Thursday, December 26, 2013

Don't judge a book...

A few days ago I was in town with 2 of the boys.  Kampala is a crazy city.  There are so many people everywhere.  People are selling things.  They are begging.  They are shopping.  They are going here or there.  The amount of people and chaos is overwhelming.  Out of control overwhelming.  Sometimes I love it but sometimes I want to get out and never go back.  Things aren't easily situated either, for the most part.  You can’t just go to a store like Walmart or Target and get everything you need at once.  First you go to one building, then to another, and so on and so on until your errands are done.  Sometimes it is easy because you know the area of town you need to go to if you want to find a certain thing, but when you have so much to do, it can be exhausting because you have to visit many places. 

I think this particular day we had been in the city for maybe five or six hours and were all exhausted.  As we were walking back to the taxi park, where we have to go to find a mini bus that takes us back to our village, I was in my own little world.  There were people everywhere and while I was aware of them, I didn't really take notice.  One of the boys was walking about an arm’s length away from me on my left and the other a few steps behind me.

My little world was shattered by a woman’s voice.  I heard what she said but it didn't make sense to me at first.  It took a moment to register.  When it finally did, I was still like “WHAT???”  She told me to keep my bag, meaning to hold it better and guard it.  Between me being in my own world of thoughts and the ridiculousness of what she was implying, I know I had the craziest look on my face.  So I replied to her, “He’s my son, but thanks” as I reached out and grabbed the arm of the one next to me.  It was then her turn to be shocked as she stuttered, “Oh!!  I thought…” 

As I grabbed his arm and pulled him close to me, we turned to the taxi park.  I told him sorry and he asked what she had said.  I know heard and I know he understood her.  When I told him it was nonsense, he replied, “Are you sure?”  We continued on to our coaster and went home and left that lady behind.  But I know he understood her and I am sure it hasn't left his mind.

It isn't an infrequent occurrence that people stop me in town and warn me about the boys.  Whether they want to point out that I am unsafe by being around them or that they are going to rob me when I am not looking.  Even today, someone told me that I was walking with a bunch of bad guys.

I admit, some of these boys are pretty intimidating.  Like you might cross the street at night if they started walking towards you, intimidating.  It is ironic that I take comfort in the exact thing people warn me about them.  I have never felt safer than when I am with them, especially the boy from this story. I know that they will all protect me, no matter what.  I don’t fear being robbed or anything when I am with them.  I know that I am always safe.  They will protect me no matter what.

Maybe I should feel bad that people think the boys are nothing but common street thugs.  And in a way, I do.  I feel bad for them.  It is like they can never escape their past.  They have made great strides to change and some are completely different, especially the boy from the story.  I feel bad that people still insult them and don’t give them a chance.  I feel bad for the people insulting too because you cannot find people with softer hearts than these boys.


We decided that instead of going to church for Christmas, we were going to be the church.  We were going to follow Jesus’ example and serve and give.  One of our friends was having a party for the boys on the street on Tuesday, so we woke up early to go and serve them.  On the way, one of the boys found a small boy that was clearly lost and looked confused.  He stopped to talk to him and ask where his parents were.  He was a street kid but he must have just arrived and was still lost and scared.  He tried his best to get the boy to come with us but in the end, the boy refused.  I wonder how many people have passed by that boy without so much as a word or offer of help.  But my “thugs” stopped to try and help him.  When we got to the party, the boy from the story helped to cook and do whatever was needed for 7 hours so his friends on the street could have a nice day and a good meal.  Anytime I tried to do anything, he would say, “No, let me do it.”  The other boys helped too.  Washing dishes, fetching water, running errands.  You name it, they did it.   My “thugs” that everyone is afraid.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

At the end

You know the saying, "Separation makes the heart grow fonder"?  Well in our case, it is true.  I think....

The boys have been on holiday since the end of November and we are driving each other crazy.  

Literally. 

The honeymoon period of having me back is definitely over.   We have moved on to real life and it is hard.  Like the most difficult thing I have ever had to do  hard.  In my fairy tale world, I somehow magically expected 23 hurting, broken boys to fit into my perfect little children box that I had created for them.  Memo to me, its never going to happen.  And so, last week I got a rude wake up call.  It was particularly difficult.  Everything we could think to fight about, we did.  It left us all frustrated and feeling like we were failures as a parent.  (Ok, maybe that is just me.) But nonetheless, we are all frustrated.

Living with hurting people, is really difficult.  This past week, I realized why no one wants to deal with the older boys.  Before last week, I only knew it in theory.  But the ridiculousness that I had to deal with made me want to run for the hills or the US or actually anywhere that wasn't home.  I was at a place where I just couldn't take one more temper tantrum, one more person ignoring me or one more disagreement.  I was at the end.

Thankfully, right when I was about to snap, I saw what was important.  God gave me 2 really good days and the break from the chaos was so needed and welcome.  Four boys that I had been fighting with all weekend over a majorly bad choice of theirs, finally calmed down and we were able to have a real conversation and come to an understanding about their consequences and why I was so hard on them.  They saw I wasn't being unfair and biased and they even apologized, which they swore to me they weren't going to do.  When I asked them why they had changed their minds about apologizing and talking to me again, they responded "Because we missed you.  We didn't want to be away from you any longer."

Thank you Jesus.  I needed that.

