We are here tonight…

Long story short so you don’t have to wait for the end of our telling of it: we have James, he is back in school, he is happy and well.

The saga of James continues. After he ran away from Alfred’s home where he was staying for the two month school holiday in December and January, it seemed the earth had swallowed him. Alfred had many leads, but always to other deaf boys. The street children in Jinja who agreed to help him could produce no meaningful leads on James in the whole time between January and February – many rumors, but no solid sightings or leads after the first few weeks.

After Gail and I arrived in Uganda toward the end of March, we pursued the only credible information that we’d had in all that time. It was reported that a deaf charcoal seller, a man who travels about the region selling charcoal for the cooking grills that every Ugandan uses, had a new deaf boy working with him as an assistant. There was a specific place in Jinja where this man stayed while in the area. Alfred repeatedly went there, and we also accompanied him, with the hope of any glimpse of James, and every time he was told by the people there that the man was there only minutes ago but he had just missed him. In Uganda this could mean hours, half a day, and so on. Alfred repeated this scenario many times, always missing the man by “minutes.”

Finally, after our second week of teaching, as I related in a previous post, an organization from Kampala named Retrak suddenly showed up at Alfred’s house in Bugembe with James. We were out completing errands in Jinja, and Alfred’s phone was not working. Unable to establish any legal claim to James with only Alfred’s wife, they waited a bit for us to return, then, unable to connect with us, they left and returned to Kampala with James in tow, a journey of 2-3 hours by vehicle. Over the last week by phone, we have reconstructed as much of story as we could.

It seems that early in January James migrated with a group of street children all the way on foot from Jinja to

First Contact – the folks from Retrak met Gail in Mukono (suburb of Kampala) and then drove her and James to meet with us in Jinja as we returned from a teaching stint.

Kampala, a walk that would have taken them five to six days unless vehicles offered them rides, which apparently often happens. We are told that this is common for these children, and James has proven it to us by his habit of constantly wandering off on adventures. When he ran from Alfred, it was clear that he had planned it because, as you know if you have read the recent posts, this was the second time he ran during this holiday, the first time to Buvuma Island and his old stomping grounds, and Alfred was attempting to watch him closely.

Now I can’t imagine what it was like for James to walk to Kampala, traveling by night, sleeping rarely, we are told, with these other street children by the side of the road, and begging as they went. Kampala, of course, is a virtual Mecca for beggars, which explains the pilgrimage James made, if he understood any of it – and perhaps it was only a grand adventure with new friends.

This story is from the Retrak people who returned James to us, not from James himself. I don’t know if we will ever get the whole truth of how he got to Kampala and why he went from him. He is still a very new communicator, and his language is mostly concrete words for things he uses and needs rather than abstract concepts like where, why, and how.

When James disappeared in January and we were despairing of ever finding him again, Gail and I went into a period of prayer and fasting toward the middle to the end of January. It was during that time that I wrote in my journal this prayer:

“This child is alone and needs an advocate who is able to walk in his shoes. Please send him an intervention, a fallen tree across his path, a landslide that turns him aside and returns him to the path of life….Draw him forth, O Lord, even as Moses was drawn forth from the Nile River that his steps might be set on a path that he could otherwise never choose for himself.” When I prayed this, I was sitting in Fort Worth, Texas, referencing more biblical ideas than anything else. But the Lord spoke to me after I wrote this last phrase that the Nile River I had just mentioned is the very same River Nile that James has lived by his entire life – the great Nile River flows out of Lake Victoria, and Jinja is known as the “source of the Nile.” James had to cross over the Nile River on the new bridge at Jinja at the very beginning of his long journey to even get to Kampala. (It seems to me that groanings which are too deep to be uttered and are spoken for us by the Spirit (Rom. 8:28) often result in truths that we cannot discern until after they have been spoken but which verify to our faith the Voice of the One speaking.)

The following is what seemed to be the Voice of the Lord reassuring us during that time:

  • “The covering I have provided for James through your hand is not finished or complete. Trust Me in this.”
  • “He is mine and I claim him…. Upon this declaration, I have proclaimed a warrant to the spiritual forces of wickedness which bind him, demanding the release of James….Trust Me in this.” This was a very unusual thing for me to hear. Something legal was being done for James in the spiritual realm – Gail and I rested on this word also by faith.
  • There were a series of scriptures accompanying these perceptions that seemed to have the theme of return from captivity: Eze. 39:28 says, “Then they shall know that I am their God, Who sent them into captivity but also brought them back to their own land and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore….” Yes, in context this applies to Israel. Still, this is what I wrote in my journal as I waited before the Lord, in reference to James.
  • Then I was assured, “The journey that James is on is necessary to his calling and development as My instrument. He will return when My purpose has been completed. Then My Name will be lifted up in the testimony of his life. I am the Father of the fatherless, the orphan, and the destitute.”

At the reunion after hugs. James has grown some. He is interacting with the Retrak workers with whom he has made a strong bond.

James was then begging with the street children in Kampala. The police who monitor these activities noticed that James was different – he did not know how to beg like the others, but his methods were more crafty, sneaking up, grabbing and running. Of course, this is the survivor wild-child that we met on Buvuma Island five years ago, a boy who has never been taught what property is, has never had any, and who doesn’t even know the concept of stealing as a moral issue, but only that familiar existence of hunger and survival, and the seemingly pervasive African worldview of fear and power. The police arrested him around January 15.

James is about13 years old now. The police do not generally handle such a child with punishment, so they immediately placed him with a charitable agency in Kampala that has a mission to return runaways to their families. This was Retrak. The very dedicated and fine people of this non-profit organization held James securely all this time since January, cared for him, and sought to trace his identity so that they could restore him to his people. In short, they became a focused advocate for him. But he was apparently only one of two deaf children they have ever worked with, and the clues to where he belonged were very few, and James was unable to lead them to his tangled roots or along his twisted path. We marvel at God’s protective grace and His specific answers to our prayers!

How they came to discover he was from the Jinja area is the rest of the story… (See Part 2).