The reality of being an orphan

When I visited Uganda in February, I was not expecting to have my heart drastically enlarged. Imagine the movie- “How the Grinch stole Christmas”- I had no idea my heart was like the Grinch’s!! How could it be SO SMALL and I had NO IDEA?

Realizing, I have prayed for widows and orphans for 25 years! I’ve prayed for Ugandan widows and orphans for 14. Yet while talking to Irene, I realized the actually size of my spiritual/emotional heart! A 14 year old child was telling me about her normal day. She is a true orphan, she lives with a relative, but in reality it is a roof over their head as they sleep- Oh, did I mention, Irene is the oldest of 4, she tends her 3 younger brothers. She wakes up at “four zero zero”, honestly my brain sort of stopped to think… is she saying she wakes up (without an alarm clock?) at 4 am? What? I don’t wake up at 4 am, none of our kids wake up at 4 am, we have barely fallen asleep by midnight! Yet this young girl was telling me, she wakes up, fetches the water her aunt will use all day long, fetches the fire wood her aunt will use all day long, then she waked up her brothers and walks to the Lamplighter Compound where she gets to eat and rest. REST? Not really, “resting” as she is helping to get all ready for school. They leave all of their school clothes and book bags at our compound, they have 1 set of uniforms, they wash them when needed. Can any of us even conceive, 1 uniform, our closets are FILLED with clothes we never wear! OK, my closet is filled, I’m sure yours is the closet of a minimalist. But let’s go back to that gathering fire wood point! This was the point that made me realize the size of my heart!

Do I leave my house and feel SAFE at 4 am? Would I feel safe letting my own 20+ year old daughter go out at 4 am? Much LESS- to go wander down the road to gather fire wood? at 4 am? I hope you are imagining that “horrified emoji”! That was me! Let’s face it I was shocked with her even being out of bed at 4am… much less gathering water and firewood.

I can not imagine being a mom at 14! Being a dad at 14! She is the only “parent” these younger boys have at the moment!

In our conversation I was asking about school. She got so excited! She was trying out for the school soccer team. Now finally we are discussing a reality I can understand! All 5 of our kids played soccer. I looked down at her bare feet, and asked, “what shoes are you wearing for the try outs?” Thinking does she had cleats? Does she even have tennis shoes? Seriously? They all play soccer in their bare feet. She noted she would try out without shoes. She had flip flops, but they were ruined at some point gathering the fire wood. My own flip flops had been ruined on my trip in October, so I was grasping the reality of this place is HARD on shoes! I was trying to imagine how many pairs of shoes do these kids need- and they get flip flops that are not very durable.

Once we arrived home, we got the exciting news that Irene MADE the soccer team! YAY! I had committed to buy her the uniform and cleats! I was so excited! A normal KID event in her not so normal life! Then we got news, her brother was hospitalized with a serious illness. The mom/dad/14 year old child was yet again asked to juggle more! How was she going to handle soccer practice and extra duties with her brothers? This is THE REAL world with REAL LIFE decisions for the orphans of this world! I grew up with amazing parents, so none of these thoughts ever even crossed my mind! Trying to force my 55 year old mind to process was harder than I imagined!

This is when my heart size was apparent! I began to ask myself…

“Wait?? How will she ever go to college? How will she ever become a doctor?” Did I mention that yet, I asked her what she wanted to be… “when she grows up?”. Growing up seems to come early for the orphans of the earth!!

Because the only thing thing that will matter, in Northern Uganda, is raising up these brothers to be good men who are responsible.

14 years old.

What were your life decisions when you were 14 years old?

I am determined to help Irene get to medical school! This young girl is BRIGHT! She is ARTICULATE! She is KIND TO ALL!! She is one who prays! She has DREAMS! Real DREAMS- God shares His secrets with her! And DREAMS AND DESIRES of her future. So many love to quote Jeremiah 29:11- I love it, but I normally chime in, “Just remember, those thoughts to prosper you were all intertwined with 70 years of exile, just read verse 10.” But concerning the orphans in Uganda- I want to focus on just verse 11, not the whole chapter or the story line. I want to quote that verse over Irene and her three brothers. I want to shout that verse over all the kids in our feeding and school programs. I want to find a place of “normal” for them all!

SO what is the new normal in Northern Uganda?

From our end, we are committed to once again DREAM GOD SIZE DREAMS for Lamplighter Ministries in Northern Uganda- come join us in our dreaming!

WE are hoping for the new normal to be a testimony of Jeremiah 29:11 “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” the Message

Nancy Hester