The following was written by Grant Ehlmann, a team member from the June 2015 Hearts and Hope mission trip to Uganda.
This was my second trip to Uganda in as many years. “Was this trip going to be the same or different than my first experience and if it was different, then how?” That was the question(s) running through my mind for weeks and months leading up to the actual trip. The answer to this would only manifest itself towards the end of the trip and in a way that I had not quite imagined.
As with my initial trip, the planning and implementation of the actual trip was flawless thanks to Julie and her preparation. That piece was gravy! Couldn’t have been planned any better in my opinion. Top notch all the way.
Fast forward to the actual Mission. Our first stop was like I recall from 2013. Awesome! We were greeted by droves of children and elders clamoring for attention or at least the ability to simply shake hands and be acknowledged. The welcoming one receives upon arrival to a village like Kainhagoga and Nakabongo is nothing short of amazing. While it is our goal to help spread the Word and Love to them, it is they that more than return the favor in ways that never get old; women singing and chanting and children reaching out for just a touch of your hand if only for a split second. Things that simply don’t happen back home. Right away, you feel the love and are welcomed in their homes.
Going from village to village, faces were familiar from my previous trip, only with a slight difference, they all looked even better. Was that because I “knew” them better or was it because they were actually doing better? Turns out, both! Children were doing better and as a result were much happier. A very welcome sight for several of us who had been there before.
Up to this point, the trip was proving once again to be a great trip yet quite similar to before. The one caveat to this was that I would be re-united with a beautiful young girl I had only fleetingly met two years prior. Her name, Betty. The circumstances in which we had met in 2013 were no coincidence in my mind. God had put both Betty and I there in that small village and had carefully scripted how everything would play out in the coming months and years leading up to our meeting this time.
Back story 2013 Trip:
In the village of Mbulamuti, myself along with 12 others, were doing our routine “hellos” and giving thanks to all the villagers, students, etc. Upon making my way through the crowd of hundreds of children I noticed a single girl, sitting quietly and alone in the back of the classroom structure. I could tell right away that she had a disability which I could tell was Cerebral Palsy. She was sitting quietly and taking in everything that was going on but doing so with the biggest smile on her face despite no one talking with her. I made my way towards her at the same time Violet was walking towards her. Violet introduced me to her but I could not quite understand what was being said. I touched her hand and she looked up with the biggest smile on her face. At the same time, I felt a tug on my hand and was whisked away by children wanting to play games. As I was pulled away, something was just not “sitting” right with me. I had to learn more about this girl. Who was she? Was she sponsored? Does she have family? All the things that go through one’s head when in a village like this.
So, I would continue to play with the others kids throughout the day and think about this beautiful little girl with the bright smile as the day pressed on. It wasn’t until we loaded up the bus for departure that something caught my eye. It was that little girl. The one with the biggest smile despite her disability and predicament. She was not standing in the front with all of the other kids. Rather, she was in the very back as if not to be noticed. Only I noticed her and she noticed me. We locked eyes and I reached out of the bus window. I motioned for her to come towards the bus. As she slowly walked towards the bus her cerebral palsy was quite evident. She struggled to make her way to the window where we held hands if only for a short moment. Then it hit me…. She was the reason I was sent to Uganda. One young girl, half a world away. She was the reason!
I would later learn that her name was Betty and that she did, indeed, have cerebral palsy. I would also learn that she was not sponsored and that that both her mother and father had passed away leaving her an orphan. Being an orphan would make life difficult enough but having a developmental disability all but guarantees no chance of success, let alone survival in a third world country such as Uganda. I knew she was the one and that my family would be the fortunate ones to become her new family. I couldn’t wait to see her again!
And so we fast forward to June 19th, 2015.
Five days into the nitty gritty of the Mission trip and the day I had been anxiously awaiting was here. It started off like the other days but with one minor twist. I was going shopping. Yep, shopping. I hate shopping but on this day it wasn’t your typical shopping spree. It was to buy supplies and food for Betty. I received the “list” from Violet and we went to town grabbing everything that could possibly fit in a basket and then some. I actually had fun shopping if you can believe that! Parting the store, we made our way to Walukuba School-Walukuba is the school my family supports to help Betty receive an education and a place to live. Betty receives schooling and physical and occupational therapy at Walukuba.
As we pulled into the dirt entrance, children started to gather around the bus just like other village children. The difference was all of these children had some physical limitation due to disability so their cheers were different. As we made our way around the entrance we spotted Betty exiting a small building. She was walking towards the bus in a hurried fashion and at the same time I hopped off the bus in front of everyone. I made my way to the front of the bus and she all but ran into my arms. As she fell into my arms she gave the biggest hug. Almost as if she had been saving up the energy over the last two years to let it go in this one emotional moment. We hugged for a couple minutes while the rest of the team exited the bus to meet this gem of a person. Each person met her and greeted her. She was smiling from ear to ear. We then walked to her dormitory where she and I sat on her lower bunk and proceeded to go through her care package we had sent. She opened it with enthusiasm like I had not seen before.
She got to the end of her package and Ronald, H&H Interpreter, indicated she was “overwhelmed and very emotional.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but as soon as he said those words, she dropped to her knees and repeatedly thanked me. Over and over. And right then, I fell apart. 2 Years of thinking about her and wondering about her hit me all at once. We sat there and embraced each other for quite awhile. Sharing the moment we had both been waiting for. It was, after all, WHY I was “sent” there. All part of the skillfully crafted script set in motion two years earlier in Mbulamuti.
As we spent the next hour visiting and seeing the school and her surroundings it became ever so clear that Betty was in the right place and with the right people. Hearts and Hope made this happen for one disabled orphan girl when everyone else had all but turned their back.
We embraced one last time after a brief photo op and then parted ways. She was smiling ear to ear and there was a sense of peace and calm that set over me. Everything had “come together” at that small school in the middle of Uganda with that beautiful young girl at that very moment in time.
As we drove away, I was immersed in deep thought and trying to process what had just transpired. I am not sure my body and mind were used to having this much of an emotional response. I found myself almost shaking at times. My eyes, swollen from trying to choke back tears of happiness, eventually started to dry and my thoughts started to become clear again. She was the reason I was there. The devotional that Pastor Chuck had given earlier in the morning really hit home. It was no longer a question of why I was there and what my purpose was. It was all very clear… Betty. Betty was the reason I was there in 2013 and the reason I came back in 2015.
The brief “photo op” mentioned above will serve a purpose that I hope to share at the H&H Party with a Purpose in August. You know what they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.