I believe that the most important kind of love to give and receive in this lifetime is unconditional love—the ability to love a person wholeheartedly, no matter the circumstances or their flaws. My first impression of the James Place is exactly that: everyone involved in this organization pours their heart and soul into each day and loves one another unconditionally.
When I first chose to answer my call to serve in Africa I was not sure what to expect—I wasn’t familiar with Ugandan culture and I didn’t personally know any of the other volunteers I would be serving alongside. I had seen pictures of the James Place from social media posts online and once I arrived I was finally able to put the photos from my memory into context—like pieces in a puzzle. It was incredible to see all of these photos come to life, to feel the red dirt beneath my feet. I was now able to see in person the treehouse built by hand that the children absolutely adore, the roof they added over the sandbox that shares shade and so many giggles, and the gate for the goats donated by a generous donor.
From my first full day with HEAL Ministries I knew there was something special going on here. I never dreamed that I would be able to experience God’s work in a way that was so pure and genuine. It has been beautiful to see God working through everyone who enters the gates of the James Place.
One of my favorite things I’ve witnessed in my time here is the love the children have for each other. Images flash in my mind of two boys walking with their arms around each other, kids hooking arms and dancing and singing with each other during circle time, or girls skipping across the volleyball court holding hands with smiles from ear to ear. All of these images warm my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible.
My second full day at the James Place was a Saturday when we host KIDS Club in the afternoon. We had about 400 kids from the community pour into our gates to spend the day playing with each other and learning about God. We have kids who are a variety of different ages and many of them come with their younger siblings. Last Saturday the kids were fed nutritious hardboiled eggs and clean water. As they were sitting eating their snack and learning about Abraham, I saw one boy was handed a cup of water. Although it was 85 degrees out and he had spent the last hour and a half running around playing, before he took a single sip of water he held the cup up to his baby brother’s mouth so he could have the first sip. When the eggs were handed out he did the same thing—he made sure his brother ate first and he even helped him break the egg into small enough pieces for his brother to eat. I was amazed at how a boy, no older than the age of five, had learned to love so selflessly. As I spent more time at the James Place and the people involved with this organization it didn’t take long for me to find my answer.
Kids learn from observing—the behaviors they observe from the people around them are the behaviors they will try to imitate. Since they spend a majority of their time with the women of the James Place, it is the behavior of these women that the children will try to copy the most. In the days that followed KIDS Club, I realized that it wasn’t only the children who loved in such a pure and selfless manner but it was the women who loved in these ways as well. Each staff member of the James Place takes the time to learn every child’s name and their little personalities. Every day they are fed and bathed with care. The women show these children so much love and affection that this is the way the children have learned to treat each other too.
I feel so honored and blessed to have been given the opportunity to witness and receive this kind of love in my time at the James Place and I’m looking forward to learning from these women and children how to better love unconditionally.