It took six years for the burning desire inside of a 15-year-old girl to become a reality. Read as one of our Freedom 4/24 interns, Jaclyn Swyers, relays a long-time dream come true for her: meeting the residents of Christine’s House, our safe house for sexually exploited girls in Gulu, Uganda. I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was I wanted to show them how much I've awaited this moment, to meet the girls of Christine's House, now the strongest girls I know.
When I was 15, I had a random obsession with Africa and its culture. I had never been, but found it so intriguing. For two years, it was all I could think and pray about. I even told my parents when I was 16 that I didn't want anything for Christmas except a trip to Africa. During that same time, I began to have a burden for victims of sexual exploitation. These two things, Africa and sexually exploited victims, were an unexplainable passion of mine for two years, and then it faded. But when the opportunity came around six years later to go on a trip in Africa to work with sexually exploited women, the decision was a no brainer for me. God had been preparing my heart that whole time. In those years of faded passion, I questioned the promises and visions he gave me; I questioned everything, really, but I now understand that everything is made perfect in His timing.
Yesterday, the day finally arrived: A day I've awaited for six years. I was finally in Africa, and my first day there was one of the most amazing days ever! On the way to Gulu, we crossed the Nile River (my knees got weak just looking at the water), and saw wild monkeys (I screamed from excitement). It was incredible, but the best was still yet to come.
We pulled up to the compound and all the girls at Christine’s House were outside clapping, giggling, and chanting. The joy that came from within them was beautiful to witness; they looked like a family. All of them have separate stories- one of them joined the house less than a week ago- but they stood as one. Our team was brought to tears as we realized why we were here ... for them.
I never knew how I would react, how I would feel, but I can tell you now, all I wanted to do was hug every one of them. I wanted to let them know how much I love them, even though I may not "know" who they are. I am currently studying psychology in college and as I am learning about sexual abuse, I realize a lot of victims suffer from self-blame for what has happened. They feel immense shame, guilt, and responsibility for the exploitation, as if it was their fault. My goal in meeting these girls at Christine’s House was to break those walls of shame, and let them know that they are LOVED and there is GRACE and that they have WORTH.
Just think, that is how God is with us. All he wants to do is show how much He loves us, especially in our shame. He wants to take away our shame, and show us our worth. I think many of us have a view of God as if He is out to get us for our wrongdoings, when in reality He is out to show us his grace.
I was so content hearing the girls giggle while they performed an African cultural dance for us at dinner. They were having fun and being free, despite all that's happened. It was so encouraging and humbling. When I come home from a bad day at work back in the U.S., I let it affect my mood. These girls have gone through the unimaginable and yet they choose joy and peace that surpasses all understanding.
Even though they were shy when we first arrived, I can already see walls breaking down. For example, I was made fun of multiple times for the way I say, "Hi, my name is Jaclyn." I couldn't be happier to be made fun of because our laughter drew us closer, and of course if you want to break the language barrier, give a one-year-old your phone and show them the selfie camera.
In all, this was only Day One and I am so excited to form lifelong relationships with the girls here. They need encouragement, bravery, fearlessness, and unending love. My first impressions of Christine's House have shown me two things that will change my life forever: 1) It is God’s full desire to remove shame from our life that we put on ourselves, and 2) It is God’s utmost desire to see us have fun, laugh, and be filled with joy despite our sin and situation.
I hope you are touched by the stories of the girls we will continue to share this week. I encourage you to see people through the eyes of Jesus, who loves endlessly regardless of culture and age. That is our job this week and beyond. It is our purpose.
So how are you going to do just that? In the words of Jaclyn, how are you and I going to fulfill “our purpose”? Did you know that for only $24 a month, you can feed one of these girls at Christine’s House for MORE than a month? Or that $24 supplies two months worth of vocational supplies to help them learn a skill to provide for themselves? Become a recurring giver today and love these girls “regardless of culture and age” at www.freedom424.org/give.