This post was written by Curt Benham of Atlanta, Georgia, co-head pastor of The Village Church at Vinings, who joined me recently in Uganda.
This statement goes without saying, but Kampala, Uganda is different than Atlanta, Georgia.
My first taste of Africa went like this: our plane arrives at Entebbe airport about two hours late, and as we drive toward our guesthouse the whole city is absolutely buzzing with activity. There are people EVERYWHERE – hanging out, shopping, eating at food stands, riding three-deep on their boda-bodas (morotcycles) – and all this is happening in the suburbs, at midnight, on a weeknight, in the pouring rain. So yeah, pretty much different than my sleepy, boring little Atlanta neighborhood.
The power is out at our guesthouse when we arrive (it had been out the whole day) but the radio station next door has a generator. They like to broadcast not just over the airwaves, but also through very loud speakers so the whole neighborhood can enjoy their taste in music, all night long. So we went to sleep that first night with pounding African rhythms beating in our chests. At first I was annoyed (I mean, how selfish is it to play your music that loud. Let’s think of others here, people! And why doesn’t the Neighborhood Association do something about this?!). Maybe it was the Excedrin PM, but I eventually came to terms with Super FM and went to sleep.
Our first full day in Kampala was just as nuts as our first night. The traffic is … I’ll put it this way, I will NEVER complain about Atlanta traffic again. A normal six mile drive across town usually took over two hours. The food, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the injustices, the radical redemption, the extreme poverty, pretty much everything on the surface seems different and foreign – more alive, more dead, more energized, more desperate, more extreme, more on-the-edge than my “normal life” in Atlanta.
Look a little deeper, though, and pretty much everything is the same.
As we traveled to the different child prisons around Kampala, after the initial shock at the conditions in which these kids live, I came to realize that I’m really no different than them. We’re desperate for the same things. Our needs are exactly the same. We’re in the same boat. They need more than one meal a day, and so do I. They need more clothes than one threadbare shirt and a pair of stretched-out underwear, and so do I. They need a mosquito net, and so do I. They need shoes, and so do I. They need medical care, and so do I. More importantly, they need meaningful relationships with people who care about them, and so do I. They need a counselor to help them deal with their “stuff,” and so do I. They need a family, and so do I. Most importantly, they need to know about what Jesus did for them in his life, death and resurrection, and so do I. They need to rest secure in God’s one-way love for them, and so do I. They need to know that their sins are totally and completely covered because of what Jesus did for them, and so do I. They’re fully human, and so am I.
When God brought me to this realization, I literally broke-down with a deep love for these kids. Before, I had a subtle, condescending attitude of “I’m better than you, kid. Just look at all this stuff I have. I’m here to help you.” God changed that to, “We’re in this together, kid. And I love you. And let’s help each other. And one more thing, do you have any idea how much Jesus loves you?”
In other words, God-given empathy breeds true compassion. And true compassion breeds selfless acts (BTW, these selfless acts go both ways. I could go on and on about the selflessness these kids showed us). And when we act selflessly in Jesus’ name, real needs are met and people see the gospel!
This is what I love about SixtyFeet. God has given the men and women who run this organization – both in the US and in Uganda – true empathy for the imprisoned children of Africa and that’s working itself out into some of the most selfless acts I’ve ever seen which is making life better for these kids and most importantly, it’s leading people to the saving power of Jesus Christ.
Some really good stuff is happening in Uganda! Child prisoners are coming to rejoice in Jesus their Redeemer and kids are being rescued from these facilities and placed in loving homes and God’s Kingdom is growing … in our hearts and in the hearts of formally forgotten African kids.