Ruth Sorensen still doesn’t know why Jennifer invited her into her home that day two and a half years ago. The daughter of the village’s chief, Jennifer was a bitter, single mother of four children, disliked by many in the small community. Maybe it was because Ruth was new, or because she was the white missionary. In any case, Ruth gained rare entrance into Jennifer’s home.
What she saw and smelled inside the house nearly floored her. On a mattress in the dark lay a small boy, afflicted with something similar to cerebral palsy. He lay in his own waste, naked, his stiff, tense limbs and frail frame visible under a small dirty blanket. His large, infected teeth crowded his small mouth.
“He has my heart, and it makes me cry to hear him cry. I’m the only friend he has.”
Jennifer introduced Ruth to her 9-year-old son, Simon. Ruth proceeded to witness how the mother treated Simon. If he needed to be changed, she would say she was busy; she had to cook for people. If Ruth objected because she knew Simon would get bed sores, the mother would approach Simon in such a way that he would tense up, his lips quivering from nervousness. She didn’t let anyone near him, leaving him alone for much of the day. And she never smiled at Simon.
“I don’t know how long he’ll live,” Ruth said. “I don’t know how long he’d want to live.”
Disability in Uganda
In Uganda, 16 percent of the population (or five million people) has a disability, and 72 percent of those people living with disabilities in the northern region of the country are in chronic poverty.
In some instances, Uganda has improved its rights for disabled people better than some developing countries and is leading the disability movement in Africa. It ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, being one of the first countries to do so. Its constitution recognizes sign language as an official language, and the country formed the National Union of Disabled Persons in Uganda.
“People with disabilities are well-represented from parliamentary to village levels,” said Lynne Featherstone, the United Kingdom’s parliamentary under secretary of state for international development. “Despite this progress, Uganda still faces a number of challenges when it comes to giving people with disabilities a chance to earn a living and build their own lives.”
Organizations like the Action on Disability and Development seek to advocate for the disabled in Uganda, by providing internships and protecting people with albinism, as well as girls and women against violence.
But Simon has not reaped the benefits of these programs or this development. He lives four hours from the capital, Kampala. His mother is busy trying to singlehandedly provide for her children. She doesn’t have the capacity or the desire to improve his life.
Which is why Simon needed Ruth so desperately.
‘He has my heart’
Skip and Ruth Sorensen have worked in Uganda for 28 years, primarily training church leaders. They recently moved to Mbarara in the west of the country to better reach the rural communities. Ruth teaches Bible studies in the town and serves people like Simon through her mercy ministry.
“The only thing that relaxes him is the name of Jesus. The only thing. I have never seen a miracle like that happen before.”
Ruth herself experiences a disability that prevents her from lifting heavy objects. But since that first day she met Simon, she felt compelled to be near him, and to keep going back to him.
“I call him my little boyfriend,” she said. “I go over there and spend time with him, and I speak in his language and sometimes English. He can’t talk back to me, but I can look in his eyes and I know he understands me.”
Ruth visits Simon four or five times a week, sitting with him, helping him relax, and singing to him. One day, when Jennifer left for work, Ruth was walking to her house, and heard Simon crying in a panicked tone. The doors to the two-bedroom house were all locked, but Ruth got someone to break down the door so she could help Simon; he had burning sores on his backside, and he was covered in sweat from the heat.
Jennifer was angry when she returned, but didn’t send Ruth away. Ruth told her, “I just come because I love your boy. He has my heart, and it makes me cry to hear him cry. I’m the only friend he has.”
From that time on, Jennifer leaves the back door unlocked.
The longer Ruth spends time with Simon, the more she is seeing him change. He has started to laugh and giggle when he hears Ruth calling, and she’ll sing Christian songs to him, in English and his own language. In addition, Ruth shares Christ with Simon. Although he can’t talk, Ruth thinks Christian music and Christian TV comfort him.
“He’s so tense from crying,” said Ruth. The only thing that relaxes him is the name of Jesus. The only thing. I have never seen a miracle like that happen before.”
Breaking down barriers has been a theme to Ruth’s journey with this family. Jennifer, a self-professed Christian, has also started to soften. She’ll text Ruth and share her texts with her children. She’s even started to smile.
“You can never give too much love to someone. I have seen it transform [Simon], and his family.”
WorldVenture has many workers in Uganda, including Sarah Pisney, who teaches the Bible to church leaders and disciples high school girls. In addition, WorldVenture has workers in Uganda developing solar energy for houses.