As I sat in the warm water of my bathtub, for the first time in two weeks I closely examined my feet. Even though I’ve lost toenails from running, my feet have never looked this worn. Blisters, calluses, scratches, and one big toenail ripped half off. As I started rubbing at the prominent tan line from my sandals, the water started to turn grey. Turns out that “tan” line was at least half Uganda dirt.
As I worked my way around my toes finding more and more dirt, Isaiah 52:7 popped into my head:
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
I was humbled by the thought that God had used these feet to bring good news to Iganga. A few nights ago as I lay in the bed I shared with our team leader Jodi, she told me that one of the staff, Isaac, had pulled her aside to pray with her. He told her, “You don’t know what it is you are doing here. You don’t know how much joy you bring. People here need hope. They get depressed. What you have done here will be remembered long after you leave.”
As I rubbed at a callus on my heel, I thought of all the feet I’d seen washed in Uganda. On Wednesday I had the honor of scrubbing many feet after we told the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Foot after tiny foot appeared in the wash basin before me and hundreds of children giggled, leaning on my shoulder as I scrubbed them with a green sponge. After the last group came through, I surprised my co-teacher, Lameka, by asking if I could wash his feet, too, to show him that I love him and he is my friend. He smiled and shyly agreed.
On Friday, I also got to see my friend Cheryl wash Denis’ foot. Denis is a staff person at Musana who was hit by a motorcycle several months ago and lost two of his toes. In an environment where clean water, rest, and good nutrition are hard to come by, he was not healing quickly and still hobbled slowly through campus on crutches every day – smiling, but in pain. Cheryl, a nurse, brought her huge bag of medical supplies and gently cleaned, examined, and dressed his wounds before giving him our supply of ibuprofen, protein bars, and vitamin powders to aid his recovery.
Despite Isaac’s comment to Jodi about the people of Uganda needing hope, I remembered the many times I saw them having fun when we were there. Like after foot washing when the preschool teachers started throwing the wet sponges at eat other like water balloons. Or when giggling Sarah – our hostess and cook – locked Jessica out of her room while she as showering. Or when we went over a bumpy section of road that tossed us from our seats and Muza said, “We call this African massage, or involuntary dancing.” Or when we saw Denis eating the skin of his mango and we teasingly asked if he ate the pit as well and laughed about mango branches coming out his ears. Or the seventh grade girls who jokingly put us through a catwalk competition and rolled with laughter when Jeff did his best Blue Steel. Or when our driver, Silver, told us at the airport check point that he didn’t have to get off the bus because he was too old at 43; when I laughed and announced to the bus that anyone over 43 didn’t have to go through security – and he realized that included some of our team – he revised his to age to 60.
Early in our trip we realized that there were three words that best described our experience in Uganda.
Joy. From the way we were mobbed by children at our arrival to the way the people danced and sang at every opportunity to the countless games and jokes, it was clear that the joy of the Lord was in this place.
Chaos. From the anything-goes way that cars, trucks, motorcycles, and people shared the roads (yet somehow it worked) to the over-500-people that managed to squeeze into the small chapel (yet somehow it worked) to running out of some supplies and improvising during parts of VBS (yet somehow it worked) to the way the way a hundred preschoolers in yellow t-shirts were herded from station to station chanting “Yeh-low! Yeh-low! Yeh-low!” (which mostly worked – occasionally we found a yellow with the oranges or down playing by the fish pond in the rain), it was clear that while the way of life and the speed of life of the people in Uganda is different from America they manage to make it work. (It’s far from perfect – but I wouldn’t say our American systems are either.)
Amazing. Our theme song for VBS included the words, “It’s amazing!” and we were amazed and how many times we found ourselves saying those words as we observed and experienced and learned about life in Uganda – the strength and hard work of the people, and also the conditions they endure. How do the taxis not hit each other? That’s amazing. Did you see that guy carrying a freezer on his bicycle? That’s amazing. That construction worker is standing on the fire shoveling those rocks! That’s amazing. All these people are walking 50 miles from Jinja to Kampala? That’s amazing. It took three trips from Iganga to Kampala for Betty to finally see the doctor? That’s amazing. This child was rescued from slavery to get to go to school at Musana? That’s amazing. Musana’s going to build an entire secondary school and technical school for only $700,000? That’s amazing.
But day after day looking out over hundreds of children, the future leaders of Uganda, dressed in colorful t-shirts all singing “I want to be like Jesus”? That was the most amazing of all.