For the past two days I have been teaching in a village named Butiru, nestled in the foothills of the eastern mountains that form the border with Kenya. The range of mountains that surrounds this area is the same range that includes Mt. Elgon, a high peak that many claim is the second highest in Eastern Africa. I’m not sure the numbers back that up, but at least it one of the largest extinct volcanoes in the world. Mt. Elgon National Park is certainly one of Uganda’s popular tourist attractions.

In Butiru I am ministering at a hospital run by an Amercan organization called Cristco (unable to find this on the internet) that partners with Life Center Ministries Africa. As the story goes, the American founder, recently deceased, was called to Africa when he was handed a piece of food and saw that it was shaped like the continent of Africa. Then God spoke to him. God works in mysterious ways for sure, but the fruit is what really tells the story – now there are Cristco churches throughout Uganda, Kenya, and other places in Africa. This particular site is a hospital, overseen by an American missionary, but operated primarily by Ugandans, with an Ugandan doctor onsite.

I am teaching in the hospital chapel which doubles as a church for the community. On the first day I joined the food line for lunch and noticed a small girl in a pretty little orange dress, maybe four or five years old, sitting on the grass nearby. Her face was so badly swollen so that her cheeks were very prominent, her jowls so heavy as to pull the sides of her mouth into a frown. She was cradling her left arm and I could see that the skin on her arm was badly damaged – I assumed it was a burn of some kind. Her scalp was peeling under her almost shaved head, which was covered with rings and patches of sloughing skin She did not seem to notice the crowd of people just a few feet away, all chatting and

A child with advanced malnutrition.

A child with advanced malnutrition.

picking up their lunches buffet style. Instead, she stared into space, silently a world away. I noticed several other children nearby with the same swollen features, but they were playing and moving more like a child that age.

I asked the Director about the girl during lunch. This is what he told me. This little girl is a victim of malnutrition, which they treat a lot of at this hospital. He said there are two different manifestations of malnutrition – one is the familiar guant face with the swollen belly, and the other, new to me, is that the body reacts by swelling, but particularly in the face, and then near the end, begins to slough off skin from various places on the body. He told me that this little girl had been near the end when she was brought to the hospital. Her arm is not burned, but is sloughing skin. She sits there silently because she has no energy, but also because she is in a great deal of pain. There is no doubt that if she survives, they will have saved her life – she was not sick, she was dying.

I was shocked because Uganda is the bread basket of Africa. There is hardly a patch of ground anywhere that is not growing some kind of crop. The land is fertile and will grow almost anything, and the growing season never stops. They plant year round, and it is not unusual to see mature maize (corn) growing next to new maize that has only recently been planted and is just breaking the surface. My next obvious question, then, was, “Is her malnutrition the result of neglect?”

He was clear in telling me that there is occasionally some neglect, but in most cases, like with this little girl, this is not the situation. The predominant cause of this devastating condition is rather ignorance of proper nutrition. The national food in Uganda is a pasty white, ground-up grain substance called posho. It is served with almost every meal. He said these villagers feed their children posho and beans every day, with no variation in their diet. They see their children eating all their food and then some. But posho, he says, has no nutritional value whatever, and certainly not for a child. The parents can’t understand when their children become sickly and often die. Because their children are eating, they blame typhoid, malaria, and a host of other illnesses indigenous to tropical Africa. The problem, though, is that a child simply cannot live on posho and beans.

A nutritional clinic at the the hospital for parents to learn about balanced crops and diets.

A nutritional clinic at the the hospital for parents to learn about balanced crops and diets.

The staff of the hospital travels to the outer villages to teach nutrition clinics to the parents, showing them how to give balanced diets to their children, how to vary their crops, how to grow more nutritious foods. They have introduced lettuce, zucchini, American pumpkin, soybeans, and other more nutritional foods into the local diet. They are teaching them to use goat’s milk for the children because it is easier to digest than cow’s milk and is even close in nutritional value to breast milk. They attempt to distribute goats to the families, but often the parents are so poor that they may choose to eat the goat instead of use the milk for their children. So this sacrificial ministry spends a lot of time trying to educate the people. They have a teaching garden, experimental crops, animals to distribute, etc., on their nearly ten acres.

He told me that typically, when they go out to the villages to do a clinic, they will find that 10% of the children are severely malnourished. This was brought home to me when the Director could not attend my seminar on the first day because he had to transport the body of a baby back to its family for burial. The baby had been brought in too late, and they were unable to save it.

This is another side of the gospel, another aspect of the love we share, and the gift that Christ wants to bring to the world. Because of our blessings, we Americans tend to have a blind spot in this area. I cannot get this little girl’s eyes out of my mind, their staring emptiness, their torment. And her condition is not because of abuse or neglect or violence – all the love her parents can give her cannot repair the simple lack of knowledge – a knowledge which I confess, is another thing I have taken for granted all my life.

Here is the link to the facebook page for Life Center Ministries Africa if you are interested in more information.