You Really Can Make a Difference

TARA BARTHEL|CONTRIBUTOR

Do you ever wake up in the morning, cringe, and long to hide away from all of the suffering and darkness in the world? I do. It can be hard to persevere in loving God and neighbor, when the world around us seems so terrifically broken. Why keep trying? What difference can one person make? After our adventures in Kibisi, Uganda last year, my twelve year-old daughter and I would like to cheer you on with a hearty reply of, “You can make a huge difference!” It’s true! Not because of your strengths, but because of God’s grace in ministering through even the weakest vessels, you can push back the darkness and bring the Light of Christ into your spheres of influence this very day.

For us, this happened when we were invited to teach biblical peacemaking in Uganda. As I explained in last week’s blog, I never thought we should go. It was too dangerous! Expensive. And much, much too far away from our home in Billings, Montana. But we accepted the service opportunity and did our best to serve well, and boy! Were we were surprised by the things that happened …

Our Shocking Teaching Example

Since our own PCA Book of Church Order calls biblical peacemaking “one of God’s highest priorities” and the Scriptures strongly and repeatedly call us prioritize united and loving relationships (Matthew 5:23-24, Romans 12:18, Galatians 6:1), my daughter and I prioritized biblical conflict resolution during our teaching times in Uganda. One teaching example we used had to do with me raising my voice to her in a disrespectful manner, and then being convicted of my sin, apologizing to her, and asking her to forgive me.

Our new Ugandan friends—male and female, old and young, Christian and non-Christian, gasped in response to this (rather benign, we thought) mini-case study. A mother apologizing to her child? An adult—an adult in a position of authority—asking forgiveness from a teenager? You bet! Seems like the most natural thing in the world to us—especially since my daughter is so often beautifully biblical in her forgiveness of me when I feel crushed by shame and guilt associated with my all too frequent transgressions:

“Mom? I have no idea what you are talking about! I have chosen not to remember (Hebrews 8:12). As far as the east is from the west—that’s how far your sins are removed (Psalm 103:12). Just as in Christ I have been forgiven, I forgive you (Colossians 3:13).”

Oh, friends. As we shared this example, we had a wonderful opportunity to testify to the depth of the riches of the mercies of God! And also to model, even a tiny bit, what it looks like to be in the position of authority—but taking the lesser role; being willing to be humble; striving to be a servant leader, just like Jesus.

We had so many opportunities to talk with village leaders, Muslims, Christians, men, women, and children, all because of that one mundane example from our everyday life.

Fighting Over Goats

Of course, we also had many conversations about conflicts in Uganda that were not very similar to ours. For example, I completely cracked up our hosts when I asked if village members ever had any conflicts over where their goats were allowed to graze. (I had seen goats grazing—well—pretty much everywhere! And while the lawyer in me wondered all sorts of things about property rights and liability issues, the mediator in me wondered about how many angry exchanges were ever yelled over the backs of animals who were hunting for one more drip of water or one more piece of greenery.)

Do Ugandans ever fight with their neighbors over where their goats graze? 

Every. Single. Day.

Ahhhhh! So it’s not just manicured lawns in suburban America that are fiercely prized and protected. Neighbors around the world get on each other’s nerves and sometimes come to angry words and even physical blows as they protect what is precious to them.

In Uganda, it is not only grazing goats that provoke physical violence. Everywhere we served, we were keenly aware that one of the biggest problems the families in Uganda face is physical abuse by oft’ drunk, polygamous “husbands.” (I put the term “husbands” in quotation marks because by all accounts, many of these marriages are nothing more than excuses for men to sexually exploit young girls and then abandon them—and their progeny—because the men would rather get drunk, stay drunk, and then sexually exploit more young girls.)

How do we proclaim the Christian Gospel message of the One True, Triune, God making a way for sinners to be reconciled to Himself through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that God is both transcendent and immanent; all powerful and all good—even when the day-to-day existence of so many of these girls and women is so completely steeped in suffering and pain? We pray; fall to our knees; beg for God’s wisdom and help; and then confidently and faithfully proclaim His Word.

