“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” 1 John 5:2

Word from Uganda!


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." --Romans 15:13

I have heard word! I have actually heard word from the mouths of my sweet children in Tororo! I am in amazement that I was able to communicate with them directly... and hear the sound of their precious voices. I am usually one to dis technology and how our advancements have made us impersonal and lazy; however, today I am rejoicing and thanking God for fast and convenient ways of communicating around the globe.

On our last day at Smile Africa, Kasifa (a 13 year old girl, cousin to Juma) gave a team member a cell phone number to reach. We weren’t sure whose it was or if it would even work, but after a few weeks of being home we decided to try calling. We used skype to call Uganda, as it's cheaper and seems to make clearer connections. When I called, an unfamiliar man’s voice answered, and I repeatedly tried to tell him I was looking for Kasifa, or Jowelia or Juma? Finally the children around caught on and came running… they were screaming and shouting and fighting over the phone. I could hear the excitement in their voices! After settling down I was able to talk to them each, though Juma hogged the phone most of the time. Juma was able to update me on Smile Africa and told me he was learning at school. He kept telling me, “I miss you so much! When are you coming back?” I can’t explain to you how much joy I felt in hearing their voices. I was overflowing with love because I could hear how happy and joyful they were. In that moment, God gave me peace and understanding. He was taking care of them all this time, and there was no need to worry. He will continue to fill their hearts with joy and hope.

In communicating with Juma, he informed me that Alapen was sick again. He wasn’t able to give me more details, but he described Alapen as withdrawn and not socializing with the other children. My heart aches in missing this sweet little boy, and many days I want to fly over, pick him up and bring him back home with me. Right now, I can’t do that, so instead I must trust that His Father is watching over him.

I was also informed from other missionaries that Nika (the malnourished baby girl who was adopted to live at Awenjo House) was also sick for awhile. I am uncertain of her progress? Unfortunately, the Ugandan parents taking care of the 20+ children were found beating them and were asked to leave. Awenjo House is supposed to be a safe, loving home for these children, so please pray that God sends devoted, compassionate servants to care for these children.

I’m not sure if I have shared any stories about Moses before, but I will try to give you a little background. Moses has been at Smile Africa for several years, and at first glance you think he is around age 1 or not quite 2. Moses is malnourished and unable to walk or even talk. His tiny limbs cannot support the weight of his bloated belly. He has a full mouth of teeth and a mature face, but no words form from his lips. In actuality, Moses is 4 years old. In our time at Smile, we did see improvement in Moses after putting him on a special formula and giving him extra attention. But Moses still has a long way to go. It is even thought by the staff at Smile that Moses has TB- of the bone? Most days Moses was brought to Smile by a sibling, but other days when he didn’t show we would go retrieve him to bring him to Smile to be cared for. There was talk of Moses’ mother struggling with alcohol abuse and neglecting her children, so in many ways Moses was lacking parental care. Yet I received word a few days ago that Moses’ mom has passed away, leaving him a true orphan. I am sad to know these children have lost their mother and now must fend for themselves in unimaginable conditions. I am hopeful that Pastor Ruth is finding care for Moses and has plans to house some of these orphans at Smile.

For some positive news: Chulu (malnourished baby girl sent to treatment in hospital) is continuing to make progress! She is a healthy little girl—she is busy walking and talking, playing and laughing. At one point during our trip we weren’t sure if Chulu was going to live, and now she is dancing her way through life:)

Luke is a child that was born with both male and female reproductive parts. In Africa, many of these children never get a chance- are rejected- and never understand what gender they are. However, Smile Africa was able to pay for Luke to have surgery this past week, and Pastor Ruth reported that everything went well and he is healing quickly! Pastor Ruth was excited to put him in boy’s clothes and give him a sense of identity. Please pray for Luke as he recovers and deals with the changes.

