James is a personable young boy and always has been, maybe even a bit charismatic. This was demonstrated repeatedly at Retrak. James wandered freely through their building and offices, as he always does, and everyone welcomed him. It does not seem possible, but even the CEO in his office upstairs might look up at any time to see James standing at his door. He would smile, welcome him, and try to communicate with him. The report we received testified that everyone felt “happy” when James came to visit them, and he liked to draw pictures of the people and give them as gifts. They gave James reams of paper to keep him engaged and busy. God seemed to give him favor with almost everyone from the office workers to the CEO to the cook in the kitchen (James was always hungry, it seems).

He is one of only two deaf children Retrak has had opportunity to help, and for some reason (wink, wink) the administration of Retrak prioritized connecting James to his people with a kind of urgency that was unusual since he was only one of many children they are trying to trace. We understand that the urgency was from God because we are here in Uganda only now, and we were in Jinja only right then instead of several hundred kilometers away in the north, so that all the joyous reuniting and the less joyous paperwork, probation, legal signatures, etc., could be accomplished. Location, it turns out, is not everything – timing is. It is so sweet of God to let all this happen during the short time we are here, and even the shorter time we were near Jinja, rather than hearing about it from our home in the US.

How did the actual connecting of James back to us happen? As hard as they searched for clues, interviewed him with deaf interpreters, and sought for any hint of where James was from, they had nothing after two months. Then, around April 11 or so, James was sitting one evening near one of the administrators with whom he had formed a special bond. The man was on his computer, looking at some pictures of Uganda. Suddenly, James leaped up and began pointing and gesturing at the screen. He was looking at a picture of the new bridge that has been built at Jinja and which is quite distinctive and beautiful. It seemed they had their first clue from James.

James saw a picture of the new Jinja Bridge similar to this one, and suddenly, they had their first clue to where he came from.

They formed a search party, and with James to guide them, they headed off in a vehicle toward Jinja. When they reached the bridge several hours later, James began to gesture excitedly indicating that he would lead them. They came to the first roundabout, which is just after the bridge, and James gestured to follow the road to the north. Unfortunately, that wasn’t it. After several other false forays at other roundabouts, they finally reached Bugembe. I am reminded of the children’s book, Are You My Mother? where the baby bird asks everyone he sees that question until finally, he finds his actual mother.

After several more false leads, with rising doubt among the Retrak people that this was going to work out, they finally arrived in Bugembe, which sits beyond Jinja to the East. James became animated again, indicating that now they should just follow him, and he led them away from the highway, down into the twisted dirt lanes that hide behind the row of stores, shops and markets along the main road. They went here, then there, turning right, then left. Then James wanted out of the vehicle, and they were chasing after him on foot – up onto the porch of a storefront, around the side into a long, dark and narrow alleyway and along a narrower ledge to the back of the building – oh, where is he taking us now? They doubted James severely at this point and even videoed the circuitous route they were following.

They arrived at a fence and a door. James boldly pushed the door open and proceeded with confidence that none of the rest of the group felt into a small courtyard surrounded by small apartments, and covered with domestic cooking fires with pots boiling on the coals. James arrived at the very farthest point back into this courtyard, and he stood knocking on a door with them crowded behind him in the narrow passage. Alfred’s wife finally opened the door and her face showed shock when she saw James and these men on her threshold. The rest of the story you know.

So we returned James to his school in Mbale the same day we received him from the probation officer nearly a week after the above events took place. All the way I sat in the back seat with James, and Gail in the front seat so I could have some time with James. We still cannot talk with each other, and I get the impression that he sometimes wonders why I am so thick that I cannot understand his many gestures. I know that somehow, I have to pick up Ugandan sign language. But all that aside, I would periodically nudge or bump him with my elbow or shoulder, and he would companionably bump me back. He reached up once and affectionately rubbed my bald head quite a bit as if to make sure it was really me. He held my hand for a long time as we rode along quiet and content.

We communicated. Oh yes, we communicated. We did, father to son.