And so here she was...

And so here she was...

“You told me to come, and now I am here.”

Those were the words which came slowly out of the mouth of the girl as she stood outside my door. It was very early in the morning and I think I was still in a bit of a fog having just woken up. It all started coming together in my mind. This little girl was Rose’s daughter. She was from the village of Iyegea. Ever since Rose had died from AIDS and TB two years ago, Mikala had faithfully and so lovingly accompanied her little brother here to our AIDS clinic every month to get his medicines. She was kind and good and caring. Doing what her mother would have done for her brother if only she were still here to get to do it. Last week when she brought him to the clinic, I had indeed told her to just come to our school, to come for the intensive English course, that we would somehow find a way. If she really wanted to study she should just come. And so here she was.

I end up calling a lot of the girls like her my daughters. They’re not of course. I don’t adopt any of them. They have their huge extended family – they have their uncles and their aunts, they have their neighbors next door and those who are the friends of their family. But my heart goes out to them, and as a member of these villages, I look to do for them what I would want someone to do for me if I were in their situations. I pull them into my life, and into our home, and into our family, and somehow we get them through school. I do everything I can to somehow find a job for them somewhere in my house after school; it means that I know that they’ve for sure got something to eat each day. And it means they have the other girls with their own impossibly hard lives who are somehow making it to show them that it can be done. And it means that they can make the pocket money to buy their pens and notebooks and pay some of their school fees. It might seem light years away now to dear Mikala, but I can point to Betti and to Eva who are up there right now taking their national exams to graduate from high school. Betti’s parents had both died by the time she was in the second grade; it was her primary school teachers who had come to see me and asked me to do something so that somehow she could study secondary school. She cleaned stuff in our house most days after school, and she studied hard, and four years later she was graduating. As was Eva, who wasn’t just graduating, she was graduating having won all of the prizes for being the top math student at our school. If Betti could make it, if Eva could make it, so could Mikala.

And so could Francis.

Francis has been with us in our classrooms for nearly three years. And then in July she just stopped coming. I know her parents well – they are both friends of mine – that’s what we say about everyone in our villages here who have the virus. But they had gotten so much sicker. The culprit was tuberculosis. How wonderful that they were able to test positive, because most people with AIDS can’t produce enough of what is necessary for the sputum sample, and if you can’t do that, you can’t prove you have TB and so you can’t get the free medication that will help you eventually to get better. And so you die. But they won’t die now and they are already on that slow road to recovery. But they would need Francis to drop out of school to do all of the extra work around the house and to care for the other younger children. It was the only solution they could see, and Francis did what had to be done. She told herself she would return to school another year when her parents were well again.

But Edgar, he’s the headmaster of our school, he is a good man, with a good heart. You see, if we who are in these villages are going to win against this virus, it is going to take good people to stand up and do something. How sad for the future, for Francis, for the whole community, to lose this girl, for her maybe to never go to school again. It would be a tragedy. Only a year away from graduation. But it takes people working together. And so Edgar went to talk to the village leaders to agree to find people in the village who would volunteer to be there at the house each day to help with the cooking and cleaning and taking care of those younger kids so that Francis could return to school. He did inventory of the situation -- they still have food from last year’s harvest there at the house, but something would have to be done to get this year’s crop in or they won’t be able to survive next year. That would be a job for our students and Edgar would talk to them about who would volunteer to go do that. And I agreed with Edgar that Francis could join those who come down to eat and to work at my house in the afternoons after school. One can never have too many daughters.

I have great hope that one day Mikala and Francis will both contribute in big ways to their communities. But whatever they end up doing later on in life is not the reason we do all this. It isn’t about helping Mikala or Francis or any of the rest of them because of what good they might or not might do if only they get an education. It’s about simply doing the right thing. The issue is not what great things they might or might not do; the issue is what we are going to do right now. What am I going to, what is Edgar going to do, what are our students going to do?

You know our schools have become known for our excellent academics, for how well our students do on the national exams compared to all the government schools. Our schools are known for serving the children of the poorest of the poor, for taking in the orphans and for never ever turning anyone away. Our schools are known as schools where discipline reigns, where our students make bricks and haul stones to build classrooms for their younger brothers and sisters. Our schools are known for being Christian schools where we have chapel and where there are missionaries. But even if we have the greatest of academics, and even if our students know their Bibles inside and out, and if they are the hardest working and most disciplined and studious students in the world, if our students have no love, and no concern, and will do nothing to help the neediest and those who hurt the most in our villages around their schools, then truly we will have done nothing.

I sometimes find myself wondering what it would be like living here in this world if there were no AIDS. I pray all the time for a cure. I long for the day when there is so much less death, and so much less pain, and so much less sickness. But I want my students to hear from my lips and to see in my actions that what God wants all of us to be doing is to be active in helping those who are hurting right in the here and now, not closing our eyes to the hurt around us, not doing nothing. I want our schools to be known as places where the students and the teachers are out there in the community doing things for the neediest of the needy. And I pray the girls like Mikala keep on coming ….

In His service,