Loving One By One
When you have everything it's easy to go at it alone. If you have running water, food on the table, a place to sleep, clothes in your closet, and a steady paycheck (like most of you reading this) it's easy for you to depend on yourself. There isn't really a need for you to reach out to your neighbor and ask for a little help. The unfortunate part about being self-reliant is that we tend to lose our gratitude. You forget what it's like to have nothing (and maybe you never knew what that felt like). You start to love your possessions rather than the relationships around you.
Every so often my wife and I get this itch to leave our simple, running water, food on the table lives. It usually comes around every couple years when we've become a little too self-reliant. When I've hugged my phone more often than my wife I know I'm due for a little bit of a gut-check. Well, that happened in the summer of 2014. We already had been to Kampala, Uganda in early 2011 after we graduated college and before we wanted to get on with our "regularly scheduled" lives. After that trip, though, our lives would be anything but regular and since then Uganda has held a Lake Victoria size place in our heart. So in 2014, we went back.
The organization we went with hosts medical clinics all throughout the capital city for about a month, twice a year. They form groups of volunteers from around the world to join in on one common mission, to show love to each person they come in contact with. This love is mainly shown through the provision of medical services such as checkups, medications, and sometimes even an impromptu surgery. The organization's name is Loving One By One (LOBO) and that is exactly what they do.
One of their medical clinics might serve upwards of 700 adults and children over the course of a day and not one of them is overlooked. Yes, we do work fast, but there is a sense of care as we talked with each person, trying to get to know their story up until that point they walked into the clinic. I did my best to communicate with them through my broken Lugandan but sometimes all it took was a smile to see their appreciation. Appreciation partly for the work and service we were providing but it seemed like more of an appreciation for what they had. They had another day. Another conversation and interaction with someone who cared about them. Many of them have gotten to know Sherry Roberts the director of LOBO since she makes a point to return to the same neighborhoods year after year. And it was in this repetition that I saw the power of deep, true relationships.
Relationships that were much more potent than the medications we were giving them as they would leave the clinic. Outside of the medical needs, there were children without parents, parents who had lost their children, and even children who became parents far too early. As you can see, the needs that Sherry comes across could keep her busy 13 months a year. Rather than packing up and turning her back she took on the challenge in caring for these issues outside of the medical tent tarped walls. That gave birth to a couple different ministries at LOBO including New Creation Centre, a faith-centered school for children throughout the city in need of a fresh start.
When I was growing up I either walked a couple blocks to Kindergarten or hopped on the bus for a short 10-minute ride to school. My parents knew that once I walked out the door they would see me that evening after a safe trip to and from school and a day of solid education. That isn't the case for children in Kampala or for many other 3rd world countries. Many of the parents (if they're still around) don't have to worry about their kids getting to school because school isn't an option to many. When it becomes an option then they can start to worry about how they'll get there. In many cases, children will walk a mile or two to catch a boda-boda (motorcycle) that could last up to an hour. Many of these children are so young they hardly know how to tie their shoes yet they find their way across town 5-6 times a week.
One of the best things a kid can do is dream. It provides direction and something to work for as they grow. When a student walks through the gates at New Creation Centre that is what they get to do. They are challenged to think beyond the cycle that stunts many of the ambitions they hold. They are pushed to develop areas of their life that will help them sustain a career and ultimately build a better community. So as we sat in the chairs outside of their classrooms we were treated to an hour of praise. As our team went from medical clinic to medical clinic and neighborhood to neighborhood we saw one constant theme.
We saw need after need. We saw pain after pain. And we saw a world with a lot less than what we're used to. And because of that, we saw a sense of gratitude that we weren't used to. That's exactly why we were there, but it showed itself in more ways than we had expected.
The soft smile from the mom of 3.
The hug from the man who received his first pair of glasses.
And the songs of praise from the students at the school.
Mission: Based on the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, “When you did it to one of the least of these, you were doing it to Me,” the ministry's efforts focus on providing education, as well as physical, spiritual, and medical needs to refugee children and their families.