This week has stretched me a few extra inches.
Last Tuesday, I got dreadlocks! I’ve been thinking about getting them since summertime. I finally got faux dreads, which are made out of weaving extensions through your hair. So when I come to the point where I don’t want them anymore, they don’t have to cut my hair. I sat in the salon chair from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. It was a long day. I really enjoy them a lot, but I have a pretty bad rash on my scalp from my hair being so tight. I’m actually getting them taken out this week, but I am determined to leave at least six in!
Sydney spent the night at my house on Wednesday, and then we ventured early Thursday morning to Rakai. We rode a boda from my village to a private hire waiting for us in Jinja. The private hire drove us to Kampala, which is Uganda’s capital city. It is three times bigger than Vancouver, population wise. We spent a few hours in one of many malls in Kampala.
That was weird.
Sydney warned me beforehand that I may get a bit of a culture shock, and I do believe I experienced a bit. I didn’t really know what to expect when we walked into the mall, but I wasn’t expecting to see a completely westernized shopping mall. If I experienced just a little bit of culture shock in Kampala, I’m honestly a little bit scared of how I will react when I get home.
After a couple hours at the mall, we took a boda through Kampala to the taxi park. That was quite the adventure! Weaving in and out like a thread through four-lane traffic on a run-down motorcycle can give quite an adrenaline rush. And although the traffic wasn’t actually too bad, it was a much better ride than any rollercoaster I’ve ever been on!
We arrived at the taxi park, which is a compacted area of dozens upon dozens of taxis, and a sea of hundreds of people. We didn’t really know where to go, and it’s even harder to judge when grown men are constantly asking you where you are going, just to fish for the chance to get you on their taxi. There was a young man who waved us over to him and, just like every other man, said to us, “Hello, baby. What is your name? Where are you going?”
We told him our names and said, “Rakai.”
“Oh…that is way over there.” He points to the other side of the park. “Here, I will take you. Come.”
He grabbed Sydney’s arm and I followed. He lead us through the string of slowly moving taxis, and kept stopping in front of them saying, “Stop! Let my mzungus through! Wait! Careful! These are my mzungus!”
We got a good laugh out of that!
We arrived at a completely empty taxi travelling to Rakai. We thanked our escort, and unlike any other young man, he didn’t ask us for our numbers, our e-mails, and didn’t even demand to be paid for escorting us. It was a very rare and pleasant surprise.
The taxi doesn’t move until it is completely full, and not many people go up to the small village we were headed. So, we waited a whole three and a half hours before moving. Let’s just say that we got pretty restless, and ended up making some pretty hilarious memories.
When we started on the road, we quickly came to the realization that our taxi driver was extremely aggressive and rough. A few minutes after leaving the taxi park, I smiled at Sydney and said, “Alright…time to get stretched!”
Sydney nervously smiled and nodded.
We were in for quite a long, three-hour journey to the village. In fact, I really thought we were going to run over at least four bodamen.
I sat there, heart beating fast, praying for protection over us, other vehicles, and pedestrians. I prayed over and over that I trust in who my God is; that I trust in His protection, His love, His compassion, His path, His extraordinary ways, His righteousness. I told Jesus over and over again in my shaky heart that I trust that His arms are holding me, and that I am His child; fear has no grip on me.
I put in my earphones, trying to drown out the honking and the sound of rushing wind, and continued to praise and worship The Lord. As I listened to my worship playlist, I closed my eyes and meditated on the words. Tears kept coming to my eyes as we repeatedly whizzed past big trucks, driving head-on into traffic. But I wasn’t tearing up because I was scared, stressed, or anxious. I was tearing up for a whole different reason. The lyrics rang in my ears:
“I’m no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God . . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage. We’re the sons and the daughters, let us sing our freedom.” (“No Longer Slaves” by Bethel)
“Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. Through it all, through it all, it is well. It is well. So let go, my soul, and trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.” (“It Is Well” by Bethel)
“I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but Holy trust in Jesus’ name. Christ alone, Cornerstone; weak made strong in the Saviour’s love. Through the storm, He is Lord; Lord of all.” (“Cornerstone” by Hillsong)
“You’re a Good, Good Father; it’s who You are. And I’m loved by You; it’s who I am. You are perfect in all of Your ways . . . Love so undeniable I can hardly speak. Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think.” (“Good, Good Father” by Housefires)
It was almost as if I felt the presence of The Lord’s protection hovering all around me. As I prayed, worshipped, gave thanksgiving, He gave me a soothed heart, soul, and mind that I am in the palm of His hands. I was filled with the sense of wonder, an awestruck wonder, of how such a powerful and mighty Father graciously listens to the cries of my heart, and mercifully gives me a soft comforting in my soul; like a mother breastfeeding her distressed child. As He filled me up in our fellowship time together, I found myself claiming my freedom and victory as a child of God, thanking my Lord for reigning over my life, and rubbing it in the enemy’s face. My God is so much more than any taxi ride; so take that, enemy.
We arrived in Kyotera, which is about an hour drive from Rakai, and settled into our hotel. As election broadcasts and advertisements blared through the lobby TV screens, my heart couldn’t help but flutter. Elections are getting closer and closer; that’s a scary thought.
Many of you may not know:
The Ugandan presidential election is in February. Election time is a very high tension time. Schools all across Uganda are not even in session because it is too dangerous for the children, in case anything gets violent during campaigning. It’s even more intense when you are a white person. Through this time, the government bans all volunteers and foreigners from entering the country as it is unsafe.
