Following the death of my father, some of the children in Uganda I’ve known and worked with for years made signs for me expressing their love and condolences. The gesture warmed my heart, buoyed my spirits, and reminded me what it means to have others acknowledge your losses and to walk with you through them.
As a 97-year-old friend and I discussed Horatio Spafford’s classic hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” she said the first line gives her reason to pause. The stanza “when peace like a river attendeth my way” doesn’t accurately depict all rivers, she explained, for “all rivers are not peaceful.”
After cancer took the life of a Ugandan child I’d been caring for during his final months, the boy’s family and village leaders gathered to decide how to thank me for what I’d done on behalf of one of their own. They concluded that the best way to express gratitude, while also consoling me as I grieved the loss of the child I dearly loved, would be to give me his younger brother.
During the fourteen years I’ve lived and served in East Africa, I’ve had a few opportunities to join others on safaris. Typically, we’ve encountered large herds of elephants, Cape buffalo, zebras, and gazelles.
My friend Rosie is an amazing person. Born without arms, she’s refused to believe her life need be limited. With deep confidence that God has given her everything she needs to live an abundant life and honor Him, she’s become a remarkable wife and mother, a brilliant scholar, and an extraordinary artist.
As powerful Hurricane Irma approached the state of Florida in the US in 2017, nearly seventy-five children gathered in Munyonyo, Uganda, to pray for those in the storm’s projected path. Many of those trapped in Florida were greatly encouraged to see by video the boys and girls praying and asking God to calm the storm.
In what’s considered one of the greatest Christian classics, Mere Christianity, British novelist, poet, academic, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote: “There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him (Jesus), it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.”
I’ve seen believers in Jesus walk through fierce storms of life while trusting in God through it all. How do they do it? I’ve often wondered if it was their personality enabling them to show calm in the midst of turmoil, kindness when mistreated, and courage when most would falter.
My life’s been enriched by a friend who’s consistently content. Rather than lamenting what she doesn’t have, she’s chosen to trust Jesus and find deep satisfaction in Him. Through her, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of this valuable quality, and I’ve experienced how wonderful it is to be around someone who displays such deep contentment with God, and with the life and circumstances He’s provided for her.
I overheard someone speaking harshly to another. Though their comments weren’t directed at me, I considered intervening. To guard against the temptation to speak to the offender in an equally unedifying manner, I began repeating in my head: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control . . . ” In this provoking situation, the Spirit’s power helped me to remain calm and keep a tight rein on my tongue.
Each year, my son and I travel to the other side of the country to spend time with his honorary grandparents, Gwen and Jim Johnson. It’s not possible for me to express the significance of these visits and all that my son and I learn from this remarkable couple, each of whom are in their mid-nineties.
For many years, I held on to the dream of one day adopting a five year old boy from Russia. “Why such a specific desire?” a former colleague once asked me. “Because,” I explained, “Close friends adopted a five year old orphan from Russia and he’s amazing!” Samuel, the young boy from Russia, continues to be an (unofficial) ambassador for his native country.
For the past decade, I’ve served in East Africa and have gained far more understanding of my heart, motives, and attitudes than I would have had I not taken the step of faith to live and work in a foreign land. Among the more humbling insights has been my occasional tendency to assume that my knowledge and resources are superior to those in the developing nation where I’m serving.
While dying of cancer, a seven-year-old Ugandan child named Okello Dikens became a leader. Though he wasn’t at the helm of a company, he exercised a profound influence through his example of faith, kindness, and service.