June 14, 2012

Footloose and free ... part 2

We rolled out from under mosquito nets and into our scrubs, into shoes that had straddled pit latrines the day before. We woke up with the sun and a sip of dark coffee, peanut butter on toast. We piled into vans with armed guards and boxed lunches. We hoisted pills, braces, crutches, and creams onto van roofs. 

Each day, the clinic sites varied while the set-up remained routine. Start with triage, then the doctors, then physical therapy. Finish up at pharmacy.

And I've never seen, in all of my life, a more patient and dignified crowd: quiet, gracious, and waiting from dawn to dusk under an African sun. Hungry babies. Strong mamas. Men in best dress. Their eyes told soul stories.

They waited outside while I stayed in. One by one, they stepped into a dirt-floored classroom with posters on the walls, all in English. They came with fevers and questions and heart pains. We listened and narrowed down, taught on-the-fly and rapid tested for malaria. We de-wormed and counseled and auscultated. Occasionally, we moved someone small to the front of the line.

And the lines were long, snaking through Uganda's red dirt and lush green with bikes and jugs and wash basins. Some days we turned hundreds away.

"We are so sorry," we said.

Just not enough hands, not enough hours in the day. In Uganda, the second fastest growing country in the world, there is 0.001 doctor for every one thousand people.

And for the little ones in the crowd each day, we had one box of shoes to share. Just one.

They were placed in the care of the physical therapists, an extraordinary group of young professionals with immediate and practical skills. They taught body mechanics and dressed wounds. They fashioned braces right on site from boiled plastic, old neoprene. They shared knowledge and hope.

"Do these exercises, wear this brace, bend your knees while you work ... your boy will walk."
They cut off casts, sewed belts, arranged an amputation.

And each day they put little shoes on little feet.

I didn't work with them directly- always a few doors down- but I knew they had been up to some good. Each day at clinic's end, I stepped out of my tiny triage space and into open air. I greeted darling faces, grabbed hands and sang songs, helped the pharmacy distribute long awaited meds.

And each day, without fail, I wrapped up our clinic time with delight over little feet. Just as soon as I shook my last limb to the Hokey Pokey and turned myself around, my eyes caught a glimpse of  little shoes.

And the first time I noticed? I cried.

Because they were my baby's shoes- the little green sandals with the flowers- and there they were, all those miles from home. The moment caught me off guard, and then it bowled me over with delight.

Her mom said they were her first and only pair.

And I didn't need to see them. Bringing your shoes and mine was never about seeing who received them. When we are called to give, we simply give. We don't get to calculate or manage or oversee.

But suddenly, there they were. Everywhere I looked, my shoes and yours were running to and fro nearly half a world away.

I thought of that big box in my attic, all the hanging on and what-ifs and just-in-cases ... how sometimes the clinging can stifle, take on a life of its own. Suddenly, we become hoarders of blessing never meant for the keeping.

And in the letting go of things, we grow a size or two.

These shoes were just bits of rubber and leather after all. But suddenly my heart was laced up in a new way ... this little life all tied to theirs somehow.  

Like when I saw him in my boy's first shoes and how my eyes welled up. I held my breathe for just a moment. Because my Ben learned to walk in those shoes. Then he ran down our street like he'd been born to fly.

And now? 

Here they were.

And I watched this little guy run right into the wind, and thought of my own blue-eyed boy back home ... all of his busy steps.
And two worlds really can collide, if we'll let them. If we'll give a bit of ourselves away... make some room to see.

You did the giving. And so I really wanted you to see too.

Thank you again, friends. For sending along some joy and for meeting a very practical need.

(I'd like to talk more soon about how so many are learning to meet their own needs in long-term, sustainable ways. Through vocational training and hard work, many are providing for themselves and for their families- not merely relying on gifts from afar. And isn't this really the goal? Why not send boxes and boxes of shoes several times a year? What then of the small business man who fashions and sells rubber-soled shoes from discarded tires, hemp ... for his village and for his income? These are things  worth thinking about. Plus, I'd love to introduce you to some of the folks I check in on from time to time.)

Friends, here's to running fast into Him today. Here's to letting go of the obstacles. Here's to giving with joy, so that His joy might travel far.
photo credit: Chris Kundrock


  1. thanks for yet another vision from our mission trip. oh how i wish we had more time to just share at the end of each day, to debrief, to relish each other's stories from the day, to delight in the Lord together. too much to do, too soon to wake. miss you my friend. be well this day, kiss your babies for me.

    1. Oh, I miss YOU, my friend. I think of your faithfulness often ... your servant heart. Thanks for showing me.

  2. This is so special, Ab. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and these sweet sweet photos. God is good!

    1. Ha ha, are they not the sweetest feet? Thanks for loving well, heart friend. "Somebody little" was blessed.

  3. Oh Abby! I see Ella's shoes!! How amazing! I just love reading your blog!

  4. Abby, thank you for your beautiful posts. God has given you a gift. Your work in Uganda is amazing.