On Monday, one of the boys that I first started with had a birthday.  He turned 16.  We had a birthday party for him and as everyone told him why they loved him (part of our parties is to appreciate the birthday boy and tell him things we like/love about him.) the smile on his face made my week.  We almost didn't make it.  He almost didn't make it.  Over the last 3 years, I almost lost him many times.  I was the only one that believed in him and had to beg people not to give up on him and to give him another chance.  Everyone told me he wouldn't change, and there was even a time when I believed the same thing.  But I loved him enough that I kept trying.  I have cried more tears over him, than any other.  And to finally celebrate a birthday with him, was the best gift I could get this holiday season.  When we cut the cake, he asked me to cut it with him. Seems simple, but its a huge honor.  Afterwards, I wanted to talk to him to tell him how proud I was of him and how much I loved him.  I told him I was so happy he stayed in the house because I knew that it wasn't easy.  I told him I was so proud of the boy he was becoming and that I knew that he had a great future ahead of him.  I told him I loved him so much and I was happy he was in my life.  Being a 16 year old boy, I figured he would hate all of the gushy, mushy stuff and be like whatever but instead, he said that he liked hearing it and I should tell him more often because it made him feel better.

Thank you Jesus.  I needed that.

It has happened time and time again.  Just when I think my heart cannot take anymore, there is a break and the boys are angels.  Just when I think the money is going to be over, it is there.  I know God is in control of this whole journey, and I am so grateful He is because I know that I cannot do it on my own.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What do you wake up for?

Continuing with the themes from the book, “Nothing but a Thief”, the author at one point says she asked one of the boys the question, “What do you wake up for?”.  It made me stop and think.  The boy’s answer was difficult to read.  He told her that he tried to stay asleep for as long as he possibly could into the day, but eventually his hunger got the best of him and forced him to wake up and go and steal to get something to eat.  It made me think about a life where I had nothing to wake up for.  I can’t imagine such a life, but for these boys it is reality.  It is their every day when they are on the street.  Their hunger is what drives them to move out of the spaces they sleep, forces them to steal, even to take drugs.  In Peru, like many other countries, street kids take glue.  They inhale it or smoke it.  In Uganda, I have never seen a boy sniffing glue because here they sniff kyenge (expired aviation fuel).  Just like glue, it dulls their hunger, keeps them warm at night, eases their fears and takes away their emotions.  I don’t know much about addiction, but at least with the boys I know, I don’t think their addictions are physiological.  I think they are psychological.  A boy can come into a home and quit taking kyenge cold turkey.  He can be fine and not ever want to take it again until something brings up the past or something bad happens to him.  When things get too much for them that is when they go back to their kyenge, to make them not feel anything again.

After I thought about the boys and the ones still on the street, I had to find my answer.  What do I wake up for?  I think the obvious answer is the boys.  And it is true.  I do wake up every morning because of them.  They make my days worth it.  They make my days better.  They make my life better.  They make me laugh with their ridiculous notions and jokes.  They make me cry tears of happiness and joy, as well as sorrow and heartbreak.  They challenge me to be a better person: more loving and giving, more forgiving and considerate.  They teach me how I deserve to be treated and how worthy I am of love.  They protect me, care for me, help me, love me. 

I stop to think about them and their brokenness and how I hope to love them enough each day that they hurt a little less, but when I really think about it, they have done the same for me.  I see Jesus in them every day.  I wonder how I survived 30 years of my life without them in it.  When I stopped to think about my answer, I also realized how lucky I am to have a reason to wake up each morning.  I realized that many people in the world are not as fortunate.  I wake up each day with joy to spend another day doing what I love with people that I love.  Not everyone is so lucky.  I think about life before Uganda.  I didn’t have a bad life.  I had friends, a job, everything was fine.  However, every morning I dreaded waking up and going to my job (probably why I was late every morning). Even though I had everything I needed, I didn’t have a reason to wake up.  It makes me sad for all of the time wasted but I know had I came to Uganda 5 years ago, or even 10, I wouldn’t have been ready and these kids wouldn’t be the ones in my life.  The other night at devotions, our new uncle JP, asked the boys if they thought they were in the home by mistake.  While some of them didn’t get the question, most of them did.  They saw God’s hand working in our life and bringing us all together.  It is still incredible to me that God would know what would make my heart come alive and give my life meaning long before I did.  It is amazing to me that God knew these boys that would be in my life, long before I even knew Uganda existed.

For some of the boys, they are still working to find their reasons.  They had no reason for so long and have forgotten what it is to dream and have hope.  One boy in particular, is so fatalistic, he refuses to make any decisions about his life or have any dreams.  I don’t think he even knows what it is to dream.  When we ask him what he wants to do or be, he answers “I don’t know.  God knows.  Whatever He has planned is fine.”  He still doesn't get that he has all the opportunity in the world now.  If he wants to be a doctor, it could happen.  If he wanted to be a pilot, it could happen.  But instead, he sits and waits for life to happen to him. 

It is one of the most frustrating things because how do you teach someone to dream when they gave up their dreams long ago?  How do you teach someone to hope, when the streets robbed them of their hope years ago?  How can you teach someone that God has good plans for them, when they cried out to God every night for years, and finally gave up because they were convinced He wasn't listening?  How do you teach someone to take an active role in making life happen, when they had life happen to them in horrible ways at a young age?


I don’t know the answers to any of those questions.  I don’t know if I will ever have the answers but what I do know is God gave me reasons to wake up every morning.  He placed them in my life for a reason and has called me to love them.  I know I won’t change them or give them hope, but I can love them.  So each day, I will love them and continue to pray He will take care of the rest.  I also pray that I will never wake up forgetting how lucky I am to finally have a reason to wake up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Beautiful things

I have started reading “Nothing but a Thief” by Danielle Speakman.  She worked with street kids in Lima, Peru.  I was drawn to the book because even though I feel like I somehow know the boys at home, I don’t feel like I know enough about street kids in general.  I wondered if certain things were just characteristics of these boys, or of all street kids.  I wondered if life was the same for kids on the street everywhere.  What I am realizing is the country is unimportant.  From the stories she shares, these boys could be boys in Peru and the boys in Peru could be here in Uganda.

