Category: James

James and the First Good-Bye

Today we arrived at the deaf school in Mbale, Uganda, where we put James, the ten year-old deaf boy we rescued from the islands. It was an interesting visit. James has become very familiar with his new home and was off playing when we arrived. You may remember that this boy had never been in a classroom or had any language to speak of except pointing and gesturing until we brought him off the isolated island in Lake Victoria where he has been living among his clan as a virtual orphan. We escorted James to the Makhai Primary School just in June of this year. So he’s now had four months of schooling, and we needed to see how he was progressing.

Sitting at Catherine's house, talking about James and his progress.

Sitting at Catherine’s house, talking about James and his progress.

You may also remember that James has lived “on his own” most of his life with no one to love him and has ranged freely as he chose for five years. So this habit of ranging freely is still very much in control, though he has a loving teacher who has “adopted” him so that he always comes home to her and her small family of three other children who live at the school. This wandering has caused much trouble with the neighbors and with the school. His teacher-mother, Catherine, told us today that once when he had a strong disagreement with another deaf child in the dormitory, he left in the night. He was finally found considerably up the highway asleep on the porch of a storefront. This, actually, is quite normal for James, while horrifying to the rest of us.

Today the other deaf children went to tell him we had arrived to visit him – me, his musungu father and Alfred his Ugandan father. But when he saw them coming, he eluded them because he wanted to continue playing. Finally, Catherine had to go and find him, and thirty minutes later, they arrived at the door of her small home in the teachers’ compound. She has dressed him in a very bright fuchsia shirt on his casual days out of uniform (today was Saturday), so that she can easily find him from the distance. Such is the nature his continual wandering far afield.

Alfred checks James for insect infections which he was covered with when we rescued him in June - he had been sleeping outside. No problems this time!

Alfred checks James for insect infections which he was covered with when we rescued him in June – he had been sleeping outside. No problems this time!

He was pleased to see us, though he was very shy of my wife Gail, whom he has not met before. He showed Alfred his feet, free of infections, and his new burn scar on his shoulder from a hot tea spill. He proudly showed me his study books where he or a helper has drawn various pictures (airplane, bus, car, etc.), and he has learned the signs for these words. He would show me the picture then demonstrate the sign. It is uncanny how he knows that Alfred cares after his physical condition, while I focus on his mental and emotional health.

I’m not sure that the fact that he is deaf and we are not has yet penetrated his worldview. He signed to us freely, and probably wondered why we did not sign back to him. Sadly, Gail, who knows how to sign, tried to sign to him, but he would not respond much because he doesn’t know her. There are many reasons such a boy would not quickly trust a stranger.

But did you hear what I said? He is signing, carrying on conversations, expressing things he has never been able to express before, both sending and receiving actual language! He has grown rapidly in this area and again has shown us how intelligent he is.

When we first found him, he had a serious challenge sharing anything with other children – he was very territorial

and protective of anything that could remotely be considered something of his own. But today, I brought him red licorice twizzlers, and without prompting of any kind, he called his friends and shared out his twizzlers among them, making sure even the smallest of those present had one to herself. This change in his behavior was very gratifying to witness.

James reaches back to grip my hand during photo opp.with his deaf teacher - a significant change of touch boundaries between us.

James reaches back to grip my hand during photo opp.with his deaf teacher – a significant change of touch boundaries between us.

Before James arrived, I asked Catherine why she was willing to help James so much – frankly, I was blunt because I wanted to hear her motives for taking on a handful like James. She is a recent widow with three children of her own, one who cannot be more than three years old. She said that James is an orphan like she was, and she can’t bear to think of him not having any mother to love him. She said in her extended family in the village and among her own children, James is already considered to be one of the family members – a brother, in fact. The sacrifice this demonstrates is more than most of us can even imagine.

When we left, James became sullen and stubborn, not wanting us to leave. Gail phrased it well when she noted that James does not do “good-byes.” I think of the baggage he carries about good-byes – his mother first at age five, then his father two years later. I think of our visit to the island this trip and how we were there for seven days teaching the leaders, and how his uncles, who have loosely been his clan care-givers for the last few years, sat in my classes, and how in that week not a single one of them asked after James or mentioned him in any way. As we pulled away in the car, fighting back the tears again as we did last June when we first brought him to the school that would become his new home, we waved to him. He stood alone, away from the other children, unwilling to be comforted in this moment of

James struggles with our good-bye; Catherine tries to comfort him.

