Home. Home is a word that can evoke very strong emotions in people. For most of us, home is more than a place; it is people. In my time at Sweet Sleep, I have come to realize this very profoundly. I consider that I have many homes. I have my home in Franklin, TN with my wife and my two sons. I have homes with parents and in-laws in Abilene, TX, Ridgway, CO, and Doddridge, AR. And through my work with Sweet Sleep I have homes in Moldova and Uganda.
This past week, I was fortunate enough to visit my home in Uganda. I spent five days along with Sweet Sleep president Madelene Metcalf, photographer/videographer Logan Dickerson and a great team from First Baptist Church in Belton, TX, visiting children’s homes where Sweet Sleep has given beds before, and remote villages in northern Uganda where we gave out 383 new beds. It was my first trip since rejoining Sweet Sleep after a three-year absence. My first day was actually getting on the plane to make the trip, and I can’t think of a better way to get started.
Our time in Kampala was productive and allowed us to check up on past bed projects and assess needs for bed refurbishment and new beds that are needed. While in Gulu, we drove to remote villages each day and distributed between 90 and 100 beds to vulnerable children still living in the aftermath of the decades long conflict between Uganda and the LRA. Each day our great team from Belton: Mark, Eddie, Paul, Mike, Kim and Treasure entertained the children and community members with songs about Jesus, shared God’s love for them, and helped distribute the beds. It’s been almost exactly four years since I last had the opportunity to give beds with Sweet Sleep, and it was absolutely wonderful to be back at it again.
On one particular day, we were in the process of bringing the children through the line to receive their mats, mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets and Bibles when our wonderful program director in northern Uganda, Jennifer Odong, called me over to her and asked me to take the hand of a young girl named Dorcas. I would guess that Dorcas was around seven years old, but it’s often hard to tell with children who live such hard lives. Improper nutrition often leaves children looking younger than they truly are. Jennifer explained to me that Dorcas was blind and needed extra help getting through the line to receive her bed. I took her small hand and led her to the front of the line where I picked up her things for her. We walked over to where a representative from one of our Ugandan partner organizations was asking each child their name and checking them off of a list. They asked Dorcas her name and she responded in voice almost too quiet to hear at all, almost as if she was afraid to speak at all. After checking her off the list, I helped her walk back to her place in the crowd where her guardian waited. She sat on the ground and I kneeled down to place my hand on her and to tell her that God loves her.
In my time away from Sweet Sleep, I sort of forgot about just how much interactions like this one affect me. After leaving Dorcas, I had to duck behind a hut to regain my composure. As I stood there, out of sight from my team and the community members, I was overwhelmed by the thought of just how difficult life must be for Dorcas, living with a disability in such a remote place. Life is hard enough up there, but to go through it blind is hard to imagine. As I struggled with my emotions, I began to think of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount where he said that the meek will inherit the earth. If there was ever someone who qualifies as “meek”, it is Dorcas. Now I don’t know if Dorcas has a relationship with Jesus, but if she does, or if Sweet Sleep giving her a bed and a Bible leads to one, then one day she will be relieved of her suffering and see the face of Jesus. It is moments and realizations like these that remind me why I love this ministry so much, and keep me from becoming so consumed with the details and logistics of what we’re doing that I miss the real purpose.
God has given Sweet Sleep a mission to minister to the meek, the vulnerable and the fatherless. When I got involved with Sweet Sleep in 2006, I felt the Lord had given me this mission as well. And even though I had stepped away in 2011, I never stopped feeling that way. I am so grateful to Madelene for asking me to return. This week has reminded me so powerfully that this ministry is where my heart is…and that I am home.