The bus bounced along, only able to reach a maximum of 35 mph as it hit every rock and crevice on the abused road. Out the window, I said goodbye to the wood and tin shacks called “homes” and the bicycles overflowing with loads of jackfruit. I already missed the chapati that had been the majority of my calories for two weeks and the lovely mosquito net hanging above my bed at night. This place didn’t fall under the “American Dream,” including foreign vacation homes and exotic luxuries, but my heart ached at the thought of leaving. I glanced at the chocolate-skinned girl with her head resting on my lap. She had stolen parts of my heart I knew I would never get back. Truth is, the country still has a huge chunk of my heart.
Traveling has always been a desire of mine, along with adventure. You probably wouldn’t peg me for the adventurous type, but then again you probably don’t know the true me. For a while, I didn’t know if my desire to travel was from God or not. I didn’t want to waste my life pursuing my own dreams of living the ultimate tourist life, but I wanted to be used by God in big ways. All for his glory, not my own. Sometimes it can be hard to hear God’s voice, especially when you already have an answer in your head. So, in 2012, when God told my mom to go to Uganda to work with an orphanage and widow center, I knew he was also giving me the answer I had been seeking. There was no way she was going alone.
There were so many faces. Some I recognized from the pictures we had gathered over the years, but the majority I had no idea if they were even a part of the orphanage. Despite the amount of children, I was searching for one face. Joy’s. I scanned the children’s faces until I finally found the little girl with a big, toothy smile and innocent brown eyes. As soon as I laid eyes on her I knew she was the one whose picture I had received for the last two years. She was the one who wrote to me each holiday, whose favorite color was yellow, and who loved zebras as much as I did. She was sitting in the midst of her school mates, but I walked right over and introduced myself to her. I held back tears as I fully grasped the fact that I was halfway across the globe holding the little hands of a girl who was naive to anything but Kampala, Uganda. Any time we were at the church, she was with me, either holding my hand or walking alongside me as she shared my two hands with the other children vying for my attention. She was a leech, but a type that I welcomed. All the children were like that. They loved to have the attention of the “Mzungus,” which is their title for white people.
After just a few days of being there, I had already fallen in love with the people, the children, and the culture. The children in particular stole my heart. I wanted to spend every minute with them. I loved Comfort’s dance moves and crazy sense of humor. I loved Ester’s sassiness and her ability to turn everything into a jungle gym- particularly Mzungus. I loved watching Eve make her crazy mustache face and sing her heart out while on her knees in worship. I loved Joy’s sweet, gentle spirit and the priceless bond we shared. I loved witnessing Praise, who was only three, knock my mom in the head with her water bottle when “playing” crossed the line. I loved sitting in the middle of all the children as they played with my hair and posed for pictures so they could see themselves. It was the little things that really melted my heart. Like the morning Joy came up to me with two flowers and two chocolate lollipops still in their bag, laid them in my lap, and slipped away. Or when the children were teaching me how they dance and they brought me a newspaper to put my knees on so my dress wouldn’t get dirty while theirs did. It is easy for us to be generous because we live in the land of plenty, but when they give it is so much more meaningful because they have nothing extra to give.
One day, they took us and a group of women, men, and children in a bus to a remote jungle. It was super muddy and we were planning to get dirty, so we were given rain boots. Only problem was the lack of women’s sizes and communication. As we waddled down the beaten path in our oversized boots, making our way deeper into the jungle, I realized I was truly trusting the Lord in that moment. I had no idea where we were or where we were going, and as I looked to my mom I realized she was thinking the same thing. But we continued walking, trusting God, and loving the adventure. Comfort rode on my back for most of the way until we arrived to a little clearing in the jungle. They were planning to build something there, so we all picked up sticks, moved debris, and planted banana trees. I was shocked to see these petite, native women wearing high heels in an inch of mud, waving a machete like it was second nature to them. I guess there weren’t enough boots for them to get a pair after they gave them to the Mzungus. After a long time of working, a few on our team were able to break away and go for a little hike through the jungle. It was only a handful of us, and I didn’t quite realize what I signed up for until the leader advised us to watch out for snakes. Not just any snake, but some of the most poisonous snakes in the country. Although that unnerved me a little, I don’t regret the risk. The jungle was mesmerizing. Giant, green foliage was all I could see, except for the occasional break in the treetops where you could see just a glimpse of the sky and the neighboring hill of more jungle. As we made our way back, all of a sudden a blanket of rain fell from the heavens. The sound of the rain hitting the leaves then falling to the ground was breathtaking, despite being soaked. It was something I wish I could have recorded to put me to sleep at night.