Lastly, during our stay in Tororo the team was extremely frugal. At the end of our trip we were able to give away what was left of our money. It was wonderful to be able to spend time with these people and this ministry, and then give based on the needs we saw. It was also comforting to know that our money was being left in good hands with people we trusted- people honestly serving God and His children. We were able to donate over $2,000 to Smile Africa! Pastor Ruth has informed me that the donation will be put towards building a room for the babies to stay in and to pay for a widow or young woman to care for them. We were also able to pay for our two Ugandan friends’ (Winnie 20 and Penina 17) Higher Education for the entire year. These young women could not afford school for the upcoming year and unable to finish their education... without an education these girls are limited and forced to live a life in the village with little say of their future. So thank you supporters for your contributions! Your donations reached far and wide and touched the lives of many in Tororo.

Oh and one more thing! My teammates and I left most of our belongings at Smile to be donated to the girls and women in need. Pastor Ruth sent me pictures today of many modeling their “new” clothes!!! They look as if they feel beautiful in something new and clean…

You turned my wailing into dancing;

you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.

~Psalm 30:11-12~

dirty little hands


It has been difficult for me to want to write about being home. When I write it down it becomes more real to me that my trip is in fact over. Some days I don’t even believe I went to Africa- it all happened so fast. Let me say that I am excited to be home and to be surrounded by family and friends that love me. I missed my brothers. I missed playing with my niece. I missed sharing stories with my grandfather. I missed hugging my boyfriend. I missed knowing about the lives of my youth in Jackson. Yet in all the excitement of seeing loved ones, I really wanted to burst into tears for missing my children and the people in Tororo. As things began slowing down and the newness of me being home went away, I broke down.

Many days at Smile I had to step away and take a breath when I was being smothered by hundreds of children. I constantly had dirty little hands all over my body- hanging on my arms, holding on to my legs, touching my face, lying on my chest, clinging to my waist, pulling on my hair. It seemed like they couldn’t be close enough. It’s hard for me to imagine that ever being too much or overwhelming. Because right now I want nothing more than to have those little hands all over me. I long for them. My heart aches for their attention and affection.

In my transition back home I keep asking God what is next? I know He is not finished with me…we are only beginning. Although I can’t be in Uganda with my babies right now, I trust that God will lead me back there. During my trip I was dreading coming back to this society and the pressures that come with it- having to tend to responsibilities and making money to survive. I simply asked God to give me clarity and understanding of the next step. He is faithful. As I was getting ready to return to America He laid on my heart- Jackson, Tn. I always said I hated Jackson and after college would NEVER live there. That God is a funny guy…cause I’m doing as He says and moving to Jackson. Not sure what He has in store for me but I’m going.

I went to Lakeshore (A Methodist Camp in West Tenn) this weekend to speak about my trip to Uganda. I didn’t know if I was ready, but I said yes and went anyway. The theme of the 30-hour famine was relating physical hunger with spiritual hunger. In that hunger we experience emptiness—then desire—then fulfillment—then we share. I spoke about having a desire to go to Africa and how that became a calling that God asked me to fulfill. What I realized is in fulfilling His commands He in turn fulfilled me. I didn’t go to Uganda hoping to fulfill my own desires, but in stepping out in faith and giving everything to God He filled me with love, understanding, patience, wisdom, clarity, friendship- He fulfilled my spiritual hunger. I know that in missing my children and my heart aching for their dirty little hands I know that I did what God asked of me. “This is how we know we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” 1 john 5:2. If we love God and follow through with His commands, He will take care of the rest. He will fill you with all you need to love His children.

My next step is to share. God is asking me to share my story and the things He showed me in Uganda. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but He is faithful and I trust He will show me the way.

