meadowrueflowerDana returned from Uganda last week, getting a ride  from Boston to Maine with a friend. With a two-month-old and three-year-old at home, that was one trip I had no intention of making! I expected him late that evening. Dinner, delivered by a neighbor, was in the oven, and our preschooler in the tub, when I heard a car door slam.

I ran to the window to find Dana standing in the driveway, carry-on slung over his shoulder, suitcase in hand.

“Guess who’s home?” I shouted.

“Daddy?” Ten-year-old Lydia squealed, jumping from the living room carpet where she lay doing math after her first day of school.

“Yes!” I scooped up baby Ezra and hauled Asher, still covered in a sticky mix of chocolate and dirt, from the tub.

Towel? Clothes? No time.

Asher wore nothing but Band-Aids  as we tumbled out the back door, dripping and wet, to stand on the porch. Lydia raced down the stairs to help Dana with his bags. And just like that our two weeks of waiting were over. Dana was home from his third trip delivering wheelchairs to Uganda with Wheels for the World, a ministry of Joni and Friends.

It’s crazy, I know, to go from the red, dusty streets and open-air markets and noise of Africa to Maine in little more than a day. I know, because I made the trip years ago when we adopted our daughter, Ruth. There should be a mental quarantine after experiencing such a different culture before dropping back into the routines of family and work. Regardless, there was Dana. Within minutes, the children were begging to see what he’d brought them.

“Not until after dinner,” I protested. “Judah and Gabriel aren’t even home.”

Before long our high-school-aged sons tromped up the porch steps, sweaty and tired from soccer practice. Their weary faces quickly brightened when they saw their dad.  Soon Ugandan necklaces and flags and a stuffed elephant along with several carving were pulled from Dana’s bag and distributed among our five children. They were lovely. But it was the stories I wanted, the proof of lives transformed, the reason we do this.

Later, I got it. As we unwound after dinner, Dana recounted child after disabled child brought to the clinic where the Wheels for the World team had assembled hundreds of wheelchairs. As each child was brought in and registered, Dana was perplexed. No matter who brought them or which village they were from, the children all shared the same last name, “Ojok.”

Finally Dana asked why.

“It means ‘cursed,'” he was told, “or ‘little demon.'”

That’s the way many children with disabilities are seen in developing countries like Uganda: Cursed. Had it not been for the loving hearts and hands that brought Ruth to Maine, that’s the way she would have been seen too.

Instead, we called her beloved.

That’s what God calls all His children, regardless of their needs or abilities. After all, are we not all needy? Are we not all broken?

And that is why we hope to continue sharing God’s love through wheelchairs with those in Uganda, letting those in need know that they are not cursed but free.

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” Luke 4:18.