Allow me to first introduce you to Nancy. I came to know her last year just before Easter. She is one of the oldest of the group of teenage girls that are a part of Sojourn. She also happens to be one of the only students I know who works to pay for 100% of her schooling cost. While I don’t know anyone who does not struggle to cover school fees, most rely on their parents or other family members to provide by saving, borrowing, etc. I’ve always admired Nancy for her determination and drive. The girl knows it’s on her and she gets after it. Her motto is “Never Give Up”, it’s written several times in everyone of her note books, in her Bible and so on. She told me the other day she wants to get it tattooed on her arm someday.
In February Dan hired Nancy to be the office secretary. After completing her S4* year in January she had been looking for work and planned to take of a term or two of school to save up money. Since Nancy began she has not once taken her salary, but has asked that Dan would keep it until she needed it for school. In our time working together, she and I have grown increasingly close, where I now have an affection for her that is greater than any other I’ve come to know in my time here.
**S4 is the 4th year of secondary school. S5 and S6 are considered “High School”. S4 is perhaps comparable to 10th grade in the states, but a milestone year in Uganda. Trade schools and most semi-professional jobs have a minimum requirement of S4 completion
Let me just tell you a little more about Nancy…..
She is of the Acholi tribe from Northern Uganda. She is the second born of her mother’s many children. Her father and mother where never actually “together”. Nancy has never met her dad, she doesn’t know anything about him and when she has asked she’s simply told that “it’s not for a girl to ask, where/who is my father”, apparently that is only for boys. When Nancy was two years old her mother married. As is general practice throughout Uganda, children from prior relationships are often not welcome in the new home. That said, an endearing characteristic among the Acholi people is that no child be abandoned, orphaned or without a loving home. I know that can kind of seem contradictory considering Nancy not being welcome in her mother’s new home, but well that is just how it works. I guess taking in a child that is not birthed by you doesn’t have the same negative connotation as taking in a child/children from your new spouses previous affairs? I digress…it was then that Nancy was taken in by her mother’s older sister, a woman whom she also considers to be her mother. This is also when Nancy moved from Gulu to Kampala. More specifically, Wabigalo.
It was a about a month ago, right before Dan and Loring left for their quick trip to Cali. I’d spent the afternoon going through a study of the book of Daniel with Nancy when out of nowhere I was struck with a thought….I should ask Nancy to move in with me. As quickly as the thought popped into my head I was saying to myself, What?! Weird. Where did that even come from? Yet, as I considered it through the rest of the day it made more and more sense. Later the same day I was escorting Dan and Loring to the airport and I, somewhat sheepishly and somewhat laughingly, mentioned it to them. Halfway thinking, perhaps even hoping, they would say that’s crazy and we could leave it at that. So, of course, Dan’s immediate reaction is, “I thought I told you a long time ago that Nancy would be a great roommate?!” Ha.
You see, although I absolutely loved my time at the Morris mansion, moving into my own place, having my very own private space was a delightful change from the house I lived in with six other people for over a year. Yet, I’ve always felt that my place was too much for just me. Okay, by American standards, it is an acceptable amount of space for a single gal…….but I’m not in America. Most people I know here live in a space smaller than either one of my two rooms and with 3++ other people. I’ve even been somewhat embarrassed when people come over and are all, “WOW! This place is BIG!” Yes, here we have another contradiction. I’ve appreciated and enjoyed my solitude, yet been almost burdened by it’s extravagance in the context I live.
So within a few days of this conflicting surprise thought I decided to talk to Nancy about moving in with me. Let me tell you, friends, this in its self was a humbling experience. After receiving Dan and Loring’s encouraging reaction I took a few days to mull it over and pray. The conviction only grew. As I prepared to discuss it with Nancy…wait, okay (this is the humbling part), to be completely honest I wasn’t preparing to discuss anything with her. That was the problem. To my own shame I realized as I prepared in my mind I was preparing to simply tell her she can move in with me. Shameful arrogance. Oh, of course, living with me would be so much better than the overcrowded one room you live in with three other adults and two to three kids. Embarrassingly I found myself pushing my personal ideas of how one might be “better off” onto another. So very American of me. Sigh. Thankfully, this moment of clarity was given in advance of my conversation with Nancy. So instead of telling Nancy I was going to allow her to live with me, I had a conversation with her. I shared with her how I was struck with the thought that I should ask her to stay with me. I talked about wanting to steward well the resources God has given me and how it doesn’t seem right to have a whole big room sit empty for five days a week (I host community and discipleship groups in my home each once a week). Also, with my nearing trip home she could help by looking after my place while I’m away. I asked her to think and pray about it. She came to me a few days later saying she couldn’t wait to move in.
Nancy moved in week before last :)
Okay, so that seems like the end of the story, but you know what? It isn’t. There’s a detail I left out, it seemed more fitting to bring it in afterward as in a lot of ways they seemed like two separate occurrences.
I blogged about her here. As you might have deducted from the title of this blog post, Nancy isn’t the only addition to my house. Do you guys remember Atim? (Let me also say, she preferably goes by Doro or Dorotia, I now typically call her one of those two names.) Well, friends, she’s the third amigo. Perhaps you remember when Bolton and Bewseri took in Ronnie (Atim’s little brother)? If not, you can read more about that here. Shortly after all that went down Jane (the mother of Tom, Ruth, Babra, Morris and Baris) offered to have Atim stay with them. It worked out so great because it meant Ronnie and Atim were staying just a stones throw from each other. Unfortunately, Atim often disobeyed. After school and on the weekends she was hanging out with a group of girls that are older than her. She’d occasionally stay out past dark and more often than not go off to play before doing any chores and so on. Jane, Bolton and B-Dubs had talked to her numerous times about improving her behavior, but things would only improve temporarily. Then while Dan and Loring were in the States Besweri came to me with a problem. Jane had come to him saying Atim had to go. On three different occasions someone had caught Atim with Baris (Jane’s youngest, a 5 year old) where she had demanded he take his pants off. The last time she was also naked. Each time she was caught she would be very sorry and promise to never do it again. This third time was the final straw for Jane.
