There are so many stories from my time in Africa. Ones of adventure, ones of struggle, ones of inexpressible joy. Buy me a cup of coffee, & I’ll tell you a few. But there are some stories that I don’t want to talk about. The pain is personal because the people were personal. Their stories became real. I cannot fully express the turmoil within my heart of wanting to leap into the battle for these people’s lives & the helplessness of not being able to do anything. In going through my journal, I found one such story. I wrote it weeks ago, but once it was in ink, I blocked it out of my mind. God has reminded me He blessed me with this trip so that I could bless others. I believe a large part of my role has been to communicate back home the stories of Ugandan brothers & sisters in Christ for others to rise up in prayer & support. This next account, straight from my journal, is about my Ugandan sister, Rachel.
Last night, I spent the night with Rachel. My emotions have not caught up with all that I witnessed. I want to write her story, the one she told me over cooking, eating, & sitting inside the mud-constructed room lit by a single candle. But how do I convey the smell of urine & sweat, the million ants covering the ground anticipating dropped food, the one pot to cook all our dinner sitting on top of a tiny coal stove, the children of the compound doing cartwheels & karate kicks as the sun sets on Nyahuka? How do I put to words her story to draw out raw emotions & prayers? For once, I wish I were not a writer, feeling the necessity to share a story.
What’s hard for me is that I know her story is not alone. There are countries full of stories much worse than Rachel’s. Girls struggling with rejection & no income. Girls who have never felt what’s it’s like to be loved. Girls without the gospel, still in bondage. I want to help. I want to save. I want to provide solutions, answers, fix things! But I don’t know how. All I can do is listen & pray.
Thankfully, last night, listening was all that was required of me. I balanced on a tiny bench, eyes furrowed, heart unguarded, as Rachel unfolded her life story: Mother left after birth. Father was in jail often & had no money to feed his wives & children. Abuse from the other wives. Lack of love, encouragement, & safety.
Then God shines through the darkness. One of the abusive wives who had been kicked out of the house a year earlier, returned with an evangelical pastor she had met. She told the household that she was a Christian & they must all go to church with her. Rachel heard the gospel for the first time through this abusive woman, who it turns out was only trying to weasel her way back into the home. Rachel began to attend church, more for the singing than the preaching. She loves to sing & the choir offered her a freedom & joy she had never experienced. One Sunday service, the pastor challenged his flock to examine their hearts to find the real reasons they attend church. Convicted & moved by the Spirit, Rachel walked to the front & prayed to receive Christ as her Savior.
Back in the compound, family life continued to be hard. As Rachel grew up, her father began to see her in a sexual light. Fearing what he might do, she ran to her pastor for help. Rachel’s pastor sent her to a further village to stay with another pastor & his wife. Rachel lived there for a few years, attending primary school as a sponsored child. For a brief moment in her life, she experienced love & friends.
Happiness & peace did not stay long. Rachel’s father found her hiding spot & threatened to hurt her host family if she did not come home. Fearing her father’s violence, the teenage girl returned with her father.
Around 18, Rachel’s older sister told her she should find a man to provide for her. “You need someone to buy you clothes & food,” she said. Her sister told her to go live with their neighbor, a boy a few years older than Rachel who she had played with growing up. Rachel, not knowing what else to do & desperately wanting to be loved, moved in with the boy, returning to her sister’s on the weekends. Soon she was pregnant.
One night, a boda drove into the family compound. Rachel’s sister went to the door to see who was there. A woman answered saying she was from Bundibugyo Town, looking for her daughter Rachel to take her back to live with her. Pregnant, single, & without money, Rachel had no other choice than to go with this woman. She asked her mom if she could bring the child’s father, but her mother convinced her that he was not a good boy & didn’t care about her, so they left without a word. (According to Rachel, the father of her baby had made plans to take care of her, but she has not heard from him since.)
In Bundibugyo, a place of mud huts, obstinate people, & a different language, Rachel struggled to build a new life with her mother’s family. Her mom enrolled her in a local secondary school & took care of her. Life seemed to be brightening. She “produced” a sweet baby girl named Jocelyn & stepped into motherhood at 19.
Soon after the birth, the rollercoaster of Rachel’s life turned downhill. Rachel’s mother became jealous of her own daughter. She accused Rachel of luring her husband (Rachel’s step father) to sleep with her. She repeatedly locked Rachel & Jocelyn out of the house at night to battle the cold, rain, & dogs. She argued with Rachel about money & dependence. She accused her of stealing & threatened to stop paying for school. She was furious when Rachel chose to attend a local Presbyterian church instead of the family’s catholic church. In need of some sort of financial stability, Rachel accepted a job translating for the missionaries at the hospital. Her mother discovered Rachel’s new job & quit paying for her school, telling Rachel her new mizungu friends should pay for her.
Frustrated & at a loss of what to do, Rachel went to the elders & pastors of her new church, Mt. Zion Presbyterian Community Church, to try to reconcile the relationship with her mother. They talked & prayed with both women, but the older woman would not relent. Finally Rachel gave up fighting & with help from Mt. Zion, she moved out of her mother’s house & rented the small room where she currently resides. The rent is 8000 shillings a month, roughly $3, an amount she can barely pay with her small job at the hospital.
Last night, I did not know how to respond to her story. I wanted to jump up & wrap her in a hug, beat up her mother, then write a book on injustice in Africa. How can God allow so much pain to a beautiful girl with a joy-radiating smile & voice of angels?
I want to help but I don’t know how. I love Rachel like a sister (we were born a day apart… my African twin?). Last night as we were going to bed (she forced me to sleep on her one mattress while she took the ground), she asked if I would invite her to my wedding, whenever I get married. “I want to sing for you,” she said. I laughed & told her sure, if I ever meet someone crazy enough to marry this mess & then move to Africa. She laughed, but then got quiet. “You promise?” Oh boy. How can I promise? I leave in only a few days. I know the routine of long distance relationships; they fade away with the miles of separation. And how will I even communicate with Rachel who doesn’t even own a cell phone much less a computer? I voiced my concerns to her. She responded with faith to move a mountain, “I don’t know how we will talk, but let’s pray together that God will help us communicate.” Right then & there we knelt down on the dirt floor & lifted up our request to God.
My head rolls back on the couch as I flashback to last night. Back, safe in my mizungu house. Away from disturbing smells & unnerving stories. Comfortable with my coffee & banjo worship music. My emotions are numb. I don’t know what to think or feel. I need Christ to hold me with His strong arms, rock me back & forth, & tell me it’s going to be ok. He’s got a plan. This world has already been redeemed. Hope is coming.