The boys don’t always like to share about their lives on the streets.  Especially now that they have been removed from that environment, many of them want to forget that they were ever there.  They go to extremes to forget their past life and I cannot say I blame them.  When you ask them about their life or their story, they never give specifics.  They will only offer that they suffered or were beaten.  They don’t speak with emotion, but rather like they are recounting about a movie they once saw.

Even though the boys refuse to share specifics, I can guess what has happened to them.  I see the scars on their hearts and feel their anger as they lash out.  I experience the aftereffects of years of abuse and trauma.  I don’t need to hear the specifics to know that they are broken inside.  I have started reading these books to know how to help the boys better.  I know that there are people smarter than me and with more experience, and I figure I owe it to the boys to find all of the information possible to help them.

In the book, she tells about a boy that she realized was always around but she just noticed him that particular day.  I can say that the same thing has happened to me many times.  I can think of two boys, Willy and Jimmy, at least that that was the case with but I know there were others.  They were always around but something made me notice them on particular days and from that moment, I was in love.  She hasn't explained why she thought she finally noticed him on that particular day, but for me I know it was God that opened my eyes to them.  He let me see them when He knew I was ready to see them.  God’s timing is always perfect, and I saw them at the exact time when they needed to be seen. 

It is comforting and disturbing at the same time to know that there are other people around the world, working with boys like these ones, experiencing the exact same things that I am.  It is disturbing because I know only a small portion of these boys’ stories, but yet I know how gravely they suffered.  Multiply that suffering by all of the other boys, in the world, on the street and it seems unimaginable that the world can function with that much pain…

I tried to explain to someone today about my laptop and how I wasn't angry at the boy.  I tried to explain that his behavior was a result of suffering and everyone in his life betraying him but she couldn't get it.  It isn't easy allowing brokenness into your life, but beauty that comes out of it is so worth it.  I think you can only understand that when you let the brokenness in and see the redemption first hand.  I know that in time, this boy will come around again.  We will love him even more than we did before and eventually, he will believe he is worthy of the love.  He will begin to heal and trust.  Things will be different for him, because we never gave up. 


In the book, she talks about waiting for a certain boy to meet her and him refusing to show up several times.  Each time he had an excuse and each time her heart broke.  She equated it to how God waits on us.  He is waiting for us day after day, but each day we disappoint Him.  We come just close enough but then run away or make excuses because our shame is weighing us down.  It makes sense.  This boy is so hurting and broken that he doesn't believe that we really love him or maybe he does know and that terrifies him more because he doesn't believe he deserves it.  Whatever the reason, I will continue to wait because I know beautiful things will even come from him.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A broken heart and stolen computer


When I came to Uganda, I figured that my heart would be broken many times, every day even.  There have been times over the last 3 years that I thought my heart would never heal.  Some of the boys have made epically bad choices and ripped my heart out as a result.  But each time my heart has healed and we moved on.  Even though I know these boys are broken and hurting, even though I know that as a result they will hurt me, there is nothing that can prepare me for the heartache that they give me sometimes.

This week has been difficult.  On Monday, I was already ready to call it quits on the week.  My greatest fear is that I am breaking these kids further instead of helping them to heal.  One of the boys made a mistake last week and everyone was furious at him.  He ended up running away because he knew we were all angry.  My policy is to never chase a boy down.  It sounds harsh, but these boys are all old enough to know the consequences of their choices and if they don’t want to be at home, we let them go.  As a result, they always come back and have a different attitude than when they left.  When they are gone, those are the longest days of my life.  I miss them every second, but I know that it is what is best.  This boy stayed gone all weekend and we were just waiting for him to come back.  Sunday night, my laptop went missing.  At first I thought it was one of the boys because they were watching a movie earlier, so I didn’t panic.  A little bit later, I was awoken by one of the boys telling me to move my computer because someone was just in the compound.  When I told him my computer was already gone but I thought it was one of the boys, he panicked and started checking with the other boys.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be true that someone had broken in and stole my laptop.  Our first instinct was that it was the boy that ran away because he was still staying around the neighborhood just not with us.  So the uncle and boys went to find him.  Turns out, he wasn’t the one but at least he was finally home.

When we discovered it wasn’t him, we all knew who it was and my heart broke.  We had been letting a boy come and stay at the house every once in a while.  I have known this boy since I first got to Uganda and the uncle even longer.  I love this kid so much and was just wondering how to help him.  Monday morning, our suspicions were confirmed.  It was in fact him.  The worst was he brought two other boys to the house to rob us.  They were going to take other things but all they could get was my computer because I left it on my desk by the window while I went to talk to the other auntie.  The good thing was we got the computer back but they moved so quickly, that everything had already been erased.  (On a happy note, because they moved so quickly, all of the problems with my computer were fixed.  Problems that I was told in the US couldn't be fixed without buying a new motherboard.) I am sad for my photos and my work but nothing compares to the ache I feel in my heart for this boy.  We were probably his last hope.  He has screwed up all of his other chances with other people and I was just hoping that it would be different with us.  I don’t blame him for taking my computer.  I can’t imagine his life.  I have never been so desperate that I felt like my only option was to steal from one of the last people that still loved me.  

The worst was when he came back to the house to apologize to me.  Maybe he realized the consequences of his actions, maybe it was just an act.  I don’t know.  But his apology seemed sincere.  He sobbed as he told me.  He looked more broken than usual.  

