“When we listen to fear, we just might miss living in a miracle.” – April Olive

A lot of friends have read or heard me talk about my love for this organization called Sixty Feet. Many know that this collection of normal folks is doing amazing things for vulnerable children in Uganda that are on remand in the care of the state. Not as many have heard the story of my connection to Sixty Feet, and as I am looking ahead to work that I will be doing with them, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I got here and share it with anyone who was the least bit curious.

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My family has been sponsoring a great kid in Uganda named Joseph through the church we attend, for several years now. Through the years, we had received pictures and letters from Joseph, and I found myself more and more wanting to go to Uganda. In January of 2011 I decided that it was time. I was going to go that year. About a month later, I met with a friend to collaborate on something else, and in conversation shared that I had decided I was going – with no special talent, skill set, I was just going to go to meet this boy and see God in new ways. To my surprise, Amy shared that she was also planning to go on the very same trip! We shared a lot in that meeting about our desire to go, but questioning ourselves and what we had to offer. Little did I know that was the beginning of something special, and where it would lead.

At this point, I say it’s all The Pioneer Woman’s fault. I was surfing her blog, and she linked to another little blog, The Lettered Cottage. Surfing that night was all about food and home decor. But when I landed on The Lettered Cottage, there was a video link about Uganda. Of course it grabbed my interest with me heading to Uganda and all. So I watched it. And it was a story about a family and adoption, and it was about the work of Sixty Feet. And it pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. The conditions these children were living in…the hopelessness…I found myself unsettled thinking about my upcoming trip to visit the sponsor program and children. I couldn’t get the images out of my head.

So the next day I called Amy sort of innocently to chat about work stuff, and told her I had this thing I saw about Uganda on a blog and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I started to tell her, and before I could get 10 words out, she started talking fast and loud and saying yes, that she had seen this same video months ago, and had told other friends about it! Call us crazy, but we both knew without saying it that something big was happening. Amy says she got under her desk at work because she felt it that much. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do with this, why did this come across our paths, but we felt the weight of it and the need to pray. So we agreed together to pray, with urgency and willingness…

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So we prayed. And we shared with a few close friends and asked them to pray as well. That summer, the team I was going with met a few times in preparation for our trip, and one of those times I was asked to function as leader for the trip. We prepped by getting shots, getting travel documents in order and fundraising. And Amy and I kept praying. I also made a call to Sixty Feet. I talked to Scott H. and learned more about how this all started. (If you’re interested in hearing about that yourself, check this out: Sixty Feet)

They invited me to Atlanta to meet with them and learn more. Keep in mind, that there was no plan involved in all of this. Just praying, pursuing, and stepping forward as another step presented itself. So I went! I went along with Amy, and Jamie and Emile who were also going to Uganda with us. And we left there even heavier with the sense that there was more to this for us. We hoped and prayed we could go into the remand homes with Sixty Feet when we went to Uganda. The next step was to get the green light from our trip organizer from the church, and sadly the answer was a flat “No. We go to Uganda and visit these places and these people, and that’s it.” It was pretty disheartening. I called Amy and shared the news with her, but also that my intuition said we still weren’t done with this…to keep praying and wait.

So we did. We prayed through most of the summer and waited, and continued prepping for our trip. Then one morning in the beginning of August, I called Amy and said, “This is it. I’m going back this morning and asking one more time if our team can go with Sixty Feet. Pray.” So I headed off to talk to the trip organizer again. (Why did I decide to go that day? I don’t know. I just got up that morning and was like I’m asking one more time and then that’s it.)

I still shake my head when I remember what happened. I sat down and took a deep breath, ready to smile and plead if necessary. But before I could speak a word about it, he said “Before you want to talk about whatever you want to talk about with Uganda, I need to tell you that the asset mapping we had planned for your team to do there, isn’t really appropriate for you to do. So now we need to find something else for your team to do in addition to visiting the church and sponsor program.” Yes, I saw my chance, and so I asked, what about visiting remand homes with Sixty Feet? And the answer, “Sure.” What had been a flat, unwavering No before was now a flat, unwavering YES. I just couldn’t believe it. Really, I still can’t. It makes me smile remembering the call to Amy and telling her the news.

When I look back on this particular part of the story, I think about the argument of coincidences vs. miracles. Do things just happen randomly or is there something greater at work? I don’t think anyone is going to make a movie about my life, but I know that there is too much extraordinary in this ordinary life to not see the miracles when they happen, and this is a really stellar example of that!

