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Remembering Uganda: First Meeting

July 8, 2013

We are telling our adoption story through recounting memories and sharing a series of emails that were sent while we were in Uganda in July & August of 2012. If you have made your way here because you are thinking about adopting from Uganda or are in the process, please know that the process is very different now than it was in 2012.

Having arrived in Uganda in the wee hours of the morning, we woke up on Sunday morning about 9am. Tim and I were both scared that we had missed the dedication service because it was so bright out, and we didn’t hear anything going on downstairs. We dressed as quickly as we could, shoved a plane snack in all four of our mouths, and went downstairs to see that most of the children were gathered in the main room, all dressed up. I scanned the crowd for Naomi (Dorcas was her name at Loving Hearts) and didn’t see her, but then my eyes stopped on the couch where Nate (Elijah was his name then) was sitting. He was sitting among a group of babies, and honestly, the only reason I knew it was him is because he was wearing an outfit we had sent him. He looked so tiny, just like in the pictures we had seen.

I walked over to pick him up, and he started crying. As I was trying to comfort him, Naomi burst into the room, looking like she was running the place (which, we learned soon enough, functionally she did), wearing a pink dress we had sent. Tim went to pick her up, and she darted away, but Tim followed her, and we all went outside.

Tim and I often joke about this first meeting now. I think we are mostly laughing at ourselves for expecting such a hallmark, movie moment for the first meeting with our new kids. Instead, we what we got was the confusion of trying to find them in the chaos of 20+ tiny people, complete with running, chasing and crying. We now see how appropriate that first meeting was: as a family suddenly expanded to four children under the age of four, chaos, crying and running characterized our existence so much more than poignant, hallmark movie moments.

While following Naomi outside, we found our friends the “W’s,” who were using our same agency and lived only about 20 minutes away from us in Houston. I was so thankful to see a familiar face and quickly asked my friend “L” what was going on and what we should be doing. She directed us to two different areas: one where the men were getting ready in their traditional African dress, and one where the women were getting ready. Tim and I split up to borrow some traditional African garb for the dedication ceremony, and then “L” took our first family photo:

Tim, Sarah, Eliza, Naomi, Jude and Nate: the Ganger Six!!

Tim, Sarah, Eliza, Naomi, Jude and Nate: the Ganger Six!!

We piled into a couple vans (and I do mean piled: our family plus all the 20+ children from Loving Hearts plus all the aunties and staff, at least 10 adults) and drove the short drive to Gabba Community Church, where the music was already going as we walked up. We started off down front, but Tim and I quickly realized this was a big mistake, as we were greatly outnumbered (2 adults to 4 kids), and we moved our crowd to the back.

After a lot of singing, half in English and half in Luganda, the children of Loving Hearts were brought up to be prayed over. We took Nate and Naomi up there, and I honestly don’t remember who all prayed or what specifically they prayed for, but I do remember being completely overwhelmed with thankfulness at having brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I had never met and will probably never see again in this life, lay hands on my children and pray for God’s protection and blessing to be upon them.

After the prayer dedication, the manager of Loving Hearts spoke and challenged the church to care for these children. The details were different, but the message was the same: “Orphan care is something that ALL followers of Jesus are called to participate in. Not all of us should adopt, but all of us should do something. What will you do to care for orphans?” I was struck at how I have heard such similar calls at churches in the US. The gospel and the call of Christ is the same across cultures, continents and languages. Thanks be to God.

We left the service shortly afterwards, not staying for much of the sermon, and headed back to Loving Hearts where a celebratory lunch was prepared for us. The food was so delicious, and the ladies who prepared it were so sweet and gracious. In fact, the hospitality we experienced at this luncheon, and throughout our time at Loving Hearts, was absolutely incredible.

Also at this luncheon, I asked my friend “L” to borrow her phone. We had been told that someone from our agency would deliver a phone to us, but no one had yet, and at this point we still had not been able to call anyone back home. I just couldn’t bear going any longer without letting someone know that we had made it safely. I called both my mom and sister, knowing that it was the wee hours of the morning in Houston and they probably wouldn’t be awake, and left messages letting them know that we had arrived safely and had met Naomi and Nate. I was so thankful just for the chance to let them know.

The rest of the day (and honestly, the several days that followed) was really hard. Naomi did not want to sleep upstairs with us (which is understandable, she didn’t know us), and she would just cry and cry at naptime and bedtime. I just held her and rocked her until she cried herself out and went to sleep. Nate, similarly, had a hard time going to sleep, but instead of crying, he would lie down in his pack and play and just bang his head on the mattress over and over until he fell asleep. Holding or rocking him didn’t help and in fact seemed to make things worse. It was heartbreaking for us to be there with them and yet be unable to comfort them.

And yet, we also saw some sweet mercies this day. We had to go out to run some errands in the evening, but we didn’t want to leave Nate and Naomi, yet we weren’t sure if they would want to go with us (the aunties and all the other kids had been with us to go to church, this outing would be just us). We started walking toward the van, and Naomi ran right along with us and hopped right in. Nate was in Tim’s arms and seemed unsure about leaving and yet didn’t cry or whimper as we put him in the van with us. We also didn’t know what Nate and Naomi would think of the food we had packed and brought with us. It was very American: lots of microwaveable soups, mac and cheese, etc. But they ate it without any trouble, and we were so thankful.

This first day was so full, and it felt so long.  I was so tired by the time bedtime rolled around, and yet that night was the first of several nights I would lie in bed, wide awake and staring at the ceiling, in a body so exhausted yet with a brain that insisted it was the middle of the day and not time for sleeping. All I could do is pray. And pray I did, a lot and often, alternating thanking God for getting us here, finally, after so much waiting and longing, allowing us to be with our new children and pleading with God for help,  understanding fully for the first time just how incapable I was of handling the task before me: caring for four kids under age four in a foreign country. I could only do this by the power and strength of the Lord, and so while I was lying there, I asked Him for it, and He graciously provided it in abundance, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

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