I fell in love with a little girl today. Her name is Mercy, and she is severely handicapped. She struggles to maintain her balance, but she can walk. She has a mental handicap, but she can talk. She can see, but not well.

I met Mercy in Alero, a village about one hour’s drive northwest of Gulu. She and another twenty or so boys and girls circled around with me and my daughter Savannah to play Duck, Duck, Goose. We all held hands, circled up and sat down. I was the first goose. I became a fairly popular goose. The children delighted in outrunning this strange white man in a circle too little for my long legs and too big for my aging heart. I spotted Mercy early in the game. A smile that bowed out her cheeks exposed a nice sized gap between her two front teeth.   As the sun bore down, beads of sweat covered her precious little forehead. Her smile was large, and it was infectious, and I knew she was having fun.

Not knowing of Mercy beyond her smile at the time, I made a point to choose her as my next goose. I tapped her on the head, hollered “goose”, and started a slow run around the circle. Looking back, I saw a sweet little girl try to lift herself off the hard red dirt, only to collapse. She leaned forward with her body well over her sideways crossed legs.   I stopped, came back, and tried to help her up. She struggled, she smiled, and she shook her head. It was then I realized that she had to earn her smile through much hard work. I moved on to another goose. She kept smiling, and the game went on with a tacit understanding that Mercy would always be a duck. That, of course, did not stop her from having a great time. She smiled without ceasing. She clapped most vigorously with every duck – goose chase around the circle, and she laughed the loudest.

Playtime ended, and I lost track of Mercy as the bed distribution began. One hundred and twenty five beds were distributed, and as we worked through the process of greeting our bed recipients and escorting them through the lineup of beds, mats, blankets, Bibles, and sodas, we all began to realize this was not a normal distribution. Yes, these were all the very embodiment of “the least of these”.

One hundred and twenty-five at-risk children, struggling daily with a life blunted with HIV, and constantly fighting off attacks from malaria-carrying mosquitos and parasites.

But these children were special in another way as well. A large percentage of these children struggled with significant handicaps. Mercy was clearly one of them.

As we made our rounds escorting the children, I finally spotted Mercy waiting with 100 more children, vying for the twenty-five or so beds left to be handed out. I looked at Don Lifsey and pointed her out. She still did not have a bed, and I so wanted her to get one. In a sublime act of grace, she was the 125th bed recipient, and Don was the man who escorted her through her gifts. As she lumbered through the line, her smile broadened. With great joy, Savannah greeted her and hugged her. A smile competition ensued. Savannah competed bravely, but I must say Mercy won.

Over dinner, we discussed our day. Jennifer shared about one girl who left the bed distribution with a big smile and a final blessing. As she left, she waved her arm high above her head and proclaimed, “Bless you. Go well.” Later, I confessed I had another Ugandan girlfriend. Mercy is a sweet little spirit in a sea of difficult circumstances. As I passed around the picture of Mercy and Savannah, Jennifer lit up and said, “That’s the girl that thanked us so beautifully.” And I take great joy in the thought that this day may have been one of her very best. What a blessing that girl is to me. What a blessing she is to such a broken world. What a joy it will be to me to see her living in eternity with me.

The next time we play Duck, Duck, Goose, she will be the goose, and I will be the one with the big smile.

Her impact on me was unique and uniquely beautiful, but she is not the only one. This week has been full of beautiful stories that simultaneously lifted my soul and broke my heart. So I end with these thoughts.

If you don’t want your heart broken, don’t come to Uganda. If you don’t want to see abject poverty, don’t come to Uganda. If you don’t want to see severely crippled children struggling to survive, don’t come to Uganda. If you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with troubled soul, then don’t come to Uganda. If you don’t want to cry, especially you men, don’t come to Uganda.

But if you want to practice pure and undefiled religion, come to Uganda. If you want to serve the least of these, come to Uganda. If you want to be the hands and feet of Christ to the most vulnerable of little children, come to Uganda. If you want to be blessed by little children you come to bless, come to Uganda.

So, what do you want? Seriously, what do you want?

And when you are ready to meet your maker, what will you regret? I, for one, will not regret coming to Uganda.

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