After saying all that, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Oh wow…your family must be freaking out.” Yeah…they’re a little worried.
I can take comfort in the fact that my God is bigger than any election. My God is protecting me and I see His protection over me, blatantly, every day. My Father is in control over everything; He created the universe into existence with just one breath. Yes, there are times where my heart begins to flutter, my body begins to sweat, and my imaginative mind explores dark places. But I have come to the point that when I have found myself doing that, I quickly call upon my Father, and my soul sings that it is well.
Let go, oh my soul, and trust in Him; it is well with my soul.
Sydney and I visited Rakai the next day. It was so beautiful to see Sydney’s ministry in person. Since there is no school in session, there was an announcement in the village that morning that Sydney and I were coming. Although there weren’t 600 children, there were still about 300 that showed up.
It was beautiful.
The children would crowd around Sydney and this new stranger she brought with her. We spent the whole day at the school. They followed me around, crowded around me, held my hands, and do anything they could to get my attention. I felt kind of bad because I felt like they were expecting for me to do something; anything. Maybe teach them a trick, or even a game. I walked around, asking their names, hugging them, showing them photos on my family and taking pictures of them.
They love selfies.
What really struck a chord in me were four little girls who never left my side all day. They wandered around with me all day. I finally sat down under a tree with them, and a crowd of children, one by one, sat down with me. We didn’t talk much, we just sat, and enjoyed each other’s company. While sitting there, Jesus’ words came to mind: “Let the children come to Me.”
One of these little girls wouldn’t let my hand go. On my other side, two of the other little girls held my hand. I watched as they inspected me. They felt my nails, my arm hair, stroked my fingers and hands. When they see I have watched them doing this, their eyes almost fade from amazement to shame. I tell them that it’s okay, I smile at them, and give them my other arm to look at.
As I sat under the tree, surrounded, one of my loyal followers shyly looked at me and said, “I want you to help me.”
“Oh? What do you want me to help you with?” I said, somewhat scared to find out the answer.
“My mother died in a fire. She burned. I am all alone. Please, help me.” Her eyes were desperate; searching me, looking to me to be her saviour. My heart sank into my stomach; there was a lump in my throat. I wanted to have the right answer, but I didn’t know what it was. I looked back into her eyes and mustered up the only thing I could say: “I’m so sorry.” I helplessly hugged her, and rubbed her arm in an attempt to be comforting. Just then, Sydney came to me and said that it was time to go into the school for a presentation. I stood up quickly and stretched out my hand to this small, broken child. She took my hand and we walked up to school together, like nothing had happened.
But I didn’t forget. I can’t forget.
After we all sat down and the kids settled, Sydney and I were each asked to say a few words to the staff and children. I simply said that I loved each one, that I don’t know when I would be back but I will one day, that they all looked so smart (beautiful), and that God has a plan for each of them. After we sat back down, the choir gave us a presentation. As I am remembering it all right now, their voices echo in my head and I can’t help but cry. The choir danced and the drums played in sync. Their words were along these lines:
“Thank you, sisters, for loving us and showing us grace. Thank you for the struggle you had to go through to come see us. You are most welcome, we wish you a safe journey, and can’t wait for you to come again.”
Oh my goodness. My eyes watered, my lip quivered, and I did everything I could to choke back the tears. One of the girls in the choir came to me, held my hand, and sang to me of how much she loved me and thanked me for loving all of them. My heart was exploding. It was then that I suddenly realized I didn’t have to know any cool tricks to show these kids, or anybody for that matter. What matters most was being a person who shows love; the type of love that Christ shows me everyday.
As we made our way to the car to go back to our hotel, the children swarmed, giving high-fives and hugs, telling me to please come back. I watched as a bunch of their eyes welled up with tears. As we began to drive out of the village, they ran after us for quite some time. I breathed slowly, trying to control my emotions from bursting. I did a good job, until now while writing all of this out.
It was beautiful to see those kids’ faces, to say the least. Each of their genuine, smiling faces haunt me with the fact that even in the midst of utter loneliness, there is still thanksgiving of the Father’s love being rejoiced.
Sydney and I travelled back to Kampala on Saturday. We stopped at the Equator to take a few photos, and then were dropped off at our hotel in Kampala. We gave Vana a hug, and said our farewell for now. We went to a different mall in Kampala, where we stuffed our stomachs and stocked up on some food to take on the way home with us. On Sunday, we travelled back to our own villages, back to our own versions of craziness and busyness. Honestly, our journey to Rakai and back could not have been any more convenient, or protected. Time and time again, I have witnessed God’s protection over me and those around me, especially this week. I cannot be anymore thankful to those who prayed for travel mercies, and to my Good Father for granting those prayers so graciously.
I experienced a lot this weekend, all of which I am so thankful for. All of the travelling, eating westernized foods and putting a bit of strain on my body for it, sleeping in foreign places, meeting those bright and beautiful faces…it all took a toll on me; spiritually, emotionally, and physically. But God is doing something great in my heart about it all; I can feel it, and it’s not the cramps I’m feeling in my stomach right now. It’s a feeling of peace, compassion, growth. And who I am to receive such grace, mercy, love, joy, peace, acceptance, redemption?
No matter what I go through, whatever I may have to endure, I know who my God is. And I am able to say with a clear conscience;
It is well with my soul.
“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” – Psalm 40:5
“I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul . . . But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands.”
– Psalm 31:7, 14-15a