by Alli Kennedy
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
Some names have been changed for the privacy of those whose stories we are honored to share.
The power was out so there was no light to block the view of the stars on Thursday night. The big dipper looks different here and I point it out to Nathan, who eventually finds it in the sky and traces an imaginary line through it with his fingers. Jimmy sits in between Chloe and Emma Grace, holding tightly to their hands, tucking his head between his legs looking at Chloe’s phone at pictures of the boys who have already left earlier this week: Kevin and Musa. I ask Nathan what he will miss about being here in the transitional home. He doesn’t tell me the food or the material things he’s received since he’s been here. Instead, he names person after person: Uncle Abraham, Auntie Phionah, Uncle Dan, Uncle Bucky, Auntie Julie, Kevin, Musa, Xan, Auntie Wavey, Auntie Jennie, Pastor Cosmas…his voice trails off into the dark and we sit in silence for a few minutes, Nathan and Jimmy no doubt thinking about the day to come. The day they will be restored with their families. A day that has been in the works for three months. Three months of Abraham and Phionah loving them like a mother and father. Three months of teaching them about the hope of the Gospel. Three months of instilling work ethic and routine into their lives. Three months of replacing the mindset that came with them from the streets with one of hope and confidence for the future. Three months finished.
The next morning is a bit of a tease. We wake up early and prepare for the journey to meet Nathan's and Jimmy's father. But in Uganda, cars break weekly and repairs take hours and hours. Which is exactly what happened. We fill the hours with funny videos, the boys play games with Abraham and Phionah, Dan gives Jimmy a soccer ball and Nathan a new pair of pants. The boys adore Dan, an accountant for BHM and tutor for the Roger's son, Brennan. They look up to him and admire him like crazy...so much so that they’ve begun to imitate Dan’s trademark selfie smirk whenever they smile. Dan tells them all the things he hopes for them and that he will visit them again through tearful embraces and notes exchanged.
Xan, the Roger’s 13-year-old son, has also made Kevin, Musa, Nathan, and Jimmy feel like normal kids again. Through soccer games, board games, dancing, making movies on the iPad together, Nerf gun wars (which I still have bruises from), and laser tag, Xan has given the boys memories of just being able to be kids without the weight of the world on their shoulders...I know they will hold onto those memories forever.
Soon, the van is fixed and goodbyes begin. Jonathan, Pastor Cosmas, Vicent, Chloe, and I all pile in the van with Jimmy and Nathan. Abraham and Phionah are overcome with emotion. A side note: many Ugandans suppress emotion in public, so it’s refreshing to see their love for the boys through the tearful goodbyes. The boys need to know it’s okay for them to feel things. Especially on this day. A day that is nothing but emotional. Abraham and Phionah gave them all the love they could for the last three months and have to watch them leave in an instant.
The van door shuts. Everyone stands and watches from the gate of the compound as we drive away. I look at Nathan and Jimmy as I wonder what they're thinking. Jimmy smiles as he grabs Chloe’s and my hands and clashes them together with laughter. I wonder if he understands. We guess that he's only 8. Nathan sits behind us and stares out the window as the dust rises from the sea of red dirt road beneath us. I try so hard to put myself in their place and how they must be feeling and the questions they could be asking themselves. "Will their dad be happy to see them? Will he be angry that they were gone? Will they be able to live normally? What will the community think? Do they know that they were on the streets?" A very possible reality could be that the community would make them feel ashamed for living on the streets and the other kids would make fun of them. I wonder if these questions are racing through their heads too.
Let me say that Pastor Cosmas intentionally seeks out the best option for the boys, which family situation would be ideal for restoration. Pastor Cosmas and a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) driver spent hours on hours seeking out the father of Nathan and Jimmy and followed up with him carefully. Abraham constantly tells me that he still thinks that this could be their most successful restoration ever. Despite the questions rolling through my head, BHM does everything in their power to restore these boys with a stable family and to make sure they set them up for success even before the physical restoration.
During their time in the transitional homes with Abraham and Phionah as their foster parents, the boys have been loved so well! Abraham and Phionah disciple them and instill practical skills in them. They are taught how to cook and the values of saving money. They are given activities and chores to do around the compound to earn money, which Abraham then saves for them for the time they are to be restored back to their home. Abraham contacts each of their parents and discusses how the boys can have a successful long-term transition back home even before they start their journey back.