In missing my children God has revealed to me that He longs for my love in that same way. God longs for our dirty little hands to be all over him- pulling at his arms, touching his face and clinging to Him through His word and prayers. He never gets overwhelmed or needs a break- He loves us so much that we can cling to him always, and He will always fill us with love and affection in return. He wants us to feel as if we can't get close enough. He wants us to desire to know Him better. To not only use words to declare our love for Him but instead to act on it. Step out in faith and follow God commands. Go and fulfill His call, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Pray “that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith” 2 Thessalonians 1:11.
As I miss my children and am weary of where He leads me next, I am comforted that I can wrap my dirty little hands around God and cling to Him for strength.

I hope to receive an update from SMILE soon, but in the mean time I would love for you to be in prayer for my children and the staff at SMILEJ

home sweet home


We safely arrived back into the country! We made it just before the bulk of the snow storm in NY- as soon as we got through customs and immigration we looked up to see all arriving and departing flights had been canceled. If we had been any later we wouldn't have been able to land at JFK. Thank God for allowing us to land safely in America and for giving us beautiful snow to come home to:)

Our bodies were in a bit of a shock coming from the hot sun of Africa to a blizzard in NY, but we quickly adjusted as we dropped our luggage off at AIM headquarters and grabbed a sled to have a few minutes of fun in the snow! Three days prior we were debriefing by a pool in Kampala, Uganda and now we are playing in the snow?

We are having a day of debriefing and rest here, and then hope to catch our flights home. We are praying that the roads and runway will be cleared by later this afternoon so we can reach our families! Please pray for my team and I as we go our separate ways and adjust to life back in the States. As a team we having to process leaving Africa, coming home to America, and leaving each other. Here at headquarters we were each given our own separate rooms to relax and rest; however, we all went straight into one big room and piled five of us into three beds! We aren't ready to be away from each other just yet. Its amazing how God put us together and created a family among us. I love these women so much and have grown close to them through this experience, so pray for us also as we leave each other. There are many people and things I will miss in Africa, but I am excited to see my family and friends in Tennessee! I can't wait to hug y'all!

Last day at SMILE

Today was a difficult day. As soon as I arrived at Smile I could tell I was going to be fighting back the tears. I was already dreading four o’clock. The count down had begun, and I was limited to only a few more hours with my children. All day the thought of saying goodbye was breaking my heart.

I greeted Juma with a smile and “how are you? “ Juma responded, “Im bad. Today is your last day, so I am very bad.” Juma is a twelve-year-old boy and he is my best buddy. I haven’t shared any stories about Juma because I didn’t know where to begin. There are so many children and events I could share, but Juma is one of my favorite stories.

Juma is Mr. tough guy. He is guarded and hardened by the things he has seen in his life. His fear makes him defensive and aggressive towards others. He likes to be in control- in authority. He has no problem beating the children or shaming them in front of a group. He likes the children to feel inferior to him- it gives him power and makes him feel safe.

Juma is a true orphan. He lost both his mother and father at a young age. Juma lives with his grandmother and is forced to be a father figure to the children living with him. In first meeting Juma he shared with me his desire to go to America and be far from Uganda. Juma believes that America is as close as it gets to heaven. He thinks there is no pain, no tears, no crime, no evil in America. He once asked me if a snake bit me would I bleed? Would I feel pain in America? I tried to explain to Juma that America is far from perfect- that we too have poverty, sickness, death and destruction. I wanted him to be proud of Uganda and feel safe to live there. He then shared with me that he feared living here. He feared to sleep at night. He talked about men coming into his house in the middle of the night to come kill him and his family. I asked him why he thought this. Had someone told him this might happen? He said that it had happened- he said his uncle had been beaten to death by these men of the night. I asked him if he was there or if they had harmed him and he said, “they forced me to watch.” They had forced this 12 year boy to watch his only uncle- his only family- be beaten to death right in front of his innocent eyes. This is why my Juma lives in fear. This is why my Juma does not trust and does not let anyone in. This is why my Juma seeks authority and power over the small children because it comforts him- makes him feel safe.

Juma from the beginning wanted to know all about our team and learn about our culture and why we had come to SMILE. He was hungry for friendship and attention yet he struggled to let me into his heart- to love him.

