Everyone went home, well, home in the sense of that place where your biological families are, that place you call your own whether you want to or not. It is nearing Election Day in Uganda and the ChildVoice center will be closed for the next several weeks. As the girls and children packed and prepared to leave ChildVoice though, I noticed an unusual somberness in many of them.

The girls have become very good at hiding most of their feelings, or at least pretending they are tough. The kids though still show their true emotions. They were clearly sad. When I asked Odong what was wrong he said, “Ojoko, pege. Prisca pege. Alan pege. Achito gang diri.” (Ojoko isn’t here. Prisca isn’t here. Alan isn’t here. I’m going home tomorrow.) Some of the girls and their children had already returned home and Odong was lamenting his same fate for the next day. When I see some of the girls in town who graduated and left ChildVoice in December, they always say that their children miss the center.

As the van full of girls and their children drove away, one of the children, Pitora, banged on the car window and cried as it drove away. Amazing. They didn’t want to go home. How could that be? Didn’t everyone enjoy going home? Shouldn’t this be a happy day? Then again, not everyone has a comfortable living situation or a warm family to welcome them home. The lives these girls and their children live while at ChildVoice is significantly better than their home lives where they work from morning until evening, often being forced to leave their children behind to fend for themselves. The food does not magically appear in regular intervals throughout the day, and they no longer have their friends and playmates around. I guess I wouldn’t want to go “home” much either.

The truth is that for many of the girls and children, ChildVoice IS their home. While there is certainly an adjustment period when they first arrive at the center, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that they have a loving and supportive family right there. They enjoy being able to learn, to worship God freely, and to spend time with their friends. The girls form incredible bonds with one another that many of them have never known before. They are joined by common experiences. They are family.

Something funny has happened though…the girls are not the only ones who have found family at ChildVoice; I feel like I have too. Let me describe this morning to you—I am awakened by the sound of the girls singing worship songs and banging on the drums. I emerge from my hut to be greeted by my neighbor, Beatrice, who thanks me for waking up (a lovely little tradition in Uganda) and tells me how beautiful I’m looking. Matron then comes over, gives me a hug and asks me how I slept last night and she also tells me I’m looking very smart (It was the Ugandan dress I just bought. They love when mzungus try to blend). I take my coffee percolator to the kitchen and Aning (who I call ‘Mama’) does the same, giving me a hug and shortly after bringing the heated coffee to my hut for me. I sit and drink my coffee with my neighbors (CVI co-workers) as we talk about things like the nasty dry season dust, harvesting millet before it goes bad and putting rat poison in the hut to prevent any unwanted visitors while we’re gone…all perfectly normal small talk ya know? A few co-workers welcome me to their homes and others arrange to meet for tea in town later in the week. As I prepare to leave the center, relocating to a co-workers apartment in Gulu town while the center is closed, the remaining girls help me load my items into the vehicle, hug me goodbye and wish me a safe journey until we meet again. I got a little teary-eyed as I drove away. I guess leaving home is never easy after all…

As I prepare to spend the next three weeks in Gulu basically alone, I must remind myself of one thing though—I’m not really alone at all. This is not the first time and will not be the last that I will spend several weeks in my own company. During my travels I’ve eaten many meals alone, explored, ran, worked and relaxed, all on my own. Granted, even though I’ve enjoyed these times of self-discovery and independence, there is something to be said for sharing these discoveries with another. It somehow seems as if it becomes more real when someone else is there. If you are alone, who is there to help you recall the name of that one restaurant that serves the best sushi or the time you wiped out in a giant muddy pothole…well…on second thought, maybe it is best not to remember some things.

I was blessed for several weeks to have the company of two very good friends since childhood, Jessie Blackwell and Sarah Kemp. They experienced the “bush life” with me and for that I feel so blessed. There are some memories I can now share with a knowing audience, some things that people from home can now relate to and understand. When I somehow long for the simplicity of my old hammock and mud hut or want to laugh about the time Ojoko accidently peed on me, there will be someone who knows who I’m talking about, who “gets it”. I will not be completely alone or misunderstood. I am forever grateful for that comfort. Thank you Jessie and Sarah for that gift.

Wheeling girls take Uganda

Now that they have left Uganda and I am one of the few non-Ugandans left in the area, one could say that I am again “alone,” and although that may be true in the physical sense, I know someone who will always be with me. I heard a song by Mercy Me recently called “Homesick.” Here are some of the lyrics:

“In Christ, there are no goodbyes; And in Christ, there is no end; So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have;  To see you again.

…And I close my eyes and I see your face; If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place; Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow.

I’ve never been more homesick than now.”

Yes, I miss my home—as in the place where my family resides, a place I love and feel welcomed. But when I’m alone, that is when I feel God’s presence the most. I talk to Him more and feel Him talking back, comforting and guiding me. I have a home in Wheeling, West Virginia. I had one in Morgantown. For a little while I had one in Dublin, Ireland, and now I have one in the little village of Lukodi, Uganda. Homesick? Sure…at times, but the truth is that my real home (all of our real homes) is with the Lord.

I am grateful for my many homes and many family members around the world and for the One who provides those, the One who never leaves, and the One who is the best travel partner that anyone could ever ask for.

Some of the children in my Ugandan family