Monday, March 22, 2010

In 2005, a Dinka girl of about nine or 10 was brought to Uganda with a family seeking refuge from the war-torn region in Southern Sudan they hailed from. The young girl, who we’ll call Hope here for the sake of security, did not come of her own accord. She was actually kidnapped by an uncle who, it seems, intended to turn her into his family’s slave. Scared, homesick and alone, Hope was desperate to find a way home to her mother and father whom she loved and missed dearly. But having no money, no knowledge of Uganda’s languages and no friends to help, she found herself trapped in a foreign country and under the control of a demanding and often cruel uncle. (Hope thinks her father, who has many children from many wives but was particularly fond of her, probably tried to find her but was ultimately too poor and old to track her down.)

She lived with the family in a mud house where she was required to cook, clean and take care of the children. With 5 adults and 10 other children to clean up and look after, Hope had her work cut out for her. The family was not kind. For three years she was forced to work from dusk to dawn, was given little to eat and was beaten so often that even the neighbors took pity on her. But she was a smart girl. She learned both English and Luganda quickly, listening to and practicing with the neighbors whenever she had the chance. She was also resilient. Despite working 12-hour days 7 days a week and being verbally and physically abused by the men and boys she lived with, her spirit was not broken.

Then one day, Hope fell for an older boy. He was the son of another Sudanese family that occasionally visited her family. She doesn’t know for sure, but she suspects he was 17 or 18 years old at the time. Hope was 13. I don’t really know the circumstances, but I suspect she craved love, safety and affection so much that it wasn’t terribly difficult for him to lure her into sleeping with him. Maybe, she reasoned, if he really loved her he would rescue her.

What this one act actually amounted to was a broken promise, a broken heart and a baby in Hope’s belly. It wasn’t long before her family discovered she was pregnant. She might as well have signed her own death warrant. In the Dinka tribe, there is little mercy for girls who become pregnant out of wedlock. In fact, it is not unusual for members of her clan to kill unwed pregnant women. They consider it their right and that’s probably what Hope’s family intended to do to her. After all, now that she had been “tarnished” there was no way she would ever be able to secure a substantial dowry for the family. They now valued her even less than they had and they were angry with her for depriving them of the cows, goats and money she would have one day been traded for. And so the family began to beat her more often and more severely, often using her belly as a punching bag in an effort to kill the baby too. They would beat her until she was unconscious, and then beat her some more.

This went on for several days until a neighbor, who saw several beatings and had compassion for Hope, decided to help. With the help of some friends of mine they went to the police and facilitated the first rescue effort. Rescuing Hope was not easy. Dinka men are fiercely loyal to one another and with a few phone calls word spread rapidly that the police had come to take Hope. Within minutes, angry mob of Dinka men appeared from nowhere and created a human barricade. They refused to hand their “property” over to the police. The standoff lasted a while until the police were finally able to force their way through the mob and rescue Hope. Once they got her, they handed her over to the Sudanese Embassy, which delivered her right back to her family’s home.

The beatings continued and became even worse. In fact, one night, the neighbor informant said Hope was beaten severely until she was unconcious, tied up and forced to sleep outside like a dog. With the help of our friends again, the witness devised another plan to help Hope. This time, Hope would have to be rescued without the help of the police, the Sudanese Embassy or any other outside party. She would have to muster every ounce of courage and faith within her and attempt to run away in the night, when everyone was sleeping. She could bring nothing but the clothes on her back, and she would have to trust the people waiting for her at a designated location. 13 years old, pregnant, battered, alone and with little to lose, Hope courageously slipped away, into the night and into our lives.

On December 4, two weeks prior to her due date, Hope gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. She was staying with friends that live a few hours from us, but with Hope's family members living all around the community, they felt it was unsafe for her to stay with them much longer. My sweet friend called just to ask me to pray, and over the next couple of days I felt we were absolutely supposed to offer our home to this precious girl and her child. The day after Christmas, our two new family members moved in.

Hope is tall because she is Dinka and doesn't really look 14. The fact that she has a baby makes it hard to believe sometimes. But she is still very much a young girl. She loves to play and giggle ad get her hair done and do "homework" (which I give her since she is unable to go to school with her baby) with my girls. She is also becomming an excellet mother who absolutely adores her son.

