Our word this month is embrace. With 22 of our Ugandan children in America for the first time, new dreams and vision unfurling, and the constant growth and change inevitable with a non-profit organization, we felt this word was an appropriate choice entering this new year. Throughout our lives, with each twist and turn, God is constantly inviting us to take a seat at His table and calls us to trust Him. Our prayer this month is that we might all continue to learn to embrace His plans and not our own ways, to release our clenched hands and embrace where He has us and those around us. This month we want to introduce you to our newest member of the Sozo Children family, Ryan. This is his story of embracing change and newness, but also his start to embracing others in love.
The Ugandan government defines “vulnerable children” as those who are forgotten, describing them as lost, neglected, orphaned, or abandoned. Often these children live on the streets, enduring lives of unimaginable abuse and neglect. They live without a home, a family, or any means to pursue a healthy life or hopeful future.
These are children that have not been embraced by love, hope or peace. Instead, they have been captured by fear, loneliness, and abandonment. Ryan, a five-year-old Ugandan boy, was one of these children.
When law enforcement or investigators find these children, they report them to the government in an effort to remove them from these hopeless situations. The child is then placed with a referral, a place that provides safety and emergency care. In Uganda, Sozo Children acts as one of these emergency care referrals.
Ryan was found aimlessly exploring the streets of a Ugandan town. This is not an uncommon sight; often, because of the large number of orphans in this nation. As soon as Ryan was found, living alone and living without a home, he was immediately taken to the police station, where he waited to be moved to a referral home to receive emergency care. Moving him to Sozo Children in Uganda gave him not only a place of refuge; it gave him a place that welcomed him in as home.
Assuming the role as Ryan’s emergency-caretaker, the Sozo community welcomed the little boy with open arms. Upon arrival, Ryan immediately began the entry process. This initial period of time is when the referral (Sozo Children) provides the vulnerable child with basic necessities such as food, shelter, medical care, and protection until they are able to begin the tracing process. The tracing process is a twenty-one day period of research that involves both social workers and counselors. During this time, those involved in the investigation spend tireless hours seeking as much information as they can find concerning the child. “Who is this child’s family?” “Where is child from?” and “How did this child get lost?”
Right now, we are still unsure the answers to all of these questions; anything could have happened to Ryan. He could have been kidnapped, or kicked out of his home, or he could have run away. Over the course of those initial twenty-one days, no concrete information was found concerning his story, his identity, or his background. Ryan himself could answer no questions for us; he was unable to state for certain the number of family members he had or where he had come from. Edwin, one of our Ugandan social workers, even took Ryan back to the exact place where he had been found, attempting to trigger his memory to remind him of anything from his past. We have no tangible evidence has yet been found concerning Ryan’s personal history. But for now, he has been welcomed into a new home, a place of refuge and grace and safety. Here, he does not have to worry about his future—just as no five-year-old should.
Sozo Children received a new family member, as he has recently been placed more permanently with us. While the investigators continue to search for pieces to the puzzle of his past, he is able to rest in the stability of knowing that, at least for now, he is safe and provided-for.
In the true sense of the word, Ryan has been completely embraced and surrounded by his Sozo household and family; the team and the other kids have welcomed him in with open hearts. His energetic, outgoing, overly friendly demeanor has made this easy. As part of his entry into Sozo, he has been enrolled in school and is incredibly eager to learn—his favorite English phrase is “let me see,” signifying his inquisitive and creative spirit. He loves to explore and stay busy as he is intrigued by almost everything around him.
One thing that has struck the Sozo staff the most about Ryan, though, is the way he has not only so naturally entered the Sozo environment, but how he has taken an active role in embracing and cherishing those around him as well. Over Christmas, not long after first entering Sozo, Ryan encountered Ronald, an out-of-house Sozo child who was visiting for a few days. Knowing what it meant to be the new kid, Ryan immediately took Ronald under his wing. He gave Ronald a tour of the Sozo house, taught him worship songs, and never left him alone; they were always together. We believe Ryan’s accepting spirit to embrace this new little one is a reflection of the love and hospitality he received from our wonderful Ugandan team.
Ryan’s story is one that so clearly exemplifies the nature of the word embrace. In a time that was probably confusing and scary, He embraced those around him with love and enthusiasm. We know God has big plans for this child and we expectantly wait to see how Ryan continues to grow.
May Ryan’s story be our story, too, embracing those around us in love.
What are you embracing this month?