I don’t believe in giving up on people, especially these boys.  But it is hard.  So hard.  To try and try and try and have the result be the same is defeating.  It makes me feel like a failure and makes my heart feel like it can’t take anymore.  I don’t know what we will do with the boy that stole the computer but I told him I still loved him and forgave him but we were all upset and just needed time.  I am sure that this won’t be his last time to disappoint me, but still we will try again.  After all, things are only things but people are people and his life is worth more to me than any photo or document. 
When the boy that ran away came back, we sat down as a family to counsel him about his behaviors and encourage him to change.  Like I mentioned before, sometimes I worry I am breaking these boys more than I am fixing them.   As I sat in the meeting, watching a boy that I love so much hurting, I wondered if we actually broke him.  He wasn’t the vibrant boy I knew, but just a sad shell.  As one of the boys spoke, I was reassured that maybe we were doing more good than harm.  He told him how lucky they were to be here because I know how to forgive.  He told him that if he was in any other home, they would have chased him away by now but I keep giving him chance after chance because I love them all like they are my own children.  At least he gets it.  At least they know how much I love them and how much I am willing to fight and sacrifice for them.  

Things aren’t really better, but I cling to hope.  Hope that they will get how loved they are.  Hope that this time it will be different.  Hope that they will heal.  Hope that they will change.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A new family

This past week, I had a disagreement with one of the boys.  It was something simple that started over one of the puppies but quickly escalated because he is a bit dramatic and I am really stubborn and wanted to prove my point.  The result was we didn’t speak for the better part of last week.  Neither of us willing to concede, we just avoided each other.   Good thing this isn’t a parenting advice blog…

Anyway, we finally made up last night.  He came to my window and informed me he needed to talk.  I invited him in and right away, he said he was sorry and told me he made a mistake and wanted to be forgiven.  I told him that I had already forgiven him and was just waiting on him to talk to me.

I love this boy more than anything.  We have a long history together and I worked so hard to get him to love me.  I prayed, I fasted, I begged God to bring him close but on the streets he was just far enough away.  People warned me about him.  They told me he was stubborn and loved to fight.  They told me he would never survive in a home and couldn’t change.  I knew better but I didn’t know how to reach him.

I am so thankful that he is home with us.  It took so much work but I am glad he is here.  As we sat talking last night, I told him “Life is better when we aren’t fighting, isn’t it?”  He quickly agreed.  Life is better.  Today he didn’t have school and he was glued to my side most of the day, asking for help with his work, teaching me Luganda, listening to music in my room.  Life is better with him in it.

Last night as we talked, I reminded him how he used to not like me and asked him why.  He laughed at first and told me I knew.  When I told him I didn’t, he got quiet.  Finally he said, “Because you were going back to America and you were leaving me in kivulu.”  I forgot what a risk it was for these boys to love.  Maybe I never understood to begin with.  But he didn’t want to like me, let alone love me, because he knew soon I would be gone and I would be one more person that broke his heart.

As we continued to talk, he told me many things.  Sometimes, I forget our situation and where these boys came from because this is just life now, we are just family.  But sometimes one of them will come out of nowhere and remind me just how lucky we all are and how special our situation is.  He told me that he loved me because I gave him his life back.  A sixteen year old, telling me he has his life back.  Why did it even disappear to begin with?  He was 14 when he came home to me and spent I don’t know how many years before that on the streets, without hope and closed off because he had been hurt too many times before.
He began talking about his family and saying he had none.  His father wasn’t a good man, he died a drunk and his mom is gone too.  Before I could even offer that we were family, he told me, “Except you.  I only have you.”


Yesterday was Orphan Sunday.  It was supposed to be the day that Christians around the world came together to work and advocate on behalf of the millions and millions of orphans in the world.  Did you know that if only 7% of the world’s Christians adopted one orphan, there would be no more orphans?  These boys are all I have and I am all they have.  I can’t continue to care for them without your help.  By committing to giving only $10 a month, you will help to feed a boy one meal a day for the month.  Want to do more?  Consider sponsoring one of the boys and getting to know first-hand how amazing they are.  You will be helping to change their lives and let them know that they have someone else.  Please prayerfully consider making a difference in their lives.  Visit our website for more information.

Thank you in advance for wanting to help change these boys' lives!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Always where I fail, God steps in. 

And we are so lucky that He does.

Kansiime
When one of the boys(Kansiime) joined the home, I begged him to go to school.  I knew how smart he was and that he would do really well in school.  The problem was he was 18 years old, had never studied before and is one of the tallest Ugandans that I have ever seen.  He had to start at third grade and he was taller than absolutely everyone in school, including his teacher.  He felt so bad about it, that he begged me not to make him go.  We tried encouraging him, bribing him, everything we could think of but nothing changed his mind.  These boys face such difficulties at school and everyone makes fun of them, including their teachers.  He couldn't handle it.  So he begged to go to vocational training. 

Another boy(Davis) had studied recently but didn't like it.  He still couldn't read even though he had been at school for 2 years before he joined us.  He begged not to go back to school because he claimed he wasn't good at it and would waste everyone’s time.  School here can be pretty awful.  It is all memorization and no critical thinking.  If you can’t read or speak English well, you will just get pushed along.  There are usually 50-100 other students in class with you and the ONE teacher doesn't have time to care if you can read or not.  He is also 18 years old and asked to go to vocational training.  No amount of begging could change his mind otherwise.
Davis


Maybe it was God’s plan all along for the money for vocational training to never come in and all of our plans to fail.  Who knows?  But the boys have been waiting patiently since the beginning of this year.  The apprenticeships are so expensive and it just hasn't happened.  We are all frustrated by it but no one more so than the boys.  They were eager to get started and start life on their own.  They are ambitious and want to work, so they have been passing time by finding odd jobs around our community.

