayerfully select jajjas — some of whom we may have met at an outreach when we were there in July — to live with the children and to become family with them.
These pastors know personally the value of being able to help. The greatest thing we can give a human being is love, and love is meant, in turn, to be given away. So even as we give love to these pastors, who then give it to the jajjas, the jajjas too need a place to plant the seed of love they’ve been entrusted with. And they do this by giving back to the local church, or by caring for children from child-headed homes.
We look into their watery, milky eyes, and lift the plastic cup of community to their lips. And in turn, they take a drink of life, and instead of dying alone under a tree, they live into the royalty of their true names — daughters of the King of the World.