You guys don’t even know how this breaks my heart. We knew the situation Atim and Ronnie were removed from was bad. I had said myself, there is no telling what these kids have seen and quite possibly been a part of. This poor girl, who is around 8, what does she know of love or affection? I can only imagine the fear and brokenness that must now be so engrained in her. Ugh. The whole thing is just devastating.
So as Besweri is telling me this I’m at a loss. I mean, we cannot ask Jane to put her boy in harms way, but what do we do? Goodness, the thought of her going back to her mom makes me shutter. Besweri continued to tell me he asked for Jane to please allow her to stay for just a little longer while we figured out where else she can go. Jane graciously agreed and some additional boundaries were put in place so that Atim was never left alone with Baris. B-Dubs and I continued the conversation talking through what options we had. Obviously we would not feel comfortable having her stay in a home with other children around. In Wabigalo, a household without children is nearly as difficult to find as a household with a unicorn. We thought, maybe we can put her in boarding school? But, no. Besweri made the point, that when a child is in boarding they are totally on his or her own, this girl needs some sort of family or community. We resolved to pray about it, we were left with nothing else to do.
Truthfully, at that point I wasn’t considering my home as an option. It did not even come to mind. I am not sure when I first thought of it, but I know it was sometime after Nancy had decided she would be moving in.
When the idea first came upon my heart to have Atim come I was….again….conflicted. To be honest I just wanted to push it down, suppress the thought, refuse it even. I mean, Nancy, Nancy I love. She is friendly and funny and speaks good English. Atim herself isn’t scary or intimidating, but the thought of having an eight year old Ugandan girl who speaks little English living with me in my home?! Scary. It took a lot of strength for me to even voice this as something my heart felt burdened to do, but (obviously) I did. I mentioned it to both Dan and Loring. Then Nancy.
I’ve neglected to mention something. Nancy and Dorotia are buddies. Nancy is like some sort of kid whisperer. She is extremely patient and kind, in general, but especially with all the kids that come through and/or spend time in the church offices during the week. She is truly gifted in that way. Since Ronnie’s been staying with B-Dubs and Bolton at the church, Nancy and Doro really hit it off. Dorotia would get off of school and come sit with Nancy and talk and laugh and pretty much follower her everywhere.
I asked Nance what she thought about Dorotia living with us? She said she thought it would be “very okay!” But upon further consideration I felt like maybe I didn’t communicate clearly enough to Nancy the conditions of Doro staying with us. So, I went back to Nancy. I explained that, of course, I want to help this girl and I feel like God has set everything up for her to come and stay BUT the brunt of the relational burden was going to be on Nancy, not me. They can communicate on a level that I cannot get close to. Primarily it will be on Nancy to disciple, parent, encourage and so on. In a month I’m going home for five weeks and Nancy will be 100% in charge of looking after this girl. Besides that I do not know how much longer I have in Uganda. I truly do not know when my time will be ending here, but it quite possibly could be the first of next year. If so, I can’t take Doro with me. Nancy and I go through all this in detail and then I summarize by stressing, the burden is on you. Nancy took it in and said she wanted sometime to think about it. Her first night staying here we talked about it and she said, “I can do it, but the girl will have to change……..but……I know that she will.”
Nancy went on to tell me she remembers when she was still in primary school and Dorotia and her mom were new to Kampala, fresh from the village. Nancy said the mother wasn’t like she is now, she used to sell greens and she and Doro were always together. She would strap little Doro on her back while balancing greens on her head and selling them door to door. Hearing this filled my heart. I think the awesomeness here is threefold. First of all, I am overwhelmingly thankful to know Dorotia has experienced the genuine love and care of her mother. Likewise, it was a convicting reminder of the humanity of this woman who so often just seems monstrous to me. She has fallen far, she is drowning in the depths of alcoholism, but she hasn’t always been this way and she doesn’t always have to be. Finally, how rad is it that God has weaved Nancy and Doro into each others lives beginning years ago?? So rad.
Saturday night was our first night as a trio. We all sat down and discussed house rules and expectations. Okay, so when I say this what I mean is, I went over things in English and Nancy repeated to Doro in Luganda. We talked about the behavior problems she was having at Jane’s house and how the truth of the matter was this is her last chance before being sent back to her mom. That is what is being discussed verbally, but the moment was so much more than that. Please try and picture this – me sitting on the floor Indian style at the end of two foam mattresses on the floor (one for Nance and the other for Doro). Nancy and Doro sitting on the mattress and with every word Nancy is literally drawing Doro in closer to her. You guys, I wish you could have seen this for yourself. It gave me chills. I fought back tears. Before I realize it Nancy is holding Dorotia’s face in her hands, speaking firmly, but in the most sweet, sincere and loving voice. It was then I had no doubt. I could see it, God’s hand, all over it. There is nothing else that could have brought this all to be.
As I have said so many times before, what a privilege that I might get to be a small part of the mighty work the great God of the universe is doing in this place. Exceedingly, increasingly, thankful.
I would appreciate your prayers, mostly for Dorotia. Healing in her sweet, young, broken heart. But also for Nancy, she is wise and loving beyond her years. Pray for the relationship between the two of them. Pray for resilience for Nancy in her pursuit of this girl, that she would continually shower Doro with grace and love. I try and point out to Nancy all the time how Jesus has been at work, all up in this situation, but pray that she would continually see that and be encouraged. Pray that we would all be empowered and changed by the gospel of grace.