Simon sits on the floor of the porch of the office in Buziika laughing with a group of his friends. He doesn’t know that I am watching him or the way that laugh makes my heart swell and my eyes tear up. Anna walks by and catches my eye. We smile and she tickles her son. There is that laugh again. And we don’t need to use any words to know what the other one is thinking.
You would never know all that Simon has had to endure in his short 12 years of life. This time three years ago, Simon was just one of many children in our sponsorship program, going to school, receiving food, and being discipled like 700 others. But there was something different about Simon. He was smaller than others his age. Our staff noticed Simon growing increasingly malnourished despite changes in his diet, so our staff nurse began taking him to different hospitals for investigations. Doctors discovered that Simon had a hole in his esophagus that was causing his food to pass into his lungs instead of his stomach. For ten years Simon had miraculously survived on the very little food that was able to make it past the hole and into his stomach.
After countless trips to the hospital, treatments, and surgeries, it became clear that the surgeries weren’t working. What Simon needed simply could not be done in Uganda. I marveled at Anna’s strength, at her refusal to be defeated. She would find a way for her son. And we would do everything we could to help her. Anna, though surely exhausted and wearied, joyfully taught me, taught all of us the definition of perseverance. As Romans 12 says, she was truly joyful in hope, faithful in prayer, and ever so patient in affliction.
Our loving God, who was not finished writing Simon’s story, came through like only He can. Through a giving community, filled with people like you who cherish what Amazima is in the lives of the children and families we serve, Simon and Anna were able to travel to the United States where Simon’s esophagus was repaired by one of the best esophageal surgeons in the nation. Many caring people watched Simon and Anna’s story unfold, and wondered what life would look like for them after Anna’s prayers were answered and Simon was healed. What would their next step be?
She meets me at the hospital in the middle of the night and we sit by the bedside of our friend who has long suffered from HIV and AIDS. I have seen this many times and am tempted to despair, but Anna speaks life. “He will be ok,” she assures me, and she looks into his eyes. “You will be ok,” she says, “Many people have lived very healthy and fulfilling lives with this disease. This is not the end for you.” And again, Anna encourages both of us more than she knows with her calm and certain words.
Last year, after losing several parents and guardians of sponsored children to HIV and Aids, it became clear that there was a need for more intensive support for our families affected by the disease. As only God could orchestrate, Anna is a trained HIV and Aids family counselor, but had to give up the dream of working to support her family in order to care for her son.
In August, when Anna and Simon arrived safely back in Uganda following a surgery and recovery which could not have gone better, Amazima hired Anna as our full time HIV and Aids counselor. There are so many families in our program who have their lives rattled by this virus and are in need of her specific counsel and resources. Today, Anna leads an HIV support group in Buziika where affected parents and families give testimonies about living healthier lives with HIV, ask questions and encourage one another. They have started an income-generating project selling brooms and work together on a savings scheme so that they can be self-reliant in the future and improve the livelihood of their families. Anna says her favorite parts of her job include listening to the testimonies of people who are living good lives with HIV and visiting with patients both in hospitals and at home.
“They get comfort when I sit with them because they know that they are not alone. I want to comfort them and bring them the comfort of Jesus himself because I understand their struggle. I love seeing my patients improve and encouraging them by reading them the Bible. Their diagnosis can sometimes cause them to lose hope in God, but when I visit them and read the Bible with them I can see that they are remembering where their hope comes from and even gaining some strength from the Word.”
And so Anna spends her days as an encourager, a teacher of the Word, one who brings comfort and points people to the only true giver of Life and Peace. With her own child home and well, Anna is now able to display her giftings in a new way. Again, Anna is joyfully answering the call to serve with faithfulness, perseverance and patience. Her own family is thriving and now, because of her love and God’s redemptive plan, other families will as well.
“They’ll stay with me,” she said matter-of-factly. I blinked. After this year? After all she and her family had been through? Did she really just say that?
The Amazima staff social workers and I were nearly beating our heads against the wall trying to find a home for two children in our sponsorship program, Mariam and Shafik who had recently been abandoned by their father.
And Anna piped up, “We have room.” Simple as that. When I looked questioningly at her, she explained. “I love these children. I love them as if they were my own. I have seen the situation that they have been living in and I want them to have more than that. I want them to have a parent who cares for them, who can be a role model to them and teach them the Word of God. I want them to remain in the Amazima program so they can learn and grow and know Jesus, and know their worth and their value.” I couldn’t argue, and I blinked back my tears.
“You know,” she continued, “God used other people to have mercy on my son. I want to show that same mercy to these children.”
Mariam and Shafik now run happily around the Buziika land with the other children. You would never know by their laughter all that they have endured. By fostering them, Anna provides them with much more than the opportunity for an education through Amazima, she provides them with a stable and loving home, which they have not experienced before this. They are thriving under her love and care. Simon proudly calls himself their big brother as he helps them with their homework and teaches them to tie their shoes.
When I comment to Anna on how well her new children are doing, she smiles broadly, “It is God’s grace,” she answers. And she’s right.