Opinions

The Lessons of Africa

Oliyo. Makulu. Oliyotiyo? How is Finch? How is home?

After greeting me, Gladys turns back to her work. I have found her behind the duplex washing clothes by the waterspout. She sits over the 2-foot diameter bucket, straight back, hands wringing out the water, mechanically moving to a familiar rhythm.

Many missionaries in Africa employ local men and women to help with housework. The work provides money for the families to eat, sends their children to school, or to a doctor when sick. (And I am more than willing to let go of doing laundry in a bucket each week!) Gladys is one of such workers. Her bright smile lights up anyone’s day. She does not work often at our house, so I purposefully make trips to visit her at the others’.

Done with rinsing, Gladys picks up the large bucket of wet clothes and raises it to her head. She has the balance of a princess. Bending down delicately, she brings another bucket to her hip and walks up the steps to the laundry line. I follow behind and jump up to sit on the wall, close to where she’s working.

Gladys, what is your story?

What?

Where were you born?

I was born in Bundibugyo….

Through broken English, short sentences, long pauses, and lots of questions, I peace together the scattered fragments of Gladys’ life.

She grew up in Bundibugyo District. Her schooling stopped at the fourth (of seven) primary levels. At 17, she became pregnant. She married & went to live with her husband in Gulu, a district in Northern Uganda. In the 1990′s, the Lord’s Resistance Army arose in Uganda spreading violence like wildfire. Gladys’ mother sent her to Kampala to stay with her father for safety, but her husband, a government soldier, remained in Gulu to protect the city.

With the lack of cell phones and Internet, news travelled slowly. Gladys prayed and waited for the call to return home. Unfortunately, when news did arrive, it was not good. The LRA had burned Gulu & its residents. Gladys’ husband had died in one of the attacks.

Mourning the loss of her husband and now solely responsible for 4 children, Gladys returned to Bundibugyo District to live with her mother.

I sit and listen as this Ugandan woman tells me the timeline of her life. To the listener, the short sentences are impersonal facts dropped on a timeline to land amidst the history of Uganda. But to the storyteller, these events are an abyss of emotions and memories, free of politics and deeper than history books.

Back in Bundibugyo, her eldest daughter conceived but passed away soon after giving birth to a baby girl. A few years later, Gladys’ mother also died, leaving Gladys her house, a room the size of a normal bathroom, to live with 5 young children.

I did not have money. I did not know what to do. I prayed. God would help me.

A friend told Gladys to go to the missionaries for work. She brought her application to the first house, but was turned away. Help was not needed at the present. She returned home, crying and asking God what to do next. Days passed, then weeks. One morning during church, Gladys got a vision from God to go to the other missionary’s house. She did not know this family personally, but she recognized the face of the man in her vision. She went to the house and waited outside in the kiituubbi (fearing the dog). A mutual friend went inside (braving the dog) and told the missionary Gladys’ story and her need for work. The man sent her to a missionary across the street. This family gave Gladys enough work to feed her children and put them into school, as well as taught her proper gardening techniques. When the family left Uganda, the missionary presented Gladys with a jambe to work and grow food for her family.

When the missionaries want it back & tell me stop, I say thank you. I am blessed. But now, I work it. I go there yesterday.

Today, Gladys faithfully and joyfully works for several of the present missionaries families. The money allows her to send all 5 children to school (about $300 per term)  and “buy beans at the market.”

Some days I do not have money. So I go to bed praying. The next day, Michael or Ann calling to say You come work for me today. God, He take care of me. I love God. On my phone, I have on my screen I Love God.

She springs up, quick for a woman of her years and harsh circumstances, and briskly walks down the steps to the bench where her phone and printed blue kitange lie. She brings it back up, excited to show me her wallpaper. Sure enough, GOD LOVES ME, in all caps, right below the time.

I trust God. He gives me all I need. He takes care of me. I do not need to ask for money any more. This work, it gives me money. God take care of me.

My heart melts to a puddle of compassion and amazement. With education of only a third grader, this woman understands the simplicity of faith better than most pastors and theologians. It is the moment by moment trust. Believing what isn’t seen. The reliance on God’s daily provision. The confidence that He will provide. And joy so contagious that others can’t help but rejoice with her. While I struggle with trust that God will provide me with patience, she trusts in Him to provide her children with dinner.

I barely know Gladys, but I love her. She is one of a kind in this district, seeing God as provider, verses the mizungu. Before heading back to my house, I ask Gladys if I can pray for her. We bow our heads together before the One who speaks all languages and understands every need. Whole-heartedly, I ask for continual provision, joy, and strength for this woman and her children.

I hug her and thank her and wake up my sleeping feet to walk back to my house. Once again, I am amazed at the simplicity and magnitude of the lessons of Africa.

Varina Hart, Contributing Writer

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