Each morning we awoke to the sounds of a typical African town—women talking loudly in Luganda and Swahili, water spraying from a tap into large plastic yellow cans to be taken to houses, children laughing and shouting, clothes being scrubbed by hand in sudsy water and babies crying. While the orchestra of humanity they created after time became less like noise and more like background music, the reality of what my Ugandan neighbors faced each day never became anything less than heartbreaking. Living in a small group of houses, which were actually more like concrete boxes with common walls, we lived together sharing a water source, toilets, and a small sandy area where our children played. I had the privilege each day of getting to know these women (most of them single mothers) and their struggles as we washed clothes and cooked together on our porches. The more I came to love and appreciate these mothers and their children, the heavier the burden became of their situations. They struggled each month to collect enough money to buy food and send their kids to school. I could easily see the culmination of all these factors as I watched our children play together. The crusty yellow sores of bacterial infections, the itchy white spots of fungal infections, and the obviously infected wounds marked them as if the world had labeled them “poor.”
It was too much. I was there to help and as a health care worker, I tried. However, I was overwhelmed by the medical needs of 6 small families. What was going to happen to the rest of this town of almost 10,000 people? It was a question that weighed on me, making it difficult to get up in the mornings. Then our dear friends from Kenya came to stay with us. Reuben Ndwiga, Anne Wambura, and their 2 year-old daughter Mwende came from their small village in Central Kenya to Bombo Town, Uganda to stay with us for seven weeks of our five month stint in Africa. Anne and I had been cultivating a friendship since 2007 and our husbands had been friends since 2002. Like us, Anne and Reuben had committed their lives to bringing life and hope to the people of Africa through God’s word and love. Their presence with us was a sign of hope.
Anne was eager to help and serve people, a desire that came out of her deep love for God and a faith that had grown over a difficult lifetime. Her father had died when she was 13 leaving her mother and two brothers to fend for themselves. They had not been wealthy during his life, but after his death his mother felt she had no way of providing for her children. So Anne left school and helped on their small farm until she found a job as a housegirl, which is something like an under-aged, under paid maid. She endured abuse while working for very little money. Her younger brother was sent to live in an orphanage so that he could continue to go to school. In spite of their own poverty, she and her husband believed that with God they could help others.
So each day, Anne and I would work together. I would show her how to care for wounds, how to take to take blood pressure and we would even go through health textbooks discussing disease and the body’s immune system. Her desire and ability to learn inspired me. I often found myself trying to keep up with her. In our time together she began to name the wounds and skin problems of the children around us. They were not new to her, but all too familiar. However, now she knew what to do. Hope and excitement grew in me as, side by side, we tended to the needs of our neighbors. She developed relationships and gave explanations in a way that I, as a white outsider, never could have.
In our pursuit to follow Christ, the burden is heavy. At times I feel almost crushed by it. However, Anne reminds me that even if this task seems impossible, I do not bear it alone. It seems impossible to believe that the situation for the many widows and orphans of East Africa would ever be alleviated. It seems impossible that an fatherless African housegirl still living in poverty would be able to offer help to others. It seems impossible to believe that some families, poor by American standards, could leave their homes and give their lives to make a difference in a small town in East Africa. Jesus calls us to have faith that with his help, we will do the impossible. With others in this quest, I rejoice with Anne and our neighbors from Bombo Town, Uganda who are a sign of the breaking down of the walls of impossibility and of hope for the emergence of the Kingdom of God.