We spent the last couple days at the orphanage where the church was located. My legs stuck to the plastic chair as we stood up to sing and the women ascended the stage in their colorful robes and scarves ties around their waist to shake their hips for the Lord. One time I tried to imitate the dances they did, in which their hips bounced up and down like there were rabbits hiding in their robes. Let’s just say it was a good thing I was alone. But as we danced and sung that afternoon, a man ran into the church to the front of the stage, limping and bleeding. I stared at a huge gash on the top of his head as blood ran down his face and stained his white shirt. The worship paused and a few approached the bleeding man. We had no idea what to make of the scene, granted most of the conversations were in a foreign language. Our team was eventually informed that the man had been caught stealing, was stoned for his thievery, and escaped to the church for help. They meant to kill him, but God meant to give him life. Before even receiving medical attention, the man knelt before the cross while the elders prayed for him. There, he accepted Christ and his gift of salvation. The weight of his sin had crushed him, but God lifted the burden off his back. His life of sin was washed clean as snow. The presence of God was there. God revealed the truth that His love has no bounds. He loves us all, no matter what our past. He can give life back to the darkest souls. That man stayed with the church and is now actively involved in spreading the gospel.
For American churches in general, when we describe worship, it typically entails about five to six songs, while some people sway to the music or lift their hands up to God and close their eyes. But in Africa, worship takes a totally different form. I love it. First off, their songs are pretty much never ending. They may say “just one more song,” but they really mean three to four more. And their songs typically last at least ten minutes. But this is irrelevant since time seems to pause when they worship. Their worship is so pure, unlike most we see here, including my own. When they worship, they not only dance to the music, but yell, holler, pick up potted plants and lift them to heaven, and wave their jackets over their head. It’s not just how they worship, but it’s the heart with which they worship. I can’t put into words what exactly makes it so pure and authentic, but that is exactly how to describe it. Why do they worship this way? Because Christ is truly enough for them. They may not have everything, not what we deem necessities, but they have the one true living God inside them who is more than enough. I want what they have. I want my hope secured solely in Christ and not in my accomplishments or the security of money. They don’t have much, yet their joy is overflowing. I have much, much more than what they have when it comes to earthly things, yet I can let the privilege of going to school steal my joy. Or I let disappointment creep in when I don’t get my cell phone update the month that was foretold. Or I feel left out when I don’t have the latest, ridiculously-priced trend.
This reality check slapped me hard in the face, and still does every time I am reminded of my trip. What I remember most about my trip was how close I felt to God. I didn’t have the distractions and temptations that exist in America. I was on a mission for Christ: to take care of the widows and orphans and to spread the love and hope of Christ. When you live according to God’s will and commandments, you get this unexplainable joy despite whatever circumstances. No, this trip was nowhere near a vacation. I got quite uncomfortable most of the time. For example, taking a trip in a crammed bus that was said to be only two hours one way but turned out to be six. Then, helped administer eyeglasses to about 100 people, who were overwhelmed at having choices of free glasses and ask to try just about every pair you have with you while there is a huge crowd waiting impatiently behind them. But even in the uncomfortable situations, God gave me peace.
Sometimes, it would really be nice to just hear God tell me exactly what to do. I would love to wake up to an angel sitting on my bed with direct orders from God, but luckily, God doesn’t do things the way I think he should. God knows best how to answer prayer. Going to Africa was one of the biggest answers to prayer I had ever received, and he did it in his own timing. His ways are not our ways. Through my trip, He fanned the flames of my passion for traveling, but more importantly He enflamed my passion for sharing the love of Christ by showing me the boundless extent of His love.