SAM IN GOLI

…a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

I was assigned to serve in Uganda for about seven months. For years, Grandson Sam had accompanied me to work in a church community center, so it wasn’t unusual for him to accept my invitation to spend the summer in Goli. Sam was about to turn eighteen, and I’d gotten a placement for him in the village clinic with Sister Kim.

That summer Sam worked in the tiny lab peering at slides of native bacteria and local diseases, learning more than he would have from a text. He worked in the pharmacy dispensing drugs, and he accompanied doctors on their routes around the district and watched them perform surgeries. (He even picked up some of the local “bugs” on his visits.)

The business director of the diocese was a regular morning visitor in our little cinder block house and loved to share our hot tea and chapatti (local flat bread). When Rev. Martin discovered that Sam played an unusual instrument, a violin, he asked if he would play for Sunday service in the cathedral. Sam was thrilled and practiced a lovely Beethoven selection. He was already a local favorite, so when everyone learned that he would be playing a “western” instrument for church, there was great anticipation. That Sunday, the music stand was set up, Sam tuned his instrument, and began to play. Not a sound was heard other than the beautiful notes from Sam’s gifted fingers. And then the giggling began to ripple through the congregation. No one had ever heard such an instrument. Sam played on and on and finally ended to great applause and laughter.

Sam’s popularity grew, and he was often assaulted by the children who loved to pull him into their games. He hung out with the bishop’s children, and they all became fast friends. When he came down with malaria, despite taking his preventive meds and lathering himself with Deet, the whole diocesan compound was alarmed. Malaria was not something muzungus handled well. Sam was confined to his bed with fever, weakness, and all the dangerous symptoms brought about by the bite of an Anopheles mosquito. Nurses from the clinic came to treat him, and Sister Kim directed her cook to make special broths for Sam. Villagers made enquiries about him. But two of my Ugandan friends did even more. Evaline and Esther sat up all night praying for him. No fanfare. No big deal. They prayed until they sensed Sam would get better. No one was surprised when he made a full recovery.

The time passed too quickly as we worked throughout the warm days and read to each other late into the night. One day we sat together in our little cinder block house sharing a companionable meal in silence. The doors were left open to catch any passing breeze, and our dogs and an occasional goat wandered in and out. I had given up on teaching our sweet cook how to prepare some of our familiar dishes, so we learned to take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables growing all around us.

In the middle of this idyllic situation, Sam spoke up. “Grandma, these people have nothing.” I waited. “But they’re happy,” Sam added. I had to agree. Did Sam recognize that the faith they had was worth more than any material blessing we Westerners value so much? “I’m so happy,” Sam went on. “I’m glad I’ve learned this at my age.”

How soon that summer was gone, and Sam left, taking with him the treasures he had gathered in Goli.

Father, you told us a little child would lead us. Sam saw and lived with God’s joy evidenced through the lives and love of our Goli friends. May he never forget, and may we always cherish those eternal things that can never be taken away. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

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