I found an orphan in Uganda; but not the one I was looking for or wanted to meet. This is the one I was actively pushing away. I didn’t want to acknowledge she existed. I tried to amuse her by being friendly and pretending she was a part of the group. When a situation arose that demanded truth, I tried to placate her by handing her a journal and telling her to write but that didn’t really work. Finally, I tried to ignore her altogether but she kept coming back, demanding my attention but not telling me why. She wanted to show me something. I told her no.
The veil between us and God is a little bit thinner in Africa. Here in the States it seems like a drape hanging between us and the throne; the kind that is so thick it blocks the light from coming in the window to wake you up. In Africa, it seems like gauze billowing in the breeze; you can make out images of the Spirit, but it’s still not completely clear. Minus the thick heaviness of gathering material possessions, or bank deposits, or the busyness of success, there is the freedom to feel—to allow—the breeze of grace and compassion to be the wind that carries you, that connects your soul to another.
My favorite part of the trip was shaking hands at a local high school we visited just outside of Lira. Our team was to be the highlight of their assembly. They weren’t ready for us when we arrived so they sat us in the middle of the courtyard to wait. Sitting in a fishbowl is an understatement. Several hundred kids, maybe a thousand, sat two or three deep around the perimeter on the sidewalks of the buildings…all staring at us, the “moonos,” the white people. Because of another assembly that was running late, it was decided we would not stay and talk to the students. Our team leader instructed us to go around the courtyard and quickly high-five the kids sitting and waiting. I didn’t want to be quick. I tried to shake as many hands as possible, looking each one in the eye, smiling, saying hello. Some shook my hand, some gave me the knuckle bump, some took my hand with palms up, and one young man put a fist to his chest. I asked what that meant. “Friend. You are my friend.”
For most of the trip I felt very inadequate and out of place. I painted the buildings at the COTN orphanage with other team members, but this isn’t what was needed. What was needed was something I didn’t think I had. I’m not a good conversationalist; mingling at cocktail parties is worse than a root canal. I’m not good at praying; especially out loud in front of an audience. I’m not good at imparting spiritual wisdom; I don’t know the right words to use to make someone feel better. I needed to offer them my soul but my soul was blocked off. I felt all I had to offer was a smile and a handshake. A simple touch that said, “You matter. You are not forgotten.”
That orphan girl, the one that wouldn’t leave me alone, needs to hear that she matters and that she is not forgotten. Physical poverty is one thing; wells can be dug, food can be brought, medicine can be supplied, to end the deprivation . But spiritual deficiency is something else entirely. It is up to the individual, a decision must be made, to see and believe. Spiritual fullness doesn’t get delivered in a package from another person. It is first a personal decision to reach up vertically and plug our soul into the soul of God himself, to allow Him to be everything we need, to depend on Him for the very breath in our lungs; and then it is reaching out horizontally and connecting our soul to the souls of our fellow human beings, validating them, breathing life into them, putting our arms around them and never letting go.
The orphan girl wanted to show me something. I told her no.
–Tara Schiro is the author of “No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live” NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com