No matter what language you speak, a smile can communicate so much. On the way to and from work each day, I zoom past the energetic, happy children in the village as they call out “Mzungu!” (white person) or “Ina!!” (a famous actress--I have no idea what she looks like; we probably just share the same skin color ;) I’m on the back of a Boda-Boda (motorcycle) whizzing by them, so I’m unable to engage in conversation, but I can wave and smile. Feeling tired after a long day of work, I passed by a little boy last evening who looked solemn. Yet all the sudden, his eyes lit up, and he flashed a toothy, earnest grin at me. At that moment I realized that no matter what frustrations I face during the week, I can look forward to the small blessing of these kids’ smiles. I wish these children could know how much their smiles touch my heart. I don’t ever want to take that for granted during my time here in Uganda.
Their smiles remind me that you don’t need material possessions to be joyful. These kids scamper across the dusty, dirt roads, rolling an old tire with a stick. That’s their toy. And they are having a blast! Their smiles remind me that you don’t need a grocery cart full of your favorite food to be happy. I’ve been blown away by how resourceful Ugandans are! They take advantage of locally-grown food, which might mean climbing a tree to find a banana or jack fruit. After a 7am-5pm day of school (yeah, it puts American kids to shame! ;) they may have to walk through the village to fill containers of water from a murky stream (saw a young girl doing this yesterday.) I’ll never complain about luke-warm water again. I’ve never had to worry about “will I have access to water tomorrow??”
Despite all the joyful faces, there are obviously children who are hurting and broken. On Wednesday, I went “into town” (Kampala city), and it was there that my heart broke. I walked by several faces that could not muster up a smile. Instead, the faces held a blank, hopeless stare. This was my first time to encounter street children. Just three years old, he has been through more than I can imagine. He’s just a toddler, yet there he sits, begging on the sidewalk, as people walk past nearly trampling him. He sits crosslegged, a position that allows him to be “comfortable” for a longer period of time.
I was helpless, unable to help the children at that moment. So I tried not to think about what I was seeing. Instead, I focused on navigating my way through the crowds of people….concentrating on not getting run over by a taxi bus or a Boda!
It wasn’t until I reached the peace and quiet of my flat that I took time to process what my eyes had seen. “I understand that I can’t hand out money—that would create chaos and may not even benefit the child,” I thought. “But I’m NOT ok with heartlessly walking past these precious children. Next time I have to do something—but what??
After discussing this with a long-term missionary, I know what I will do next time. I'll either carry stickers in my purse and stick one on the back of the child's hand. Or, I bought a long bar of soap today which I will cut into small pieces, handing them out so the child can have the option of bathing. It may not make a huge difference, but perhaps the child will see a glimpse of Christ’s love-- just by the simple fact that I took time to stop and interact with him, recognize that he/she is a valuable human being.
Please pray for the children in Kampala who are struggling to survive day-to-day. Pray that they will experience Jesus’s love and grace today. And please pray for Dwelling Places, the ministry that I’m serving while I’m in Uganda. They exist to rescue and rehabilitate street children.
Those children on the street? I can’t change their lives. But I know a Savior who can. And I am blessed to come alongside an established ministry (D.P.) who is passionate about these individuals.
That little girl with solemn eyes, holding out her hands for a scrap of food, desperate for a glimpse of hope? She is why I’m here.