We watched the Watoto choir perform Sunday at the Boulder Valley Community Church. For those not familiar, Watoto is an “holistic care programme that was initiated as a response to the overwhelming number of orphaned children and vulnerable women in Uganda.” They seek to “rescue” individual orphans or women, “raise” each one as a leader so that they may one day help “rebuild” their nation.
While the music and the dancing were wildly entertaining, I was struck by the stories that the children told. Either through war, famine, or HIV, these kids were orphaned at a very young age. They told of feeling abandoned. They felt like no one loved them. If, on the off chance that someone could care for them, they could count on having to work ceaselessly to earn their keep. School, in this situation, was out of the question. At night, with no one to love on them, the only thing emptier than their stomachs was their hearts.
By grace, they ended up in this community where they receive new volunteer mothers and fathers, and are inserted into a new family made up of brothers and sisters just like them. They get an education. Some, like the choir we listened to on Sunday, tour the U.S. sharing their stories, singing and dancing. Their message – “I am not forgotten.”
While we watched the performance, Izzie sat in my lap. I realized that her’s, Jack’s and Caroline’s story were similar. Their father, the late Fred Stovall, passed away when Izzie was 6 weeks old. Jack was 2 ½. Caroline was 8. Marion, left to raise 3 kids while grieving the loss of her husband, did the best she could with what she had. I’ve realized over the last three years that each of them, based on their age at their father’s passing, lost something unique to their developmental stage which still affects them as they grow up.
How naïve I was when Marion and I were dating. We knew that this marriage was the result of divine providence. How else would I have had the courage to jump in with both feet? Yet, how woefully unprepared and unequipped I am.
At 6 weeks old, a father’s voice can calm and reassure. Izzie lost the soothing baritone of her daddy and as a result she is still the most difficult of our children to comfort when she is upset.
At 2 ½, Jack lost his best friend in the world, the man who would be his first and most influential guide. To this day, Jack has a hard time relating to his peers. When he withdraws into himself on occasion, his loneliness is palpable.
Caroline, 8 years old at the time of her father’s passing had responsibility thrust upon her too soon. She has been working hard ever since. I’m afraid she’ll never stop. Rather, she’ll just keep piling weight on her shoulders.
Watching the Watoto children was a sobering experience for me. It gave me a rare (for me) glimpse into my purpose in life. It felt like I was looking down across a vast wilderness from the top of a ridge. To carry the metaphor further, for two years I’ve been hacking my way through the bush with an old map and GPS with dead batteries. What I mean is, by not recognizing the unique effect of their father’s passing on each of the children, I have failed to be intentional with what I can offer. Izzie needs reassurance. Jack needs a positive male role model or models, and Caroline needs the adults in her life to consider wisely before throwing more weight on her shoulders.
The blessing this Sunday has been my glimpse of their stories, Watoto’s, Caroline’s, Jack’s, Izzie’s, Marion’s, my, and even Olivia’s story in a larger, redemptive story. Far from the destination of “happy ending” but a story of on going healing where all along they, we are not forgotten.