Then God showed up.

The beginning of last week, I was teaching Kansiime at home.  In a matter of 10 minutes, he learned how to tell time perfectly.  The next day after seeing 2 problems he learned how to add when you have to carry.  I told him how smart he was and begged him to go to school again.  He agreed if he could join 7th grade.  There is a lot of work to be done to get him ready for primary grade 7, but at least we have hope now.  I never thought he would agree, but I know God changed his heart.

The same day that Kansiime agreed to go back to school, Davis went with the uncle to get firewood for cooking.  They found an older man there that started counseling them on going to school and wasting their chance.  He told them that he didn't have the chance to study when he was younger, so he is going back to school now even though he is so old.  He talked and talked to them and Davis just sat there quietly listening.  On the way home, he told the uncle he heard the advice the man gave him and realized he had been making a mistake and wasting time and he should also be in school.  He told me the same as soon as he got home.  It is a rare day when Davis is home during the afternoon.  He helps at a shop at the end of our street almost every day.  God definitely stepped in to make Davis home and make him go with the uncle that day. 

What are the chances that in the same day, both boys realized that they should be in school?  Also what are the chances that just two days prior, we learned of an accelerated school for adults where students can move through each grade in only a few months?


I know it was God’s plan all along for these boys to be in school but they just weren't ready for it before but they are now and everything is coming together for them to go.  We are working at home with them to better their English and reading skills and plan for them to start school in January. 

Would you like to help them go back to school?  $50 a month will pay for their school fees each month, transportation to school and all requirements.  Visit here for more information on sponsorship or to sign up.  Feel free to email any questions to lot2545 at gmail dot com.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Monday, October 21, 2013

It is crazy how much time passed without me being in Uganda.  A year and a half is a long time.  What is crazier is how so many things are the same while so many are different.  Kampala is changing, and it has been great to see the new development.  The city is cleaner.  There are so many new buildings.  It is quickly developing and changing.  The way people are dressing is different.  So many things different, but so many the same.

I used to go to the slums almost every day but since I have been back, I have only gone twice.  There are many reasons, I guess, why I haven’t gone.  Mainly, I am so happy being at home with the boys that I don’t feel the need to go anywhere else.  I get why moms want to stay at home now.  I never understood it before, but I guess I am changing too.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the kids drive me so crazy, I feel like if I don’t get away from them I am going to explode (like when they find a variety of creepy insects, today a giant cockroach and praying mantis, to chase me around the house with).  But mostly when I am not with them, I miss them like crazy and count the seconds until I am back home.  So I find reasons, to not leave the house for days in a row.  I never thought that would happen to me.  I love the city, the noise and chaos, but now I love being home more.

However, one of the main reasons I don’t go to the slum any more is because it is too hard.  When I go into the city, the last stop for the taxi is in one of the slums.  The kids on the street there are in much worse condition and almost all of them do drugs.  It is a dirty and dangerous place, and seeing the boys there kills me.  It is strange, it upset me before to see them but not to the extent it does now.  I see the boys at home and then the ones on the street and wonder who is going to come for them.  Who is going to believe in them and give them a chance?  Somehow because we are so happy at home, and I see where these boys could still be, I don’t know how to deal with it.  I wonder why people don’t care and how they can see a monster in an 8 year old child.  It hurts the most when I see a boy that I know and love still on the streets a year and a half later.  One boy in particular, I fought so hard for him to leave that slum and his drugs and he was but now he is in a worse place than when I left.

In the other slum where I was all of the time, a friend has programs and has asked me to visit.  I finally did a week ago.  It was so sad to see so many new faces and even sadder to see so many of the same.  The problem is now they are growing up and many people won’t let them at their programs because they are too old.  Even if they did go to programs, they know their chances are gone.  So they just stay away.  Fourteen years old, 12 years old, 16 years old and left to life on the streets.  No future.  No hope.  Just life on the streets.

It is too much.  I don’t know how to love them where they are.  I know I will fall helplessly in love with them and want to bring them all home.  And I can’t.  Each month we are barely making it; one more boy would totally break us.  And the injustice of that is too much.  They are no less worthy than the boys I already have.  I cannot reconcile in my mind why some boys will get a chance and for the others they will just become men on the streets, crazy from their drugs, or dead or in prison.  I can tell myself that at least 23 boys now have a new life, are loved and have a future but that seems empty.  It doesn't seem like it is enough. 

The second time I visited the slum, I saw a boy that I have been crazy about forever.  He was wild and spirited, full of life and probably a little crazy.  I remember a time one of the uncles asked him to come for devotions and his answer was he was very busy reading the newspaper.  He can’t read.  This time, he is different.  A little less spirited.  Maybe it is age, but probably the streets have just worn him down.  He is 16 or 17 now and I wonder what will happen to him.  

What will happen to all of them...


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Monday was definitely the hardest day since I have been back.  We had to a have a really hard talk with the boys that no one wanted to have.  We had all been avoiding it, but we finally ran out of time and had no choice.  I knew that they would all be upset but had no idea exactly how unhappy they would be.  Before the home, they boys’ lives were in constant chaos and change.  So many people came in and out of their lives and disappointed them.  Broken promises, abuse, neglect, death, every difficult thing you could imagine has already happened to them in their short lives.  As a result, they don’t trust or love easily but when they do!  They will love you forever, with a loyalty and fire that you have never seen before.  Once you are part of the family, they really attach and don’t want to let go.

