For the past three years I have been privileged to serve on a short-term mission team in Uganda. There is no way to put into words the impact these trips have had on me. I haven’t written about my experiences there before;not for lack of words but because I fear sharing them will never accurately portray what’s in my heart. And there’s a part of me that cherishes keeping these things to myself, as if they are too private to share. But now I am putting my selfishness aside and sharing a story about a family I met last year. I hope you can identify with the lessons I’ve learned from what unfolded!
“Come and see my bed,” the nearly inaudible whisper lingered in stark contrast to the excitement on her face. As I followed Pross, I was acutely aware of the austerity of the house. But enclosed in one of the concrete rooms was a bed. Her bed. We stood close, with barely enough room for us between the two sets of bunk beds. Pross’ bed was easy to spot; a riot of red floral fabric. Her face-wide grin conveyed her pride. I stood there shaken to my core by the flood of emotions. A widowed father. Joseph’s swollen face. Godfrey and Pross’s terror. Death. Loss. Abandonment. They swirled through my consciousness at movie-montage speed. I was transported back to the year before.
A year before, I thought things would turn out differently. I thought that we had caught the cancer in time. I thought we had provided a way for a father, who was still grieving the loss of his wife and a child, to bypass another loss. What had looked like a miracle had ended abruptly. The phone call came five months after we left Africa. I felt betrayed. For five months my cautious hope had secretly taken root, outgrowing my sense of apprehension. My hope had grown while Joseph had died.
“Holly, little Joseph died.” I struggled to hear. The words couldn’t be right. I failed to grasp meaning through the hazy molasses-thick fog in my brain. “What? Joseph?” My heart immediately heard what my brain tried to deny. The questions wouldn’t stop coming. Why did Joseph have to endure the treatment if the end result was the same? Why did I have to know? That sounds selfish, but why did circumstances cause me to meet him and get involved if my actions didn’t affect the outcome? Then I thought about the agony Steve and I saw him in after the biopsy in Mulago Hospital. No matter how hard I try, I can’t block the tormenting memories. What was the purpose of it all?
As I stood looking at Pross I began to understand what had previously only served to hurt and anger me. Could Pross and Godfrey be the answer? No, Joseph wasn’t spared and a hurting father lost another child. But the series of events that started with meeting Joseph in the clinic ended with changed circumstances. Pross and Godfrey now have a home where before they had remnants of a thatch hut falling apart. Crisp, clean school uniforms, food, shoes, and beds; these were all new to them. Last year I saw a timid girl who struggled to make eye contact. Now I saw a confident young woman with a stunning smile. Had she been left in the village, men would have seen an unprotected young woman and taken advantage of that. Instead, she is thriving in school while a family in town provides safety. She is free to be 14.
God also could have saved Joseph but he didn’t. “Could have but didn’t”. What does that mean? What are the implications? The tension between could have and didn’t still works a knot in my brain. After much reflection the only answer I can come up with is that I don’t know. I honestly don’t know; and I don’t understand. But a thought has surfaced over and over as I replay the scenes; lessons learned. There are lessons I have learned along the journey that were needed. Maybe I was the only intended pupil, but since the lessons seem universal, I will share the whole story. And in doing so, expand the classroom for anyone else who wants to learn.