James struggles with our good-bye; Catherine tries to comfort him.

loss even by Catherine, pulling away angrily from her touch.

And then hope rose in me. He gave a small wave to us. It was not much, but it was the first good-bye from James, a boy who is slowly, painfully finding his heart under layers of callouses and scar tissue.

[If you want to catch up on the previous stories about James, type “James” into the search feature at the top of the page.]

James after Two Months as his New Home

For those of you who are following the James story, here is the latest report from Uganda on our recently rescued hearing impaired boy. Alfred, my assistant in Uganda, and I had agreed that since we didn’t know the school very well where we were boarding James, at first we would visit each time money was needed for a new term at the school. That way Alfred could have “eyes on” the care James was receiving and on the school and his progress there. Later, we agreed, we could work out a more economical way to get the funds to them than traveling there to literally hand them the money for his care. But for now, we wanted to be able to evaluate “on-site.” So Alfred agreed that he would make the trek to Mbale of 2-3 hours or more, depending on his transportation, which would have to be by bus or by taxi.

The school is now in recess during the latter part of August and so Alfred made his pilgrimage yesterday and has sent me an up-to-date report on James. I want you to hear it from Alfred’s own mouth, so here is his email received just today: [FYI Catherine is the head of the deaf department at the school and the woman whom James has most bonded to]

“Successfully meet James yesturday, very healthy,  excited and so happy upon seeing me, jumped and gave me an unusual hag. I was able to know it is un usual because he had not hagged me until yesturday. He then gives me gestures which i was not understanding but i asked catherine to interprete them for me, and this is what he was meaning ‘Is Bob with you, have you left him in the mbale restaurant so you have come for me to go and meet him to have some chicken where is our vehicle etc.

He then runs direct to his metalic box gets every thing out at a terrible speed until he finds what i later realised was his test papers, he shows them to me, he tries to explain to me though i was only able to understand a few of them, at some moment my conversation with him was hindered coz of not understanding all his gestures, one story to another endless story.

Thanks to God for using meade international to restore James future.

Catherine is happy too with James and i could tell from the observation on how they were relating that Cathy filled the vaccum that James had, she loves James and James loves her and very free with her than any other teachers in the school, he is very free with her than with other ladies of the school, i could know this coz all of them were seated in the room but he could always go to Cathy when he wanted any thing, or ask, for example at one moment he asked her whether she was having it in mind to prepare tea for Alfred the visitor, i never wanted tea at that moment but i was forced by James to take tea, and i did that.

It seemed James did all this hoping that Alfred has come to pick him take him to the mbale restaurant and meet pastor Bob, where they last had their lunch. So eventually James rushes picks a bensen [?] gets soap to go and have a bath, gets his jelly [deodorant?] which i took for him he smears his body, puts on his new clothes then gets the cap that Pastor Bob gave him last time just ready for the restaurant trip to meet his favorite friend at their usual place, it was a big disappointment to mr James he later realised he was to stay.

Cathy helped me, she told me James likes meat so much, so the only thing to do is for her to go with him to the butcher and purchase some meat then as they depart for beef i leave, and that is exactly what i did to be able come back…


with grtgs, In Him.”

This is truly a wonderful report and demonstrates that James is adapting and is learning language through signs. Now I must figure out how to have his hearing evaluated in Uganda and what to do with that information when I have it, believing as I do that he is able to hear some things in the high range. I will return to Uganda in October and need to have a plan in place by then to take this next step.

James and the Nitty Gritty

Some of you may be wondering about the detailed, and I might add overwhelming, process of getting James into the deaf school in Mbale. This post is for you. When we arrived at the school, we were given a gargantuan list of things that had to be provided for him to board at the school before he could register.