On Monday, we told the boys that our house uncle is moving out soon to get married and we are starting to look for a new uncle.  Saying they were devastated is a huge understatement.  It was like their whole worlds crumbled right before them.  They knew that he was getting married but I think they were all holding out hope that he wasn't actually going to move out.  He still plans to be around every night, but they can’t trust that he is telling them the truth because so many have hurt and lied to them before.  They tried to convince us that they don’t need an uncle and all nominated themselves for the job.  They suggested that he move in to the house with his new wife.  They suggested he never get married.  Everything they could think of was suggested to persuade him from leaving. 

The most heartbreaking was after our meeting.  One of the boys came into my room and begged me to go to boarding school.  I told him no and that this was his home, he needed to be here.  He sat down, on the verge of tears, and started to tell me so many things I never knew about him.  He told me he didn't want a new uncle because he was sure that he was going to be awful and treat them terribly.  He told me that he was so tired of suffering, that he had already suffered enough and  from the bottom of his heart he has felt pain and he couldn't manage to feel any more.  He told me about his life:  how he ended up on the streets, how his mother died, how people broke promises of helping him, how he suffered as a child, how he never knew his father, how people showed him he didn't deserve redemption and forgiveness for mistakes. 

He is 16 years old. 

All he has known in his short life is pain and suffering. 

As he shared so many things with me, I had to fight to hold back the tears. He has seen so many people break promises.  He has seen so many people swear that they would put the boys first, only to leave them behind.  He thinks that this time is going to be the same.  That they will begin to suffer again and he doesn't want any part of it.  My words were empty promises to him.  Even though he knows how much I love him and that he is the most important thing in my life, he doesn't know how to trust that I will do what is best for him because no one ever has.

It is a tough time for all of us, especially for the boys.  Their hearts are breaking and hurting.  We have our first interview tomorrow.  Please keep us all in your prayers, that we would find a great uncle that would love the boys, be patient and put them first.  Please also pray for the boys that they would know how loved they are and that their days of suffering are over.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hearts

Last night was the first night of workshops for the boys.  Our friend, Jenna, is living with us for the next 9 months and when she asked what would be helpful for her to do, I told her that she should do the same workshops that she did with the kids in prison.  Even though these boys don’t have the same crazy, violent pasts, they still have a lot of the same issues:  abuse, neglect, drugs, etc.  In Uganda, people don’t really talk about their problems.  There are certain things that happen and no one talks about them.  Therefore, no one can heal because they feel ashamed of what has happened to them even when it wasn't their fault. 

Joseph at Ibra's birthday party
These workshops have come at the perfect time because I have wanted to use our nightly devotions in a way that it makes the Bible real to the boys and they can have a safe space to discuss their ideas and concerns and then see what the Bible tells us about each situation.  While the focus of the workshops isn't the Bible, the topics are still things that affect the boys’ day to day lives.  It is going to be very easy to have the same topics during the workshops as during devotions the following day. 

Jacob modeling our paperbead necklaces.
Buy them here
Last week during devotions, we talked about relationships:  how they should treat women, marriage, sex, everything that is a concern to them.  It was a great time of discussion and I was so proud of the boys for how honest and open they were.  I thought that they would just tell me the things they knew I wanted to hear, but instead they were honest about their thoughts and feelings.  We were then able to go to the Bible and see what it says about everything.  While devotions usually take 45 minutes and the boys are complaining and wanting to go to bed, we had to cut them short because they were going on 2 hours.  The same thing happened the week before when we talked about how our words really have power and how we should use them only for good.  Having a discussion where they can bring their own experiences in and make those connections is really starting to make a difference.  After that time, Jenna was walking with one of the boys and a stranger said something bad to her.  Where the boy would have normally shouted an insult back, he told Jenna couldn’t say anything because we just learned about using our words for good in devotions.


Last night the workshop was about our words again.  It actually broke my heart.  Sometimes, I think that I know the pain that these boys have felt and the abuse they went through.  But after last night’s workshop, I realize I have no clue about the things these boys have suffered and how resilient they really are.  During the workshop, they got a piece of paper with a heart drawn on it and the paper was divided into 4 sections.  The first part of the heart was for when they were one week old.  The others for 5 years, 10 years and now.  For each section, they were supposed to write things people said to them and then either draw a scar or a heart inside the heart depending on if it was something good or bad.   I was helping the boys sitting next to me write in their hearts as some still don’t write very well.  The things they told me to write were awful:  you are bad, you are stubborn, you are a thief, and the worst you don’t deserve to be in this family.  He was 10 when someone said that to him.  The full impact of the activity didn’t hit me until I was looking through them all today.  One boy’s heart in particular crushed me.  There wasn’t a single heart in his heart until the time for now.  Before he came into the home, no one had good things to say about him.  Not a single word.  Can you imagine, from the time that you were born, no one wanted you and didn’t try to hide their disgust for you?  The other boys’ hearts weren’t far off, but at least they had a heart here or there.


So many times we want statistics to prove that what we are doing is making a difference.  I don’t have fancy charts or spreadsheets to prove that what we are doing is making a difference.  I don’t have numbers, nor can I say what these boys are going to do in the future or what they will become.  But for now, knowing that for the first time in their lives they all feel loved and valued is enough for me.
Richard and John
Moses and Matthew

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Damaged Petals

Willy making dinner
This week, two different boys opened up and shared with me things I never knew about them.  Every time I get to hear more of their stories, I am absolutely amazed.  I am amazed that they are still in the home.  I am amazed that they are overcoming their addictions.  I am amazed that they are able to love and trust.  Their stories are so heartbreaking, the stuff you think only happens in movies:  escaping wars, seeing your parents killed by the rebels.  It seems unreal.  But it is their life.  And now here we are, in a home with people that love and adore them, safe.  By no means is our home perfect, but we are making strides every day to be better than we were yesterday.