Over the three months Juma and I have become close friends- he calls us best friends. He shares with me, he asks me for advice, he listens, he not only accepts hugs but now asks for them, he likes to just sit and talk with me. I have watched him grow and change over the past three months, and it is truly beautiful. I don’t think I mentioned, but Juma is also Muslim. He had a difficult time at first listening to any of us speak of God and his love of us. Yet I watched him be eager to sit in bible class and ask questions and desire to know more. I also watched his behavior change towards our team, his peers and the children at SMILE. On the last day at SMILE I just sat and observed him. I watched him break up two fights, help a crying child and give his banana to a younger child who needed it much more. He was once the one fighting and making the children cry, and now he was demonstrating kindness and love to others. I couldn’t believe the change I saw in him.

The week before departure Juma kept worrying about when we were all leaving. He asked everyday how many days we had left. We were walking home from SMILE and Juma told me, “I am scared.” I asked him if he meant sad, but he said no he was scared for what it would be like after we all left. He was so afraid that we would never see each other again. It was so sad because I couldn’t promise him that we ever would.

Before I knew it was the end of the day and time to say goodbye. I hugged my sweet Alapen so tight and didn’t want to let him go. It was difficult watching him walk away with no understanding that we wouldn’t be back tomorrow.

I also had someone explain to Maria that I would be leaving to go back home. She immediately was angry with me and resisted my hugs. I didn’t expect any different from my stubborn Maria, and I didn’t blame her for being upset with me. She had learned to trust me and now I was leaving her.

As we walked out of the gates at SMILE I had to watch all my children walk away. My Juma and the other boys just began crying. These tough 12-13 year old boys were sobbing and so was I. We stood at each end of the road and watched each other cry. It was the saddest feeling. Not just leaving but not knowing if I would ever see them again. The boys continued to stay around not wanting to leave. The team and I were staying at SMILE for a going away party the women and staff had put together. The ceremony was so sweet as they spoke about us and thanked us for time spent with them. They all gave us gifts….my favorite being the Kuku (a live chicken!) It amazes me how much they give even when they have nothing.

These relationships have enriched my life. They have made me a better person. They have helped me better understand the love and life of Jesus. We met with Pastor Ruth and discussed what we had seen in SMILE. By the time we finished it was 8pm and as we exited the gate I looked to my left and there on the side of the road was my Juma. He had been waiting all this time. Did they not want to go home? Did they not want the day to end? All we could do was just wave goodbye and again my heart broke. I already missed my boys- my friends.

As we drove away from Tororo, I had mixed feelings. Such joy from my time spent here. In a way I was so happy knowing how much I would miss the people here because that meant that I had formed relationships. I had fallen in love with these people and that is why my heart ached so much. As much as I am sad to be leaving, I am confident in the faithfulness of my God. He is the protector. He is the counselor. He is the friend. He is the father that never leaves his children. I can only hope that apart of me will remain at SMILE through memories, through stories, through relationships. I have hope that seeds have been planted that God will water and nurture and allow to grow and bear fruit.

While I am uncertain of God’s plans for me in Africa or whether I will be able to see my children again, I have confidence in praying, “May the Lord keep watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another.” –Genesis 31: 49

First day of school


Holiday is over for the children, and dry season has set in. Its hot hot hot in Tororo- seems to get warmer every day! February 1 was the first day of school for everyone in Tororo. SMILE is not a credited school yet, but they offer Primary 1-3 for those children who can’t afford school fees or who would otherwise be on the street. Several children at SMILE have been sponsored by people or organizations and are able to attend school in town but come to SMILE for lunch each day. SMILE was supposed to begin on Feb. 1 as well but like most things in Africa- they are slow to start. When we arrived the teachers were looking for supplies, for books and pencils for all the children. It seemed like this was the first time anyone had thought about school starting haha. I don’t know why I was expecting it to be like a First Day of school in America.