We traveled back into Mbale proper and found the large three-story mall at the center of town. Now this was not at all like the mall you’re thinking of – it was more like a huge, multi-layered outdoor farmer’s market-bazaar, only indoors without electricity and light. James in tow, we spent the next 3 hours going from cubicle to shop to kiosk locating and purchasing most of the following items until I began to fear we would never find our way back out of the bowels of this huge building. A few items then had to be located in other stores around town. Here’s the list: [“sh.” means shillings, current rate of exchange 3291 sh. per $1.00]

  • 1 sweater                                                  27,000 sh.
  • 2 pairs gray socks                                     4,000 sh.
  • 2 pairs black shoes                                  55,000 sh.
  • Medium size metal footlocker               35,000 sh.
  • 1 padlock                                                    4,000 sh.
  • 4 rolls t.p.                                                   2,000 sh.
  • 1 jar Vaseline                                             2,500 sh.
  • 2 medium tubes toothpaste                   3,000 sh.
  • 500 kg laundry soap                               4,000 sh.
  • 6 lead pencils                                            600 sh.
  • 4 bars body soap                                      2,000 sh.
  • 1 mosquito net                                          10,000 sh.
  • 2 pairs sheets small                                 26,000 sh.
  • 1 10-litre jerry can for water                     5,000 sh.
  • 1 plate, fork, spoon, cup, wash basin      8,500 sh.
  • 1 mattress                                                     45,000 sh.
  • 1 blanket                                                       30,000 sh.
  • 1 small flashlight                                         2,500 sh.
  • 2 reams paper, 1 doz. colored pencils     22,000 sh.
  • 4 kg. sugar                                                    10,000 sh.
  • 3 bars clothing soap                                    9,000 sh.
  • 1 dozen 48 page composition books        8,000 sh.
  • 5 pairs underwear                                        7,500 sh.
  • 1 double-deck bed to be constructed       200,000 sh.
  • 1 school uniform                                          40,000 sh.

Then back at the school as the sun disappeared behind the horizon, I paid the balance of the fees:

Academic & Boarding Fees for term      250.000 sh.

Discretionary pocket money at office     15,000 sh.

TOTAL       827,600 sh.

This huge number at today’s exchange rate against the dollar amounts to $251.45.

And just so you know God is in this situation all the way, last week, as we were getting ready to leave the island with James, Gail received a donation in the mail for James for…….. wait for it…….$250.00.

Yeah, you read it right. I’m thinkin’ James’ blessed donor really heard from God on this one. It’s just fun to live in the Kingdom of God!

Today we delivered ten-year old James to the Makhai Primary School just outside Mbale, Uganda. It is a mixed matriculation deaf school, which means they have a deaf department, but they also have regular students, and they mix them together with interpreters in class once the deaf children have learned signs. We dreaded leaving him there because of the bond we have formed with him and our fear of abandoning him as he has been abandoned so often, even though we know we are doing the best for him.

On the island, he rode with us one day, went to the training with us and we hadIMG_0491 him all day. At the end of the day, when it was time for us to return to the guesthouse and for him to return to his relatives where he was sleeping, he would have none of us leaving without him. He threw a first-class fit! He fell to the ground at the side of the car and refused to move, so that Alfred had to carry him across the road and deposit him with a relative. However, he beat Alfred back to the car, threw his soda through my window and stood banging and wailing on the car door. Alfred once again carried him across the road and deposited him with the relative who held onto him this time.

IMG_0490We were facing the wrong direction and had to drive out one end of the village to turn around. His wailing followed us out, we turned around and had to pass back in front of him going the other way, and his wailing again followed us out the other end of the village unabated. Alfred was a wreck and I wasn’t that much better.

So we feared a repeat performance at the school when it came time to leave. The head-mistress told us that they had a child similar to James who literally cried for three months, her wailing sounding out over the entire campus.

Here’s what happened with James. The deaf students of all ages came out to meet James when we arrived. During the time I was in the office taking care of final details, the students interacted with him…how can I describe this…”lovingly.” They gave him his “sign name” so he has a name in their community. They carried his gear and mattress from the car to his dorm room and helped him organize his sleeping place. All of this was carried out with excitement, warmth, and enthusiasm, as if adding one more to their community of students is an occasion for celebration.

