To visit or not to visit…that seems to be the question. There has been so much discussion lately about short term missions and volunteers which caused me to think about our last eight years at Amani, the last twenty-four years of my personal life, and what the Word of God has to say about it.
My first missions trip was to Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, New York, a trip my youth group would make every year. I couldn’t wait for spring break to arrive and being able to go to the inner city – I knew it would be the highlight of the year for me. Maybe the excitement and joy was because it was my first missions trip, but even today there is still nothing I love more than the inner city. Over the next few years I was in both Philadelphia and Miami with Metro Ministries and thought I would be in one of those places long term. It was what I wanted more than anything. However, my brother was the one who ended up in Miami full time. In fact, one of the girls from his youth group, who now calls my brother and sister-in-law Mom and Dad, has been in Uganda the last few years and helps run Amani with me.
I remember leaving Philly with the prayers of the pastor being that I would always have a suitcase in my hands, my feet on and off airplanes, going to many places serving. Not really what I wanted to hear from the leader of the place where I wanted to stay. In fact I dismissed it from my mind and didn’t remember it till over ten years later, ten years of short term missions and volunteer work around the globe. Different ministries in different places, each one grooming me into whom I needed to be before opening Amani. I am so grateful to all those ministries and the knowledge I gained in each situation I served. When we started Amani, we had no choice but to open our doors to teams and volunteers as so many ministries had done for me. I had no idea how much work I had been to the people I had worked under. Volunteers and Teams are a lot of work, but so rewarding. To be completely honest, sometimes I do the math and think about what it would be like if the teams just gave us the money instead of coming but these are a few of the people and things we would have done without.
Beautiful murals, medical directors, nurses, forever families, ones who understand Quickbooks, international foster coordinators, preschool teachers, driveway transformed from mud to stone, a much needed clinic, bonfires,outings to the pool, going out for ice cream, the BEST dinner rolls in Uganda, tea/spa parties………and so much more.
Would Amani have been ok without all that? Maybe, but I am thankful we didn’t have to find out. Our volunteers have been many and while there are those who believe having so many people in the children’s lives brings instability; I have a different perspective on this after having worked in babies’ homes for over ten years.
We have a great local staff at Amani, not perfect, but good women. Our Mama’s and Aunties are the constant in our children’s world. They are the ones who care, feed, bathe, and dress the babies in addition to washing clothes, mopping floors, and scrubbing the messy nappies. Even then they still make time to hold, sing, and play with the children. They are the ones who take sick babies to the nurse. They are there for the babies every day, a lot like most of our moms did for us growing up. Yes, they are busy, but the children know these hard working ladies are there for them like we knew our mothers were there for us.
I don’t know about your family, but it is hard for me to remember a time when we didn’t know an aunt, cousin, grandma, grandpa, friend, or someone else who just needed a place to stay for a little while. Faces and names of people I could never remember, like the girls from The Girl’s Home (I still don’t really know what it was all about) who would stay with us sometimes. I think I must have been five when they first came and can only remember one or two of their names, but I can still remember them arguing over who got the front seat (which is when we started having assigned seating in the van) and the total party they brought to my sisters, brother and I while there. Older cousins who would put me in the closet under the stairs with the door held closed because I could be completely annoying (Of course, his name I know – Alan). Then, the feeling of loss when our aunts would each decide to get married and start families of their own. Were there times when we were disappointed that some would come and go? Of course, but we didn’t feel unstable or insecure. My mom had to be grateful, as I am, to have the extra energy, excitement and joy that came with extended family and friends in the house. We never questioned who were the main caregivers, providers, and authority in our lives. I do remember developing relationships and looking back seeing how much we learned, in the safety of our family, about dealing with social issues.
At Amani, we have said in the past that when a team or volunteers come through with positive energy and servants’ hearts, they are like a booster shot to us. A few weeks ago I stumbled on a verse in Proverbs that says in it a much more poetic way.
“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
I can speak on behalf of Amani staff how true this is. Most that come truly do quench our thirst (or fill our stomachs if the good news comes in the form of Recee’s) when we are a little parched at Amani.
There are also individuals or groups visiting Uganda who just want to pass through Amani. Visiting an orphanage may not have even been in their plans but when they hear about us they want to come. They are not necessarily there to help. Sure, they stop and play as no one can keep from interacting with these little ones, but they really do just breeze in and out. But they see and almost never do they forget.
James 1:27 instructs us to visit the fatherless and widows. This is what the word visit means in this verse.
to inspect,ie (by impl) to select;
by extens. To go to see
relieve: look out visit
Teams, volunteers and visitors do all these things and this system has worked for us over the years. Yes, our children live in an institution but thankfully they have been able to have an extended family and friends who have been a huge blessing to us. Has it always been a perfect situation? Maybe not, but ask yourself if you have always had perfect situations in your family.
I believe God asked Christians to do this whole visit thing for more than the fatherless and widows. It changes one’s mindset, opens the heart and eyes in ways that cannot happen without firsthand experience. For some, it may even be part of a grooming process by God for future work in the same way He groomed me over the years through other ministries. If Amani has been even a small part of that for someone, what a great honor that is for us.
To visit or not to visit? The answer? Not to visit is out of the question.