The relentless sun beats down on orange dirt. An occasional breeze brings relief like an oasis in a desert. A footpath masquerades as a road, jostling and bumping us with every pothole and uneven piece of earth. Women with infants strapped to their backs wield hoes, struggling against the dry and bitter soil. They stop to smile and wave as we pass by. Children run toward the moving vehicle, shouting and waving with the excitement that a visitor to their village always brings. Goats and chickens dart out of our way, and a little further ahead a herd of cattle blocks our passage until their attendant can clear them.
“Over there is our temporary church in this area” the pastor says proudly.
A collection of iron sheets are suspended by uneven timbers that are dug into the ground. No walls. No door. No windows. Just something to give shade and protect from the rain.
“About 20-30 are meeting there each week” he adds.
A woman runs to the car and greets us in the local language. She enters the backseat and begins directing us to our destination- the home of a 4 year old little girl, born with a condition known as hydrocephalus. This problem, usually the result of a serious untreated infection, causes fluid to accumulate in and on the brain, expanding the size of the head, and can lead to serious complications including death. Today I was going there to meet her and her mother and to assess and evaluate her for any problems. We turn of onto an even smaller path than the one we had been traveling, and reach the place. It was a small mud hut structure with a grass thatched roof. The surrounding compound was clean and tidy, with a small garden beside it. I was greeted by the sweet child who smiled and ran to me. She kneels in front of me and greets me as is polite in their culture. I reach out for her and she jumps up into my arms, receiving my hug and returning it. The mother is a kind, smiling woman, grateful for our coming. In true Ugandan hospitality, she pulls out the nicest seats in her home for the pastor and me, and takes a place in the dirt at our feet as I examine the little one.
We begin to talk about the child’s medical history and problems. It seems that shortly after birth the child became ill and began to have problems with the head swelling. She had seizures and high fevers. They went to doctors, but failed to afford treatments. She is doing very well at this time though, and laughs as we make a game of this medical exam. As we talk, a small crowd gathers. Mothers with small children form a line to speak to me, curious as to what this white nurse is doing in their village. Hopeful that I have something for their children too.
I finish my time with my patient and ask all of the people who had come to sit. I introduce myself and explain the purpose of my visit. I also explain that the little girl I had come to see had obtained medical sponsorship from an American who had visited in February, making her treatment plan financially possible. Sensing where I am going with my information, a mother rushes to tell me of her daughter who is suffering from seizures, another one interrupts to tell me her daughter is just generally unwell. A grandmother tells me her grandson also suffers from hydrocephalus and is in much worse condition than this child. I draw in a deep breath. I know what I am about to say will take that hopeful look from their eyes and change it to one of resolute despair. That look that says, “Well, I expected that because really, good things rarely happen here.”
But I have to say it, so I do.
“I am so sorry, but I don’t have any way to help you. I don’t have medicine or money to give you. I wish I did, but I don’t”.
And it happened. The eyes that had been staring me, hoping for something and anxious for answers shift down to the ground, look past me or stare blankly at the children they were holding.
My heart races and I push aside emotion. “God, I need something. I need to give them something. Give me words at least to encourage these mothers. They need to know you haven’t left them and you see them.”
I ask the pastor to interpret, and I begin to tell them why I came to Uganda. Because I love Jesus and because I love the Ugandan people. I tell them I wish I had endless money and medicine to meet all of their needs, but that we serve the God who does. I tell them that prayer changes things, and God is still in the business of healing. I encourage them to hang on to the truth of the Scriptures about who God is and what He can do. I challenge them to give radically to those in need in their community so that some of these needs can be met. To pray for the sick, to share what little they have, and to encourage one another. I remind them that when they live like this, that other people will wonder what kind of faith this is. What kind of faith is this that makes people live with such love and sacrifice for one another? I beg them not to put their faith in a ministry or white people but in God and God alone.
The eyes are back on me. They are listening again. They are agreeing.
We gather together and we pray. The Holy Spirit falls in that place like rain, soaking into dry, and weary souls. We pray for healing. For unity. For resources. For provision. For strength. For faith and hope and supernatural joy. And when we say amen, people are smiling at one another, laughing and enjoying fellowship awhile longer even as I prepare to leave.
Tiny hands place a small brown chicken into my lap, a gift of gratitude for coming. A full bag of bright green avocados are placed on my arm. As I say my goodbyes, I realize something special has happened here. We had church. In this lady’s front yard we found holy ground because He was here. Hope overcame despair. Love cast out fear. And I get to go home with my heart overflowing because of all of the good things He has done, and overwhelmed by being known and seen by the God who holds all of this together.