To be human is to be broken and messy; imperfect. This is humanness. I’m convinced this is found all over the world. All over the church. All over any place where humans exist.
Before moving to Uganda, so many people told us, “Uganda is so beautiful! The people there have so little but are so joyful! It’s inspiring. You will love it.” Or, “I love Ugandan people, they are so joyful.”
Well, I’m writing this to say that I disagree.
I’m not saying they are the opposite. But I am saying that Ugandans are human, just as Americans are. Just as Canadians, Asians, Europeans, Arabians…etc. Just as every other broken human, they are broken too.
Living here over 3 months now, I have come to see how broken and hurting this people group truly is. Yes, they have very little, and yes, some of them are very joyful through that. In America, I can say the same thing. There are some really special people all over the globe who have found their joy in Christ alone, not in circumstances. But unfortunately, they do not define an entire people group.
Most of us have learned in psychology courses, or human development, about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Our humanness requires some needs being met. Quick recap…
- Physiological: Do I have food and water?
- Safety: Do I have shelter and security? Are my body and mind being harmed?
- Love and belonging: Am I loved? Do I fit in? Do I have friends that accept me?
- Self Esteem: Am I enough? Am I too much? Am I confident in who I am?
- Self Actualization: Who am I anyway? What is my soul purpose here? How can I reach my top goals and desires of life?
Here in Uganda, some people are lucky to say yes to our first need question of having food and water. Some are not. Need number two, rarely yes. Three, rare. Four, very rare. Five, not likely.
The school system in Uganda is based off of memorizing, cramming, and spewing it out by taking many tests. If you pass, you can reach the next level. If you fail, you most likely drop out because you are not given a second chance.
Many schools are boarding schools. There is one Matron (female supervisor) and one Patron (male supervisor) per 100+ students. Picture a cafeteria with bunk beds that have 3 beds per bunk, crammed tightly near each other to fill the entire room. This is where the kids sleep. This is where the one Matron for the girls’ room supervises, and the one Patron for the boys’ room supervises. Abuse is extremely common. Around 75% of girls are sexually abused by the time they reach secondary school. If they are lucky enough to attend school in the first place, since school fees keep many children at home picking through scrap metal and rubbish to try to sell to support their families.
Speaking of girls, they are told many terrible things about themselves from day one by men, and even other women. Many girls sleep with male teachers in order to make grades and pass on to the next level. Many girls are slept with by their dating partners before marriage because the men want to make sure they can produce before proposing for marriage. Even then, lots of our boys’ fathers have multiple wives. Many girls are told to keep a condom on them when walking through the villages to protect themselves from HIV and pregnancy. You can connect the dots.
Women sit on the ground, while their husbands sit in a chair. Most tribes, women are to kneel when greeting any male, especially their husband. They are responsible for cooking and cleaning. Men are hardly ever seen doing any of this. Last year our head master, Mark Guthrie, said to the group of students, “Raise your hand if males are better than females. If you think boys are more valuable than girls.” The entire student body raised their hand, including the girls.
Speaking, now, of raising hands. This is rare. In most Ugandan schools, if you raise your hand to ask a question and the teacher does not know the answer, you get caned. Caned is when the authority figure takes a large sugar cane stick and beats you with it in front of everyone. If you raise your hand to answer a question and you are wrong, you get caned. So you stop raising your hand and then teachers just call on people and if they are wrong they are caned. If you fail a test you get caned. If you mess up you get caned. If you get in trouble you get caned. Sometimes just in front of the class you get caned, but sometimes in front of the whole school. So you stop asking questions, you stop wanting to answer, and you stop critical thinking. You just make sure you listen and memorize.
Then you go back to your dorm room of 100 and your bunk of 3 and try to study. But there is drama around you. Girls are back-biting (gossiping) and boys are fighting. Your friends are having to drop out of school because of pregnancy—its not allowed if you are a student anywhere in Uganda. You go to church on Sunday and praise God for living through another week, and pray your family at home is still alive as well.
I have seen this and heard this with my own eyes and ears.
Ugandans are not just a joyful people group, they are hurting and broken. They are really good at slapping on a smile when a Mzungu (white person/ wanderer) walks by and waves or talks to them for a few days and goes home. But the hurt is there underneath that smile and it is very real.
Our boys started off smiling, laughing, dancing, so joyful. The time goes on and they are learning that they can trust us. That we are not going to abuse them. That here, at The Amazima School, we DO NOT CANE YOU EVER. We actually love when you raise your hand and ask questions. We support you when you are failing or struggling. We are here for you if you need to talk about or process anything going on in your life. There are 3 mentors for you when you come home from school. 24 other students in your house, 6 in your room, 2 in your bunk. You are loved and valued and we care about you and your future. Critically think. Dream. Grow. Learn about the character of Jesus Christ and imitate him.
