I sat in a small, dark mud hut as a soft stream of light cast shadows through the tattered curtain that covered the doorway—the only opening allowing light and air into the home. Squeezed between my sister and another girl on our team, we sat quietly on a small bench, one of four pieces of furniture in the room. The other pieces consisted simply of a chair, a tiny end table, and a cabinet barely higher than my waist. That was all, in a room smaller than my bathroom back home. Vicky, the incredible Ugandan woman who had led us over muddy mountain paths to this home, sat in the chair while our hosts, an aging Jiajia (grandmother) and her 12 year old grandson, knelt on the dirt floor in front of us.
Vicky, who mentors 83 Ugandan children and visits each one at least once a week, was checking in on this family for the fifth time in as many days. We sat silently while she chatted in Luganda, paging through the young boy's homework while she talked.
After awhile, she turned to us to translate the conversation. She spoke softly and kindly. "This boy... he is like all boys his age. He would rather be playing than helping his grandmother bring in water or wash the dishes or do his schoolwork. She works so hard; but she is old and tired... I come every day to make sure he is doing his work, because sometimes--grandmothers can love us too much."
Her words brought tears to my eyes, because I do indeed know "boys his age" and grandmothers who "love us too much."
When I boarded one of several planes that eventually landed me in Uganda this past December, I did my best to prepare mentally for what was to come. To be honest, though, much of my preparation involved not being prepared. I simply didn't know what would happen. Yet I expected to be pushed outside my comfort zone. I expected to be convicted; challenged to live differently. I expected to be changed.
I didn't expect for it to feel so normal.
I didn't expect to sit in a mud hut, hearing that young boys and old grandmothers are the same the world over. I didn't expect selfies to be a thing with little African kids intrigued by my iPhone. I didn't expect to hear normal conversations about meeting friends for coffee, movie nights with neighbors, or a crisis pregnancy center on the other side of town.
I didn't expect to sit outside another mud hut, simply staring at the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Another grandmother with pronounced wrinkles, neatly cared for but oh-so-worn (and rather clashing) clothing, and stark poverty all around. Yet she shone with the most brilliant light and joy and beauty I have ever seen.
I didn't expect to sit there, wishing I could have what she has.
And so through my days in Africa, as I walked up muddy mountain trails, sat with little Ugandan kids on my lap, or bounced along bumpy roads in a van built for 12, but holding up to 17... God was whispering to my soul. Taking my thoughts and expectations of what it meant to serve the poor and live charitably and turning it on its head. My expected--even desired--lesson of better stewardship to result in greater giving flew out the window of that crowded van as God gently lectured me.
"These people do not need YOU or your money. They already have ALL that they need for life and godliness because they have Me. And before you can help them, you must first realize how much they have to teach you."
So I left Uganda... changed, yes. Convicted and challenged. Yet not in the ways I thought. Instead, my perspective was shaped and my attitude changed. I do not yet have a perfect understanding of God's heart for His people. But I have learned this; charity that comes from our own sense of pride and usefulness is worthless. Effectively helping those around us can only be done when we are living in right relationship with God and with our neighbor. How can I truly love my neighbor if I do not first know him? How can I be trusted to help others with their physical needs unless I am transparent about my great spiritual need?
The Good Samaritan was not called "good" simply because he had resources to handle a problem. It is because he saw in the ditch a man--a child of God with great dignity and worth. He chose to stop his animal, get down into the mud, and minister with his own hands. He took time to bring the man to safety and stay with him through the night. He lived the words of Scripture up close and personal... to "learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause." (Is 1:17)
And so whomever we meet--a grandmother in Uganda or a homeless man on the road, our next door neighbor or our occasionally annoying sibling--may we remember the words of Jesus.
"You go, and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)
Brittany recently returned from her impactful trip to Uganda this December where she visited and experienced the work of Amazima Ministries. To learn more about what ministry and charity ought to look like for Christians, she highly recommends reading the book When Helping Hurts and going on a trip of your own.
By Brittany Barden
Photos: Upper right – Brittany taking a selfie with Ugandan children. Mid-left – Brittany with her sister, Tiffany, and a Ugandan woman, Vickie. Bottom center – Worship in Uganda.