James, who had first reacted with an angry “don’t touch me” attitude, looked conflicted – he knew what was happening because he is intelligent and he could figure it out from all the gear we had purchased to install him in his dorm, but at the same time he was confused and maybe even nonplussed by this outpouring of affection from peers. He almost immediately began to form a bond with an older student who was shepherding him around and taking great pains to interact with him. I’m pretty sure no one has ever treated him the way these students were behaving.

I expressed some concern to the head-mistress that he would run off as is hisIMG_0505 habit. She said the deaf students are such a close-knit group that they will monitor him themselves, which will probably circumvent his little dashes for freedom that have kept me and Alfred busy for the last few days.

As we were leaving, we hugged him and gave him a token from each of us to remember us by (of course, Alfred will be dropping in every month or so). He immediately waved to the students and started toward the car with us. We stopped and they gathered around him and took him back into the dorm with Alfred, and then, when he was distracted, Alfred came sprinting for the car and we drove off into the night.

Reach out, James, and take the hand that has reached out for you. Hold on tightly and live…

[Pix here are of the deaf students welcoming James and then us saying good-bye. This dormitory is typical of schools and better than what James has probably had to date. Alfred thinks from the state of his sores, fungal infested scalp, and many insect bites that James may have been sleeping outside.]

James Gets a Wonder Upgrade

We met James for the first time last Fall when we were on Buvuma Island teaching the Bible Institute. He was about 9 and hanging around at the edge of the crowd. We wondered why he wasn’t in school. Finally, someone told us he was a deaf orphan, having been abandoned by both parents. We began interacting with him and formed a bond during that week. I heard many things about this boy, which I have previously shared, but the Holy Spirit was saying, “This boy is Mine and he needs to be rescued.”

So I returned to the U.S. with a conviction that God was going to use Alfred and me to move him to a deaf school (I had by this time located and visited one in Mbale, a distance of about 150 miles from the island by road). So began this great adventure (see previous entry, “James and the Giant Mountain.”)

This trip as we interacted with him on the island, we discovered the most amazing thing. We were backing up to turn around, and our vehicle makes a beeping noise when it is in reverse for safety purposes. James was seated in the back seat, and I heard this little voice saying, “Beep, beep, beep….” My head whipped around, which of course silenced the demonstration. As far as we had been able to tell up till now, James has no language other than imaginative gestures and pointing, but he is bright enough to get his point across most times. We haven’t heard anything but squeaks and squeals from him as he uses his much unexercised voice to express his excitement. But, “Beep, beep, beep,” as clear as a bell? I was entranced.

We began a series of experiments and the results are WONDERFUL AND HOPEFUL! James can hear claps, whistles, falsetto tones, and any high pitched sound. He is HEARING IMPAIRED, but not totally deaf. He hears in the high range, but not in the low range. It is a true wonder! Sadly, without diagnosis or family to care for him, this has now gone ten years untended. I do not know all of the implications of this discovery, but I am pretty sure it paints a different future for James than the one we had previously begun to cobble together.

Can his hearing be restored completely with modern medicine or technology? Can he recover what he has lost in time and education even more effectively than we had hoped? Will he one day speak as clearly as any other person and hear the sounds of nature and conversation? I am no expert and will have to consult an expert as soon as possible. But I just continue saying, “ISN’T THIS AMAZING! THANK YOU, GOD!!”

By the way, he also clearly says, “Bye,” when people are leaving. Who knew? The world is at this boy’s feet.

James and the Giant Mountain

I have returned from the Island and am once again in contact with phones, email, and the worldwide web. When we arrived two weeks ago in the village of Kitamiru, we immediately inquired about James, the deaf boy Alfred was planning to move to the deaf school in Mbale with our help. James was nowhere to be seen. We discovered that his uncles had sent him off to a more distant island to be with his alcoholic father who abandoned him six years ago.

Apparently, James had developed some anger issues when no one could or would understand his gestures – translation: make any effort to understand what he was trying to communicate. So, predictably, James began to respond with temper – he is intelligent and demands a voice in a culture where no one sees him as more than an unpleasant aberration. So his three uncles “dealt with him” by sending him away. Now he was located at an even more remote and isolated place than we found him last year.

One of our hosts, Bishop Waako, informed us that even he was surprised at how far away the island was (at least six hours by motorboat). Alfred and I began to wonder if we would have to take a long motorboat ride to fetch him ourselves. I was resolved to do this as a last resort.

