Monday, September 28, 2009
A Matter of the Heart
More and more I am convinced that the only way to effect change in Uganda is to focus on the heart. To focus on healing. And to focus on raising up a generation that has the Kingdom of God first in their life. No matter how much education, no matter how many skills trainings, no matter how much teaching on business, the poverty that pervades the culture is more than not having. It is the poverty of spirit, the lack intimacy with God. The pain of unforgiveness. The ugliness of greed. This first week back in Gulu has been full of happiness, but also sadness, spiritual warfare, and challenges.
In our Congolese home I have seen little girls as young as 6 and as old as 12 with their hands raised towards heaven, tears rolling down their cheeks because of the power of God. Little girls who just a month ago were suffering rape, or being forced into the sex trade by those older than them because they were told “It's never too early to learn.” Little girls who have burns on them from being left in a house that caught fire while they were trying to prepare dinner for younger siblings, while their mother was at the disco because its the only job she can find to feed her kids.
Now they don't worry about starvation. Now they pray and they know there is a God who exists who loved them enough to rescue them from that life. I am touched by their innocence. I am touched by their praise. And when I look in their faces I am touched by the fact that most of them are not yet tainted by the desperation of this country that has corrupted the hearts of men.
But I'm also sad. Sad because the women we had living here, all but 2 of the former prostitutes whose lives we were working to restore have left because of the lies spoken to them by pastors and members of the church. These are men and women who should be celebrating because these women were no longer on the street spreading HIV and leaving their children as orphans. Instead it is the church who has sought to destroy our home because of greed and jealousy. They want these projects for themselves because they began to realize that the West, with its money, had started to care about these women. And they realized that they could profit from our compassion. We are as much to blame. We throw money at Africans and projects without considering the long-term impact. We don't go through the proper channels---through individuals who have been on the ground and understand the detriment of handing over money and how it paints those of us who live here as though we have bottomless pockets of cash.
I went into one of the Congolese communities of sex trade workers this week to talk to them to try and reverse the damage that had been done to our reputation. I was met with singing and shouting, hugs, and laughter. I was met with familiar faces I have come to love and those who eyed me with suspicion. I tried to be strong but when I saw Sarah, one of our girls who returned recently to this community, I just cried as I held her face in my hands and told her I missed her. I told her I loved her still. Even though in her anger the day she left, she beat up another girl and threatened Mama Miriam because the words spoken to her had broken her trust in us. I could see the tears in her eyes as she held her son, who is now sick because she took him from the protection of medical care. As much as it hurt to know what she was capable of, it is true that I love her still. When I asked God to open up my heart to love these girls I never knew it would break my heart. That it would break my heart to love them and forgive them over and over because it is the heart the Father has for us. And I can feel how much it breaks Him too. But still He loves. And still, we must love, though we are in pieces along the way.
We are in a season of transition as we seek the Father for what He would have us do next. Our Acholi girls are graduating our program soon and have the faith, confidence, and skills to start a new life. As we do exit interviews with them I am grounded more in the belief that it is the healing and counseling which has changed them the most. They all say, the greatest thing they received was the teaching on forgiveness and love. And as I look into the future and try to see from heaven what God sees for Gulu, I see a center for healing, a place that focuses on teaching, and transformation of the heart. I dream of it. And it is a spark as I walk onward in the darkness.