Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh how things change

The tap

Our old house and some of the boys

One night when we had just opened our children's home, what feels like forever ago, David was doing a series of, "women of the bible" for the devotions with the boys before they went to bed. I was sitting in the room just listening. The entire time the general feeling of the boys responses were essentially, that men were God's gift to women and that women were completely unimportant and low. At one point during the devotion David was talking about how God had used Abigail in the bible for His will and all of the boys began jumping around exclaiming, "No way!" "God can never use a woman to do anything!"   I was so hurt, shocked, upset, and I will even admit angry that I immediately stood straight up and with head held high marched silently out of the room. The boys stopped talking and started whispering among each other as I left.

Now I am going to have to set the scene a little bit. Uganda has many strengths, the people are generous, merciful and have such strength, etc- but it also has weaknesses as well. Patriarchy and a generally low view of women is one of them. Especially in the slums where there is a "ghetto culture" and men do whatever they want, it is even  worse. All of the boys in our home had just recently come out of that culture.

Back to the story. I went out of the house and over to the "ladies quarters" 3 small rooms on the other side of the compound where I and some other female nurses from the churches clinic lived. I went into my room and sat in silence. After a little while the boys got out of devotions and went to brush their teeth at the tap behind the house. I went out of my room and also got some water from the tap (just to remind them I was still around), and then silently went back to my room. All of the boys became deathly silent as I passed. One of the boys, Dirissa came tenatively to my room a little later and knocked on my door. When I answered he cleared his throat and told me, "Auntie... Forgive them. They are sorry." Frustrated that he was apologizing for everyone else I gave Dirissa a curt reply, told him goodnight and shut the door.

That night I cried and cried as I talked to my one day to be husband but friend at the time. I told him that maybe I had made a mistake. I had moved all the way to Africa and moved into a tiny little room in a slum and committed my life to a group of boys that couldn't see enough value in women to admit they could do anything of importance. That I had always thought God wanted me to work with boys to change this mindset around so that they would one day be men that lifted up and protected women, that through working with boys, I would help even more women. But that I was obviously wrong. David encouraged me and we prayed together. David told me the next morning we would talk to the boys.

The next morning Dirissa came to me and apologized again for the group,  (bless his sweet little heart) and I told him that I was wrong to have been tough with him the night before and he was brave to come back and apologize, that I was sorry and I forgave him as well. The rest of the boys avoided me like the plague and became silent whenever I passed.

It was a Sunday morning and as soon as the boys were all ready for church, David called them together and told them that we needed to have a family meeting in the living room. The boys sat on the benches and David set a chair for me to sit in.

I talked to the boys for about 10 minutes about all the ladies that had helped them in their lives, God's view of women, and how their words had hurt me as well as their response (other than Dirissa to approach me) to ignore me when they knew I was sad. The boys all became completely silent and then one of the boys came to me knelt down in front of me and apologized (here culturally women kneel to men, so this would have been a very signigicant sign of humility), the rest of the boys made a line and came up and apologized one by one in the same way. I told them I loved them and forgave them.

Someone had recently given them a large mirror and as we were at church, the boys had agreed to give it to me and had secretly put it up in my room while we were at church. Another boy, Sadic used his allowance money to buy me the flashiest pair of dangly rhinestone earrings I have ever seen.

I think in many ways that day was a start of a big change in their lives of the way that they viewed manhood and women...

Two weeks ago in devotions again we told our boys how we had been working with a group of ladies who had had to resort to prostitution in order to survive. That they had received a lot of healing, love and job skills in our Hope House programs, and that they were going to graduate the next week. We told them there was going to be a big graduation ceremony and asked if there was any of them that wanted to help serve the ladies that day, washing dishes, serving the food and cleaning up. It would not be a time of having fun but of working and serving the ladies.  Almost all of the boys hands shot up! We had to narrow it down to six boys and last week, sure enough they came to the ceremony.

They worked soooooo hard! All of the boys waited last to eat so that they could serve the ladies first. When I asked one of the boys if I could have a rag to wipe down one of the tables the boy said, "No Auntie Babirye! We will do it! You cannot do anything, you are a lady! Let the men do the work!" My heart just melted at this. Here it is women that do all of the work, they carry water, work in the fields, take care of the house, etc-

Some of the boys serving =-)

 For a long time I have not been able to carry anything other than my small purse around the boys as they will always run up and take it from me so that they can carry it. It has been a long road with many aunties, uncles, counselors, and visitors repeatedly sharing the same truths with them, but God has truly been able to change these boys hearts and raise them up into the most amazing young men! I appreciate our uncles so much as well for being the ones to pave the way. It is men that must make way for women to raise up, women cannot do it by themselves. Everytime the uncles have opened door for ladies, helped them, done the work for them, etc- it has shown the boys what it really means to be a mean.

David and I pray everyday that God will raise the boys up into godly young men that provide for their families and use their strength to not oppress others but to instead lift up women and children. God has been encouraging my heart so much as I am beginning to see glimpses of this coming to pass.

Some conversations with the boys over the last couple of weeks:

- (Me and Dirissa) "Thank you so much for helping me cook, Dirissa, are you going to help your wife like this?"  
"Of course auntie! Because I will love her!"

- (Me and Monday) "Monday are you going to take good care of your wife?"
"Yes auntie!"
"Monday what would you do if she got so angry that she pushed you?"
"I would walk away, because I have more power than she does"
"You are right Monday..."

-(Shafik and Caitlyn) "Auntie I need to wait for you to escort you to the football pitch. I need to walk behind you in case a bad man jumps out!"

And every time that we ride back from church in our van that cannot fit everyone, if we ever ride pass one of our Ugandan aunties walking, our big boys always jump out of the vehicle to give their space to the auntie to get in.



  1. This post made me cry! What hearts these boys have! I am praying for Y'all! Janet

  2. I live in Eastern Uganda as a missionary and everything you shared about gender roles here is true. This post made me cry tears of joy over how the Lord is moving in their hearts and how I know God can continue to move in the lives of Christian men all over UG. Thank you!!!

  3. Oh Abby! This post is precious. Honestly... what a difference you and your staff are making to not just stop the cycle of violence and oppression but to begin an intergenerational cycle of healing and love. It does start with these boys who will one day soon be men who will love their wives and daughters with an authority of love. Thank you for taking the time to write this post... we all needed it!

    Love and miss you so,


  4. You are such a blessing! God truly is using you to transform these boys lives... and not just theirs... but mine too!!!