#zerojiggers

I think we’ve all asked “What is a jigger?” At least 100 times, trying to wrap our heads around the idea of what exactly we were getting ourselves into on Thursday.

A jigger is a parasite. It starts out the size of a flea and after attaching to a host (typically a foot or hand) it burrows into the skin and then expands to the size of a pea over the course of 5-7 days. It also lays 600 eggs that are expelled and ready to infect another unsuspecting victim. This process makes walking painful and difficult. Often wounds become infected. The most vulnerable are the young and the elderly.

Jiggers live in dry climates and like dry and loose dirt so you can imagine that they are prevalent in the red dirt village roads and paths. Those without shoes find themselves easy targets for these little jerks. Typically one or two is not a big deal. Consistent washing takes care of the newly attached jiggers.

So why is it an issue?

In the early 1950’s the arrival of this parasite coincided with the murder of a missionary. Beleaguered and bereft missionaries reprimanded locals- saying that the jigger was punishment from God for their sins. And so the stigma was born. Jiggers are shameful. If you have them, you don’t want anyone to know.

SoleHope is a twofold effort to treat those with jiggers while educating and dissolving the stigma. They also provide shoes to prevent further jigger problems.

The removal process is…painful.

Because while the jigger starts out small- it grows and removing a pea-sized bug from a flea sized hole creates significant trauma and pain. It also leaves behind an open wound that looks like someone scooped out flesh with a mini melon baller.

So we joined the SoleHope team for the day and drove out to a remote village to set up shop. Within minutes, 60+ children showed up, eager to interact with the Mzungus and they had heard we had shoes for them. The SoleHope team operates with incredible efficiency, allowing us to build a rapport with the kids through singing and dancing while they set up the tents for washing, jigger removal and shoe fitting. The songs aren’t just fun- they help with the education process- complete with hand motions.

“I get the soap, I get the soap!” (Grabbing invisible soap)

“I get the brush, I get the brush!” (Now grabbing an invisible brush)

“I wash my feet, I wash my feet!” (Pretending to wash their feet)

“I brush my feet, I brush my feet!” (Pretending to brush their feet)

“And now I’m jigger free!”

Simple but effective at educating kids. And by the time we finished our crowd had almost double, including quite a few elderly men and women who had come to receive treatment and shoes.

After singing and playing for a few minutes we were assigned tasks: foot washers, jigger counters, lollipop passers, baby holders and shoe fitters. But this is where it became real. It was no longer a funny song, we were suddenly face to face, hand to foot, with kids who had dozens of jiggers, open wounds, no shoes, and terrified faces. They too were unprepared for the reality of the next few hours.

After the foot washing kids were ushered to a SoleHope trained employee and one of our team members. It was here where the real work began because now the bugs had to come out. Some kids were better off than others- having only 5 or 6. Others were not so lucky having upwards of 2 dozen. Each jigger requires the removal of the callous over the opening with a razor blade. Once the jigger is exposed, the SoleHope worker removes it with a sterilized safety pin.

Sounds simple enough. But it hurts. Like a gigantic splinter being removed times 10, 20, 30.

The older kids handled it better. They gritted their teeth and gratefully accepted the lollipops Fr Jonathan passed out. They would then skip over to the shoe fitting tent with their paper documenting just how many jiggers and where, and exchange it for some shoes.

But how do you explain the need for stillness and courage to a 3 year old with 36 jiggers dotting the soles of her feet, bulging from underneath her toenails and finger nails? Lollipops are no good at that point. So we held tight, repeating a steady cadence of “Its alright. You will be okay. It’s almost over.” As she sobbed and sobbed.

Each removal process took anywhere from 5-25 minutes depending on the severity of their condition. It was grueling work. Frankly, it was gross work. Dirty feet, bloody wounds, pus and all the things that make your stomach churn. But O the grace of God to endure it. It was present at each station. And how can you turn away from a child who needs a hand to hold while their feet are being worked on? So we stayed close, worked diligently, all with the knowledge that we were leaving this village just a little bit better.

And the final step of the process made it all worth it. Tears turned to wide grins as kids and adults alike were fitted with new shoes.