As it turned out, there was a pastor from that exact island attending the Bible Institute we were teaching. I was able to send him to investigate the situation and hopefully return with James and family representatives who could commit him over to our care. As I said in a previous blog entry, we had been forced to return to the mainland over that first weekend after the Institute. On Monday, when we returned to the village on Buvuma, there stood the pastor hoIMG_20150620_102108_497lding onto James.

The pastor told us that none of his family members, aunts or uncles, etc., would make the journey with James. His own father would not leave his drinking for such a meaningless task. This boy is truly alone in the world.

James was happy and surprised to see us – maybe happy to see Alfred and surprised to see me is more accurate. We concluded our second week of ministry on the island and then began what will be a great adventure for James, from the ferry ride to the city of Jinja to the long 100 mile car ride to Mbale on Uganda roads.

I talked to Alfred this morning, who is personally caring for James, and he said, “This boy is somehow disturbing me,” which is wonderful Ugandan understatement for “He’s quite a handful!” Poor single Alfred has no experience in parenting. Through the afternoon, I’ve received a series of texts from him that the boy has run off (James has had IMG_0425little discipline or care at any time, and so it is his habit to go where and when he chooses, which will be a problem for the school to sort out). The last text I received said that Alfred has finally found him and is on the way to our now long overdue meeting.

So James faces a giant mountain of change and opportunity that he will, I’m sure, at first find restricting to his 10 years of habitual freedom – he will find it difficult to live among people who actually care about him. Please pray for this little ten-year old. In many ways he is wise beyond his years in ways a child should never have to be. He is often a wild child who seems like an amalgam of Helen Keller and a child raised by wolves .

James faces a mountain. He will need lots of patience, love and assistance to climb it. Life waits on the other side…

Many of you who have supported our efforts to rescue the deaf boy James from his difficult life and deliver him to the deaf school at Mbale are probably wondering what the status is. As soon as I arrived last Sunday, I began asking where James was and how he was. Here’s the story.

James, happy to have his picture taken

James, happy to have his picture taken

James is now about ten years old. Being abandoned and deaf in a community where disability is culturally despised and where there are no educational or social resources has all conspired to make rescuing him more difficult. He is very intelligent and so having no language, he is unable to make those around him

understand him. This is now causing some emotional damage as one would expect. Apparently, he was expressing quite a bit of anger and frustration when the adults around him could not or would not make the effort to understand him. This resulted in his three uncles (pastors James, happy to have his picture takenall) finally, after many years, locating their miscreant brother on another rather distant island and sending James away to live with his father. His father abandoned him about 6 years ago and has had no interest in him at all, and is a “a drunkard ma,” I am told. So this was not a good report.

Fortunately, we got phone numbers to the relatives in this far away place and after much difficulty, Alfred and the bishop have been able to establish some communication. God, of course, has moved ahead of us, as one of the leaders who attended this week’s Bible Institute was from this very island and knows the people and the culture there very well. So, P1100912bottom line, he has been dispatched by the bishop to return to the island, locate James and his father, and bring them back to Bavuma so we can get the father’s permission to move James.

It is possible that we will have James with us by Monday (tomorrow).

So many things must fall into place. The father must give his written permission and release the boy to Alfred Mafumba and the bishop; the local government official must sign off on this because it involves transporting a child; James must be willing to leave the only home he knows without any way for us to tell him why or where; then, having enabled Alfred to take charge of him , we must escort him to a strange school (remember that he has never been in any school) in a strange and distant city, and then leave him among total strangers; James has to cooperate with all this.

I can’t help but think that Alfred and I are probably among a very small number of people who have ever made any effort to communicate with and love this boy, and we had to go away last fall and leave him there. How will he regard us as he sees us again, and how will he react to us again leaving him yet again, but this time among strangers. And all without any language to help him understand! My heart breaks even as I write this.

So please, pray, call out to the Lord on James’ behalf. A lot has to fall into place before the end of this week when we leave Buvuma and return to the mainland again, hopefully with James in tow.



