Monthly Archives: May 2011

Client Story: Dancing with Joy

Scott and I are doing a blog post swap this week.  I thought his great story about Annet, one of our favorite clients, would be a fitting follow-up to my post yesterday about God’s passion for widows just like her. Enjoy the read, and be sure to check out his blog for more stories from the field.

KAMPALA, UGANDA – There was something different about Annet’s smile that day. The widow had become known for her generous grin, but on this January afternoon, she glowed. Thanks to the quick work of an IJM investigator, joy has replaced the waiting, wondering, and worrying that colored these last few years. At last, Annet’s abuser has been caught.

When Ben passed away in 2003, he left a grieving Annet, six children, two small pieces of property, and one opportunistic brother. At a meeting following the funeral, the clan named Ben’s brother Patrick as guardian for the children and land. (Because Annet’s marriage to Ben was never formalized, and likely because she is a woman, she was overlooked by the family.) One plot of land was designated for Annet’s two young children, Dennis and Winnie; the second went to children from Ben’s previous marriage. Cultivation of this land provided Annet her only source of income to feed and support her young family.

For a while, the arrangement worked. Friends allowed Annet to stay at a home close to her land so she could farm and sell bananas. Annet, with a bubbly personality much larger than her tiny size, maintained a friendship with Patrick and never thought to distrust him. Unfortunately, her trust was misplaced.

In July 2008, Patrick sold the land designated for the children and kept the profits. When Annet questioned him about the deal, worth 450,000 shillings ($185), he sharply and angrily dismissed her. Patrick boasted around town that he would never repay her.

For a single mother in rural Uganda, however, this was a massive loss. Annet reported her the stolen land to a local government leader, who referred her to a higher office.  In January 2009, the officer confronted Patrick, who signed an agreement to pay Annet over the next four months.

But after paying the widow just 20,000 shillings ($8), Patrick went quiet. Four months came and went, then six. Annet, who earned only a small income from selling bananas, desperately needed the money to either buy new land or start a more profitable business. Her house, with bare brick walls and dirt floors, needed repairs to keep the elements out, and her children would need school fees soon.

Fearing Patrick had abandoned her, Annet sought out an IJM attorney after a legal education seminar in her village. Patrick never expected that Annet would have an advocate, nor that he would have to answer for his deception.

After IJM contacted him to resolve the matter, he fled. An informant later claimed Patrick escaped to Juba, in Southern Sudan. Another alleged he had been seen in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. IJM investigators received sporadic tips whenever he returned, staking out his home several times, but the perpetrator was frustratingly evasive.

For two years, the legal and investigations teams inched alternately closer and farther from apprehending the perpetrator. Patrick was deep in hiding and finding him seemed impossible. Even the perpetually optimistic Annet began to lose hope. Each of Patrick’s fleeting return trips raised her hopes of resolution, and each failed intervention let them down. Her children’s future seemed increasingly unsure.

“We pursued Annet’s perpetrator for well over two years without so much as a hint that the case would end in success,” Field Office Director Jesse Rudy recalls.  “The case looked so hopeless that the interventions team seriously debated the wisdom of closing the case to turn our attention to other cases with more immediate opportunities for success.” But the team decided to wait patiently a little longer, hoping the perpetrator would emerge. Three weeks later, he did.

IJM learned from an informant that Patrick had returned home in secret. The informant claimed Patrick planned to leave for Sudan the next day, so speed was critical. An IJM investigator quickly filed for a warrant and met a police officer familiar with IJM’s work, who helped expedite the process. Just before midnight, with the village bathed in darkness from a power outage, IJM accompanied local police to arrest Patrick in his home. Two years of frustrated waiting finally culminated in a few quick hours of action: Patrick was caught.

The next day, Annet drove with an investigator to the police station to give her official statement. The perpetrator was remorseful, seeming to know he would eventually be caught. In addition to any criminal charges, IJM attorney Byron Mwanje gathered the two parties to negotiate a new repayment deal. Instead of the remaining balance he owed, Byron convinced Patrick to pay 600,000 shillings ($240) as compensation for the stress he inflicted on Annet. He paid most of that sum in cash immediately and summoned his wife down from Sudan to pay the balance.