*Let me interject a note about SoleHope’s shoes: They are made of almost 100% recycled materials. The soles are made from recycled Bota (streetbike) wheels, and the tops are made from denim donated through jean cutting parties in the states! These make for durable shoes, able to withstand the walking, running and working the recipients typically do. To learn more about SoleHope and their mission go to http://solehope.org *

The shoe tent became a meeting place of kids and grown ups eager to be fitted. After each one received their shoes they would grab our hands with both of theirs and squeeze them tight. Gratefulness needs no words and requires no translation. It was two sided. We were grateful to give and they were grateful to receive.

This whole week we talked about open handedness. Open to give and open to receive. We were firsthand witnesses to this holy process in every place we went. With every measure we gave of our hearts, our time, and our attention, God multiplied it tenfold. We received hugs, kisses, playtime, conversations, friendships, rapt admiration, and unconditional love. How else can we explain this sacred bond other than by acknowledging the presence of the author of love and perfecter of grace? We were bonded by the Spirit of the Living God, calling afresh on the weary, giving life to a village of sore feet.

I think in the distractions of day-to-day life, we find ourselves looking for God to make a big splash to catch our attention. We want Him to compete with the loudness of the things we surround ourselves with. In the unfamiliar surroundings and the slower pace of the Uganda we rediscovered an old truth;

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Kings 19:11,12

God’s love manifested itself in all those little moments, reminding us that the bigness of God doesn’t require a bigness of revelation but can exist in the simple exchange of love.

Morning Chat

Below are some reactions from team members from the past two days. As we’ve processed what we’ve seen, we discussed this question:

What experience revealed God to you?

Casi- “…when singing the praise songs with the kids. Despite the difficult situation. God is still good. The caretakers- the kids that take care of the younger or disabled ones. Asad and Timothy. They show such kind gentleness even though they aren’t connected by blood. It takes a village to raise a village. Ugandan culture is much less isolated and individualistic. So different from our independent minded culture.”

Beth- “God’s presence is everywhere, on buses and billboards, even in impossible conditions and circumstances. I saw God in my time with Gifty. There was not a lot of conversation because of the language difference- just coloring and doing nail polish. Just sitting. But when I went to leave, she commented on me not finishing the coloring. I didn’t think she noticed, didn’t think we were connecting because there was no common language. For her, that interaction meant so much, enough that she wanted to keep coloring together.

Nancy- “The little boys love the men in our group and gravitate towards them. Watching their every move. They love hearing praise and encouragement when they do something well- coloring or putting a puzzle together. And the kids we see aren’t playing with toys or balls or any of the normal crutches we depend on to facilitate entertainment. Just being with each other, inventing their own games and entertainment. It’s a sharp contrast to our own entertainment needs.”

Carol- “The kid’s faces, their eagerness to participate with us even though we were strangers, their openness to spending time with us. Playing go fish with Natalie, Afta , Israel. Play transcends language, even cheating! Natalie, once she got the hang of the game, kept stealing glances at my hand of cards! Israel was quite the mathematician and would count up points before I could even start adding. We laughed a lot- laughing without sharing a language. Just regular kid play in irregular situations. Afta caught on super quickly and became immediately competitive, gathering up cards and thinking strategically. I’m not usually a kid person, but the book we used to prepare for the trip talked about being present and that’s been my mantra. I’m consciously trying to leap outside my comfort zone with the interactions I have. I’m being inundated with their enthusiasm and I’m catching it.”

Monday and Tuesday we visited the Children’s Homes. These are government institutions meant to deal with all aspects of children including orphans. The first facility we visited was a temporary center for teens who had been accused of a crime or found wandering. These kids were put to work, harvesting and tending mushrooms, vegetables, and looking after the grounds. On the weekends there was limited activity as the staff was thin until Monday morning. Some attend school, some don’t. One of the most startling experiences of the trip was walking into the girls dormitory and having them kneel before taking our hands. I later found out this was cultural and most teens do this to show respect to guest. Another startling moment was being informed that in the past NGO’s have struggled to be around when they had refused to give into ridiculous demands for money and personal gifts. Corruption is as common as the red clay that cakes dirty faces and feet.

