The past year rocked the entire world, and Uganda was not immune to all of the uncertainty, fear, restrictions, and additional challenges, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Already, 2021 is off to a tumultuous beginning in Uganda. The presidential elections were held these last two weeks, and
the long-reigning Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years, was fighting for another five years of power amidst heavy opposition from one zealous oppositional candidate.
On a daily basis, I witness in Ugandans a thirst for change, but ultimately every Ugandan is waging if that desire for change is worth their life.
Throughout these past couple of weeks, Ugandan military have swarmed cities, roads and towns in an effort to thwart that spirit of change and exhibit their own “power” and prove who is truly in charge.
A simple trip to the market can quickly evolve into getting caught in tear gas or countless police checkpoints, all this secondary to the already heightened security alerts.
On election day, Ugandans commented to each other that a paper ballot slip is not ‘worth their life,’ therefore many Ugandan’s stayed home and did not even vote…
Over the last week, we have all been confined to our home due to the unpredictability of the environment outside. Internet and social media was shut down by the government leaving everyone in a state of mass confusion and ambiguity… To say the least, it was unsettling hearing gun shots going off in the night. Every day I would hesitate if it was safe to leave our home. Perhaps the worst was the fear of the unknown, simply not knowing what to expect with every new sunrise…
Throughout these last few days, my mind and heart have raced to so many dark and lonely places. Everything seemed to come to a jolting halt when I was asked the question –
“Clare, you go through so much in Uganda – from imminent safety threats, running an organization, adopting – Why do you STAY?”
The question made my heart stop racing for a brief moment to truly think about why – why do I stay in a country where basic human necessities (i.e. safety) is not a given, but a blessing.
Why do I stay in a place where you feel so powerless to “imprint” any small glimmer of hope on thousands of weary and broken hearts?
Why do I stay in a place where basic human dignity and rights is denied from the most vulnerable population in all of Uganda?
Why do I stay in a place that challenges every single gift or talent God has given me?
Why? Why do I stay?
This question has challenged me over the past 5 days as silence penetrated our daily lives and internet, power, VPNs and all modes of communication to the outside world was shut off by the government of Uganda.
These questions have cut deep into my heart, as I have heard of the horrific brutality brought upon the Ugandan people, whom I have grown to love so deeply over these past 5 years.
Reflecting back on my 5 years in Uganda, I have realized that I have walked through so many seasons of profound joy, heartache, loneliness, and true freedom with the Ugandan people. I have sat for hours on the dirt ground with families in Ugandan villages and listened to them pour their heart out and share pieces of their life with me…
I have witnessed them dare to hope in someone or something and then have it snatched away from them without a moment’s notice.
Through all of the breaking opening of hearts, in the serving, in the knowing and being known, I have realized that the gut-wrenching hope, I have experienced by living in Uganda, was born in the staying.
Hope has been born through entering into someone’s heart and pain and understanding a little glimmer of how someone else’s heart feels.
Hope has been born when my selfish ambition ends, and another life begins to matter more than my own.
It has been born through realizing that the biggest change we can make in the world will flow from the greatest change we make in ourselves when we surrender to not being in control and being healed by the people placed before us.
This is humility. This is perseverance. This is loyalty. Loyalty to a mission; loyalty to a heart; loyalty to a deep-rooted desire. Loyalty that says I’m going to stay and stand and not just in the good times, but in the bad ones too. Through all of the craziness of life here, I’ve realized how Ugandans honor that kind of perseverance and loyalty.
Through all of these moments in Uganda, I have been utterly convicted of the imminent truth that profound healing and hope comes from being loved in the messiness, brokenness and mishaps of life. Ugandans simply desire to be seen, heard and understood for the perspective that has shaped their train of thought, beliefs and attitudes.
Because amidst the unsettling and unpredictability of life this side –
Ugandans desire something or someone they can hope and TRUST in. They want something to believe in and know they can depend upon.
Observing and experiencing this tumultuous time with the Ugandan people has allowed me to peek inside their life, their entrenched attitudes and belief systems, and the depth of the brokenness and beauty within their resilient hearts.
The Ugandan people have given me so much. So Uganda, thank you – thank you for allowing me to walk this journey with you. Thank you for helping me to understand that compassion and love are not vague sentiments. Rather, it means taking care of the other to the point of personal sacrifice. It means getting involved, by taking all the necessary steps to “draw near,” to the point of identifying and bearing with someone.
It means changing yourself through the staying.
Thank you Uganda for helping to feel and understand this inherent truth that makes all of these hard moments worthwhile.