We are in Jinja, Uganda going house-to-house, greeting-to-greeting, smile-to-smile.
John, Carla, Jen and I are here to learn from a network of families that are really living it out. Living like Family.
There are “core families” and “satellite families” within the partnering organizations called Foster Family Network and Orphans Know More. Core families are married couples with their own children, who have taken in other children and welcomed them as their own. Their complete love and all-the-way-through-them joy is overwhelming; their burdens are underwhelming.
Besides their own homes, full of bustling children and chickens, they have taken in “satellite families” as their own extended family members. Satellite families are widows with children that they stand with and stand for in every way you can imagine.
It’s the real thing.
And the best part is that it’s not glamorous. It’s not polished.
It’s not a super-funded program built by overseas super-heroes.
It’s Ugandan people loving Ugandan people.
The structure and the terms came later… after life was already going, the kids were getting married, and the roots of redemption had wrapped around the hearts of so many.
The only thing extravagant is the love… and the pineapple.
An overview won’t do it.
So let me tell you about Mabel’s house.
We found ourselves on lumpy couches, watching and waiting, while a starving cat sang a hoarse hunger song, and a hen and her chicks ran wild across the floor. I wasn’t sure if the construction of the house was complete, and I was bracing myself to hear a widow’s story from a satellite family.
And then Mabel walked in with a smile as big as Africa and exclaimed, “You are welcome!” with hugs and gushing love. Suddenly, this held-together house and that I-don’t-know-what-that-is-on-my-skirt became the most strikingly beautiful background for a fantastic love story that is changing everything. This was a core family that I want to live like from the core of my being.
She had always wanted a family. One day, God told Mabel that she was going to have a family that was bigger than what she dreamt of. She would welcome into her home the people that needed family.
“The first one, she is called Susan. She followed us home from outreach one day. She told us her story, and we took her in.”
Margaret, another orphan-made-family came in to join us with sparkling eyes. She had just finished university, but wanted to volunteer before beginning her career to “give back” for the ways she’d been given to.
Joshua, a high school student with perfect posture, came to the door with his suitcase from boarding school, a common education policy in Uganda, during our conversation. Mabel’s words stopped as her eyes lit up. “Joshua! Welcome home!!! How were exams? Come and greet our guests!”
Joshua was happy to be home. As he kneeled before each one of us in respectful greeting, Mabel kept going with her story.
This strength and this faith that made her and her husband a core family was not from growing up in a household like Joshua and Margaret’s. Mabel had grown up in a Muslim family and was disowned when she chose Jesus.
She was orphaned when she accepted the adoption of Christ… and then she started adopting.
“God intended that human beings grow up in families.”
Mabel lives something I want to live.
Her giggles escapes like glory-bubbles when she tells the parts of her and her children’s stories that should release tears and mourning because she so obviously encountered Christ in those moments.
Living like the Family of God didn’t start with a rock-solid home life for Mabel.
And it didn’t start with a financial foundation, enough space, enough food, or enough of anything.
It didn’t wait until things were ready.
We asked her how it started… where this came from…
“There were mango trees,” she said.
Mabel knew the God who designed us for His Family. To be welcomed and loved and known.
So all she had to say, with those glory giggles and matter-of-fact gestures was about the place they were living when it all began:
“There were mango trees, so they could come. “
It was really that simple. That obvious.
There were mango trees. So why would she not live the way she was made to?
In a country flogged with HIV, with parents being claimed by sickness, there are children who wander. There were mango trees at Mabel’s house, and they wandered there.
“They could sit, relax, be free, eat mango. I can cook for them, serve them, and they can tell me who they are.”
Living like family.
And mango trees.
Mabel reminded me that’s all there is to it.
Sometimes, for me, it’s a pot of beans and rice in a too-small cottage. Or a band-aid and a make-it-better kiss. A hug, a handshake, a smile.
For some, it’s a cup of coffee and a conversation. Or just some time together.
It doesn’t matter what the mango tree looks like… There is a way today, in this very moment, to live the way God made us to live. We may not feel ripe, but the harvest is ready. Mabel didn’t wait. I won’t either.
|Margaret on the far-left and Mabel on the far-right.|
Mabel's husband, Dickson, was attending a burial.
They have 15 in their family + a widow with four children.