This phrase—“God’s inexhaustible love”—was on my mind as I traveled to Bringing Hope to the Family orphanage in Uganda in July. The ultimate goal of my annual trip to the orphanage is to Build Men. And the cornerstone of that effort is to show these orphaned teenage boys that they are loved. Could I model myself on this idea of “God’s inexhaustible love” and what would it look like?
The first challenge was confirming the mission. When I started building men in Uganda, the orphanage’s vocational school had 15 teenage boys. Now the school has 16 boys and 45 girls. Would we focus on the boys or expand our program to the 45 girls as well? I feared diluting the focus both numerically (could we effectively reach 61 teenagers the same way we could 15?) and substantively (teaching boys to be men or teaching teenagers to be-
come adults?). After much thought and discussion I have confirmed that the mission is still building men.
The second challenge is how can I build close relationships of trust and openness with these boys in just two weeks? My impression is that Ugandans are a very go-it-alone culture. Combine that with the uncertainties and insecurities of being a teenager. How can I get the boys to be-come a team? How can I get them to open up and share with me and each other? How can I build trust so that they share their worries and questions about becoming a man? And, on a deeper level, how can I help them build their faith and trust
I am reminded of Dale Carnegie’s admonition that the most important word for anyone is their name. I studied the names of the boys before I headed to the farm. Half of the boys I knew from the year before and half of them were new to me. When I stepped out of the van on first arriving a familiar face was the first to greet me. I gave him a hug and said “Hi Lawrence!” I could see him fur-row his brow as he asked “You remember my name?” What could be more important to an or-phan than someone knowing his name?
But just as the boys cannot learn to become men from women or other boys, they cannot learn to become men from mere talk. They need to look Shoe Repair up to a man and watch how he acts. I need to model the man that I want them to become. This pushes me to open up and share my experiences and worries. Every year I must strive to earn their love and trust and it is making me a better man.
This year we had a breakthrough. During the second week we took a safari in Queen Elizabeth Park. That night we sat under a clear sky and thousands of bright stars. And we talked about sex. It took about 30 minutes for them to even raise the topic (“What should we talk about? What is on your minds?”). A friend had suggested to me that I have them write down their questions and worries anonymously so we could discuss them. This opened the floodgates. I fielded every type of question you can imagine and we stayed up into the early hours of the morning. It was a break-through that we talked openly and honestly about sex and relationships but, more importantly, they learned that it was okay—even manly—to open up to each other. We took our friendship, openness and camaraderie to a whole new level.
There are so many magical moments during these two weeks with the boys. Sometimes sharing God’s inexhaustible love can mean playing soccer together, walking to the water well together at sunrise in the early morning fog, giving them a hug and calling them by their name, or watching them learn a new skill and just standing next to them with a hand on their shoulder. One of the most magical moments for me is around 2 in the morning when we finally call it a day and go to bed. I sleep in a classroom next to the boy’s dorm. For about 30 minutes I can hear the boys as they go to bed—telling stories and laughing. I can’t understand what they are saying but their infectious laughter and joy fills me with joy. This is God’s inexhaustible love.
My hope is that I can be a lasting presence in these boys’ lives. Boys from years past come to see me and are eager to show me the homes they have built or the crops they have planted. And I am eager to see what they have accomplished. But the real payoff comes when I tell them how proud I am of them and that I love them so much. There is no way to describe the smile that comes across their face. Each year the boys teach me a little more about becoming a man.