The children were ready though! They are so hungry for structure and for learning. Some of them just went and sat in the classrooms and waited for something to happen. Many of these children value education so much and know it’s their way to a brighter future. In America many of us take for granted our education and the opportunities it provides.

So February 2 was the actual first day of school! I was impressed by their promptness, and I was excited to see them in their school routine. I felt like a mama sending all my children off to start school and taking pictures of their every move! Many of the children were dressed in their best yet others still come barely clothed (they can get away with that here) The ones enrolled in school down the street at Aturukuku came for lunch dressed in their cute little uniforms. Girls in their dresses or skirts and boys in shorts and sweaters (yes sweaters in this heat!) These children arrive and help the kitchen staff finish preparing the rice for all the other children. I found myself busy in the kitchen this week helping Mama Grace and Mama Catherine (my African mamas). I am amazed at how hard they work to prepare two meals a day for 400 children!

After lunch, I decided to sit in on a class to see what they are learning. I was happy to see dedicated teachers jumping right into lessons and exercises. At times I caught myself comparing school at Smile to that of school in America, and I have to remind myself of the circumstances these kids came from and that any education is beneficial and critical in their lives. Smile is doing great things in the lives of these children. It is a place of hope and a future for many who without it might not be able to survive much less thrive.

As we are preparing to leave Smile I am thankful for them starting school because it provides a nice transition. It doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye, but we have to be grateful for spending their holiday with them- playing, making friends and planting seeds for Christ.

a package for sister


A few days ago, Evelyn the long-term missionary told me the team had some mail! There was a letter for someone and a package for Sister Elizabeth. I was like wow someone got mail! But who is Sister Elizabeth? We don’t have a nun or an Elizabeth on the team? Then it hit me that my name was Elizabeth. My parents were sweet enough to name me something I have never been called…so many times I forget my legal name. When I realized it was for me- I was so excited and immediately jumped on a boda boda to the post office!

I was so shocked to see that a package (a bulky envelope) had made it through! We were told that family and friends shouldn’t send packages because we would likely never see them. Many girls on the team were expecting several letters and haven’t seen them yet. So how did this beefy package make it across the world to me- without someone picking through it or just taking it?

The package was addressed to Sister Elizabeth Carkuff and marked Religious/Educational Material. The Return address read: Christian Community Fellowship with my home address following below. I was so confused? What was Christian Community Fellowship and why had my family addressed it as if I was nun? Haha. It is because they are geniuses!!

My parents had googled “how to get a package to Africa.” Disguising the goodies as religious material for a nun had worked! I couldn’t wait to get home and open it…I knew it had to be good.

Of all the sweet cards and yummy snacks, the best gift was the DVD hiding in the bottom of the package. Due to sporadic electricity my computer didn’t have enough battery power to watch it, but as soon as I got power I popped the DVD in- it was entitled “A Strange Christmas”. My family and friends were all apart of a virtual card telling me how much they missed me and how strange the holidays were without me…it was so sweet and so entertaining! My brothers spent so much time making the film- it was so ridiculous and so hilarious. They all enjoy putting on a show and finding creative ways to be thoughtful. It made me miss them so much though. It made me realize how blessed I am to be loved by my brothers- by such a wonderful, supportive family. For all of you who were in the film, it was so good to see your beautiful faces! Thank you for helping me see a little of home.

Living in Africa, God continues to remind me how blessed I am. How blessed I am to be healthy, to have education, to have food and clothing, to have been loved and cared for by my parents, to have this opportunity to be a witness for Christ. At times here in Uganda I have felt guilty for having so much- for having grown up so easy- so carefree- so happy. But I have learned to not think of having these things with guilt but as blessings that have enabled me to reach this place. Many people and experiences have shaped who I am and given me the tools to be here. I have been reminded this week of something that has been so important in my life and my future.

