On November 20, 2016, the men, women, and children of Kibisi, Uganda, gathered together for the inaugural I Am That Woman women’s conference and the ceremonial groundbreaking and community celebration for The Life and Peace Health Centre. Sophia and I were honored to enjoy the dancing, songs, poetry, and speeches—and to briefly teach on biblical peacemaking, relational wisdom, and redemptive relationships.
There were so many favorite aspects of this conference that it is hard for me to summarize just a few for you now. But I will try my best!
When we first arrived, we were greeted by the children of the village who were thrilled to play with the soccer balls that had been sent as gifts from our friends and from CharityBall.org.
The younger children also giggled and cheered as they played with balloons and other toys provided by your sweet generosity.
When it was almost time for the conference to begin, we were escorted into a private area where the women of the village dressed us in the traditional dress of Uganda—the Gomesi—and we were led out to the conference area by a gifted traditional dancer.
(The dancer is one of the young girls who wants to stay in school, but whose family cannot afford the $30/month to pay for her educational expenses. We are prayerfully working to raise funds for her.)
Once we were seated, the group singing, dancing, and poetry started! The children worked for months to write and memorize custom lyrics with beautiful accompanying dance moves.
“God is good all the time! Give you life to Jesus Christ, he is the way and he is the life! Always ask forgiveness whenever you go wrong … you will live and reign with him! Thank you, Father, thank you Holy Son, thank you for the Holy Spirit, thank you, God, for everything!”
“Welcome to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa! Mother Tara and Sister Sophie Grace, Father Frederick and Sister Ella, you are only welcome! Thank you for the love and the care, we thank you so much!”
Most of the singing and dancing was upbeat and filled with joy. But one poem by a teenage girl, who has already experienced deep suffering throughout her life, was so honest that it was painful. Please take three minutes and listen carefully to the haunting, heart-breaking words of her poem and her plea for help from all of the “responsible” adults who have the power and means to change the plight of girls in Uganda:
“Hear the cries of the girls of Uganda. Some men don’t love girls; don’t care for girls. Men kidnap, rape, murder girls and keep girls from making decisions; just force them to perform when she is of age.
During labor, causing much pain and fistula if not death.
Oh! Responsible people! Let the girl child stay in school. Banish all who interfere with a girl’s life. Educate, care for, love and empower each girl in Uganda to succeed.”
The women leaders of Kibisi gave a special invitation for everyone in the village, and for you and me, to get involved, join together, and help to bring about community change:
“Let us sing and let us plan! Let us cheer up today! Standing, working, together hand-in-hand, we go. The association of I Am That Woman serving our community as we face the future.”
When it was time for our presentation, Sophia and I began by thanking the village for inviting us to be with them. Sophia greeted everyone in their native tongue—I wish I had her ear for languages!—and they all enjoyed that immensely.
Ken and Corlette Sande had graciously and generously donated RelationalWisdom brochures, so even though our teaching times were relatively short, we could leave behind a rich biblical study in peacemaking and redemptive relationships.
I shared my testimony of coming from a difficult childhood home, but that my mother gave me wise counsel re: staying in school and getting an education. I explained that as a teenager, I learned about Christ and heard the gospel from friends in my school. I learned about the holy, triune God; that I was a sinner in need of salvation; that the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, took on flesh to live the life I could not live and die the death that I deserved. When I put all of my hope in him for my salvation, I went from being an orphan to a beloved child; from being guilty and shamed to forgiven and grace-filled.
The children laughed when I then asked if they thought everything was PERFECT from that point forward. Of course not! Like everyone, my life has had suffering and disappointment; I am a sinner with many rough edges; but God gives us grace for the day, his Holy Spirit, a family in the Church, His Word, and His prayers to help us to grow in Christ throughout this life.
One aspect of my continued growth in sanctification is the fact that I still sin against my children sometimes by raising my voice and being impatient / harsh with them. At this point, Sophia began to teach as well because I (shockingly!) said that when I sin against my children, I ask them for their forgiveness.
The idea of someone in authority (like a parent) condescending to a child to ask for forgiveness was radical, even for the Christians in attendance. But Sophia did a beautiful job of teaching both that we are called to forgive and how we are enabled to forgive (because Christ forgives us).
