HEAL From the Outside, In: How Community Changes EverythingA recent observation of the James Place by Kendell, an Archibald Project Media Mission Team member Posted by Kendell
"You know how you know something about yourself and you ignore it?" Tina explained. (Yeaaah, I think I know a thing or two about that.) "Well, God didn't give up on me."
Thank the Lord.
When we first traveled on the severely pothole-laden roads toward the James Place, I didn't know what to expect (spoken as if I knew what to anticipate any other day in Uganda??). But, driving through the gates, my eager eyes could barely capture all the good. The grounds before the tall guest house featured curious children, a colorful tire mountain, an impressive hand-built tree house kids hailing from any country would be supremely jealous of, a volleyball net perched protectively about the innocent heads that played beneath it, and a long swing set 12 tiny pumping legs deep. Then, as our team piled out of the van and I peered around back of the house? It just got better. My eyes lingered on beautiful women, with faces that somehow gave away their cavernous understanding of pain, clustered together on a blanket beading and laughing, while seemingly interdependent souls yards away squatted comfortably creating rugs and cradling squishy chocolate babies in their arms. Layer that with the sounds from a busy sewing classroom, the clanging pots of lunch preparation, the sweet woodsy smell of a fire, a teacher spinning at a potter's wheel, chickens pecking the ground like it belonged solely to them, and a small crop stretching towards God? A sigh of contented awe escaped my lips. This feeling. Could I just go ahead and move on in now?
We sat around a heavy wooden table with Tina Weir as she graciously lay bare how all the transformative power before us had found fruition. After a successful career as an interior designer, and 20 years of the Lord working on her heart, Tina thought she came to Uganda to start an orphanage. But, God had other plans. Don't you love when He does that? Me too. See, single moms kept being placed in her path, and, having experienced abandonment personally, Tina was led to realize that the only difference between her and these women is that they were born in a land of poverty. They were born in a place where it's acceptable to be kicked out of their homes for being pregnant (whether be result of prostitution, rape, trafficking, or choice). In her words, "The Lord showed me that I was from a land with all of this help, and they weren't." Knowing it was not what she signed up for, Tina jumped in anyway. I knew I liked this woman.
The James Place opened in January 2013 with the mission of family preservation. You've heard the statistics, there are 153 million orphans worldwide and there are 2.7 million orphans in Uganda (UNICEF), but did you know that the majority of them have a family? This ministry's Ugandan staff, led by Tina and her son Trey, and backed stateside by HEAL Ministries (which Tina founded), strive to walk alongside abandoned women and empower them to stand on their own two feet. By teaching them a skill, showing them love and helping them discover confidence, the James Place community allows women to envision the expectation of self-sustainability. Giving control back to those who have had it stripped away. Preventing orphans in the process.
The women at the James Place are referred by social workers, the Jinja Pregnancy Crisis Center, and word of mouth. Staff members guide selected girls in choosing a track (1-3 years in rug making, sewing, beading, teaching, pottery, business, or farming). During their time with Tina and her inspired crew, the women come to the James Place twice a week to participate in English class, bible study, and skill training. Most importantly, they know their children are well taken care of, every day, at the daycare and accredited preschool on property. Success in the James Place terms is happy mom and a thriving baby, experiencing spiritual growth, and realizing the ability to pay for school fees, rent, and food. No small feat. As you can probably surmise through, and was quickly apparent to me, the instruction and practical life-skills the women receive are integral, but the ubiquitous truth was found in their connections with one another. In our conversation with Tina she mentioned more than once, "The Lord's whole plan is relationship." And? I think she's on to something.
I had the opportunity to talk with Aisha, a beautiful 26-year-old mother who has taught at the James Place for two years. I was eager for insight on this acre of empowerment I had instantly fallen in love with, but Ugandan women aren't exactly known for their candor, or emotive scenes, so I wasn't sure what I would gather. After a few formalities, Aisha started off by detailing her social reality. Telling me how easy it is for men to run for women. Explaining that many kids end up on the street because of the choices are by the adults in their lives. It broke me, but I wanted to know more. We leisurely detoured the conversation to our loves, our purposes; she told me about her 4-year-old and I showed her pictures of my son. "He's black!" she shrieked and we laughed. Then I attempted to articulate to her how there are many ways to fight for motherhood. She smiled, dug a little deeper, and told me of a close friend at the James Place. A girl who started her journey with no food, no job, filthy conditions to call home, and three children to protect. She shared how now her sister is living in a good place, can feed her family, can pay school fees all on her own, and whose joy has been brought back. If that's the only thing this place did? I'd call it a success. Next, she brought it back to Tina, how most others turn away when the girls falter or make poor choices, but that she never does. That Tina shows them how to love, share, and give. I told you she was on to something...Then? After some comfortable silence, Aisha took a risk that I'll be forever grateful for. She revealed to me that there was a time very recently when she wanted to give up, when she was out of her mind, when she couldn't come to work. She didn't go into specifics. She didn't need to. Reaching for her handkerchief and quietly dabbing at tears, she told me that He always knows what we need. That is was her the James Place community who encouraged her, had hope for her when she had none for herself, and brought her back to work. She said, "I thank God for them. I take them as a part of my family, my sisters and brothers." Relationships, indeed.
Aisha's parting words to me could probably be blown up billboard size and serve as the truest testimony of what the James Place accomplishes alongside these women. As she put away her handkerchief and gave me a hug, but before she pulled back on her strongly composed exterior, Aisha said, "I feel like staying here forever, God willing."
You know what Aisha? Me too. On so many levels.
Tina will assuredly be the first to tell you that this is the Lord's work. That the James Place exists because of the in-country employees, the HEAL Ministries U.S. board, and Ugandan board. That this property transforms lives because her son and the many teams an volunteers that rain their time and talents on the women and children. But, I have a fairly solid instinct that the 175 women who have thus far been impacted by the James Place would say it also has a whole lot to do with Tina.
Because God didn't give up on her, she doesn't give up on them. And that? Changes everything. In fact, it could change the world one heart at a time.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27