Our afternoon visit was to the infant center. Littles from 0-10 came running as our vans drove up. Dirty, snotty, crusty faces peered through the railing- some were dressed, some were missing pants or shirts. All were dirty. All had eyes that begged for attention. It only took a heartbeat for little hands to find ours and little arms to lift up and ask to be held. As we settled in and amongst the crowd we started noticing a unique aspect of our new friends, the caretakers: Little boys and girls whom had taken on the responsibility of watching after those who could easily be forgotten; the youngest and the disabled. One pair stood out to me, mentioned above by Casi, Timothy and Assad. They were the last to join us because Timothy had some severe physical limitations. I locked eyes with Assad as he led him to the group, and he brought over his charge. Timothy grabbed my hands and sank gratefully onto my lap. He was wearing a T-shirt, meant for a much larger adult, and nothing else. He sat there, eyes wandering, as we clapped our way through worship songs. I would later find out that Timothy had been seizing nonstop when he first arrived at reception. Most likely abandoned by a family that could not care for him. A medical team had been able to stop the seizures but he was left with permanent mental and physical disabilities. But he delighted in puzzles and shortly after worship he joined Assad in putting puzzles together.

I looked around after settling Timothy down with Assad and saw 3 littles, no more than 3 years old, curled up on the ground with their arms wound protectively around their heads as they napped on the concrete floor. I wandered over and scooped one up. He barely opened his eyes to register the change in location before snuggling close, hands resting at his sides. There was no need to protect his little head from the concrete for that next half hour. As I sat there, I looked around at our team. Each had found their niche. Playing Jenga, cuddling babies, putting together puzzles, or making a craft. Each had the rapt attention of a child who soaked up their love like a sponge. The time to go came too soon. As I put the child down, two big crocodile tears came streaming down his face. He looked so lost in that cold and dirty room. I scooped him up one last time- kissed his head and silently spoke over him the blessing my mom would sing over my brother and I at night, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you. And give you peace. Forever”

We found ourselves at the final Center yesterday.

As we drove up, a physical weight set into my heart. Our team grew quiet. We had heard stories of this place. Everyone in Uganda had heard stories from this place. Parents threaten to send naughty children here. Could hope exist in this place?

Our vans pulled up and we heard singing. They had been waiting for us. One thing we had been made aware was the intake process for this specific center could be difficult. I had heard horror stories that I’m not at liberty share…

This was new injustice. This was different then the neglect we had experienced the day before. What existed here was a system designed to break the human spirit. But once again we were painfully reminded that justice was not ours to bring. We could offer only what we had been given by God. Grace upon grace and love without condition. So we did. We played. Colored. Sang. Kicked soccer balls. Threw a football (American obvi). We listened to those who wanted to talk and we were present with those who didn’t. And we prayed. Silently. In our hearts. With every intake and exhale of breath. We prayed that the improvements that had started to weave their way into the fabric of this place would last. That the irrepressible love of Jesus would grow in the hearts of both the staff and those sent to serve sentences.

That’s where I struggle. To pray for those responsible for the abuse and the neglect. I struggle to pray for those in positions of power who do nothing, who benefit from the hurts of others. And yet, we did. We prayed for radical redemption, because our God is bigger than our human limits.

As often as we use “God does not see as man does. Man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart.” We rarely apply it to the bullies and attackers. But it applies no less to them. God can use them too.

So join us in prayer friends.

For the neglected and the orphaned.

For the abused and beaten.

For the abusers, neglecters, and bullies.

Because none are beyond the reach of the grace of God. Praise the Lord.

Take a moment to enjoy a worship service we got to experience before we left Kampala

The least of these

Value is a slippery concept. It’s conditional and unconditional, assigned or assumed, necessary and meaningless.

Over the last two days we’ve had the honor to remind those we encountered that their value is unconditional and impossible to lose. We spent today with some of Uganda’s orphans.

I think we are all vaguely familiar with the aids crisis and the casualties. They resulted in an orphan crisis that the country is ill-equipped to handle. Their answer to the growing number of street youth and young orphans are centers where the ratio of adults to children is frighteningly small. For every 18 kids there is a single caregiver. This number is even more harshly felt with the vulnerable littles (age 0-10).