When Hope moved in last December, I was told she would be here for only 2 or 3 weeks. My friends were hopeful that when her uncle's refugee status expired in 2010, he and his family would return to Sudan, and Hope could move back in to their home. Hopefully after that, they would be able to help her find her mother. Here we are in March and as that has not yet happened, we are guessing that it may not happen any time soon. It is not safe for her to go stay with her friends, and not safe for her to venture to Sudan to look for other family. While my sweet girls are excited to have Hope around for a while, Hope is understadably grieving the loss of two families: her biological family in Sudan and my friends' family who she thought she would be living with. She has been tossed around so much that she is just devestated right now.

Somehow, she remains resilient. She doesn't often show her tears and spends most of the day playing with Grace, Jane, Patricia and I or joking with Christine and the big girls. My heart is broken for her, but I have been blessed to watch God renew ad transform her day by day. She continues to exude more joy with each passing week.

People who know of our situation keep asking "how I'm doing." And here is the truth: each new person in a home throws off the routine all over again. It takes adjusting. When the new family member is a teenager, it often takes some arguing *ahem* discussion. It takes compromise and sacrifice from EVERY family member. But this is also the truth: I am blessed. We have room. Much more than it is challenging, it is fun. What a joy to provide someone in need of love with God's greatest gift. What a priviledge to provide Hope with a family, to show her that she is not despesible, but loved unconditionally. Hope teaches me to laugh and to HOPE in the face of unimaginable heartache. Our whole family adores her.

Please continue to pray for Hope's heart as she settles in, as I think she will be here for a while. We are still praying about what the Lord's best is for her and her sweet son and will do everything in our power to help her get there.

Lord Jesus, Thank you for HOPE. Hope the person, and hope the promise. Thank you for your hope and redemption in her life and in the lives of all of our family members. Thank you for the blessing of being able to love your children. Thank you for a home that always has one more tiny corner for one more extra bed for one more precious daughter. Thank you for your love that just continues to fill us up as we continue to pour more out. Thank you for the opportunity to pour out more. We want more of you Lord. We want to be more life you Lord. We want to exude your hope to all we meet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I will praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion...

Psalm 103

The Lord has been speaking a lot to my heart recently about healing, hope, and the promise of redemption. It is a lot to put into words, but I'm working on it ;) Until then I wanted to leave you with a VISUAL of healing, hope and redemption. How blessed I am to serve a God who always provides me with tangible examples of His promises.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will remeber my sweet friend, Michael. I wrote about him here, here, and here. If you haven't, please read these stories so you can get a full picture of God's miracles in this precious little life! I met Michael in August of last year and felt fairly certain that he was on death's doorstep, or if not, pretty close. His hair was white and fuzzy, his face swollen, his growth stunted, and his skin just about peeling off, all from severe malnutrition. After doing everything I could for him while keeping him in his home and seeing very little imporvement, our family decided to move him in with us as we nursed him back to health. What a blessing it was to watch this sweet treasure's little personality come out as he began to flourish! I dreaded the day I had to take him back to his step mother, who had been the one to so neglect him in the first place, but I was hopeful as I had been meeting with her several times a week to encourage her to care for this little boy (for the record, it is very uncommon for step parents in Ugandan culture to respond favorably to their step children as they are usually the result of the husband having multiple wives and there is a lot of jealousy involved). I call it nothing less than a miracle that not only did she begin caring for him, she began really, deeply loving him, a love that he so deserved but had not experienced until he lived with our family. This once shy, lifeless little boy who I couldn't get a word out of for weeks, now runs after my car each time I drive through his village yelling, "Auntie Kate! Auntie Kate! I love you! I'm fine now! I'm fine now!" with the biggest sweetest grin I have ever seen spread across his face. I could keep writing. I could try to find words enough to praise my Loving Father. They would not be sufficient. I will leave you with this...

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. -Psalm 40:2-3

Michael on the day I first met him, August 2009

Bandaging his blistered and cracked little feet.

Michael after a few days at our house enjoying a BIG peanutbutter sandwich!

Michael the night before I took him back to his home.

Michael a few days ago, February 2010... Talk about a transformation!

"Behold, I make all things new..." Revelation 21:5