Vigilante Kindness: A New Lens

I take a last sip of steaming hot tea before meeting up with Richard, one of my sweet boys, on this blessedly cool morning.  He arrives dressed in his school uniform, complete with necktie, and we walk the streets of Gulu, already flush with sound and color. We’re walking to the hospital.

“Let me see your socks,” I say.  Richard is taller than I am now, but still thin as a rail.

“You remember that?  You can’t forget anything,” he grins, the gap between his two front teeth making him still look like a kid.

“Of course I remember.” We’re both quiet, remembering the day last year when he got dressed in the dark and accidentally put on mismatched socks, the day when we went to the hospital for his HIV test, which to our delight and surprise was negative.  “Now show me your socks.”

“My socks are not there today,” he lifts the cuff of his pant leg and shows his bare ankle above his shoe.

Today we’re going to a different hospital to get glasses for Richard so that he can read again.

“Excuse me, can you help me cross the road?  I can’t see well,”  another teenage boy walking in front of us turns around and asks.

When he turns I see that his right eye is white with cataracts.  Richard introduces himself to this boy and tells him that we’re going to the same place.

“I’m Alicia,” I say, shaking his hand.

“I’m Kennet,” he greets me in return.

Richard grabs Kennet’s left hand and I grab his right hand.  We turn to the road.  It’s wide and teeming with cars, boda bodas, bicycles and people on foot.  It’s tough even for perfectly sighted people to navigate.

We cross halfway and stop, letting more cars and boda bodas pass.

“Wait,” I tell Kennet as a last car zips past.  “Ok, now we can go.”

We cross the street easily and Kennet drops my hand.  He keeps hold of Richard’s hand and I slip in behind them, tucking in away from the traffic, listening to their conversation.  Richard guides Kennet beautifully, asking questions about where he goes to school and questioning him about the future of his eye. They hold hands every step.

We cross one more street to the small gated entrance to the part of the hospital that specializes in optic care.  Kennet branches off to the door of his department.  Richard and I sit on benches near the clinic where we wait to get glasses.

We wait.  And then wait some more.  Last year we waited for hours and hours on end at the hospital.  Waiting for HIV test results felt like two eternities, so waiting for glasses is nothing.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Richard tells me.

“Why?”

“Ten of us came and seven needed surgery.  I’m one of the lucky ones because I only need glasses.”

We’re both quiet.  I think of Kennet.  Lucky indeed.

An hour and half later the nurse arrives.  She’s a wide woman with a kind temperament.  Her name is Ida and I like her immediately.  She apologizes for being delayed and explains that her husband got a last-minute job driving a group of people on safari and she had to help him prepare.

“It’s ok.  That’s a well-paying job, not one he can pass up,” I smile and she is visibly relieved.

“It’s not easy to make money here,” Ida explains.

“I know,” I don’t know how to reassure her beyond that and I don’t want to cross the line into pity, so I change the subject.  “What do we need to do today to get this kid glasses?”  I motion at Richard, who has taken a seat on a rolling stool opposite me.

“The glasses need to be paid for and I need to make sure his vision hasn’t changes and then measure the space between his eyes for a good fit,”

“That’s all?”

“Yes.” Ida rolls Richard over to the eye machine.  He rests his chin in the machine and tries unsuccessfully not to blink.

We’re done in five minutes and I hand Ida a thick wad of Vigilante shillings.  In return she tells me where to pick up the glasses the following day.

The following afternoon I deliver the glasses to Richard at school.  He’s outside having P.E., a basketball lesson with special coaches from town.  I pull the large, sealed envelope containing the glasses out of my backpack and hand it to him.  He puts the glasses on immediately and I take a snap with my camera.

It’s a clear day, not a cloud in the sky, the perfect day for perfect vision.

Watching him try out his new glasses, I can’t help but think of the pastor’s message a couple of Sundays ago at church.  He said that we all have a choice, to look at life through the lens of fear or through the lens of faith.

If you’ve spent more than a minute with me, you know fear is not on my radar.  Frankly, I could use a healthy dose of fear now and then.

But faith is also not on my radar.

Now hold on before you go thinking I’ve denounced Christ or something dramatic like that.  I’m not talking about my faith as in the doctrine of what I believe.  That’s a well dug deep into the core of who I am.

I’m talking about having faith.  I want to tread carefully here and not start speaking Christian-ease because I hatehatehate it when people can’t talk about having faith without throwing in pious buzzwords.

What I’m saying is this: I struggle with believing in things to come that I can’t yet see.  I’ve said before that I’m the kind of girl who has to stick my fingers in the nail holes to believe.  I’m not proud of that, but I’m on-my-face grateful that God knows that about me and extends His nail holed hands to me anyway.

If you’ve been following along in my Vigilante Kindness adventures, then you know a well to provide clean drinking water for the small village of Te Okot is in the works.  What you don’t know is that the well team has been delayed and are still finishing a well in another part of the country and that the funds donated to begin the well have not yet reached me.

My mom, who was here with me and who seems to have an infinite amount of assured faith, kept telling me not to worry, that it will be accomplished in God’s perfect time, that I should have faith.

All of those things are true.

And yet, I can’t rest easy until I see that water, until the people of Te Okot are drinking water not infested with diseases and elephant fecal matter.

I want to touch the water, to pump it into a bucket and see it run clear.

I’m losing hope of being able to see the water for myself.  I’m here for a scant twelve more days and not an inch of the well has been dug.

Not an inch.  Not yet.

I’m clinging fiercely to that ‘not yet’.  It’s all the faith I can muster and thank God, thank God, thank God a smidge is enough.

I’m trying so badly to see this well project through the lens of faith.  I’m choosing to believe it’s going to happen.  And I mean the kind of choosing where Having Faith and Not Having Faith are on equal footing and I’m grabbing hold of Having Faith and running away from Not Having Faith, which is perpetually gaining ground on me.

Dear ones, I imagine you know that kind of desperation, to cling to faith with trembling fingers because holding on and running like hell away from doubt is sometimes all you can do.

Me, too.

God is in those times with you.  And with me.  Is anyone else overcome with relief?

At night I wake thinking of Richard and his new glasses and I pray for God to help me see life with more faith.

I think of Kennet, who will have his cataracts removed soon, and I pray for two things: for God to remove my lack of faith and also that I’d be boldly humble like Kennet in admitting when I need God to hold my hand along the way.

I think of the people of Te Okot who are strong and sure in their faith that clean water is coming.  I think of all of you: family, friends and complete strangers who doled out your faith in lumps of cold, hard cash believing right along with the people of Te Okot that safe, clean water is on the way.  I say a prayer of thanks that when my faith is present in the most meager amounts, your faith in God, your faith in this work I get to do remains steady.  In my dreams I cling with trembling fingers to that, to all of you, and when the sun shines through my curtain in the morning, I wake grateful for another opportunity to see things with a little more faith than I did the day before.

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