Moses and little David


One of the most frustrating things to me is when people tell me the boys are stubborn.  They have no idea what these kids have had to face.  Yes, looking at them today, we still have a long way to go but if you knew them 3 years ago, you would wonder how they made it this far.  If you heard their stories, you would wonder how they ever left their drugs and addictions behind.  For some of the boys, I know it was so hard for them to make the choice to stay in the home.  One boy in particular, I thought that the morning after our first night in the home I would wake up and he would be gone.  Some boys I know have to wake up every morning and make the choice to be sober for another day.  Sometimes they are able to make those choices and sometimes not.  But that doesn't mean that they failed or aren't worth the effort.  Eventually, things will get easier for them.  They will think less about their drugs and more about their future.  We are already seeing it happen. 
Richard and Shafik

For years, the only person that these boys had to count on was themselves.  They raised themselves on the streets and grew up way too fast.  They have endured more in their short lives than I probably ever will in 5 lifetimes.  But still people choose to look at their mistakes instead of seeing how far they have come.  Our friend that is staying with us just shared a quote from Tupac that she heard over the summer.  I think that it fits the boys perfectly.

We wouldn't ask why a rose that grew from the concrete has damaged petals, in turn, we would all celebrate its tenacity, we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don’t ask me why, thank God, and ask me how.”

One boy in particular, when I met him he was so tough and cold.  I thought he would never love me.  I tried and tried and tried.  After so much time, he finally warmed up to me.  Since we became friends, I have seen him change.  He started to open up to other people too.  Now, even though he is the same tough kid, he has a soft side that he actually shows people.  Now when I see him holding the other auntie’s hand or being friendly with visitors, I appreciate it so much more because I remember how he used to be. 

Abraham with our cook's grand kids
I was encouraged this week by the pastor that comes to the home every week.  He has been with us from almost the beginning.  He told me that he knows God is good and worthy of our praises because he never thought these boys would be where they are now.  He told me that in the beginning they were so much more difficult than they are now. He also told me that people unfairly judge them because if they knew where they came from they would be so impressed. 


Just like Tupac said,  these boys are roses and even though they have some damaged petals, they survived where many of their friends haven’t and came from awful circumstances.  It is amazing that they have made it this far, that they have stayed in the home, gone back to school, are overcoming their addictions and each day are changing a bit more.  We should be thanking God and praising Him for his goodness and faithfulness in bringing the boys this far not pointing out how far they have to go.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lessons learned

****I started this post before I left for Uganda but am now just finishing after being in Uganda for several weeks.****

I feel lighter.

As the day gets closer, I somehow feel lighter.  I am not sure why, because the responsibilities are just beginning and some of the hardest days are probably ahead.  But it feels different.  It is frightening and exciting all at the same time.  I can't believe that in a few short days, I will get to see the kids again.

Maybe that's why.  Because I feel like I am finally getting to go home after a really hard time away.

It has been the hardest year and a half.  Lots of ups and downs but I finally see an end in sight. It was a strange place to be in all year because I completely believed that if God wanted me back, he would and could raise the money I needed overnight.  And that left me questioning so many things.  Was this really what God wanted from me?  How could He bring these kids into my life and then keep us apart?  If I am not supposed to be in Uganda, what should I be doing?  When is enough enough and I should just call it quits?

There were many days when I felt like giving up and was certain that I was not supposed to be in Uganda.  But I trusted that God had a good plan for me and tried to be patient.  Every time i doubted, I got confirmation that Uganda was where I needed to be.

Because I believed that if God wanted me back in Uganda, I would be back it left me questioning why I wasn't.  Now that so much time has passed and I can step away from the situation, I can see why.  There were lessons to be learned.  Things had to happen.

I decided to start this project before it was fully funded.  Probably one of the craziest decisions I have ever made in my life.  When we started, we had one person committed to giving $50 a  month!  Looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking or why i thought that was a good idea.  All I knew was that I loved the boys more than anything and it broke my heart to see them on the streets.  I knew I couldn't return to the US while they stayed on the streets, worrying each day if they were ok.  It was a crazy decision but definitely one of the best of my life. It was amazing to see God showing up day after day for us.  I learned to trust Him fully and completely and He never disappointed.  He always provided and always made a way for us.  I learned it is ok to dream big when following Jesus and what it really means to surrender it all to Him.  I don't think that I could have learned those lessons any other way because all I had every day was my faith in Jesus and trust that He only wanted what was best for us all.

I think the biggest lesson I had to learn this last year and a half is that I am not needed for this work.  I knew it in theory, but that lesson was just magnified so much. God has brought me into these boys' stories to love them and take care of them, but at the end of the day, I am doing nothing.  He is the one doing it all.  I just show up each day and after that, He takes over.   I think it is so easy to get caught up in it all and this life and start to think we are the ones working miracles.  That it is our hard work that is paying off.   But you see, I can't say any of those things because I wasn't here. These boys have changed, they are not the same ones I left behind.  And I can't take any of the credit for it.  I know where the credit always needs to go, and it isn't me.  I know I am not needed for this work, but I am lucky to be a part of it.  I know that I should never take a day for granted with these boys, that they are my gift from God and I need to cherish them through the good and the bad.  It has helped me put things in perspective and really value the good I see and how far they have come and not just focus on the negatives.  It has been so sweet to be back with them.  Even though everything hasn't been perfect, I can still see the good in the situation.

