Thursday, after official business was finished, we made the round trip to Mbale and back to deliver James to school – about 4-5 hours driving.

In our telling of the story of this small boy’s misadventures, there are many things which most readers can read between the lines. Some of these things will be guesswork, some experience with life, and some will be familiar themes from our own lives which we project onto this tale. I am choosing to leave them between the lines, to tell you the facts as I heard of them and then experienced them. I will leave you to your own conclusions as to why he runs, how he got so far from home, what God was accomplishing by literally herding his “freedom” down a specific and focused funnel into the arms of a powerful advocating organization that knows Uganda and its people and their cultural needs better than we do.

Here, in brief, are the remainder of the facts of the story:

  • When the police picked him off the street, they placed him legally into the custody of Retrak Uganda. This meant that Retrak could not release him to anyone else’s custody without legal authorizations from the ranking government officials in that area, which in this case included both Jinja and its suburb Bugembe.
    • The result of this was that even if we could have been present when they appeared at Alfred’s home last Saturday, we would not have received custody of James then. They were only trying to establish the relationship connections, which is one of their priority missions with runaways. When they knocked on the door, they had no idea what they would find because James was leading them down alleys and around unfamiliar corners, and he could not tell them, but could only

      Alfred with James, the deaf boy, in the early days on Buvuma Island when we first met him.

      show them. We, Gail and I, and then separately Alfred, had to appear before certain officials, be interviewed even by Retrak to determine if we were suitable and safe for James, if James had a true relationship with us, etc.

  • They appeared on Saturday a week ago, then returned with James to Kampala, which precipitated a series of phone calls back and forth between each of us and Retrak attempting to sort all this out, determine the procedure that would be followed, etc. By Sunday night, we had realized that it was not a simple matter of them handing him back to us, but a process of application, evaluation, and approval by Retrak and by government authorities. James is now in “the system.”
  • Retrak, in fulfilling its mission to reconnect runaways with their clans and families, will in short order be visiting, evaluating, and counseling as needed:
    • the deaf school staff where James is currently boarding,
    • Alfred’s family as the primary caregiver during the holidays,
    • James’ clan members (uncles and grandmother) on Buvuma Island,
    • Perhaps James’ father, who has a history of alcoholism, neglect, and abuse with James, and, we recently heard, is now perhaps under arrest in the islands for some infraction of the law,
    • And even perhaps, James’ mother, who we now hear from Alfred and the uncles on the island, is not dead as we were originally told but remarried and living in Mbale, where James’ school is located (unverified).
  • James is on two years probation for running away. One of the officials that we met with on Thursday was the Chief Probation Officer in Jinja who talked with all of us, the three personnel from Retrak, Alfred, who was required to fill out a multi-page form of personal information about who he is and what his relationship with James is, Gail and I briefly as part of the group, and James himself. The officer, after interviewing us and reviewing the case, announced to the group that now, “James is mine!” Then he instructed Alfred that he would have to report monthly to him for two years on behalf of James.
  • Because we had obligations in Kawango, a town way out in the bush about 150 km north of Jinja, to teach a group of leaders for the week (over 155 were in attendance), and because it was apparent that we would not simply be picking James up from Retrak on Monday, Alfred and I sadly made our way north without resolving the matter, while Gail went to minister with her friend Irene in Mukono (a suburb of Kampala), and we waited in anticipation all week long for the details to be ironed out.
  • Finally, through many phone calls, it was agreed that Retrak, with James, would pick Gail up on Thursday and drive to meet us in Jinja, where they had appointments with the Probation Office in Jinja and later that day with the local magistrate in Bugembe, who had to stamp the papers before James could be released into our custody again. Friday was Good Friday, and so everything had to be finished by Thursday as offices were closed for the holiday on Friday.
    • I informed my host that we had to cut the meeting short by one day in Kawango to take care of an emergency. The stage was now set – all that was required was patience and some endurance – it was a hard week with this reunion with James dangling over us.
  • Last year with James.

    Everyone agreed that James should be immediately returned to the school on Thursday. Originally, Retrak had assigned one of their people to go with us and to begin the investigation of the school that very day. However, another child in their care was very sick back in Kampala and had to be transported to her home area hospital, so their personnel was scattered and their vehicles already in use for that emergency. We don’t much understand what all that was about, but it meant that we would be taking James back to school by ourselves, and it meant that God was whispering to us again through circumstances that He was in the middle of all this and that we could relax and trust Him – the place they were taking the sick child was far to the north, a place called Gulu (See https://meadeinternational.org/2018/05/22/ever-louder-whispers/).

On Thursday, we converged from different directions on the parking lot of the Probation Department in Jinja. When the three Retrak employees emerged from the vehicle, I tried to greet them politely, but I only had eyes for James. I didn’t know how he was going to react to seeing me again after a year and all these escapades. When he saw me, I opened my arms, and he smiled joyfully and rushed to embrace me. We hugged and hugged as if there were no others standing witness. I learned later from the social worker from Retrak that this was a crucial moment for all of us – he needed to see that we were truly bonded to James and not just some well-meaning foreigners. James’ hugs and my tears told the story to him, and he relaxed and knew that he was witnessing something real and amazing – it was for him perhaps one of the moments of restoration that they have dedicated their lives to achieve for these children.

They told us that they had taken James to a deaf church to try and interview him to find out who he was and where he was from. James declared with not the slightest hesitation that his parents were white. They couldn’t believe him and chided him that this was impossible because his skin was black, but James never backed off – his parents were white! None of this made any sense to them until that moment in the parking lot.

 

James’ white parents delivered James to school on Thursday where he is now safe and happy to be back home. We arrived back at our guesthouse late that night after one of the longest and sweetest days in our memory.

Part 3 will finish the tale, filling in some of the significant details.