Dirt stained hands reach up. High up. Clumsily colliding with ours, the bloggers in Uganda this week. So many of them. Hungry for just the touch of a hand.
I remember this. I did this. Stretching out and up with my small hands. Standing with great conviction on tiptoes. Grasping for my father’s hand. It was warmth. It was protection. His hands were always there to catch mine. They still are.
A father’s hands keep a little girl’s world steady. They keep the ghosts away.
She leans over, a Compassion center worker, and whispers in my ear,
“Holding a hand is a miracle for them.”
With that I close my hands around theirs a little tighter. I walk a bit slower. And I let this miracle fully bloom and live.
I thank God that I could always, always find my father’s hand.
Yesterday, we visited the most feared slum in Uganda. We returned today. We returned to those hands. And they came at us waiting to be filled.
We moved forward.
Skipping over sewage soaked, dirt crevices.
Ducking in and out of laundry hung out to dry. Hanging inches away from the dirt and trash. And I think,
“Are they ever truly clean?”
This slum is what nightmares are made of. Filled with what gifts are made of.
I know it’s a nightmare because a child thinks the presence of my hand cupping hers is a miracle. And a miracle is something that is out of the ordinary. Unimaginable.
I know it is what nightmares are made of because toddlers are running around naked. All day long. Rolling around in the dirt. A little girl is carrying around a baby just a few months old, and where is her mother?
Where are any of the mothers in this sea of children? Where are their fathers’ hands?
But the moment I truly realize that we walked straight into a nightmare is when I meet Esther*. She is in the Compassion program. Her presence, strong. She’s bright, lighting up the room with her essence.
She’s smart, carrying on conversations with us in English. She is a leader, standing up during the church service to speak.
But when I duck into her house, I learn that she has, on and off, taken to the streets. Which I come to understand means prostitution.
Her dad is not present. Men are reaching for her hand. But they’re taking her to the street and they’re using her in every way.
So, it’s a nightmare. And how is a young lady so well put together, so confident and beaming being led into the street?
And where is her father’s hand?
Sometimes she finds herself there. A street girl. And a few weeks ago a man lured her to the street again.
Her mother works nights and Esther is home alone and there’s dirt and trash everywhere, so of course there are no locks. There is no safety.
Her mother comes home and she enters a new nightmare. The one where her daughter goes missing. Again. And she probably knows that her daughter is in the streets somewhere. And she’s probably trying not to think about what is happening to her daughter right at that very moment.
But inside this dirt-laden slum is a hand. A strong hand. Esther’s mother reaches out, throws her hand out. Looking for help. And it’s caught. By Compassion.
Because in a nightmare, when you wake up screaming and grabbing out past the dark, you need a hand to catch yours and pull you out. And expose the ghosts.
The Compassion center workers start looking for Esther immediately. They involve the police. They talk to people on the street. And they find her.
The man flees and goes into hiding. He’s still there. Because he knows that the Compassion center will work diligently with the police to prosecute as soon as he is caught.
This Compassion center, which is in the most feared slum in Uganda, is a safe place. A light switched on in the midst of a nightmare.
At the end of the day, we file into the center and hear this:
We step up and into the van and gently let go. And we let the Compassion center reach out and grab on and turn on the light.
And do you know that if you’re a sponsor, you’re the one allowing the Compassion center to reach out in the very moment of need? Did you know you are a miracle?
*Not her real name.