I am convinced this school is going to change the country of Uganda. I pray that more schools will follow after this model. Discipleship is happening for the first time with teenagers. These boys are going to treat women differently, we have already seen it. They serve their sisters. When other schools come and the boys try to touch our girls inappropriately or “abuse” them verbally, our boys swoop in and protect them. They tell the other boys that we don’t treat women like that.
I am honored to be here and be a part of this vision for this country that I have absolutely no affiliation with. It really feels so random that we are here. I never felt called to missions as a child, never dreamed of moving to Africa, never had Uganda on my heart. But here we are. Because Jesus was on and in our heart. We feel called to make him known, we dream of people knowing they are supernaturally loved by God.
So here we are seeing the hurt behind the smiles. Our boys started off smiling, laughing, and dancing, yes. And then we see the days that are really hard. We see tears because family at home has no food to eat, family at home doesn’t exist, family at home has disowned them for following God and not following them. We see hurt through their mistakes that they made in the past, through broken relationships, through traumatic events that they have been through. We see them fight and get angry. We see nasty notes written to and from other students. We see stealing happening, and sin right in our face.
And we are here to love them through it. To believe in them when nobody else has. I specifically love watching our Ugandan partners do this through their own brokenness and pain. They can say, “I get it. I was exactly where you are. My father died when I was young too. My family has gone days without eating before too. I used to be really stubborn in school too. But God…” To see discipleship happening in this way is so incredible. That’s the goal of this school, as well—to become fully Ugandan. Katie Davis’ dream is coming to fruition slowly but surely. Westerners are not here to make it more western, but we are here come alongside Ugandans and help spread God’s value over these people. Here to delcare that you do not have to cane, or cram, or feel invisible. You can feel heard, and loved. And our amazing Ugandan partners are right there with us spreading this, and believing in this change of raising their own children.
This job is exhausting. I am so tired. There is no clocking out. There is no work-life balance. But I am so encouraged by what is happening here at The Amazima School. I wish I could write every example down of why, but I would be writing a book, not a blog.
If you are following along and supporting us, please know this people group is hurting behind those beautiful smiles, and you are making a difference whether that is financial or through prayer. We so need and appreciate you all. God is moving here and it is a privilege to witness.
Sorry I didn’t do prayer and praise last time. Here it is:
- Please pray for our boys to come to know how loved they are by God. Pray that the Lord would help them value their sisters and women in general. That they would be the ones to change the way men treat women here in this country.
- Please pray for Ben and I as we are able to come home for break in order to visit family and attend my best friends wedding!!! Light & Lex here we come! Pray that we would both be excited to come back to work here in Uganda.
- Please pray for joy, faithfulness, patience and energy over me. Ben is loving every aspect of this job, and I am struggling with it. I think being super introverted and not being able to have a balance with my own life here is very hard for me. On paper it looks wonderful, but in reality it is a lot harder than what I imagined. Still very rewarding though, as mentioned above.
- Pray for our marriage that it would continue to strengthen and display Christ’s love for the church, specifically to our boys and students.
- One of our boys came from a Catholic background and did not really understand what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. He knew religion, but not personal relationship and what it really means to call God a Father, and Jesus a friend and savior. After learning more about Jesus through scripture and asking many questions, he came to the decision that he wants to have this relationship. He prayed on his own with one of our mentors standing by him, “Father, please forgive me of all of my sins. Jesus, I want to live for you.” We all celebrated on his behalf and rejoiced with him! The beauty and simplicity of Jesus just calling us to believe.
- We have been through so many discipline issues—it feels like a new boy and issue every week, but these have been so transforming for our house. Through the issues we have had many intentional conversations with the boys, most have gone until 11pm or midnight. We have seen break through and completely different kids with big attitude adjustments. Our house has become more unified because of it and brotherhood is happening at the David House!
- We are growing very close with our Ugandan partner, Amos. He feels like a brother to us. We seriously appreciate his genuine spirit and heart. He’s not afraid to be open and honest with us, which has personally given me a lot of comfort.
- Another couple on campus has split a car with Ben and I! Our great friends here, Keeks & Zeeks. Praise the good Lord. It was very hard not being able to leave campus…where you work every day. We had to always ask other families if we could borrow their car. We were very dependent, and now we feel much more independent. There is a new sense of freedom being able to leave and get away if we need to (when we’re not working). I will be straight up and say our payment towards the car was $2,700. Our bank account here is now very low. If you would like to contribute towards our car and bless us in that way, we would really appreciate it. If you know of anyone who would like to do this, feel free to pass it along to them! HERE IS OUR SUPPORT PAGE IF YOU’D LIKE TO DONATE. Thank you so much.
- God is alive and active, and oh so good.
Thank you for reading this far. Thank you for praying. Thank you for supporting. 2 more weeks in Term One, can you believe it?! Talk to you Term Two.
Lots of love,
Ben & Lo