I blogged early on about my experience with Mary, the woman basically left for dead. That happened at Ngariam, but so did a lot of other things. As I mentioned before, the people of Ngariam have been traumatized over the years. Their stories almost all include one of the following...war, pillaging, rape, abduction or the death of a family member.
I remember the moment we pulled up in our van. Here's what I saw:
There was just abject poverty everywhere. Everything and everyone was dirty. It was what I'd been told I would see but I wasn't ready for it. It was heart breaking. And that was before these faces started to appear...
When we got off the bus the children came out of the woodwork to stare at us. There was a language barrier so I bent down to get on their level and say "yoga"...or "greetings" in their language. Some of them waved back but mostly they stared. I have to think that for many of them it was the first time they may have seen a white person. That has to be scary in and of itself! But theses kids were holding back. I was smiling but they were just staring. I had imagined I'd get off the bus and the children would come running to me with big smiles and we'd hug each other and play and sing. It was a nice thought, but it definitely wasn't happening.
So I began to just hold out my hand and say "yoga". Some children stretched their hand out and we shook hands. Sarah and I got the kids together and started to teach them a song. They would repeat what we said but I wasn't sure any of them understood what we were saying. We asked Rita who was a Ugandan woman traveling with us to translate the words. Then we tried again. They seemed to engage more as we sang "Jesus Loves Me" together. Since they mimicked us so well we started a game out of it. I'd raise my hands above my head and clap my hands and so would they. I'd turn around in a circle and so did they. I'd start dancing and so did they. And then they laughed. I guess the key to a child's heart is to act like one. :)
Once the smiles and the giggling came I felt better, but boy did they take a while to come! The crazy thing was that we probably had close to 100 children around us and there were no adults with them - really. None to be seen. Little kids were carrying their siblings on their backs. It was evident that they were responsible for taking care of them.
I started to realize the weight of what most of these children dealt with on a daily basis. The kids who were 7 or older were essentially parents. They didn't go anywhere without their younger siblings. Many of them were responsible for collecting the water for each day for the family. There was no play for them. They had to help their families survive. Their mom (if they had one) was likely off collecting wood for a fire or looking for food. This area in Uganda is undergoing a severe drought and people have died in Ngariam from starvation. There simply is nothing to eat. The signs of malnutrition were painfully obvious. As I took in all these things and the surroundings I realized that what they needed was to know that someone loved them. Someone cared about them.
So I just started to let go. I started to hold hands with the children, I started to play, I started to be silly, I started to laugh. I wanted them to feel joy. And it wasn't just me. As I looked around I started to see that we were making progress with the kids.
After about two hours had passed we were looking at faces like this:
Do you see the change? By the end of our time in Ngariam we had danced, laughed, hugged, sang, played ball, chased each other, given high fives, flown kids in the air and held hands. We had loved. And let me tell you it went both ways. While I was trying to dish out love by the bucketfuls it was coming right back to me from these children. Though they didn't have one earthly thing to give, they had love and it poured out from them. These children were beautiful. I saw God in them. I saw that they had strength through the struggle of their every day life to laugh and be joyful. If I had to live even an hour of their daily life I would surely break down and cry.
I realized that amazingly they were responding to the love I was trying to give. They wanted it. Later on the bus ride home I was talking to Rita and she was telling me that even if the children had parents, it was very likely that they were not being nurtured in any way. In Ngariam life is about survival. The adults are too busy carrying the burdens of each day to have time to love and nuture the children. And so they go without touch, without words of comfort, without encouragement, without words of love each and every day. Can you imagine your own kids going without these things? It's mind numbing to me. What that must do to a little one! They were hungry for love and I am so glad that God cared enough about them to bring my team all the way from the States that day to give it to them in heaping bucketfuls.
And it all made me wonder...how much more is God wanting to pour out that kind of love on His children? On me? I know I got off that bus wanting to just bring joy to those kids. How many times is God stepping of the bus while I stare at Him with a blank stare - unresponsive to the things He wants to do in me? Maybe some days I am scared of what that might look like. Maybe I am hesitant to press into His love further because I'm not sure where it will take me. I pray God gives me a heart like the children at Ngariam...a heart that is open to receive all that He has for me with joy and abandon. Because I could see these children were filled up that day. God had met them through the words, hands and actions of the people on my team. The love we were able to give the kids that day was a generous love...a love that I pray stays with them for a long time. It was a love I need to trust more and more with my life.