Forever Changed by Uganda

At this time a year ago, I never could have told you how God was going to shape me into the person I am today. My life was changed in the best way last July when an incredible opportunity opened up and I had the privilege of going to Uganda with Freedom 4/24 to meet the wonderful girls at Christine’s House.

Even all the little miracles that God weaved together for me to get to Uganda still leaves me in awe of his care and provision. In February of 2016, I began to learn about the prominence of human trafficking in the world and I was introduced to Freedom 4/24. Their mission is to bring freedom and justice to victims and survivors of human trafficking both here in the U.S. and around the world. That month I began frequently praying over Psalm 72, “He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence for their lives are precious to him.” I felt anxious, like I knew of this huge weight that laid upon the lives of so many in this world, but had no ability to even begin to help lighten that weight from where I was.

In October of 2016, I was a sophomore at Liberty University and writing for the school newspaper. I had the opportunity to pick a story idea and finally felt like I had an outlet to bring awareness to human trafficking and the work Freedom 4/24 was doing in our community. I chose to write about their upcoming fundraising Gala. I was able to interview Tim Spaulding, the leader of Freedom 4/24 at the time, and he was the one who informed me about the team heading to Uganda. It was like my heart was awakened and refreshed by God’s perfect timing and preparation.

Leading up to the trip, my prayer was centered on the girls I would meet, the community that would be built, the conversation that would be shared. I also pleaded to God that my life would be wrecked and that I would not leave the same as I had come. As he always does, the Lord revealed that I had no idea what my hopes and words meant at the time I prayed them or what he was going to do in the moments our team was about to experience.

Arriving in Uganda after 35 hours of travel and almost no sleep was such sweet relief. I felt like two years of anticipation had led up to meeting these girls. We drove on bumpy streets, with so many colors and people out in the community, passing such vibrant life. We were welcomed at Christine’s House by the girls dancing and we all introduced each other, sitting together under huge trees on Koro Farm.

 The girls' at Christine House doing a 'welcome dance' when we arrived the first night.

The girls' at Christine House doing a 'welcome dance' when we arrived the first night.

The next day we gathered in community at a church service and I remember locking eyes and laughing multiple times with one of the girls who was singing and leading worship. After church we both went straight to each other and she told me her name was Francisca. I spent the whole next day with her, where we learned how to cook chappati, sew a skirt, fetch 40 lb jugs of water from the well, and paint each other’s nails. After, we sat down in the grass in front of the house. All the other girls played games while Francesca told me her story, and a woman named Margaret who worked at Christine’s House sat with us to translate when we needed it.

Francisca said her parents had passed away, so she lived with her male cousins, but they would sometimes be verbally and physically abusive. One afternoon she came home from school to try and make dinner and they beat her for not having the rice ready. She decided to run away from home to escape this abuse. One night when she was away, she ran into four boys who gang raped her and left her on the streets. Francisca returned home and told her cousins what happened, proclaiming to them before she even knew about Christine’s House that she knew God would deliver her from her situation and bring her to a place of safety.

 Francisca smiling wide after she shared her testimony and worship.

Francisca smiling wide after she shared her testimony and worship.

She softly began to sing songs with the lyrics, “Father, Father, you are my Father” and “Lord I surrender, I surrender all to you. Everything I give to you, withholding nothing, withholding nothing.” Her solid joy and faith in the midst of her suffering equally shocked and encouraged me. We spent so much of the week together and we became friends very quickly. I know she and I will remain in each other’s hearts and prayers each day until we see each other again.

That week in Uganda I met so many other courageous and incredible girls:

-Monica was 8 months pregnant but worked harder than anyone else lifting bricks and wheeling them around the construction site when we worked on building the vocational center on the farm.

-Innocent was so small and competitive as she squealed and dove to the ground when we played gazelle, gazelle, lion (the Ugandan version of duck, duck, goose).

-Janet shared how at Christine’s House she has learned of the faithful love of Jesus, felt it displayed through the people there, and has understood that no condition is permanent because with God nothing is impossible.

-We got to visit Harriet, Scovia, and Brenda’s homes and villages. Their families told us stories of how their girls were raped by the man with a family of his own living in the hut right next to theirs, or how their daughters were deceived by a group of boys while walking to school.

 The whole gang of girls living at Christine's house for summer 2017.

The whole gang of girls living at Christine's house for summer 2017.

In Gulu where Christine’s House is located, 60 percent of girls have been sexually abused. I learned much of the depth of the problem stems from the cultural belief that women are not close to being seen as equals to men. We visited a school a couple of hours outside of the town of Gulu to share with the young boys the importance of respecting and protecting girls now so they could practice respect when they were older, too. At this school, young girls were laughed at when they verbalized their dreams of becoming a pilot or doctor.

 All of the students at Odek Primary School coming together after playing games and listening to our message in groups.

All of the students at Odek Primary School coming together after playing games and listening to our message in groups.

We held a march for women’s empowerment down the streets of Gulu with hundreds of school girls marching for their dignity, their education and their safety. You could see so many men and families gather and read the signs and think about the truth in our words and the disconnect between truth and current action.

 Girls from many different schools in Gulu walking in the March for the Girl Child.

Girls from many different schools in Gulu walking in the March for the Girl Child.

We held a Run 4 Their Lives Uganda 5K and many in the community showed up to run, learn about Freedom 4/24’s mission, and be informed and empowered by all that was happening in Gulu. I was able to run with a girl named Constance who pressed on through the whole race while running in flip flops! She pulled me aside after and asked if I could pray for her to be able to prioritize schooling even when her father was pressing her to go another route. In Uganda, girls are encouraged by their families to marry men much older than themselves and drop out of school. I got a glimpse of a cultural belief that is so deeply ingrained in boys, girls, men, and women, that women can be for the taking.

 Another trip member Grace Hildebrand and I with Constance and her friend who also ran in Run 4 Their Lives Uganda.

Another trip member Grace Hildebrand and I with Constance and her friend who also ran in Run 4 Their Lives Uganda.

The hardest part of the trip was trying to understand the reality of what happened to these girls, and wondering how a deeply-rooted cultural issue could ever be changed. There was such a juxtaposition between such heaviness in the Ugandan culture vs. the light and redemption a place like Christine’s House is able to provide in the midst of it. I went back and forth between my heart being shattered in despair by the stories I heard, to swelling in joy because of lives delivered and transformed.

One of the team members pointed me the truth of Psalm 13, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death. But, I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”

This is the only answer we can ever be content with when we cannot provide the full remedy, fix, or ability to save. Only the Lord can deliver individuals from sorrow or bring light to their eyes. Only the Lord can rescue, restore, and redeem. The girls at Christine’s House are secure in his hands because their lives are precious to him.

Through the opportunity to go to Uganda, God has definitely wrecked me, opened my eyes to a different life, and given me a heart for his people in bondage. He has comforted me, shown me more of himself, and how to be a better vessel for him in this world. He has given me the gift of meeting sweet girls that I will never forget, and the ability to give and receive encouragement together.

If you also feel tugged in these ways and desire to understand and step into the lives of girls who have been rescued through the work of Freedom 4/24, please do not say no to going on a trip of your own! I encourage you to take a leap of faith.

Forever changed,

Siani

 

To apply to go on a trip: https://www.freedom424.org/trips/

To watch more about the amazing girls and work being done at Christine’s House: