Arriving at the Uganda border, we unloaded off the bus so that we could walk across the border. We were greeted, like usual, with dirty-faced kids, the image of poverty, standing at the door, hands out, asking for money. Since this is typical in Africa, I was selfishly unfazed, and wondering how I could make a difference in such a situation. Standing at the counter, waiting to have my passport stamped, a couple kids were mixed into our group, and we had to be extra cautious with our bags. One of the kids kept motioning towards my empty yogurt container that I had yet to find a trash can for. I then noticed another child had found his own empty container and was licking it clean. As I handed my container to the child that couldn’t be older than 8 years old, my heart was breaking.
This is the desperation that so many children face.
During our Children’s program one morning, I noticed 3 tiny kids standing off by themselves. I went over to see if I could get them to join in on the fun. The oldest was maybe 4 years old, and all three had ratty clothes and runny noses. The boy pointed toward my water bottle, which I almost ignored because we have to be really cautious about giving things. These people have learned to expect to receive things from “whites” and so we are trying to break some of those stereotypes. By giving stuff to them, a dependency is developed which will not be helpful in the long run. As I began to walk away, I looked over my shoulder and I couldn’t go any further. I handed him the bottle and as he guzzled the water, my heart broke. It was all I could do to keep from breaking down into tears. I helped him share with the two little girls and the obvious desperation in their little faces was overwhelming.
This is only a sliver of the desperation and hopelessness that we see every day. In the IDP (Internationally Displaced Persons) camp, there are thousands of children. All of them lack sufficient clothing and food. The clothes that they do have are dirty, torn, and more like shredded cloth barely hanging on their bodies. Their bellies are bloated looking, a sign of malnutrition. Many have only a shirt or only skirt/pants. I see this sort of desperation every day.
Another kind of desperation settles into my heart. The kind where you feel inadequate and at a complete loss. How can anything I even try to do make a difference? How can I share the love of Christ to these poor children? Especially when these kids are continually around us, looking in our windows, asking us to give them things? It seems like there is never a break, or time to rest without kids banging on closed windows or mimicking us when we ask them to go home. I see their desperation, I hear their depressing stories of war and fear, but what am I to do? How can I show these children the love they need, when I feel as if I can never get any peace or even a little quiet? Am I being selfish, do I just need to learn more patience, more understanding?
Even as I learn more about patience and love, even as I seek God through prayer and petition, the desperation is lurking all around me.