Thursday, January 16, 2014
As a Child and Family Studies major at my undergraduate university in Texas, I was challenged and inspired to dig deep into family life and environment in order to evaluate a child’s behavior. In my studies, I found that some of the most defining years of a person’s life are in their earliest years, ranging from infancy to pre-kindergarten. The amount of support a child receives from people surrounding them can truly affect the way they see the world and interact with others later in life. I was fascinated by this concept, and I started to wonder how children with very little support or weak support systems in their early years were effected later in life. I began to wonder how lack of a family would affect the maturing process of children.
As each year went by in college and my studies became more narrowed and specific, I began doing a lot of research on developing countries. I discovered over and over that poverty, war, and lack of resources can damage family life significantly, which ultimately affects the children growing up in such circumstances. This may seem like an obvious discovery, but in the midst of all this research, I wondered what was being done about such struggles. I began to notice that there are many non-profits working in poverty stricken areas of the world in order to alleviate poverty by providing jobs, resources, and other types of support. I knew that in order for an individual to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, resources for food, shelter, and safety were vital foundations; therefore, organizations providing such resources are invaluable. However, I began to also notice that there are not many organizations providing mental health support and education to families whose basic needs were being met.
In 2011, I took a four-month trip to Uganda, Africa, where I worked in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. It was certainly an exciting experience living in the bush, and I endured my fair share of African adventures. However, I can most definitely say that God changed my heart completely while in Uganda that year. I came back truly understanding the term “passion” because I had gained a passion to see the nation of Uganda totally restored from its terrible history of civil war, poverty, and spiritual hunger. While at the orphanage, I spent much time with the children, teaching class, organizing supplies, and getting to know the local workers who are the backbone of the orphanage operations. What I discovered and what broke my heart while I was there was that these children had very little emotional or mental support as they processed their own incredibly difficult life stories. They had been brought to a loving, supportive, Christian orphanage, but what about the past? Were they to just forget what had happened to them before? What about the ties of their current “bad” behavior to their very fresh history? I was devastated that nothing was being done to help these children process their broken past. I also became increasingly concerned for the attachment issues that were beginning to surface as “short-term missionaries” (like myself) came through the orphanage in droves. These missionaries were sent to serve for a specific amount of time, but what about the souls they were leaving behind when they returned home? There was nothing being explained to these children as visitors came and went, and the children were consistently forced to find their own coping methods (which were usually very unhealthy).
Leaving Uganda at the end of my trip in 2011 was completely devastating. I was planning on attending graduate school for counseling in the fall, but I did not want to leave the children whom I had grown to care for a great deal. I also was very aware that I was leaving them somewhat alone to fend for themselves emotionally and mentally. However, I also knew that I did not yet have the skills or training to provide adequate help for these kids. I knew God was calling me to go back home to learn as much as possible before returning one day. I left, but not very happily. I can now say that God has given me peace that He is the ultimate caregiver. He is better at taking care of these wonderful children than I am. I can say, though, that I am so excited to one day be back in Uganda using counseling as a way to care for orphans and families. I am so excited to be back in the culture I love doing the thing I love: walking with hurting people through pain and brokenness in order that they may receive the deep healing and beautiful restoration that our Jesus gives.
I cannot explain in words how thankful I am for the education that I am receiving at John Brown University. I believe God has specifically called me here, and I know it is a significant part of the journey he has sovereignly planned for me. The professors at JBU have challenged me to dig deeper into my own heart to pull out the junk that is affecting the way I label myself and love others. I want the negative roots to be completely pulled up and for God to plant his truth in me instead. I am looking forward to the continued education I will receive here and the impact that JBU will continue to have on me as I hope to point others to him as the Great Counselor. His wisdom is great, and I am willing to trust him on this journey through a life full of unexpected twists and turns. I trust that he has beauty at the end of it all. Won’t you join me in helping others to see this exact same truth? See you at JBU, friend. :)