This past weekend, I had the privilege of leading worship for Grace Community Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. This was their annual student winter retreat. My buddy, Ed Martin, the student pastor, also asked if I would teach the session on Saturday night on God’s heart for those in need, and to incorporate some of our adoption story and where we are in the process. I was glad to do so. The main point of the talk was “Compassion is not a feeling, it’s an action.” And before I went into our adoption story, I wanted to share about how God first broke my heart with compassion for the Ugandan people back in 2001, to help set the table. Here’s part of that story:
The first time I went overseas without my parents, the year was 2001. It was summertime. Just a few months before 9/11. My brother and I boarded a plane together and embarked for Uganda, Africa where we would spend the next three months working with a ministry there—a ministry that my Dad had begun a close partnership with about six years earlier. And the staff there had become very close to our family. The ministry was called Arise Africa International, sill in operation today. It’s a ministry that plants churches in remote villages. It provides widow and orphan care. It provides medicine and health needs for their people. And most importantly, it’s a ministry that provides the hope of the Gospel to hurting people.
The plan was that my brother, Smooth, and I were going to go over there and assist this ministry for an entire summer. We would preach in churches. We would conduct sports clinics. We would share the Gospel in schools and show videos about AIDS. And just be a help and support to Arise Africa in any possible way.
As a 21-year old kid who thought he knew it all, and thought he knew how the world worked, I can tell you that I was really in for an awakening. Here I was with dreadlocks, baggy jeans, and an attitude bigger than Randy Jackson’s teeth, and I stepped off that plane thinking that I was God’s gift to Uganda for that summer. We were greeted warmly by Godfrey Wanamitsa, the director and president of the ministry, along with his wife, Joy. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was a little out of place. Godfrey asked if I would be respectful of their culture enough to wear khakis instead of jeans and to either cut my hair or wear a cap. So as not to offend, I did. But in my heart I felt like the victim. I had traveled thousands of miles to help this ministry, and they immediately wanted me to conform.
Well, ministry began and things were going fine for the first couple of weeks, but I was incredibly homesick. I was missing Tasha, my soon-to-be fiancé. The weird smells of smoke and body odor were starting to get to me. And I just began to turn inward. My heart wasn’t soft toward these precious people. In fact, I felt nothing. It seemed to me just another summer job opportunity. All I was doing was counting the days till I could see Tasha again. Till I could sleep in my own bed again. And then, finally, it happened. God broke me.
I don’t remember the exact timeframe, but it was somewhere at about the 3-week mark. We came in from a long day of ministry, and we were exhausted. Godfrey and Joy had graciously opened up their humble home to us for the summer. They had five children at the time, and they were living in a 2-bedroom house that was probably no more than 800 square feet, which is big by Ugandan standards. We had eaten dinner and were getting ready for bed, when I walked down their tiny hallway back to our bedroom and happened to glance in the only other bedroom where the children were getting ready for bed. And that’s when it dawned on me. All seven of them, the five kids, and two parents, were sleeping in the same bed under one mosquito net in a room the size of a prison cell. Godfrey and Joy had sacrificially given me and Smooth their “master” bedroom. And it never dawned on me until that moment that they had sacrificed that much so that Smooth and I could stay the summer in their home and “minister” to their people. I never wondered where they were all sleeping because I was so focused on me–on my situation–on my circumstances–on my comfort.
I never wondered where they were all sleeping because I was so focused on me—on my situation—on my circumstances—on my comfort.
It was in that moment when compassion began making sense. Godfrey and Joy knew what compassion was. They loved their people, they had hope for their country, and they were trusting that I felt the same way. The problem was, I knew nothing about true compassion. All I cared about was myself. But from that moment on, the rest of the trip was different for me. I began seeing the hurt and the need. I began seeing people the way the Lord sees them. And I finally woke from my sleeping.