Today we drove about 95 km from Kitgum town to the village of Patonga to distribute 120 mattresses and kits. Oh what a beautiful ride. Mountains…sunflower fields…cotton fields…1 lane red-dirt roads…dust…huts…people! It was a three hour drive.
We caught a glimpse of the tone of the day upon arrival. A huge sea of faces, a mob really, greeted us at the road. Had it been our first distribution it would have conjured fear. Instead great joy bubbled up from within and we were itching to be out of the vans and with the people we had come to minister to. We were carried away by the throng…away from each other to some unseen and unknown location. The cacophony of sounds…drums, singing, talking, whistles, and laughter totally engulfed us, unlike any day previously. We danced…walked…jumped…hugged..touched..and got lost in our own personal piece of the crowd. The destination was a HUGE tree in a field that was shading at least 600 of the 3000+ people who had congregated to greet us.
Their villages are so remote that they don’t get many visitors, especially 15 white people accompanied by 4 Ugandan nationals loaded down with precious gifts. We had seats of honor in front of the crowd with the dignitaries including the 5th District magistrate of Uganda – so humbling. We came in humility to serve and love on them and they received us with great pomp and ceremony…that was not on my lists of imaginations for this trip.
As we waited for the arrival of the mattresses and kits…we sat and were entertained by dozens of songs and dancers in full regalia...it was awesome. What a huge taste of Africa these wonderful people delivered to us today. And then it was our turn to speak to them. We came with a simple message, not great fanfare, but in contrast we were keenly aware of the simplicity of our message. But it is THE simple message of Hope and Love, the single biggest need Uganda, not poverty relief or health restoration or even delivery from LRA. We rose singing songs of Truth and delivering words of salvation, we offered to these 3000 not just sweet sleep and a reason to have a festival, we delivered the message of Hope!
The beds finally arrived and the work began. One hour later it was done…115 beds were handed out and therein lies the problem. We stood there between the five leftover mattresses and 3000 people desperate for relief. With at least 1000 children there who easily qualified for our Sweet Sleep relief items along with the 100s of desirous adults, our hearts broke. Our tears started flowing. An elderly woman went from window to window begging for a mattress. Children clutched at the door handles. The volume rose… All day long the Bible story of Jesus and the disciples popped into my head. Was this how it felt when the crowds pressed in on Him? How did He feel the single touch of one who felt unworthy to touch the hem of his garment?
“When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. When evening came, the disciples approached Him and said, ‘This place is a wilderness, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ ‘They don’t need to go away,’ Jesus told them. ‘You give them something to eat.’ ‘But we only have five loaves and two fish here,’ they said to Him. Then He commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to Heaven, He blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. (Matthew 14:13-17, 19 HCSB)
How we wished we could multiply our gifts like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. How we wished we could have come up with $50,000 right there on the spot to secure 1000 more beds for the 1000 children before us that easily qualified for one of our gifts. However on this day, we had to be secure in the good we had done…the good all of you who gave so generously have done. And so we arrived back at our rooms in Kitgum town praying for more people like us, more people like you, more people moved with compassion for the orphaned Ugandan children.
PS: They did find the names of the intended recipients of the 5 “extra” beds and they were distributed before we left to return to Kitgum town.