Katie has a smile that could light up the darkest room. You would have never known about her smile a year and a half ago. Last fall, I was walking through the local produce market in Uganda when I saw three of my English as a Second Language students from a distance, and I happily walked over and gave them hugs and kisses on the cheeks. One of my students introduced me to Katie, a thirteen-year-old girl. Katie said a solemn hello. For the one moment that she glanced up at me, I saw profound sadness. I did not know the details of her story, but I could sense her deep pain. I learned later that Katie’s parents were killed right in front of her. Katie and her brother were as a result orphaned at the ages of thirteen and fourteen. Their childhood was forever turned upside down because of the war in their country. Orphaned and alone, they turned to a neighboring family, who invited them to relocate to Uganda with their family.
I met Katie one month after she arrived in Uganda. Although Katie was clearly traumatized and experiencing pain, she decided to attend the Center of Hope, a community center for refugees near her home. During the first month that Katie attended classes, she sat quietly, barely talking or looking up. During class breaks, while the others students were playing on the swings or with the Frisbee, Katie sat alone, far away from the other students. She sat on the swing with her eyes to the ground. I, along with several of her classmates invited her to join us in our game of Frisbee, but Katie adamantly refused. She had been so hurt and broken that these invitations fell on deaf ears.
Slowly, over time, Katie’s brokenness was transformed into hope. About six weeks after she first attended the center, she decided to join our game of Frisbee during class break. A few minutes into our game, I saw Katie smile for the first time. I will never forget that moment. Her smile filled my heart with joy. It reminded me of the transformative power of God’s love and hope. Katie, although still healing from trauma, began to see what love means. She began to understand that her community, our community, loved her as our family. This love and community allowed her to begin to understand the transformative power of God’s love.
Over the last year and a half, Katie’s life has been transformed. Katie still attends English classes at the Center of Hope. These classes have empowered her with an education, a precious opportunity that was not available to her in her country. Katie now smiles because she understands that she is deeply loved, supported, and cared about by the Center of Hope’s community. Katie smiles with the assurance of knowing that God loves her as God’s daughter. Katie smiles because she has seen, heard, and experienced the transformative and restorative impact of love. Katie smiles.
There are many more refugees like Katie who are neglected, marginalized and without hope this Valentines Day. Please consider partnering with Refuge and Hope this Valentines Day by becoming a financial partner of $14 a month in honor of those who are alone, neglected, without hope and love today.
The Center of Hope is a community center for refugees living in Kampala, Uganda. The Center currently ministers to 150 East African refugee students through ESL, computer, sewing, and sports classes. Students also have opportunities to participate in a weekly Bible study and worship service. The Center of Hope is a project of Refuge and Hope International, which seeks to minister to people affected by war and conflict in East Africa. All ministry projects focus on empowering local leaders, holistic development and sustainable change. Refuge and Hope is directed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field personnel who are serving in Uganda.
Missy Ward has volunteered at the Center of Hope as a English teacher for seven months of the last year . She is currently a third-year student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.