Written by Eric Busby
Her name was Florence. She smiled at us through broken teeth and sun beaten skin as holy a smile as anyone had ever seen. Her hands were wide and strong from hard work. Her feet were bare and caked with a layer of mud so strongly attached that it became difficult to see where the caramel clay started and the deep brown skin began. Her wrinkles multiplied across her face and hinted at stories and lessons that we would learn from the Holy Spirit through her that day. More than anything, her eyes remain etched in my heart. They were warm and caring, but strong and understanding. Her eyes, a deep brown, saw with compassion the difficult world around her.
The name Florence struck me immediately as I am currently at a university in Florence, Alabama. I think the fact that her name already meant something to my life further deepened the impact of the time spent with her. I tried my best to explain this to her through the brokenness of translation. Florence is a great-grandmother in the heart of rural Uganda. She is 84 years old, possibly 85 now, and our mission for the day was to bring her lunch, a small portion of food to leave behind, and most importantly, human interaction. Love, as my team and I were taught by our trip coordinator, is the necessity that Sozo intends to spread through their village ministries and the ultimate heartbeat of the short lunch visit. We received the Love of the Father tenfold through the vulnerability and authenticity seen in sweet “JaJa” (grandma) Florence.
The lunch had come and gone and we had eaten, taken a tour of Jaja Florence’s garden, played with her great grandchildren, helped pick and sort peanuts, and had a small devotional time. At the end of the scripture reading (we had to read to her because she is losing her eyesight) we asked if she had any prayer needs that we could lift up to the Father for her. Her response was simple, yet amazingly impactful. She hoped Jesus would be sympathetic and allow her to live longer. In my ignorance and mostly my western mind, I immediately saw fear. I assumed she was an old woman who saw death coming, and was afraid.
This was until she continued to mutter to our Ugandan friend who spoke for her in English. The translator spoke calmly and explained. Jaja Florence takes care of her two great grandchildren, the two children we had spent some of our time singing and playing with. She takes care of them because their parents, her grandchildren, have left them with her. The hardest part of that situation, from an outsider’s perspective, is the fact that she is taking care of her great grandchildren because their parents, her grandchildren, left them in her care. Her grandchildren whose parents, her own children, left in her care. It is a sickening cycle in sweet Florence’s life, the product of God entrusting us, in His goodness, with free will. It is a pure example of the defiled and broken world we are presently in. But, Christ can use this broken situation for His good, and God’s glory.
Jaja Florence’s gentle request for a few more years was actually coming from a heart of selflessness and service. She knows her two great grandchildren, one of whom who is sick with sickle cell complications, are not old enough or equipped enough to survive without her. She knows that, though she longs for heaven and the peace to come, that for now her mission to protect and love those children. The request to live longer was actually a plea to live just long enough to ensure the survival of those in her care.
If anyone understands weariness, is it not her? If anyone understands distrust, is it not her? Then let her humble prayer before our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who suffers with us and has walked the Earth before us, be a testimony of endurance in faith. My prayer is that I carry that teary eyed moment with me, unselfishly and willingly, with me forever. When my time has come to be called home, I hope I remember Jaja Florence, and greet her in heaven with full refreshing of the spirit.