Three of our days were spent serving along an AMAZING ministry called Sixty Feet. Sixty Feet serves in several children’s prisons in Uganda. Yes, you read that correctly. Prisons just for children. Sixty Feet works to improve the conditions in the prisons by specifically providing water, food, and medical care.
I had a pretty good feeling prior to Africa that our time with Sixty Feet would wreck me. I had no idea…
We visited 3 different prisons. Because of the sensitive relationship Sixty Feet has with the facilities and the government, the real names of these prisons cannot be used here.
The first prison we visited is known as M1. Kids arrive at M1, and the other prisons, for several different reasons. They could be orphans that have no where else to go. Their parents can drop them off for being “too stubborn.” They may have committed a crime. Some may be in prison for something as serious as rape or murder, but we also learned that one boy is in prison because he ran over a chicken with his bicycle!
When our bus pulled up to the M1 facility we were instantly swarmed by kids. We assumed they were kids from the prison, but Moses, the in-country director of Sixty Feet, told us they were all Karamajong kids. The Karamajong tribe is considered the outcasts of Uganda. These children are sent by their parents to beg on the streets. The government then rounds these children up and dumps them at places like M1. These are not orphans! These are children being taken away like dogs to the pound.
I soon found myself attached to the little one in the picture above. Her name is Locura. She was wearing a thin white tank top that was about 3 sizes too big for her, and that was all. No pants, no underwear, no shoes. She was permanently attached to me for the rest of the day. Oh I how loved having her in my arms.
We were given a tour of M1. Our tour began by meeting the boys in the “Black Room.” Children are sent to the Black Room to “break” them when they first arrive. They are kept in this room with no bed, toilet, blanket, clothes. Nothing. They are kept in this cell, unable to come out for anything, for several weeks.
After the tour of the remainder of the prison, we joined the prison kids for worship. And oh how they worshiped! It was so beautiful to see them dancing and praising God. It is absolutely heavenly to have a sweet babe in your arms while watching children sing praises.
The next prison we went to is known as M3. At M3 we were welcomed by about 150 kids. Mostly boys age 12-17. All of the kids here were so sweet and so respectful. We got to sing praise and dance with all of them. There was some great drumming! After, we had some time to play ball with them.
After we left M3, it was off to M4. It was at M4 that my heart shattered. Even now, I think of our short time there, and tears come to my eyes. We unfortunately weren’t allowed to take pictures at this facility, and words absolutely cannot do justice for how bad things were, but I will do my best to describe it to you.
M4 is a place for children that have been lost, abandoned, or orphaned. We were told children here were ages 2-12. They looked more like infants to about 8.
When we arrived all of the kids were jumping up and down screaming, so excited we had come. We were the first team to ever visit M4. As we came closer, it quickly became evident how many needs there were. All of the kids had little to no clothing. They all were so malnourished. Most of the kids had special needs. There were about 100 kids at M4, and only three women to care for them all. These are good women, but 3 people for 100 kids is not enough.
We gave out headbands when we arrived. In the midst of the commotion, one little girl had a seizure. Four other children came and carried her away. All of the children were so sick. They were lethargic, with distended bellies, and horrible coughs.
I walked up onto the porch and saw a sweet baby that looked to be about 6 months old. I scooped up the bare-bottomed sweetie. She was so happy! She giggled about everything. As I held her I began to notice that her chest and arms were covered in horrible scars that looked to be the result of a burn. I can only imagine how she got them. While she was the size of a 6 month old, she had all of her teeth, which meant she was probably more like 2, at least.
Another one of my team members was sitting beside me with another precious little one. The baby began to have a seizure. Again, someone came and whisked her away to a back room. Alone. I have shared my story here before. You can catch up here and here. Seeing these little ones having seizures, which I know is so terrifying, then seeing them suffer through it alone, was almost more than I could take.
My heart broke further as I saw all of these bare-bottomed babies urinate on the floor of the home. No one cleaned it up, instead other children came and crawled, walked, and sat in it.
I have never felt so small and helpless as I did at M4. The need was overwhelming. In my head I was screaming out to God asking why. Asking how was this to be solved.
I had asked several other kids and a couple of the women what the little girl’s name was that I was holding. No one knew. She was alone there. Nameless. We gave stuffed animals to all of the kids that day. I gave her a stuffed elephant. She clutched it to her as I rocked her. Some of our team sang with/for the kids. I carried my little one off the porch as I continued to rock her. I didn’t know what to do. I sat on some stairs, clutched her to my chest and wept. I kissed her over and over again. I sang over her and prayed over her. I told her how much I loved her, how much Jesus loves her. I told her how beautiful she is, how special she is.
People always ask how I make it home without bringing the kids with me. I can honestly say that it was only by God’s strength that I was able to let her go. I wanted so badly to scoop her up and take her home. To fight for her. To fight through anything and anyone that tried to keep me from bringing my baby home. It breaks my heart to know that she is there, as are so many others, with no one to fill her tummy. No one to rock her to sleep. No one to kiss her boo boos. No one that even knows her name.
We were only allowed a couple of hours at M4, but it was enough to wreck us. It was so incredibly hard to say goodbye. My team and I climbed on the bus with absolutely everyone in tears, some of us sobbing.
Sixty Feet is fighting for M4. Since we left, we learned that 5 children with special needs were transferred to another facility where they can be better cared for. Praise God! It’s small, but it’s movement in the right direction. I am still wrecked from my time with Sixty Feet, and oh I pray that I am never healed from it. I don’t want to forget the pain.
I love this C.S. Lewis quote,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
I want to learn to love like Christ. I know that means more pain, more heartbreak. I want that. I know God will use my heartache for His glory. I want His love to change me. I know my love for the children’s prisons has changed me. I can’t wait to see what He wants me to do with it.
I am still struggling with the things I saw in Uganda. I miss my babies terribly. I know that God is so much bigger than any problem. So much bigger than M4.
I must cling to Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” I wait for that day. But until then, I will not sit idly by without fighting for the oppressed. For now, I’m waiting for God to show me the next move.