One of the women leaders hypothesized with me that perhaps one aspect of helping this culture to move away from an oppressive, twisted application of authority and submission will happen not with the men (at first), but with the women … as they learn how to confess and forgive, even as regards their own children.
Sometimes, it can be common for people who are victimized and oppressed to victimize and oppress others. We often sin in response to being sinned against. Therefore, even as we prayerfully strive with all of our strength and intellect to stop injustice and oppression, we must still be aware of the “logs” in our own eyes (Matthew 7:5) as regards other areas of our lives. (Abuse victims never, never being responsible for the actions of the oppressors, of course!)
I don’t know how this will all play out in the village of Kibisi and I would never presume to know enough about Ugandan culture to make any broad brush-stroke comparisons or overview statements. But I can say one thing for sure: my conversations after the conference were rich with questions from godly men and women who were amazed at the example we used of an adult asking a child for forgiveness.
When I described how I feel after Sophia forgives me—like a weight being removed from my shoulders!—I used the example of Sophia carrying the heavy water container back from the well with the Ugandan girls earlier in the week.
Again, the crowd was shocked because they had never even heard of a white woman taking on a servant’s role and doing something as “low” as fetching water. But of course, we were honored to serve the people of Kibisi—to take on a servant’s role, just like Jesus, our Suffering Servant.
At this point, I opened my Bible to the gospel of John, chapter 4, and read of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. I told the entire village that my prayer for them was that they would drink from the Living Water of Jesus, because then they would never be thirsty again because they would be nourished by the spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Our host, Paskazia, closed out the conference with a beautiful speech about the goals of Maternal Life International and I Am That Woman. A few excerpts:
“We are committed to actively raising the quality of life for every child and woman in Kibisi. We want all children, regardless of race, creed, or circumstance, to achieve their full potential with the Lord being our Shepherd. Our task is to make it possible. Our mission is to provide practical, step-by-step holistic assistance.
We are aware that transforming communites requires a united team … we are here to provide services through joint partnerships. Our challlenges are many, but we do believe that the final answer lies in God’s plan for us.
Please keep us in your prayers as together we can see people’s lives transformed and God’s world enriched in His Name.”
We are definitely keeping the village of Kibisi in our prayers and we would encourage you to consider doing the same. Please also consider getting involved financially and/or sharing your time and talents with them! This village is really off the beaten path and it probably is never going to attract the attention of the “big” NGO’s and charities. In a way, that’s too bad, and in a way, it provides a powerful opportunity to even a tiny bit of your charity to be leveraged in profoundly impactful ways. Please do consider joining in with our family to serve these dear people! Our family would love to partner with you.
In closing, I will share with you the words of the girls themselves who have already benefited from these amazing women leaders. In the video, they do a little call and response “song” that talks about how their lives and their perspectives on women have changed.
Sophie and I love it! And we hope it blesses you, too:
“I am that woman! A woman is a hero, a warrior, a comfort.
Educator, motivator, advisor, director … I am that woman! It is time. Yes, it’s time!
Read the Bible, do the writings, pray the gospel, tell the writings.
People travel from where they live to learn how and where we love—oh! That is great love.
Mother Tara, Sister Grace, your love is great. It is an opportunity that with God, your open hearts,
with your support, we will be built big and great.
Oh, community! It is time for lives to change. Serve your home and then your community!
No more ignorance! No more oppression! Women or girls say yes or no. Stand with God, walk with God,
live with God, read the Word, forgive like Christ, learn to laugh.
You, our parents, teachers, leaders—education, sanitation, immunization,
personal hygiene, family planning, medical care.
Let’s love God for he gave us life. Let us render thanks to God who gave us Christ. Let’s love God
who helps us to have a life and peace health center!”
(To read our first installment of this story, click here to learn about our travel to-from Uganda and Montana. Our second section describes our visits to the homes in the village of Kibisi. Next up? Photos from the groundbreaking ceremony for the Life and Peace Health Centre. Then, our candids page. And finally, details about the girls we are trying to help keep in school.)