We were uncomfortable. But it was a necessary discomfort- as our minds bristled with the injustice we saw, our hearts were reminded that justice was not ours to bring today. We were to be arms that held, laps to sleep on, hands to help with crafts, minds to put together puzzles, patience to help with coloring and the energy to participate, if only for a few minutes, in the life of a forgotten child.

We’ve indulged in a few days to process what we’ve seen and who we’ve met. Tomorrow we will be posting a discussion we are having as we collect our thoughts from the last 48hrs! Stay tuned

Mzungus

Here we are…a bunch of white wanderers (the literal translation of the term of endearment “Mzungu”)

Church this morning was vibrant! Songs in English and Bantu, prayers spoken with boldness and energy, the Word of the Lord proclaimed and the name of Jesus was praised. More than 150 people packed in to welcome us to their church and allow us to share a message with them. We held babies while moms sang and danced on stage, we hugged person after person who greeted us afterward- bound together by the bond of kinship in Christ.

After, we went to Mama Catherine’s for lunch. Her and several ladies were preparing an amazing array of food and so we had time to sit with some of the kids that live there. Mama Catherine is the wife of the pastor at the church we worshipped at. She and Pastor Ernest have fostered over 200 orphans- creating the most warm and safe home for the marginalized.

We spent quite some time making airplanes until several kids figured out the slow motion feature on the iPhone. 30 minutes of giggling ensued as they ran and danced for the slow motion video. We were also introduced to the other inhabitants of the compound- pigs, ducks, rabbits and chickens all roaming around with peaceful clucks, quacks and grunts.

As we were called into lunch and we gathered around the table we couldn’t believe the incredible generosity of our hosts and the gift of time they spent in order to prepare the most delicious feast. Green beans, potatoes and rice were the most recognizable but paled in comparison to the g-nut sauce and plantains, fried chicken (who’d probably been clucking around just a little bit before), pork, salsa and beans. We all ate until our eyes glazed over. I’m sure they were sick of us complimenting them and wondered when we’d stop going up for seconds!

As we gathered around the pastor and mama Catherine before we left, the pastor became vulnerable with us. He shared with us some of the recent financial trouble that had fallen on the church due to the unemployment crisis. And he shared his hope for the youth camp they would be running in December- that God would provide speakers. As he finished sharing we gathered around him and mama Catherine, and prayed for the Lord to answer the cries of his heart to provide for his community, believing that God is able and He will provide.

Leaving was bittersweet- we were all exhausted but we could’ve spent hours playing with our new friends. We will see them again later this week.

As we rest our heads at the end of today, I think all of us carry with us the reassurance of the love of Christ shown at the hands of the people we met today. Our hearts have connected with other hearts here in Africa and the radical work of the Holy Spirit is already spreading through our little team.

The Uganda Team Heads Off

Off we go! Many different flights all heading to one place, Uganda.

All of us have checked bags, chock full of donations for our missionary friends and those we have yet to meet.

Tomorrow evening we land and hopefully head to bed.

As I sit at gate C in the Dulles airport, I’m reminded of our team meetings. Each of us has something we are anxious about for this trip. Sickness, saying the wrong thing, offending someone, bugs. And yet here we are, flying straight into our fears because we each feel the distinct hand of the Father at our backs- pushing us forward. I don’t think any of us could put a finger on why God asked us to go- or what He wants for us to do…yet. But I’m confident, as are my wonderful team/friends that He’ll make it clear.

I promise this blog will have more interesting posts, better pictures, and will certainly have longer thoughts to share (although I’m not sure that’s a good thing!) but for now friends- will you pray for us?

That He would become greater and we would become less. That our eyes see, ears hear, mouths speak and arms hold all that God puts in front of us. Maybe we not only be the light of Christ but recognize the light of Christ in others. Pray against sickness and anxiety- anything that would get in the way of us being vessels. But most off all- that His name would be glorified everywhere our feet touch.

So long from DC! Africa here we come!

Half the team met up in Brussels- these lounge chairs are the best way to pass a layover