The second day of teaching the Bible Institute on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria, Alfred and I noticed a small boy, dressed in rags, hanging around quite a bit. I wondered why he was not in school, and at first we thought he was trying to steal something, and so we watched him very closely and guarded our stuff diligently, trying not to leave anything lying around where it would be easy to take. But finally, when he returned every day to the hall we were renting from the village, we decided to pay a little more attention – he seemed more curious about us than malicious. As we approached him, we discovered that he was mute and used a complex series of obvious hand and arm gestures to communicate.

As the week went by, we discovered James is actually deaf. From the villagers we learned that he is nine years old, abandoned by his parents, one at a time – the father is the brother of one of the local pastors and hasn’t be seen for about seven years. The mother disappeared several years ago after trying to make it on her own with James. Now he lives with his grandmother – or perhaps his great-grandmother – who is a wanderer; that is, she wanders widely around the island, sometimes being gone for days, and often returning to her home late at night, where James dutifully opens the door for her when she awakens him.

James helping Alfred set up for teaching

James helping Alfred set up for teaching

When the grandmother is not around to care for him, whatever little care it may be, the extended family tends to keep him fed and occasionally gives him castoff clothing. This family is mostly Christian, the main brother being a pastor, with another of the brothers being a pastor also. It seems hard for them to care for him because each of them is young, married with children, one already having eight children of his own.

Here is what I observed. James is very bright. He can make himself understood with his “unofficial” homemade sign language. I understood him quite well, even to the point of him being able to identify which of the brothers is responsible for the scars on his face and back from beatings. It was like James had a story to tell, and when he finally had someone to “listen” to him, he eloquently answered a number of our questions in this manner. He also can ask questions in a way that you just know he is asking you a question. He is a little boy starved for relationship, quickly bonding to anyone who will love him or pay any kind of meaningful attention to him. He is independent because he must be in order to survive, but he seems to crave company.

When Alfred and I accepted him as just he is, talked to him and loved on him a little, including him in the setting up and tearing down of our teaching equipment each day, he became a fixture at the Institute, sometimes stretching out on a bench and sleeping for an hour or more while we taught the adults. James is not particularly accepted by the people, who are typically suspicious of someone with such a disability. For a long time, when he was not responding

James, happy to have his picture taken

James, happy to have his picture taken

correctly to their commands as a small child, they all thought at he was rebellious – hence the beatings, though I am appalled at the admission of it by the one who did it, both to hear it and to tell it to you. At that early point in his life, they decided he was retarded or brain-damaged, and so things became somewhat easier for him. Now most of the villagers understand that he is a deaf-mute.

Bless his heart, Alfred confronted the man who administered the beatings – a student of the Institute and a pastor. At first the man was defensive and left the area. Then he returned and confessed to Alfred the story I have just told above. He apparently feels guilty, as well he should, and treats James – his own nephew – more gently now and makes sure he has food to eat. Still, cultural differences aside, I am struggling with my feelings when I recall the multiple scars on James’ body.

James became very attached to both of us, running to greet us every day, smiling and laughing with us through the day, and sticking by us when we were present. I had some concerns about having to leave him behind when we left the island because of this. Alfred was even considering for a moment just taking James with us and raising him by himself, since he is single. I talked with Alfred much about this, and it was clear that he had little idea of what this would mean in terms of lifestyle changes. Ultimately, we decided to come back to the mainland and investigate options before disrupting James’ life with a temporary plan that is not

James with Alfred, my driver, translator and assistant

James with Alfred, my driver, translator and assistant

well thought out. I don’t think James is going anywhere in the meantime.

So let me summarize: we have a nine year old boy who is intelligent and loving, who has no one to care for him, cannot attend the local school because they have no way to teach him, has never attended school, but is already able to communicate by a system of signs that he has worked out himself. He will “talk” with anyone who will listen, but mostly no one does. They see him as a less-than-whole feature of the landscape, and, aside from keeping him fed, they do not seem to think much about him at all. His future is bleak. There are simply no resources or services available for a person like James in such an isolated location. It is likely he will be a beggar when he grows up, living alone at a barely subsistence level for the rest of his life. He is a strong boy, and maybe he can find work as a laborer if the people will accept him.

I find this probability very challenging. I am not at peace with it. Please pray with me for James. He has crossed our path for a reason. It is true that we cannot save them all. I am not at peace with that either.