Much like the boys' parents who they are eventually restored to, Abraham and Phionah may not have much to offer materially, but they create a space to grow spiritually and emotionally. Abraham and Phionah strive to provide a home enviornment that is centered around God. They want to create a peaceful home in which they are encouraged to value each other and look after each other. They discipline the boys and teach them daily about Jesus, while showing them the fruits of the spirit in their own lives. Discipleship and constant, consistant love, despite the mistakes the boys have made or will make during their time with Abraham and Phionah, has encouraged their mindsets to be one of hope rather than distress. They are taught to believe in themselves and trust in God’s provisions so that they can believe they can persist through trials at home, just like they did while in the transitional home.
Nathan and Jimmy have lived through situations that were unthinkable. Kidnappings. Starvation. But today, they will finally have the love of their own father again, something that is often rare in Uganda because of how broken the concept of family is here. I almost expected that all 4 boys in the transitional home would be restored with their mothers, but the fathers were the ones who stepped up to care for them and love them.
Chloe and Jimmy listen to music together. We all eat meat sticks from vendors on the side of the road (and definitely regret it later) and I sleep. It takes a couple of hours to get to their home and I’m covered in a blanket in exhaustion from the previous transitions and school visits from the week. I wake when I feel the smooth road turn to potholes and little dust mountains that make me a little carsick every time we drive. We pass by shops and shacks where people sell food they’ve grown. Shops eventually fade behind us as we are surrounded by fields of maize with mountains looming in the distance. The boys are directing Vicent (BHM's spiritual development director), who is driving, where to go. I’m constantly puzzled on how anyone remembers how to get anywhere without a GPS. Especially an 8-year-old and 12-year-old boy who haven’t been home in so, so long.
Fields turn into an expanse of sweet potato farm lining the narrow dirt road leading to a small brick house the size of my dorm room back home. A man with a toothy grin and a sweater filled with autumn leaves waves at us as we approach. He’s accompanied by two young girls and a woman who is wringing out clothes in colorful buckets of soapy water with a small baby at her side. They're home
Jonathan and I rush out of the car with our cameras as the boys gather their things from the car. Jimmy hops out of the car and hugs the woman, who we later learn is a neighbor who helps the father. He relies on her like a sister now that his wife left him.
Then, Jimmy approaches his father and embraces him. The father’s face lights up with the joy of being reunited with his youngest son again. Nathan takes a little while longer to gather his things from the car, but once he does, he approaches his father and embraces him happily. The father is exuberant. His kids are back. Nathan and Jimmy beam with delight as they talk to him and their sisters. The oldest sister is overcome with emotion and sobs as she hugs Nathan. I hadn’t really thought about how restoration would impact their siblings as well.
Tearful interviews with the family are done. Pictures are taken. We are led into their house that, with the exception of a few dishes, is completely empty. Their mother had taken everything with her when she left the father because she “didn’t see a future with him,” he tells us. Nathan and Jimmy are given mattresses, mosquito nets, pillows, blankets, shoes, clothes, maize, and backpacks. The father thanks Pastor Cosmas over and over. He hugs his boys constantly and they seem to be relieved by his warm welcome home. It makes me think of the prodigal son. I don’t think a smile ever left his face the entire time we were there. It made me feel relieved, too. These boys that I had come to love through their time being my next door neighbors over the last month are with a father who loves them. They have hope of education as Benjamin House will help pay for their next 2 terms at school and check in on their family consistently. They have the hope of Jesus through the love that they had been shown over the last three months, the salvation they asked about and accepted, and the truth instilled in them by Abraham and Phionah.
It takes a village. That’s what they say, right? This village made up of the Benjamin House staff and their partnership with these families gives me hope. Hope that the four boys who went from shyly introducing themselves to Chloe and me the night we arrived to scaring us every time we’d come home -- the boys who went from being on the streets to being with their father again, -- will love Jesus for the rest of their lives and show their families and community the love they’ve experienced over the last few months as they grow up.
Pastor Cosmas and Abraham tell us now that the fathers of the 4 boys call almost daily with updates on their sons and to express how thankful they are to be reunited. There are so many people fighting for their success and a God who dearly loves them and invited them into His family even before they knew what a family was. Even while family is so broken on this earth and in this country through sin, we hope that they get to experience a reflection of what it’s like to be in God’s family through being restored with their earthly families.
Bucky Rogers, Benjamin House staff, and short-term missionaries