What Nightmares are Made Of

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.

Wess Stafford with a group of children

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.

Sewage drainage in a Ugandan slum

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?”

Laundry hung out to dry near dirt and trash in a slum

This slum is what nightmares are made of. Filled with what gifts are made of.

A group of people walking through a slum

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?

A woman holding a baby

Where are any of the mothers in this sea of children? Where are their fathers’ hands?

A group of children walking through a slum

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:

As we leave the center, hands fill our teams’ hands. Tiny hands traveling up our arms, grabbing on for a miracle. We welcome them. Cradle the tiny hands. Let miracle upon miracle come true.

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.

A group of people getting being greeted

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.

16 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Gregory Bice March 13, 2016

    I visit Uganda quite often. It is the homeland of my wife. I have seen first hand the poor and the hungry. The street children begging for a single coin. Ive had elderly women come up to me and ask for spare coins so they could get something to eat. There is a huge need in Uganda. But the thing about all of this that amazes me the most is that they dont lose their faith in God. They dont have anything but they are the happiest and most welcoming people on earth. Thank you for the work you are doing there. May God bless you and keep giving you the ability to continue doing what you are doing

  2. Chris July 20, 2014

    Such a moving story!

  3. Carol Mwinemwesigwa February 18, 2014



  4. Daniel Baguma February 8, 2014

    Thanks for the great work done in Africa with Tear fund international

  5. Angie February 1, 2014

    Thank you for bringing us these stories from Uganda. I have read them each day with tears in my eyes. It is such a blessing to be a part if Compassion and the miracles that become realities.

  6. Angie February 1, 2014

    Thank you so much for bringing us these stories from Uganda. I have read each with tears in my eyes. It is such a blessing to be partnered with Compassion and the miracles that are made realities.

  7. Angie February 1, 2014

    Thank you so much to you and the others who have relayed stories to us from Uganda. It is such a blessing to be partnered with Compassion and the miracles that they help make realities.

  8. Abigail C. February 1, 2014

    Even in the midst of the nightmares, Compassion is changing lives. I love the insight y’all have brought through this trip. Thank you for these posts. I think I’ve cried reading nearly every one.

    1. Bri McKoy February 3, 2014

      Thank you so much for following, Abigail. And for truly embracing these stories. It was such encouragement to us to have so many people diving into this journey alongside of us!

  9. Yvonne Reynolds January 31, 2014

    It is really hard to believe sometimes that the little that we give really does go so far. So thankful that so much can be done for each one of these children!

  10. Vicki Small January 31, 2014

    We can’t be there to protect our sponsored children, and the Compassion workers cannot surround them, keep them in a bubble. Bad things can still happen, but Compassion is there to help, to work with police, to pray, to love, to promote healing. Thank God for Compassion. Thank you, Brianne for your writing, for these stories.

  11. Tracey January 31, 2014

    Oh my, yes. Thank you for reminding me all over again that sponsoring a child is a miracle of God that we get to be part of.

  12. Lois Nangudi January 31, 2014

    Bri, you are a great writer. Yes you put reality into pen. You are right nightmares are real and a hand ready to love through it all is a miracle indeed.

  13. Jeralyn January 31, 2014

    Thank you, Brianne, for the reminder of the power in the simple touch our hands.

  14. Maryn January 31, 2014

    What a powerful message. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Jenn January 31, 2014

    Wow, Bri! What a difficult story to write and share, but what hope the Compassion project through the love of Jesus can bring to these kids living in a nightmare. Thank you! Blessings on your last day!!!

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