We had a class for the teenage girls at SMILE this week. We talked about the importance of hygiene and nutrition, but then we discussed the importance of purity and honoring God with our bodies. The class went so well, and it was interesting to see that girls around the world- no matter the country or the culture- they all struggle with the same issues when it comes to the opposite sex. All girls have questions and insecurities with boys, with their bodies and with love. Being with some of these young girls who have been abused or mistreated by all the men in their life just made me realize how blessed I am and have been growing up.

For those of you who don’t know, I am an only girl with four brothers. So it’s no surprise that I am a Daddy’s girl…have been and always will be. I have been blessed with an earthly father that I could always count on, who never let me down. Having such faith in my earthly father allowed me to develop a relationship with my heavenly Father. I had a wonderful example of a father here on earth so believing and trusting in my Father was much easier. His love has made me who I am.

I have been blessed with wonderful, handsome brothers who have always protected me. They kept a close eye and wouldn’t let me go far unless they were right behind me. My brothers respect me and adore me. I don’t think they realize how much they affected my life- how much they made me who I am. It’s because of their love and attention that I never looked for love from boys or in unhealthy ways- I didn’t need it. They too drew me closer to God and making a promise to Him to wait for a Godly man, a spiritual leader to make as my life long companion.

I have been so loved by the men in my life- its so important Daddies, brothers, uncles, boyfriends to show the women in your life adoration, respect and love that leads them to security and confidence.

The men in my life, whom I love with all my heart, are also not perfect. They disappoint and frustrate me at times. It is usually like pulling teeth to get them to tell me details and emotions they are feeling, but they are good to me. I just want them to know how much I appreciate their love and how important their love has been in my life.

I was once told, “Behind every good man, is an even better woman”J That woman would be my mom. So in saying all this about my boys, let me assure you that my mother is the rock. Several times on this trip I have said things and done things just like my mother would. Its crazy how much I am becoming my mother, and I couldn’t be more proud to say that. I can only hope to have her selfless desire to do for others- her compassion for people, her friends and her family. As I’m getting older I am realizing my mother’s wisdom and valuing her opinion (I know I haven’t always showed that). My mom has always supported me- even when I’m floating around dreaming of all I want to do. I appreciate that she supports the dreamer in me but keeps me grounded. My mom made the mistake of telling me, “You have the rest of your life to work, so don’t rush, go and figure things out.” I decided to listen to this one. She also told her children that, “Without a relationship with God, you will never be fully satisfied- you will continue to search for happiness and love that will only be temporary.”

My mom continues to inspire me to grow in my relationship with God, and I hope I can do the same for her. I have been blessed beyond measure with more than I deserve, and I thank God for my family and my parents for allowing me to be here in Africa.

In missing my brothers and family this week I decided to introduce American football to the boys at SMILE. If you don’t know, football is a big part of my family’s life and I have missed football all together so throwing the ball around was such a good feeling. Several of the boys took interest in learning, and I have already decided what position would fit each. I wish I could bring them all to American and stack Cascade football team with some new talent. I have really bonded with some of the boys here, and I am blessed to have new brothers! Check out my African brothers playing football…

Stubborn Maria


Maria. Maria. Maria. Where do I begin with my Maria? There is so much to say about her- she is my stubborn girl who keeps me busy, keeps me laughing, and keeps me praying. Most of the time she drives me insane, but that is why I adore her so much.

In the first few weeks at SMILE, I noticed Maria immediately for two reasons. One, she was always causing trouble. Two, she is the only child at SMILE with blonde hair. She stands out with her dark skin and light hair because no one else is like her. One of my first moments with Maria was a negative one. I was helping with chaotic bath time, and I was doing my best to keep the girls in line and trying to regulate how many were crowded around the basins. There are always a few that want to stay at the basin all day long and play in the water and never leave or move out of the way for someone else. Well Maria is one of those. I had repeatedly told Maria that she was finished. I kept calling for Maria to come out but she refused to listen or to obey. Finally I went in for her and grabbed her hand to lead her out. She did not like that. She fought and pulled and kicked her way out but eventually I won. She was so angry with me for spoiling her fun. She just leaned up against the wall of the bath area and glared at me- she had the most evil look on her face. I knew then she was never going to like me- she would never trust me again. The more she pouted the worse I felt. I began feeling guilty and worried that she would stay mad at me forever.