During our week in Uganda, we spent a lot of time in John Chapter 4—but there were many other relevant Scripture passages, too. For example, on our last night in the village, we saw God’s specific, individualized care and provision radiantly on display—just like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field in Luke 12:24 …

The Multiplying of the Menstrual Pads

When we were initially invited to serve in Uganda, we felt overwhelmed by the size of the task even just related to fundraising for our airfare and travel expenses. But as soon as we made the need known, we had in hand the exact finances required, each step of the way. So right before we departed, we asked our host if we could bring any gifts for the village, especially for the women whose homes we would be visiting.

Embarrassingly, I was thinking of some sort of huckleberry jam (a Montana favorite) or some other touristy gift. But my event host asked if we might be able to provide a little salt, flour, and soap for each home. Apparently, recent flooding had left many of the village members in even worse than normal poverty, hunger, and desperately poor sanitation. When we tried to raise funds for these girls, we immediately had enough for all of the homes—and for additional gifts like medical supplies, school supplies, malaria nets, soccer balls, brand-new laptops, multiple smart phones, and, yes, menstrual pads …

I must admit, writing a fundraising letter to ask for help buying feminine care products, was not something that I ever thought I’d be doing. But the harsh reality is, during their monthly cycles, many girls in Uganda face not only shaming and public ostracizing (like not being allowed to go to school), some are even subjected to physical abuse … simply because they do not have any menstrual supplies. So thanks to the generosity of many people, our family was able to package up over 1,000+ menstrual pads for the girls in the village of Kibisi. When it came time to distribute them, my daughter and I watched the queue of needy girls grow longer and longer and our packages of 1,000+ menstrual pads seem smaller and smaller. Still. We smiled and prayed silently to ourselves as we handed over one package to each girl, “Please, God, let there be enough! We don’t want to send any of these desperate girls home empty handed.”

And guess what? I know it may sound like we’re making it up—but I promise you, we are not. Even though the number of needy girls who would come forward for those supplies was completely random and unknown to us ahead of time, when the very last girl came up to our formerly-stuffed suitcase, we reached in and handed her the very last package of menstrual pads. We had the exact right number! To. The. Girl.

The women’s ministry leader called out, “Did everyone get one package? Did we miss anyone?” But every girl just stood there, beaming, grasping her basic life necessity and then bowing her head as the ministry leader led us all in a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his gracious provision.

God really does know the birds of the air and the girls of Kibisi, Uganda …

Saving Girls Out of Abusive Homes and Getting Them Back into School

When our family accepted this service opportunity in Uganda, we assumed that it would last ten days and be finished. But we have grown to respect the women leaders in Kibisi so very much—and to love the girls that they serve—that our family is now working to help the neediest girls that we met find a way to escape their abusive home situations and stay in school.

To date, we’ve already raised the $30/month necessary for three elementary-aged girls and the $50/month necessary for three high school-aged girls to escape the cycle of abuse and abject poverty that they otherwise would be trapped in. And we are actively raising funds for five more girls right now. (My daughter is babysitting and fiddling up a storm to try to raise funds to get them back into school—the girls who LOVE math and science are particularly on her heart.)

And thus, I’d like to close with this encouragement …

If you ever wonder if there is anything you can actually do to make a difference for someone in desperate straits in this messed-up world, please know that you absolutely can! Of course we would love to have your help with Kibisi (we think it’s a great investment because of the zero overhead—everyone is a volunteer—and because of the personal nature of how involved the women leaders are in the lives of these girls) … but we know that you have your own “Uganda” out there somewhere, too.

Once your duties to your family and local church are met, please don’t let the overwhelming needs of this messed-up world paralyze you into doing nothing for your community, nation, the persecuted church, the orphans and widows (and the orphans and widows who are being sex-trafficked in every nation!), and on and on and on …

You really can make a difference! Not by your might or power, but by the Spirit of God (Zechariah 4:6). Amen and amen! Our family is cheering you on.

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