To say it’d been a long day is an understatement. It’d been a marathon day. The tents were up, huge lines were forming, and our staff was bustling as we prepared to conduct one of the biggest Jigger camps Kamuli, Uganda had ever seen. A Jigger Camp has one objective—get rid of the parasitic worms that wreak havoc on the feet of those too poor for shoes.
We placed our camp at an overcrowded primary school nestled between many outlying villages. Once the word spread, people from all over made their way there. We were able to bring 1,500 pairs of shoes (donated by Millions from One in Dallas) to distribute, but we didn’t merely want to give away shoes. We washed each child’s feet as an act of love and service, sized them for a pair of shoes, and those that were infected with Jiggers got to see a doctor or Jigger removal specialist.
I wish I could say the process was easy, but more than once I was crying right alongside a brave child that finally let the tears flow down their dust-stained cheeks. Most children sat stoic as razors or safety pins dug the white worms out of their feet. Some finally broke down and whimpered. We had to keep telling kids to keep the shoes on their feet once they received them. Some kids were so happy to own a pair of shoes they’d carry them in their hands like a treasure they didn’t want to spoil. Others ran and danced as if showing off a priced possession.
As we left the Jigger camp we made our way to the most remote village serviced by The Vine Uganda. They were our last stop after multiple days of shoe delivery camps. A sprinkling of mud huts surrounded by lanky stalks of corn mark the entry to the village, and as usual, we were greeted by the songs and laughter of our friends that live there. As we made our way to the seats they provided a young man was placed in front of us, curled in a fetal position, unable to walk. His feet, hands, and limbs were festering with Jiggers and large sores. His tender eyes spoke of pain he couldn’t express. We tried to find answers but were told Daniel was living with his grandmother—obviously neglected. Unsure of what to do we gathered around him and prayed for healing. We asked God to show us how we could help and what to do next.
Honestly, it felt so stupid.
The praying wasn’t stupid; it was the feeling of helplessness that punched me in the gut. Our first instinct was to give money to the relatives to help care for this young man, but the minute we mentioned money people (supposed relatives) came out of nowhere offering to help. I’ve seen that corruption too many times before, and instead of handing out money we left Daniel with a promise…we’d come back and find him, and get him the help he needed to heal.
Five days later we came back. Our Social Worker, Alex, made a few calls and found out where Daniel was living. As we pulled up to a desolate mud hut, his grandmother ran over and began talking incessantly. We rushed past her to find Daniel, pant-less—crawling along the dusty ground like a starved, wounded animal. Open sores were oozing puss, and his hands and feet were black and swollen from the Jiggers embedded deep in his flesh.
We moved quickly and found some large palm leaves to set him on for a sponge bath. The grandmother didn’t even have a basin for Daniel to bathe with, another sign of complete neglect. But more shocking than his hygiene was the obvious fact that he was starved. There was a thin layer of flesh covering his bones, so thin, he probably weighed no more than a small child.
After bathing him one of our staff members shaved his face and head, then we burned the jigger- ridden shirt he was wearing, and the towels we used to bathe him. We put a clean t-shirt and pants on him and carefully lifted him into our van to transport him to the hospital. He kept repeating the words “Thank you…thank you so much,” as more family members gathered to watch. I had to bite my tongue as relatives laughed at Daniel (and us) as they seemed to mock our efforts. I wanted to scream, “How can you let a human being live like this?” “What’s wrong with you?” But instead, I caressed the back of Daniel’s head and told him everything would be all right. Thankfully our team had a container of rice, beans, and chapatti in the van, and Daniel shoveled that food in like he was eating for the first time in months.
The doctors determined Daniel was so bad off he needed to stay for five days of treatment. A strong ointment was placed all over his feet to kill the Jiggers (there were too many to try and remove with a razor) as well as an antibiotic IV to kill any internal infection. He ate anything he could get his hands on, so we brought as much food as we could. Rice, beans, and bags full of snacks we (Americans) eat while working there. We weren’t sure he’d like granola bars, applesauce, M&M’s, or nuts…but he ate everything he was offered, and then asked for more!
We quickly realized that Daniel’s feet were the most urgent problem. So urgent, he hadn’t walked for months because of pain and infection, and his muscles were in a state of atrophy. The Jiggers were so deep and numerous; killing them and getting him back to walking was the first priority.
By the end of the second day Daniel was already showing progress and took a few steps. We were elated…but another problem was now staring us in the face. Daniel seemed to have autistic-like tendencies in his speech and behavior. Was it the abuse or starvation that left him in a confused state, or was there something more serious happening in his mind? We probed for answers by asking a distant uncle about Daniel’s history. What he shared was more frightening than anything we’d seen to this point. It seems that earlier in life Daniel was a bright, handsome young man—he was even a bicycle champion—but after his father’s death his life completely changed. Daniel was the rightful heir to the land his father owned, but some greedy relatives forced their way in and physically harmed Daniel. According to the Uncle, they hurt him and performed some type of witchcraft over him, leaving a perfectly normal young man behaving abnormally. This is where I’m baffled. The stories of witchcraft and the power of black magic are plentiful in Africa. People often ask me, “Do you believe it Gari?” and the only answer I have for them is “ I do…” America seems to have answers for everything, and we can explain so much with medical knowledge, common sense, and advanced technology. But after hearing countless stories of the power of this evil by people I know and trust…there’s no way to explain what they’ve seen and experienced. Something horrible happened to Daniel—and we committed to loving him the best way we know how…by being the hands of Jesus over his marred life. Each night we gathered as a team around Daniel and asked God to heal his damaged body and mind. To restore him to a place of sanity, hope, and purpose.
The day Daniel was released from the hospital we knew we couldn’t send him back to his grandmother’s care, but according to Ugandan law we have to come up with a resettlement plan that places him with family or relatives willing to be his guardian. The hope is with proper training and re-educating the family can care for Daniel with compassion—but we are cautious. Until we find the right situation for Daniel, he’s living at The Vine where he’s learning what it means to be loved—and how to function again as a man. Each day his feet are soaked and treated, he’s been taught to bathe and dress himself, he interacts with the staff and children, and even helps with chores. His smile reminds all of us of the power of Jesus to rescue and restore.
The night before I left Africa I tossed and turned all night. I was haunted by the words of Jesus:
“What man among you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open pasture, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing.” Luke 15
In breathless cries I kept thanking Jesus for going after his one…Daniel. As a team it would have been easy to say, “We’ve helped a lot of needy people here, we can’t do it all!” Or…“All we can do is pray for him.” Sometimes that’s true, and it really is all we can do, but Jesus is always looking for that one.
The lost, lonely, forgotten, neglected, teased, and abused. The ones crawling on the ground of society just hoping their eyes will someday look up.
I think heaven will be filled with sheep who have lain across Jesus’ shoulders. The poor, rich, wise and ignorant—and He will rejoice over us all…