I Just Wasn’t That Girl…But Then

April 25, 2015

Deaf Child Hope International recently entered into a partnership with an organization in Uganda currently serving over 50 deaf children in poverty.  Kris Detrow, who has already been assisting this organization, recently joined the Deaf Child Hope staff with the role of doing all she can to help this new partner and the deaf children this partner serves.

If someone would have told me a few years ago that I’d traveled to Africa four times in less than a year, and that I was chomping at the bit to return, I would have politely informed them that they were out of their tree.

I am ashamed to admit it now, but for most of my life, I simply glazed over when church folk would speak about missions. I honestly had no interest in it and didn’t feel any connection with people halfway around the world.

In addition, I am just not that girl who goes on a mission trip.

I hate traveling. I hate airplanes. I hate bugs. I hate humidity. So, you can understand why a visit to Africa was not on my bucket list.

But then God…

I’ve had quite an interest in sign language for many years because of deaf family and friends, so I follow the blogs of ministries that serve the deaf community. It was in one of their newsletters that I first read about Boanerges Deaf Initiative (BDI). BDI is a school/home for deaf children in Uganda, many of whom had been completely abandoned by their parents due to their deafness. Included with the blurb highlighting the ministry was a picture of the most beautiful child I had ever seen in my life. I tried to keep scrolling down the screen and move on. But it was no use. My mind became fixated on this place.

To make a long story short, a few months later I was boarding a plane bound for Uganda. This was hilarious to my friends who often tease me for being too chicken to visit nearby Baltimore or Washington, D.C. by myself, but happily hopping on a plane bound for Uganda Africa without hesitation.

I was not prepared for the conditions that awaited me in Kawempe, Uganda.

The children were jammed into makeshift classrooms. Chalkboards were crumbling, the words scrawled on them by their dedicated volunteer teachers scarcely readable. Many of the children had no shoes. The shoes they did have were in quite poor condition and would have been thrown away long ago in the states. At the time of my first visit, there was no running water or electricity.

The kids eat posho, which I can only compare taste-wise and visually to Styrofoam, every single day. Every single meal.

Posho is made from corn meal and offers essentially nothing of nutritional value. I saw a boy who, because of his disability, had grown up chained to a tree and treated like an animal. (See picture of Jonathan…the boy who had been chained to the tree all of his life…having shoes put on his feet for the first time. It was such a powerful moment.) Because of his chains, the bones in his legs grew incorrectly, making it difficult for him to walk. I watched as Pastor Joel, the man who founded BDI and ultimately is responsible for the kids, put a pair of shoes on his feet for the very first time. All of the other children cheered him on with sign language applause as he took his first awkward steps with shoes on his feet.

I could not look away from the children’s tell-tale puffy bellies and bare feet. My heart broke when I saw one child dig chicken bones out of the trash to eat.  Some of the kids, although they were almost teenagers, had recently come to BDI with no language at all. That blew me away. No words to satisfy their curiosity about the world around them or to express their emotions and feelings. Some didn’t even know their own name. What a wonderful thing to watch as they learned sign language. The world opened up for them and in a very short time, they blossomed.

Most surprising given the backdrop of poverty and desperation, was this inexplicable joy and effervescence that emanated from the kids. They signed me songs of welcome and gave the most fabulous hugs. Never in my life have I felt so welcomed or loved.

I could not get enough of these precious kids!

William Wilberforce, a brave English abolitionist, once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”  I could do neither. There was no way that I could return to my comfortable life, pat myself on the back for going on a “mission trip” and be done.

I confess that it is tough. It is heavy at times. So many people have exactly the same mindset that I once did. Comfort and apathy are a plague for us in the west. It is hard to return from a stint in a place like Africa, especially when you are staying with the poorest of the poor, children who live as outcasts because of their disability, and not struggle with the inequity of it all.

While having a heart-to-heart with Pastor Joel about poverty and wealth, he directed me to Psalm 73:3-5.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Pastor Joel helped me put it in perspective. Our wealth, stuff and comfort are a blessing, yes, but also a potentially dangerous obstacle. A stumbling block between us and God.

Our family has committed to doing all we can to help this small pocket of beautiful children, many of whom were cast away by their families and considered to be fools and a waste of a life. We know that in the sight of God, they are precious and were made for a purpose.

BDI feels very blessed to partner with Deaf Child Hope International. The two organizations will work together to help these kids have a fighting chance to meet their full potential and have a future and a hope. I am not naive. Africa is a black hole of needs and desperation and there will never be an end to human suffering this side of heaven. But I know that God has a plan, and that He has entangled our hearts and lives with the children and teachers of BDI in Uganda. And what He has called us to, He will equip us to carry out and bring people to walk alongside us who share our vision. I can’t wait to see His plan unfold.