By Melody Harrell
It was supposed to be your average staff Christmas party. The Secret Santa gifts had all been doled out with much hilarity. Lucy patted the stalk of matoke beside her, smiling. Her Secret Santa had sent her on a treasure hunt. The clues led to the banana tree outside where the Secret Santa revealed herself, cutting the stalks of fruit down and carrying them into the party room. What a creative gift that would be put to good use come dinner time, when the cooking bananas would be made into a delicious mash for Lucy’s family!
Suddenly, someone broke out singing, “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you,” as another danced in carrying a cake. With surprise, a little one-year-old girl, the daughter of one of the women in the young mom’s program looked up, her big brown eyes wide and bright. She saw she was the focus of everyone’s singing. “Happy Birthday, dear Favor. Happy Birthday to you.”
It made perfect sense. This season of gift-giving was just the time to celebrate the birthday of this precious child. Favor’s mom, Sarah, with a big smile wrapped her arms around the beautiful little girl in her lap, as if gathering up all the love in the room and folding it around her like a blanket.
Sarah had come to Amani Sasa in Kampala, Uganda, two years ago. Her sister had been taken into their women’s shelter some months before and promised Sarah that she would find the support she needed.
Sarah was desperate and had nowhere else to turn. She had recently been assaulted by her employer and become pregnant. She was barely managing as a widow with the four children she already had, barely making ends meet with the cleaning job she worked in her boss’s home. She was already living on less than one dollar per day and their family was barely scraping by. Now without a job and with the trauma of the assault, she felt even more overwhelmed. She was left vulnerable and alone.
The social work team at Amani Sasa received her immediately and began doing what they always do: loving, caring, counseling, guiding and looking at Sarah in her beloved-ness.
Missy Ward-Angalla, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel and co-director of Amani Sasa alongside her husband, Francis, explained, “Our work at Amani is multi-faceted, just like people are,” said Ward-Angalla of the holistic ministry in Kampala with programs for women, men and children. “We respond most immediately to the first needs we encounter such as compromised nutrition, physical and emotional trauma, and isolation from the community. Then we begin the slow process of healing and transformation through counseling, praying together, reading the Bible together; and the women begin slowly recovering as they open up to the other women in their program who have experienced many of the very same things. Together, they form a community where they continue to grow and heal and learn the various skills needed in order to be empowered to support themselves.”
Within a few months, Sarah began having hope again. She now serves on staff at Amani Sasa and has responded to new opportunities to share in devotions and to talk about her own journey with the other women.
“Before I came to Amani Sasa, I was ready to die. I couldn’t see any other way,” she shared. Now she was not only living, but she had a new family. Missy noticed small flower arrangements appearing on the desks of the staff and, with a little inquiry, discovered it was Sarah who was picking flowers from the garden and quietly offering these gifts of beauty and grace.
One of the greatest joys to witness at Amani Sasa is seeing women who have graduated from one of the programs begin to reach out beyond themselves to others around them. It is visible evidence of the transformation that has taken place, that women who were once marginalized have new places of strength to offer to others. Sarah found family among the staff, who talked with her about parenting, about some of the things she was about to face with a newborn, and about techniques for nursing the new baby effectively. She also found community and support from the other young mothers who were going through the program with her.
When Sarah went into labor, Missy went with her to the hospital in Kampala and sat with her during the long hours.
“Coming alongside, actually being present, is perhaps the simplest but deepest work we do,” Missy said. “It shows the women we are here for them and will walk all parts of their journey together with them, showing them they are safe and cared for, especially when they need it most.”
When the baby was born, a beautiful little girl, Missy asked Sarah, “Have you decided on a name for her?”
“I will call her Favor,” Sarah said. “Because through Amani Sasa, I have seen and experienced God’s favor in my life.” There was perhaps no more meaningful endorsement.
There are multiple ways to be a part of the good work of Amani Sasa. Giving to the CBF Offering for Global Missions allows Missy Angalla to live in Kampala and be present to the ministries at Amani Sasa, offering safety, wholeness and empowerment to vulnerable refugee women, men and children.
This article appeared in the Winter 2020-21 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.