I can also now see how God was working for us and bringing the right people together.  I know that this was definitely His timing because I felt like I just had to be back and had peace that everything would work out.  Once I started feeling like that, everything just happened.  At the beginning of August I didn't know i was leaving, by the end I was on a plane.  We still aren't fully funded, and I knew it was crazy to leave before everything was settled, but I just felt like it was the right time.  This whole experience has shown me over and over again, that God loves us more than I can imagine and He will always come through for us.  Time and time again, I thought there was no hope, and then there was.  I was ready to give up, and then He showed up.    If I would have followed my own plan and not His, there are tons of amazing people I wouldn't have met, we wouldn't have been able to be a part of the documentary, just so many things.

It sucks that I was away from the boys and I missed so many things, but in reality it just makes it that much sweeter to be back.  I know that this was His plan and I should never question that His plans are good.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I'm back

I thought that these days would never come.  The days where I am happily at home, listening to blaring music and shouting kids.  Life has been crazy these last few weeks and have flown by.  Before i got back, I was afraid that maybe I had been gone too long and things would be too different.  I am happy to say, I feel like I was never gone and we picked up right where we left off.  When I got here, the kids were on holiday from school so we had plenty of time to catch up.  It was so good to have that time to relax and adjust without having to jump back into a routine.

Today the house is so quiet because school has finally started.  There are still 4 boys at home and we are getting ready to home school them.  Two of the boys will be going to a garage, so we just want to teach them to read, write and do math well.  One of the boys just got to the house and has never studied before.  To make his situation even more difficult, he is from a village very far away that speaks a completely different language and he is still learning the language here and doesn't speak English at all.  If we were to send him to school now, he would have to start at first grade.  Since he is around 16 years old, that would be super frustrating for him and setting him up to drop out.  We are hoping that we can work with him enough that he can at least enter 3rd grade.  Still not the best option, but as long as he can get started the possibility for him to skip grades later is there.  The last boy is kind of indecisive with what he wants to do.  We are hoping if his skills get better, he will want to return to school also.

Since I have been back, it has been so busy.  The day I got here, not only was I greeted by all of the boys, but I was also greeted by 3 guys that are working on filming a documentary for Hospice in South Bend.  I got connected to them back in South Bend and they invited us to be a part of the film.  They wanted to catch my arrival at the airport and meet the boys.  They came back about a week later to interview some of the boys and have the boys show them their former lives in the slums.  The boys were really excited to show them around and had a great time, even though it down poured.

About a week or so after I arrived, a friend came to live with us.  I met her a while ago when I was teaching and she was actually my initial connection to Uganda.  We are lucky enough that she is going to be around about 9 months and help out with the boys.  She has spent the last 3 years working in El Salvador with youth in prison that are affiliated with gangs.  Even though the boys don't have the same violent backgrounds, they do have a lot of the same issues of trauma and abuse, addictions, etc. She helped the boys in prison to write their stories through poems and has published a book. When the boys here saw the books, they were really excited and wanted to do the same.  She is starting small groups with the boys from the curriculum she used in the prisons.  It is a great help to have her here and the boys took to her immediately.  Many of them knew here from the first time she was here about four years ago.

That is enough for now I think.  If I could ask you to be in prayer with us that all of our needs would continue to be met each week, for the boys to perform well in school this term and to stay focused and for continued heart changes and healing for them.

Check out our new website design.  A friend was kind enough to create it for us.  Thanks Evan!

Monday, August 12, 2013

A late introduction

Just realized I never followed up on this post.

I am happy to say that he, Matthew, is safe and sound and finally home.

It took us a while to find him and get him out, but our friend was relentless in his search for him and was finally able to get him released.

He is doing great and has settled in just fine.  When we asked him to join us, he told the uncle he never thought he was going to get off the streets.  I am so happy that he is finally home with us and I can introduce you to our newest addition.

Meet Matthew!


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Number 22

Meet Abraham!


This is Abraham.  He officially joined us on Friday last week, but has been staying at the house for about a month now.

I know without a doubt Abraham is supposed to be with us.  How?  I was leaving Arizona to come back to Indiana about a month ago.  I don't get internet on my phone unless there is wi-fi.  Most airports don't have free wi-fi.  I almost didn't check to see if there was wi-fi, but as I sat at the gate I felt like I should try.  What do you know?  I could get on the internet.  Coincidence?  I think not!  So I checked Facebook and saw a plea for help from a friend.  He was asking for someone to take Abraham in until he could get better.  He was really sick and not doing well.  I found the friend on chat and asked a few questions and immediately offered help.

Just like with Jimmy, I extended the help knowing I couldn't send him away after he had been at the house.  All of my fears quickly disappeared, and I anxiously awaited a response to see if Abraham made it to the house.  He finally did the next day.  It took him a couple of weeks to recover, so we all agreed it wouldn't be ok to send him back to the streets.

Last Friday was the first time I got to talk to him.  I was impressed with his English and how polite he was.  I asked him many questions and found out a lot about him.  When I asked him if he wanted to live in the home and go back to school he was so excited.  When I told him he had sponsors and would get to write them letters, he squealed!  He giggled and I could hear the happiness in his voice.  I imagine his face looked a bit like the smiling face above.  He told me how happy he was because he never had a chance to have a sponsor before.

I can't wait to get back to Uganda and actually meet him.  When I asked him if we knew each other, he told me I have seen your photos.  I can already tell he is going to fit in around here.

Some basic info:  He is 17, finished secondary 2, wants to be a lawyer, loves to sing, and left home 5 years ago.

P.S.  The photo was taken last Thursday when the friend that asked for help for him saw him in the city on his way to buy new clothes.  A huge thank you goes out to SIR CASE!  They sent their first donation from the first two cases they sold about a week and a half ago.  That allowed all of the boys to get new clothes.