I’ve now been to visit Solid Rock Christian School four times, and each visit is different. There’s so much that happens, but every trip has its own flavor, so to speak, that binds it all together. I’ve found that as I go through each day of a visit, I begin to see patterns emerge in the interactions, conversations, and experiences unique to each visit. Now that I’m home, I can say that this trip was seasoned throughout with realness and thankfulness, and there’s one encounter stuck in my memory that displays both beautifully.
One day, my travel companion Augustine and I were going to visit the homes of some of our sponsored students. Our first visit that day was to the home of Martha, a 1st grade student. It’s a humble home, set in the middle of a nondescript piece of land with no discernable organization between it and the other houses scattered throughout the “neighborhood.”
The first thing I noticed as we approached was that the dirt yard was immaculately swept in a 20 foot radius around the house. Hundreds of fine broom strokes made a shell-like pattern through the dust. I had never seen such well-kept dirt.
Before we rounded the corner from the back of the house to the front, a tall, thin woman came to greet us. She was dressed in her finest frock that appeared washed and pressed. There’s a special kind of fabric called kitenge (kee-ten-jay) that people purchase for the kinds of clothes that they might wear to weddings or funerals. You get the fabric at one place and then get the dress custom made with a seamstress. Such dresses are quite personal and special. This woman was wearing a dress made from bright green kitenge.
She walked to us with great energy, and I felt for some reason like I was excited to see her too. Her smile was so… happy. As she approached, she did something that I don’t recall having ever seen before. In front of me, she fell on her knees, her beautiful dress in the dirt. She took my hands. Speaking in English, she began by saying, “Thank you, thank you for coming.” I couldn’t take my eyes off her, not least because she was holding my hand. Swept yard, beautiful dress, abrupt kneeling, flowing speech… it was captivating.
She stood up and took us into her home with her daughter, Martha. While her house consisted of nothing more than brick walls, some plastic floor mats and plastic chairs, she eagerly invited us in. She made her daughter, who had just come from school, change into the dress that they had purchased together the day before. It was a gift from Martha’s sponsor. As we conversed, she began to tell us about her life.
The mother’s name was Harriet, and she had grown up here in Arua. She and her husband married, had two children, and let Harriet’s parents moved in with them. At some point, her husband was offered work in South Sudan. It was the best he could do to provide for the household of six, so he went. There, sometime later, he died. Soon after, Harriet’s father also died. Deprived of father, husband, all reliable sources of income, and left with two children and an aging mother, Harriet told us in somewhat of an understatement that things were “very hard.” She looked to the ground.
But then, she told us, Martha, her eldest, was sponsored. The joy of this fact was tangible. She could not stop saying “thank you ” to me. I did my best to say that it really wasn’t me, it was Martha’s sponsor and I was just the messenger, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I asked if she would like a family photo to send back to the sponsor and she said of course. Changing her younger child change into a nicer dress, she posed them all outside of the home with enthusiasm. It was great fun.
The errand we had come for had been accomplished, but it felt wrong to leave. It felt like there was more to say. Stumbling through my words, I told Harriet about the school and what God was doing there and how humbling it was to be a part of it. I just wanted to linger around this woman and her story a little longer. Then I saw her face scrunch ever so slightly, and Harriet began to cry. I offered her a hug, not knowing what was wrong, but she said to me, “These are tears of thankfulness. I have been praying day and night for my children, and God has provided.” Once again, she fell on her knees, holding my hands, saying “thank you, God.” I didn’t know what I ought to do. The only thing that felt right was to kneel right down with her.
Kneeling in the finely swept dirt with a widow brimming with thankfulness, I felt, oddly enough, right at home. That moment had a “real” character to it– I don’t know how else to describe it. Who is so moved that they publicly fall to their knees? Don’t Bible people do that? That moment, it felt like I was living the New Testament, and it felt so real. It felt like hitting bedrock. It was as if the weeds and the sod of life had been peeled back, and here we were, Harriet and I, standing together on the true foundation. Or kneeling, as it were.
As I reflect on it now, perhaps this falling-on-knees thankfulness really is our ever-present foundation. Most of life is transient– houses, jobs, cars, hobbies, food, children, marriages. One day, I will not be fit to go on an airplane to do visits like this one. One day, Harriet’s children will be all grown up and school for them will not be on her mind. One day I will not live in a big house with real floors and she will not live in a mud house with no floors. But at the end of it all, one day we will both have the chance to fall on our knees before God. Will we express our thankfulness? I know Harriet will. She has practice. Her heart will be overflowing because she knows that she has nothing to present to God. She knows that everything she has was His to begin with. When it’s all gone she will not despair, but rejoice. It makes me think of some words of the Apostle Peter in a new light:
“According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again into a living hope… to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
“… now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith– more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:2,4,6,7
We said farewell and went back to the car. It didn’t strike me in the moment, but as I thought about it day after day I realized how remarkable Harriet’s thankfulness is. Deep down, I want opportunities to express thankfulness as deeply and sincerely as she did. I hope one day Harriet and I can kneel together in heaven. We’ll be laughing and praising God for all of our earthly life that is now over and for all of the eternal life before us. Because that’s the bedrock. That’s what is going to last.