Police charged Patrick with intermeddling with an estate, punishable by up to ten years in prison. He was released on bond. IJM will strategize with police on the most appropriate actions going forward.

Annet celebrates receiving the money she was owed, but kindheartedly hopes Patrick will not suffer now that he has been arrested. Their relationship before his deceptive land deal had been friendly; she hopes they can rebuild it with time.

The money Annet received will go immediately to good use; it is the exact cost of a plot of land she had her eye on. Kind family friends have let her stay in one of their homes for a few years, but she hopes to start building a new home for herself and her children soon.

The length of her case has allowed for a remarkably deep relationship with IJM. Annet’s aftercare specialist Claire has loved getting to know her. “She’s an extrovert: friendly, warm, and outgoing,” Claire says. “Annet always believes that something good will come her way.”

And now, with the property that belongs to her family, she is well positioned to succeed. In the two years that IJM has worked with her, Annet received support to raise pigs and chickens, and to start a used clothing shop. IJM connected Dennis and Winnie with school sponsorship programs and paid for Annet’s two older children to join trade programs.

When receiving each of these gifts, Annet expresses her gratitude with signature joy. She performs a bouncy, girlish dance at even the smallest offer of assistance. And now – after two years of patient waiting and uncertainty – Annet has every reason to dance.

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He Cared About Them First

Before I came to Uganda, I knew that God is a God of justice.  I knew lots of Bible verses (Isaiah 58, anyone?) that talked about loosing the chains of oppression and setting the captives free. During my senior year at Taylor, child sex trafficking was the big crusade, and “social justice” rolled off everyone’s tongue with great ease and eager passion.

But I was relatively clueless to the brutal injustice of property grabbing that IJM Uganda specifically deals with.

It’s true that our casework focus, succession-related property grabbing, is a relatively hard issue for American audiences to understand. Violating a young girl by forcing her to sell her body to a stranger countless times a day – we see the injustice of that situation easily, and become outraged, rightly so.

Understanding why a poor, grieving widow and her freshly orphaned children would be kicked out of their home, crops burned, lives threatened, not just by a evil stranger, but often by members of their own family, and understanding how this loss of land and property could really reduce their existence to the point of despair and beyond- well, that’s a lot more complicated idea to grasp.

And so this injustice that ravages the lives of countless widows and orphans in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the world (Papua New Guinea, too), was mostly unknown and unspoken about, at least in the “social justice” circles I came from in college. My attempts to explain and educate people back home about the truly destructive nature of this injustice have often been, at best, time-consuming, and at worst, ineffective and frustrating.

Over the course of the last eight months, I’ve been surprised, humbled, and challenged as I’ve come to slowly realize that this issue of property-grabbing is neither a new thing, nor is it an injustice that has ever gone unnoticed by God. Time and time again in the Old Testament, God specifically speakes of His love for the widows and the fatherless who depend on their land for survival. The very passion we’re fighting for here in Uganda in 2011, God was fighting for way back in 2000 B.C.

“The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice” (Proverbs 13:23).

“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” (Exodus 22:22)

“Woe to those who… turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!” (Isaiah 10: 1 -2)

“Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless,  for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.” (Proverbs 23:10)

“The Lord tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries.” (Proverbs 15:25)

“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” (Psalm 68:5)

“Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.” (Jeremiah 49:11)

So I realized – this isn’t “my” passion  to petition for, or “my” injustice to fight against. It was God’s passion first, thousands of years before IJM would ever exist, before we’d ever begin our casework in Uganda to restore widows and orphans to their rightful land.

God is their Redeemer and their Rescue. He has just chosen to send rescue and relief through his Body on earth – us, the church, as broken and fragmented and unobservant as we are. And daily in our work, we are amazed by His goodness, His passion, His justice – His righteous anger matched with His unending compassion.

