It was Spring 2015 – I was so excited to be back in the field. My favorite place to be. A place where I experience God in ways that are just hard to experience here in the land of excess.
It was my first time being on the ground in Ethiopia and Uganda. I knew I would love it, but I was blown away by our incredible in-country staff, and the remarkable programs that are shaping and transforming lives. Every day I come to work and hear amazing stories of hope, but it’s so different when you experience them firsthand.
We landed in Uganda and made the long eight-hour drive to Soroti. We visited many CarePoints and collected photos and stories of transformation.
Then it was time to go to Ongongoja. At the time it was a new CarePoint. As we drove through gorgeous, rural Uganda, the landscape began to change. It got drier. People became fewer. Where there once were bustling markets, cell phone pop-up shops, and small vendors along the roadside trying to make a living for the day, now there was just empty space and dry land. Our driver began to tell us that Ongongoja means “the forgotten land” because it was so remote, and the people often feel that they are forgotten as well. In Ongongoja years of wars, cattle raiding battles, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic have been major causes of poverty and orphanhood. Many orphans in Ongongoja are in dire poverty, not only because of the social conditions, but also due to chronic food shortages, child abuse, forced marriages, child labor, malnutrition and school drop-outs.
But these facts were almost forgotten as we pulled into the CarePoint. Song welcomed us, and a sea of smiles danced around us. They did a welcome program for us and then we started collecting stories. I would take photos as my friend and co-worker Rachel would interview staff and children. Oftentimes I wouldn’t know anything about a child’s story until after the photos were taken and Rachel filled me in.
But I will never forget meeting Grace.
She loved being in front of the camera.
She was bold, and her smile contagious.
She stood with strength, barely needing any instruction on how to pose.
After we snapped a few photos, Rachel pulled me aside-almost in tears-telling me of the stories she just heard. Stories of neglect and abuse. Stories of children being burned as punishment, stories of children starving and having to eat leaves off trees. Stories that no child should have to experience.
And then she told me about Grace.
When she was young her father killed her mother, and then her father wanted to use Grace as a child sacrifice. Her uncle literally saved her life and has been raising her. Now she comes to the CarePoint and receives counseling and discipleship.
How could this be the Grace I just met and photographed? I remember showing the picture to Rachel and double checking that we were talking about the same girl. This picture that you see of Grace of on our Christmas campaign page is not a stock photo, but it is of a real girl, with a real and raw story of pain and grief, redemption and hope. And the reality is there are so many children in the areas that we work in who have a story like Grace’s.
And we get the opportunity to play a role in them. Our amazing in-country staff passionately and fiercely advocate for children like Grace and act as a constant wave of acceptance and encouragement for them. I am so thankful that we serve a God of restoration.
When you see a photo that HopeChest posts, know that none of them stock photos, but of an actual child with a story that we get the opportunity to tell. Listening to them and telling their stories through writing or photographs reminds them that they are not forgotten and their stories matter.
God invites us into each other stories. We have the opportunity-the honor-to hear these stories and choose to make an impact. Consider making a donation that will bring hope, love and support to more children like Grace so that more children can experience the grace and hope we have in Christ.
This holiday season, join us in igniting hope.