This was my first trip to Uganda. My wife Anne had been twice previously and she was eager for me to have the same experience that affected her so much. Before the trip I felt that through her stories I pretty much knew what to expect. WRONG. As I write this it is difficult to put into words what it was like to visit Uganda. I don't think any vocal or written words could ever replicate or convey my experience. The smells, both good and bad intertwined, aromas of food and burning piles of garbage. The immense beauty, palm trees and lush green lands shadowed by the obvious lack of infrastructure. The traffic, oh my the traffic. The "rules of the road", buses and trucks lane splitting other buses and trucks while boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) get passed on the side of the road trying to dodge people and animals. The buildings, houses made of clay and thatch and beautiful homes built of brick and plaster, almost always right next to each other. And of course Uganda’s people, business men in suits and ties, women in beautifully colored dresses amidst men, women and children in rags of what used to be a $50 Polo shirt and some children with no clothes at all.
The starfish story – Pastor Jason Auringer implemented this story in one of our morning devotions and it really resonated with me because some of my personal questions were what kind of difference are we really making? Can the money we invested in making the trip be used in a better way?
Early one morning a man was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
The answers to these questions for me are, YES, we are indeed making a difference for these people. And, MAYBE we could use the money to help in a different way but for the children having us there is invaluable. The children, the reason we all make the long journey to get there. Pure uninhibited joy and love that just wants to hold your hand walk with you and look up at you with the biggest of smiles. So playful and happy, to have an adult male acknowledge them was an obvious treat. These kids have literally nothing, sleeping every night on mats in a tiny structure with the other members of their family. In some cases with people who are not their family and in other cases they are ALONE. A chance at school being their only refuge and the days when "Mzungus" come to visit is literally Christmas. Julie Stroder, Miss Violet, all of the other Hearts and Hope staff and all of its partners are doing amazing things in Uganda. You are all truly God's hands and feet for these villages and making tangible changes for these children and their families.
Uganda to me is a place of life at its purest and its people are the most happy and kind people I have ever met or seen, "you are most welcome dear visitors". I am hard pressed to think of any person at home, including myself, with all the worldly possessions we have that are as genuine as Uganda’s people.
You and your people, especially your children, will forever be in Anne and my hearts. Until we meet again my friends.