A God like that is certainly a fearsome God to behold, and an incredible God to serve.

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Weekends are for Living

Weekends are for baking…

with a dear friend…

And for walking…

And worshipping…

I had been out of commission most of this week with a bummer of a stomach bug (Pros: first real sickness I’ve encountered since being in Uganda, getting to stay home from work and watch silly TV shows I rarely watch when I am my normal self; Cons: being sick without a Mom around to soothe my fevered brow, missing work and having to work extra hard to catch when I returned to office), but with the weekend came a return to 100% health and 100% living!

And it’s good to just live sometimes – not saving the world one widow at a time, not planning and preparing for the future, not anxiously grappling for my next Africa-immersion experience – just living.

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To My Mom

So, I failed this Mothers’ Day. I didn’t exactly realize till a few days ago that it was Mother’s Day this weekend – which definitely meant there wasn’t enough time to get a card in the mail. I thought about the option of sending flowers,  but that idea got very expensive very quickly. So, I’m not sure how many words flowers are worth (if they are like pictures, then I’ve got to  write a LONG post), but in lieu of flowers this Mother’s Day, I thought I’d do my Mom the honor of embarrassing her in front of the whole wide world-wide web! 🙂

Mom(my),

I know this is a lame way to tell you I love you on Mother’s Day. I would have much rather been there in person to celebrate this day with you – but goodness knows we haven’t been together for a whole lot of Mother’s Day these last few years, so I guess we’re used to this set-up.

I also know that all the things I’m about to write are verging on the edge of cheesy, but I think most cheesy statements have a solid grain of truth in them, which is why I like using them a lot.  And the truth is that every year that passes, I grow more and more thankful for you.  I grow more and more in awe of all that you’ve taught me and all that you’ve sacrificed for me.

For taking me out of public schools when I was five years old, sacrificing a salaried life of teaching math, to teach us three kids at home instead…

For the hours you spent reading books to us, sounding out the words and listening to us patiently as we painstakingly read them back to you… For the cookie-baking and applesauce-making, recognizing and encouraging my eagerness to “help” in the kitchen even when that meant more hassle than anything…

For the field trips we took all over Maryland, reliving the days of the pilgrims, the colonists, the pioneers – sometimes in our backyard, sometimes in the halls of Mt. Vernon or Ft. McHenry… For turning every possible moment into an educational opportunity, even when we rolled our eyes at you (If there was a “Best Homeschooling Mom” competition, you would have surely won) – thank you.

For following Dad’s dream to move overseas and teach the Bible, for adapting graciously to a new culture, a new lifestyle, a new calling and ministry, all the while taking care of and homeschooling us kids – thank you.

You taught me what it looks like to really "go native"

For recognizing my desire for a different learning environment with peers my age, for putting me on the plane to boarding school even though it was hard for you to let me go, for staying involved in my life despite the miles that separated us (even when that meant personally  following up with a certain teacher whose class I was struggling with,  embarrassing my 13-year old self to high heaven) – thank you.

Most parents put their kids on a school bus, you put us on an school plane. We traveled in style!

For teaching me all the most important life skills, like how to play a mean game of Settlers (and other things, like baking bread and typing and swimming and all that) – thank you.

For always being proud of me but never letting me settle for second-best – thank you.

For instilling in me a love for adventure and being active, for scouting out the map for the next place to visit, for being the trailblazer for all our outdoor adventures – thank you.

For encouraging my passion and sending me off with a smile as I left for Uganda, saying goodbye at an airport for what seems like the thousandth time in our lives – thank you.

I am so thankful for the great mom, teacher, and friend you continue to be to me even from across the miles that separate us. From the small things like our shared sense of fashion (or lack thereof) and favorite recipes, to the big things like your godly wisdom and sacrificial lifestyle, you continue to mold and shape the woman I am becoming. I am so thankful for a mom that is truly one of my best friends. I love you!

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