We come from a place of luxury. We have a roof over our head, a dry ground to stand on, and comfortable places to relax and sleep. We have endless medical care at our fingertips. We can eat anything we want at any hour of the day, order our coffee exactly how we would like it, and drink water out of the tap. We have more clothes than we could ever need yet we are free to buy more if we so desire. There are cars a plenty, which allows us to go and do as we please when we please. We have cell phones to call family and friends at the drop of a dime. We have everything we need and oftentimes most everything we want.
We come to a place of poverty. If they have a makeshift mud hut, they are considered well off. Sleeping seven to a room that’s approximately 7 feet by 7 feet is considered normal. When it rains they sleep on mud and if someone is sick, it passes like wildfire. Both children and adults alike die from illnesses that could be cured with an over the counter drug found at a local pharmacy in the U.S. If the people here are lucky they will get one meal a day but sometimes mothers have to go digging for food for their children once the sun goes down. Showers are unheard of and clothes are worn for days on end unwashed. Not only are they unwashed, but they are also tattered and torn, barely covering the essential parts. If you want to go somewhere, you walk barefoot, sometimes on the gravel road filled with potholes, sometimes in tall thick grass. Children are forced into prostitution by family members and once pregnant are kicked out of the village. Mothers are abandoned which in turn results in them abandoning their child, killing their child, or best case scenario keeping their child but raising him/her all alone. There is not a good sense of family and many are left to fend for themselves.
On paper it would seem as though Americans have everything and Ugandans have very little. It may seem like these people have nothing, but if you were to ask them if they felt like they lived a life of poverty the majority of them would probably answer “no.” These people do not know the difference. They do not want our pity simply because they do not view themselves as poor. This is their life. This is all they have ever known. They have struggles and pain but they also have joys and triumphs just like everyone else in the world. Of course, there are social classes. There are some who have nice homes and cars according to the Ugandan standard and there are some who have absolutely nothing, not even a crumb to eat. But how is this different from America?
The difference lies in the value American’s place on material goods. When you are able to buy everything and provide yourself with your newest desire, you lack a sense of faith. Many of these girls become lost to sin but then are found again in Christ. When they are struggling they can’t pick up their phones and call their friends to talk through their latest problems. They can’t go shopping and indulge in retail therapy. They can’t drive to a cool delicious ice cream store and get some ice cream that has “never tasted so good.” No, they can’t do any of these things but rather drop to their knees, pray to God, and have faith that He will help them through it. And when God does finally help them through it all glory goes to Him simply because they have nothing else. They can’t buy themselves out of their problems.
This is evident every Friday at the James place when women come from near and far to gather under the great African tree and listen to the words of the Lord. For years now HEAL Ministries has been adamant about their Friday morning bible studies for the women. They want to make sure these women are fed – both spiritually and physically. And although Americans teach the Bible study there isn’t much American influence present.
The women gather on the mats chatting amongst themselves just like any American woman would do before church. I can’t understand them but it’s obvious that some of these women have known each other for a long time. I wonder what they talk about. Could it be their children? Maybe they are just catching up from last week. Only God (and people who speak Luganda) knows. But as I listen to their banter it makes me smile a little bit because I realize that they are not much different than we are. But the time as come to sing praise and worship.
The all rise to their feet and start to sing – or chant, I’m not sure which would be more accurate. They dance and dance, all of them fully dressed with smiles. I have never seen such dancing while worshipping to God. But let me just say this, we must have learned how to shake our hips from these Ugandan women at some point in history because they can move! What’s most amazing is the way they move their hips while their whole upper body remains completely still. They take every bit of Psalm 149:3 literally “let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre” (The Holy Bible). The feelings that come over you as you see these women rejoicing are indescribable, unexplainable. The words they sing make no sense to an American but the joy of the Lord still rushes over. The women, now filled with more joy than before, sit down to hear the message. Today the message is about jealousy.
Attentively they listen to the story of Rachel, Jacob, and Leah from Genesis 30. Rachel could not bear children and became jealous of Leah who bore children for her husband. This was a popular topic because in Uganda it is not out of the ordinary for a man to have two wives and many women were curious as to why it was that way in the bible. At the end, Tina, the missions director, asked to women to open up and talk about some of the things they were jealous about. Many of them stated the responses that one would expect. They are jealous of nice clothes, friends who get to go to school or get good jobs. They are jealous of women who have happy families and more money than they have. They are jealous of others beauty. They are women just like the rest of us. Tina then turned to one of my teammates and asked her, “Lisa, what are you jealous of?” Lisa responded by saying that she was jealous of something far greater than material things. After seeing them women’s homes and hearing their stories, after walking a day in their shoes and living their life, after listening to them sing and dance with more energy than any American she had every witnessed she was jealous of their joy.
I sat and contemplated that statement for a moment. Jealous of joy. Essentially, that’s what we’re all jealous of. However, most Americans seek joy in materialistic things while in the heart of Africa joy is found in the love of the Lord. We come from a place of abundance, they come from a place of poverty but here you will find yourself jealous of joy.