Something that I never expected to happen to me has happened. I am bitter. I am losing my compassion. I am becoming complacent. I am sometimes short-tempered. I am almost always on guard. Or at least, I was for a while…until I remembered to let God in again.

“Try to be at peace with everyone and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it. Guard yourself against turning back from the grace of God. Let no one become like a bitter plant that grows up and causes many troubles with its poison.” (Hebrews 12:14-15)

Before I left home, everyone told me to be safe, not to be naïve, not to be friendly to strangers, not to trust anyone. The same sentiments were repeated to me by coworkers when I got to Uganda. Except in addition to those suggestions to keep my guard up were suggestions to be firm so as to be viewed as having a position of authority, don’t show too much affection or interest, don’t have a private conversation with a male and many other culturally appropriate rules. This was how I started becoming guarded and untrusting. Trying to follow all these “suggestions” for how to act finally caught up with me and I forgot how to just be myself.

In the past several months since I’ve been here, I have experienced some situations which have also forced me to put the walls up to the point that I wasn’t even seeing clearly. Seeing people living in poverty every day starts to become “normal.” The mud homes, the tattered clothes and no shoes, the bloated bellies…you start telling yourself this is just the way things are and that since the people haven’t known anything different, they’re perfectly content with their situations. Because you can’t possibly say ‘yes’ to everyone, you learn to say ‘no’…to everyone. Suddenly the street kid who knocks on your car window becomes a nuisance and you find it a lot less of an internal conflict to walk past the old crippled man on the side of the road. You also get used to being the only white person in sight and the attention that comes with it. You grow tired of strangers yelling ‘hey mzungu’ or ‘mono, how are you?’ and suddenly find it easy to ignore them because you have a name and deserve to be called it. I would ever say ‘hey black dude, what’s up?’

See what’s happening though? I’ve found an unfortunate but accurate word to describe it.

Dehumanizing: “To make someone less human by taking away his or her individuality, the creative and interesting aspects of his or her personality or his or her compassion and sensitivity toward others.” (Wikipedia)

Yep…that about sums it up. Dehumanizing. Add to that blocking things out, blocking people out and becoming desensitized. This defense act became such a part of my everyday routine that I wasn’t even aware of it anymore. As we were walking one day, Jessie commented on the malnourished children with the puffed out bellies. “Oh…they’re malnourished?” I said. Of course they are! But almost every child I had seen for the past 5 months looked like that so I honestly thought that was normal. Later my sister commented on a picture of one of the kids and said, ‘Have you ever seen a kid at home look like that?’ Well…come to think of it, I hadn’t. Another time, we were lost and a young man kindly offered to help us find our way. Assuming he wanted money, I ripped the piece of paper from him and said ‘We’re just fine alone, thanks!’ and walked speedily away. Jessie didn’t even have to say anything. The look on her face told me I was unnecessarily rude. Turns out he really was just trying to help us.

How did this happen to me?? That’s not me at all. The real me smiles at everyone I pass, talks with strangers, gives to those in need, wears my heart on my sleeve. But the first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem, right? I’m glad Jessie was here to point it out to me, even though I admit that the burden of carrying on this ‘tough act’ was already weighing on my heart and my conscience for some time. Honestly, it had become draining. I’ve always said I want to live in a way so that others might come to know God through me, but how in the world could anyone come to know God through me if this is the way I’m acting. This was not Christ-like at all.

During this time I was also talking to God a little less than usual. I don’t know why exactly. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. I was just busy, ya know? Lame excuse. I know we should never be too busy for God. I realized that the further I was from God though, the worse I was feeling. This fear, cynicism and distrust of others should have been the very things I was guarding myself against, not other people. As soon as I started talking to God about these feelings though, these problems of having a hardened heart, He quickly worked to make me soft again, showing me His simple beauty through the young women and children I am working with.

Coming to Uganda, I never expected to experience this challenge. But as I’ve said before (from Romans 7:21) “when I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” We all have similar struggles actually. Many people grow up thinking that one race or class of people is inferior to the other, and we find ourselves placing people in neat little categories to fit our previous assumptions about them. We stereotype, we judge. It is natural for us to do this as humans, but we must be guarded against these ways of thinking because they inevitably determine our actions. One of the things I remember from my religion class at Wheeling Central with Mr. Smay was the discussion about our hearts and minds being spiritual battlefields. To be honest, I did not fully understand what he was talking about at the time, but I do now. In the battle for my mind and my heart (and everyone else’s), I pray that God will always be victorious.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:15

They make me melt 🙂 ~ Lubang Kene

~Agena

~Lubang Kene

~Aaron

~Ojoko

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