In the movie Signs with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, there is a pivotal conversation about this topic:

“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. They see a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

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The conversation continues with a funny story and a declaration by Joaquin Phoenix’s character “I’m a miracle man!” And so really every time I recall all of the details of my story, that’s exactly what goes through my head, “I’m a miracle woman!”

Well, that first trip was a game and life changer for me. The bond that our team had deserves a post all on its own. What a great gift to have gone with them! Our team went into 3 facilities with the Sixty Feet interns who, by the way, had only been in country a couple of months. We were able to see what 60 Feet began working with. We saw profound needs -sanitation, clean water, food, medical treatment, and safety. We saw different types of vulnerable children all mixed together- convicted criminal offenders, orphans, special needs, etc… We saw the facilities were overwhelmed with the number of children. On top of that, we saw children. I mean we really saw them. Children needing love, affection, comfort. Children who needed someone to listen to them. Children who needed to talk and cry about abuse and being abandoned (read Mercy’s story). Children who needed help getting back home. Our hearts were just broken and overwhelmed at the need. We would spend a day and then it was time to leave. It was excruciating to have to leave. After a day at one particular facility, our normal “de-briefing” time together that night ended in frustration, short fuses, and some tears. What were we going to do with what we just saw? We ran the gamut of feeling useless, hopeless, being angry at the employees at the facilities. Again, just overwhelmed.

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We needed hope. We needed to see that God was there. That He had not forgotten these children. So we started talking about what we saw that was good, anything that was good. And what we all talked about was the way we saw the children caring for each other. We saw them sharing flip flops, comforting each other when they were upset. We saw them make sure other children had something to eat, even if it meant they did not. And they did all of this quietly. They weren’t exhorted by an adult to share or be kind. They just were. We saw older boys looking out for vulnerable younger children. It was the reminder that we needed. That though it was very dark, the Light had not gone from these places. And then we began to see beyond our initial impressions. Where we were frustrated before with the people that worked in the facilities that seemed not to care, now we were seeing they were overwhelmed with the number of children, the lack of food and resources, the challenges of children with significant special needs. We saw that there were some employees that really did care. We saw they were in need of hope, help, and encouragement. We saw how much they needed Sixty Feet.

Now across my 3 trips in the past 2 years, I’ve seen subtle changes, but in places like this, subtle changes are BIG. Sixty Feet is employing local Ugandans in the roles of nurses and counselors. They are assisting with food needs at the facilities. They are helping children get home to their families, and facilitating this transition that is difficult for many. They have helped find wonderful places like Ekisa where some of the children with special needs will be loved and will thrive! They have worked with the government to develop a way to track juvenile offenders (J-FASTER) from the time they enter the system and on through the process, something that was woefully needed. They have created sponsorships that enable children to go to school. I’ve seen subtle shifts in the facilities themselves in things like the sanitation problems, the solitary confinement, the housing separation of children. Does this mean everything is good? No, but it speaks to what help and hope will do.

I am reminded of something that Mama Catherine said on my last trip. Mama and Pastor are a huge part of Sixty Feet. They have a dream that includes homes for orphaned children, a school, and a farm to sustain them.

“We need you. Uganda needs you. We need you to go home and tell everyone you can, share what you see here. You in North America have the resources. We have the people, we have the vision, but we ask you to be the spokespeople and gather the resources to support this dream and help bring a future to the orphaned children of Uganda.” (taken from Stephanie’s blogpost Silent No More.)

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And that’s one of the big lessons I’ve learned. We don’t need to do FOR, we need to do WITH. They have a dream, they have the people, they have the understanding. They need our encouragement, they need our help, they need resources.

I’ve learned that our problems there and here are an awful lot alike. Our cultural context is different, so it doesn’t look the same. But there are children here, just like there, that need protection, care, and love. Children in foster care. Children awaiting adoption.

I’ve learned that God uses ordinary people to carry His extraordinary love. People like Sixty Feet. People like me. People like you.

I’ve learned we shouldn’t be afraid to take another step forward in a seemingly crazy story. When we listen to fear, we just might miss living in a miracle. My crazy story, my miracle, is this partnership with Sixty Feet. Yours may be as well. But it may be something else. So my prayer is that you have the eyes to see the new thing that God is doing and the courage to take a step. And then maybe a couple more.

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? Isaiah 43:18

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(To read more of April’s amazing journey and how God continues to use her incredible story, click here.)