Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Heart of an Orphan- Part 1


When Laura Beth and I first came to New Hope Uganda in 2002, we were a part of the first class of the New Hope Institute of Childcare and Family. Needless to say, the course rocked our worlds (or we wouldn't be working with it as passionately as we are!). One of the most powerful teachings came to us from one of the sons of New Hope named Paul Kusuubira. Paul walked us through his own story growing up as an orphan. He then opened up for us what he called the "orphan heart". It was a teaching that was both eye-opening and heart-rending. Eye-opening because suddenly I realized why the kids I was trying to work with at New Hope met me with such resistance, why they did the things that they did and why they responded like they responded to different situations. I also realized that the kids that I had worked with for four years in Cabrini Green (government housing projects in Chicago) were fatherless (orphans), which was KEY for me looking back and trying to understand the hearts of the kids I had wrestled with for those years.

Paul's teaching was heart-rending because I realized that the heart of an orphan is simply the human heart, the sinful human heart, drawn out in specific ways because of the circumstances of becoming orphaned, and in that my own heart was also revealed. The Gospel became so much bigger to me as a result, something I hope to draw out in the following posts.

But let me begin by simply putting Paul's story here so you can understand a bit better the characteristics of the "orphan heart" that I will post next. Here's Paul's story:

Paul Kusuubira lost his parents during Uganda’s civil war in the 1980’s that shook the country shortly after Idi Amin’s regime collapsed. The bloody war centered 35 miles north of the capital city Kampala in an area that became known as the Luwero killing fields. Paul’s family fled from their home and spent three years hiding in “the bush” . They were constantly running from the warring soldiers, barely able to survive. The family ate whatever food they could gather from the “bush”, mostly wild yams and papaya. They drank any color of water they could find. They slept on leaves under the stars. During the rainy season they huddled together under trees. On occasions when they heard bullets coming from one direction they could walk all day in the opposite direction only to be met by more gunfire. Exhausted and too tired to walk any further, the family would simply lay down on the ground to sleep, prepared to die there if need be.

Through these years God miraculously protected Paul and his family. They all survived the war. It was with great joy that the family was finally able to return to their small home in late 1986. Shockingly, shortly after returning, Paul’s father fell sick and died. As the family was still grieving the loss of the father, the pain still fresh in their hearts, Paul's mother fell sick and died as a result of tuberculosis. The family was in shambles, and as the community gathered around the grave, Paul could only weep and weep. The war had taken his father and mother, leaving Paul, his three brothers, and one sister, all alone to struggle for survival.

As they buried their mother, the realization of what they had become, orphans, quickly set in. Men and women from the community roamed freely through their house, helping themselves to whatever they desired. Cooking pots, plates and clothing disappeared. The children were helpless to do anything. Where could they turn? Who would care for them now? They were rejected by their community, including those they thought were friends of their family. No one wanted the responsibility of caring for more orphans. The title “orphan” became a label that led only to mistreatment and abuse. Food, clothing, and warm blankets, items that their parents had always secured for them, were now hard to come by. Paul gave up all hope for living. He would rather die than live in such despair. He was ten years old.

Immediately after Paul was orphaned, a sense of abandonment overwhelmed him. He felt abandoned by both of his parents, abandoned by those he had always counted on, loved and trusted. He felt helpless and scared. A deep loneliness came into his heart. He felt like he did not belong to anyone anymore, including his brothers and sister. He simply existed as an outcast, a nobody. Rejection by friends and the community left him feeling betrayed. Hopelessness marked his sense of the present and the future. He felt worthless. He had lost his identity, no longer bearing his father’s name but taking on the name mulekwa, which means orphan. The joy that he had known as a boy was turned into extreme sadness, a feeling that went as deep as the pain in his heart from losing his parents.

Paul’s struggles continued to grow as mistrust guided his dealings with people. He felt he could count on no one and that he would only be abandoned, betrayed, or let down by all people. Even when people would approach him to help, he found himself hiding his true self from them out of fear. He would only open up what he thought would help him to get something from people, keeping all relationships on a superficial level. Manipulation and deceit were the keys to getting what he wanted from people. Fear became the defining mark of his life- fear of man, fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear of death. All of these things led to a deep sense of independence where he would only do things “his way”, refusing to be accountable to anyone and pushing away any who might get in the way of his accomplishing what he wanted.

The survival mentality that was birthed in him led to a deep seated greed, always wanting more and more, never content with what he had. He developed a poverty mindset that told him that he never had enough, even when living in plenty. He would eat each meal as if it was the last he might have for a long time, even when he was promised many meals to follow. He was always striving, striving for acceptance, striving for approval, striving for success, striving for love.

For many orphans in Uganda this striving leads to the practice of witchcraft to try to manipulate the spirits in order to secure success in various areas. Because death for a Ugandan is never by “chance”, but is always caused by someone, feelings of anger and revenge begin to rule the heart as they seek to find out who killed their parents in order to pay them back. This is often done through the local witchdoctors. Escape becomes the main “coping” mechanism for dealing with the pain and struggles, escape through sexual relationships, drugs, alcohol and even sports.

1 comment:

MER said...

I read Pauls story in the Book "Long Road to Hope". My eyes are opening to this condition of the orphan's heart. Pauls story is so inspirational. I am so glad Keith and Laura are there loving on these kids.