In the Kibuku district of Uganda, a family of twelve sits in the dirt of the one-room hut they share--a grandmother and grandfather, two women, and eight children. They live here in this shack. They sleep and eat here. They call it home. When Bret Perkey, executive director of Equip 1 Ministries—a nonprofit organization existing to Restore, Equip, and Empower orphans and disadvantaged children in Kenya and Uganda—invited Rob James to join the organization’s Board of Directors, God began to unfurl a story in the lives of the James family that would take them places they never could have predicted.
One of those places was an orphanage in the Kibuku region of Uganda.
Rob almost refused when Bret invited him to travel to Africa in March of 2013. Work was too busy, life too hectic, he thought. But when God made it unequivocally clear to him that he was to go, he changed his mind, said yes to God, and emailed Bret on the spot. No turning back.
It proved a heartrending trip for Rob.
“I never want to come back here again,” Rob told Amy over the phone as the trip neared its conclusion. The poverty of Uganda had undone him in a way he hadn’t been quite prepared for. “To look into the eyes of a statistic was heartbreaking.”
Sometimes heartbreak can be good and right. Rob and Amy, as a result of Rob’s trip, began to see poverty as God sees it, and God began developing a true heart of compassion for the people of Uganda in both of their hearts.
Such Spirit-initiated shifts in perspective often preclude Spirit-issued invitations to direction shifts. Only a few months later, in October 2013, compassion overflowed into another step of obedience. Rob and Amy decided to take a second trip to Uganda, this time as a couple. They went with a missions team to the Kibuku region of Uganda to minister to the orphanage run by the Ebenezer Children’s Ministry, a Ugandan nonprofit organization devoted to orphan care.
In his role on Equip 1’s Board of Directors, Rob has acted as a liaison between Equip 1 Ministries and the director of Ebenezer Child Orphanage, George Kooli. The two nonprofits have been partnering to build a school for the orphans and other children of the region. This relationship has strengthened the bond between the James family and those living and serving at the orphanage.
The 30 children living in this orphanage were most definitely not statistics. They had names: Moses, Georgie, Evelyn. Each was unique. Moses cried because he was afraid of white people. Georgie had an endearing, high-pitched voice, as if he had sucked in helium. Evelyn needed a sponsor. These tiny, needy orphans, who were already in God’s heart, made their way irrevocably into the James’ hearts as they continued to keep their eyes open and kept saying yes to the Father. They returned home with an even greater desire to love and serve, and a desire to teach their children to do the same.
Far from appeasing or quelling their desire to return to Uganda, this second trip catapulted the family into action yet again. They planned a third trip--this time for their whole family, including their seven-year-old daughter, Carys, and their nine-year-old son, Broderick.
“People thought we were crazy,” Rob said. This wasn’t a “missions trip” in the conventional sense, in that there was no missions organization involved, and they weren’t going with a team. The James family planned and organized every detail of the trip on their own—from booking the tickets to finding a driver to planning activities. Their agenda? To understand the community and its resources, to discuss logistics of school-building, and to love people. Especially to love people.
Broderick and Carys caught the vision. The kids sprang into action, organizing (with their parents’ help) a change drive to raise money for the needy in the village. “Change for Change,” they called it, and they put their hearts into it. Cans collected coins in their classrooms at school. Grandma passed the word along to her ladies’ Bible study group. Water jugs showed up in the Kidlife theater and on the stage at Apex.
And, like bread and fish in miracle-working hands, it multiplied. Pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters multiplied into $1,500. God generously provided $1,500 with which to serve someone in Uganda.
Remember the family of twelve, sitting in the dirt?
Rob, Amy, and the kids knew they couldn’t change all of Africa, or all of Uganda, or all of the Kibuku region, but they aligned with God and focused on what He had given them--some jugs of change, a change of perspective, and the eight open hands of their family. They desired to express their faith by loving by serving the needy--the same ones Jesus had loved and served on the Cross.
And God changed lives.
That family of twelve? Because of two small children with Kingdom-focused hearts and $,1500 of donated money, they now have a home instead of a hut--a three room house with three new beds. Their shelves have been stocked with food, and they praise God for his provision. This is God’s grace.
Moses, the little boy who cringed and cried at the approach of white people? He’s the little boy in the photo, being snuggled by Carys, a little white girl. A child’s embracing love has breached barriers of fear and toppled towers of mistrust. Moses has not been the same since. This is God’s grace.
Evelyn, an orphaned child with nothing? The James family sponsors her. Because they have answered yes to God, she receives food, an education, and a home at Ebenezer Child Orphanage. This is God’s grace.
Were you to sit down for an hour or two and listen to Rob, Amy, Broderick, and Carys, they would have countless stories for you. There wouldn’t be enough time. Scenes would unfold: Broderick and Carys kicking a ball around with the children, the family praying with villagers, stocking food pantries, worshiping with Ugandan brothers and sisters, tossing water balloons back and forth, sharing the Gospel in a school, serving and sharing meals. You’d notice a sense of urgency echoing through their stories because the need is great and the harvest is ripe.
And if you were listening--if you really heard--you’d notice that perhaps some of the most profound changes God has wrought as they have answered yes to His call to serve others have been within their own hearts.
Amy: “It reminds me of the Gospel. We had nothing. And we were sitting in the dirt, and Jesus showed up and changed our whole life and said, ‘It’s not about you sitting here in the dirt; it’s about you bringing Me glory.’”
Rob: “We get to be part of this Kingdom work! We’re becoming more okay with being uncomfortable with what He’s asking us to do.”
Amy: “If we can invest in one girl, one orphanage, one school, one family, and if God can use us to help change their lives, then we’ll do that.”
Broderick: “Most people don’t get to experience building somebody else a house.”
Carys: “My favorite part was playing with the kids.”
Rob: “Now we’ve seen and we know what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Go to the least of these,’ because we’ve looked them in the face, and we saw how great the need is….We stood there and looked in the eyes of brokenness, and now I just can’t turn away.”
There is joy here, in these declarations, and it doesn’t only come from building houses or schools, passing out bags of rice and beans to villagers, sponsoring a little orphan girl, or leaving the comforts of home for a few days and flying to Africa--great though these joys have been. No, this is a deeper joy, one that issues from the Spirit as a family walks in obedience to the Father, one small step at a time. One small “Yes” at a time.
This, too, is God’s expansive and extravagant grace.
Author: Erin Steelman