Maria is a fighter. She is full of spunk. So its no surprise that she inched her way back up to the front of the line and tried to sneak back in for a second bath just in spite- probably hoping I would catch her. She is defiant. She is persistent. She is stubborn. And yes in turning my back for a second, she made it back in.

Maria didn’t come around us much at first- she just did her own thing- mostly terrorizing the other children. I spent a lot of time observing Maria, and I soon realized she didn’t have many friends. She was busy being the bully, and it was sad to see that she wasn’t laughing and playing with other girls her age. She seemed tough and guarded- like she didn’t trust anybody. On the outside she is a six-year-old spitfire, but deep down I felt there was so much more to her.

She got really sick with Malaria, and it became an opportunity for me to nurture her and love on her. She was resistant at first but soon warmed up to me. After babying her for a few days…she was ruined. She was attached and starving for attention and love. So this was the beginning of our relationship.

As I sit here and write about her I have a huge smile on my face because this little girl brings me so much joy! She is now my best buddy. She clings to my side. She has become so affectionate and loving- it still surprises me.

Maria has a trade mark- she communicates using only her eyebrows. She moves them up and down to answer “yes”, but she realized I loved it so much and now she does it all the time! She knows she can get away with most things when she simply raises her eyebrows. She is so animated and so dramatic. I hope that I am painting a picture of just how fun and full of life she is.

Everyone assumes stubborn Maria does not want love- but she is the very one who needs it the most. With time she learned to trust me, follow me, cling to me, listen to me, and obey me. At least I like to think so. On one of Maria’s more feisty days, she and a friend were fighting. I’m not sure who started what, but I saw Alima hit Maria. You just don’t mess with Maria- its not a good idea. Maria took off running after her to get her back..to make her pay. I managed to pull them apart and sit them down for a chat. I tried to explain how they are friends. Friends don’t beat each other- don’t hurt each other even when you are annoyed with one another. Maria put on her sad face and dropped her head. She looked at me with apologetic eyes like they were asking for forgiveness. Did I also mention that she is quite the actress? She could fake a cry to win an academy award, yet for some reason I actually thought she was listening to me and trying to obey me. As soon as I finished, she jumped up and ran after Alima. When she reached the poor girl, she grabbed her by the head and pulled her to the ground. Honestly, I just stood there and laughed. I wasn’t laughing at the poor girl screaming for her life as Maria sat on top of her. I was laughing at myself because I actually believed I was getting through to her. I was laughing at how easily she fooled me.

I was talking to Pastor Ruth about my stubborn Maria and how much I love her although she can be the thorn in my side. Pastor Ruth then informed me on Maria’s story and how she fought to live. She told me about how sick and near death she was when she arrived at SMILE two years ago. She was an extremely malnourished 3-4 yr old and had such a large belly that she couldn’t walk or hardly even move. She would just lay there and moan. She couldn’t even speak- she would just cry from pain and discomfort. With special food and lots of attention and care- Maria slowly got better. She fought to survive. I like to think her stubbornness saved her life. It’s hard for me to imagine not having Maria at SMILE. She has taught me so much about patience, obedience, and love. The world would be at such a loss with out stubborn Maria, so I thank God for her- for every part of her. I thank God for her eyebrows that she uses to win my heart. I thank God for her temper and strong will. I thank God for her passion and intensity about life. I thank God for her compassion and affection for me- for her bear hugs and kisses on the cheek. I never would have dreamed that the stubborn girl I pulled out the bathroom kicking and screaming would be the same little girl pulling on my arms and clinging to my legs begging me not to leave.