That moment was like an arrow to my heart
Guest post by Erin Littleton
When I was small, I sat on the second-from-the-back row at church and looked at a big-screen photo of an African man on a bike under a big tree. I can’t tell you who this man was or who told me his story — one of him riding his bike for several miles to gather with his Christian brothers and sisters to worship — but the image is so ingrained in my memory that if I had any artistic talent, I could paint it for you.
I remember it because that was the day I knew that ministry in Africa would be part of my life’s trajectory. That moment was like an arrow to my heart.
Fast-forward 15 years or so, and I was a newlywed, Uganda-bound to work at a babies’ home. In our six months there, we had the immense privilege of loving 60+ kids, feeding them hard boiled eggs for breakfast, tucking them in after bathtime, wiping their tears when they scraped their knees or got shots or dropped their ice cream, pushing them all afternoon on the swing. We cheered for toddlers taking their first steps. We gave buzz cuts. We sang enough kid songs to rival Barney.
It was pure sweetness mixed with the heartache of knowing that each child had a fundamental breach in their families that required them to live at the babies’ home. Before we touched down in Uganda, we thought that we’d be caring mostly for orphans. What we found, though, was that a good number of the kids we adored actually did have living parents; the parents often just couldn’t raise them because of poverty or illness.
The more we knew and loved these kids, and the more we heard of the circumstances that brought them to the babies home to live, the more our heartbeat became Children belong in families. How do we keep children in families?
As we prayed about how God was leading us to continue serving Ugandan kids and families after our time at the babies’ home ended, it became obvious that reaching vulnerable families before a crisis happened would, in many cases, prevent those children from having to enter institutional care. So in 2011, we founded The Mighty River Project, drawing the name from Amos 5:24 that says “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
This is where Mariam's story intersected with mine...
Mariam grew up in a difficult situation, and left as soon as she could. When she met him, an immigrant to her country, she married quickly and young, and a baby soon followed. Around the time her daughter was crawling-age, they started attending women’s groups at the home of a lady she met in her neighborhood. Mariam didn’t really even know what to expect the first time she went, but since she didn’t have any family, she thought it might at least offer them some community while her husband was working repairing other folks’ things for just a few hundred shillings a day.
In the monthly women’s group, a lady named Lois counseled them all on things like healing from trauma, their value as children of God, and the privileges and responsibilities of parenthood. Some ideas Mariam heard at women’s group were ones she’d never heard before. Her new neighborhood friends prayed with her. And they were always making baskets as they shared and learned and chatted together.
Soon after she had made herself home in the small but growing group, her daughter got sick. Really sick. There was no way her husband’s salary could pay for a clinic visit for her, so again, she went to women’s group and asked the ladies to pray. They did. They also talked to Lois about whether The Mighty River Project, the organization that sends Lois and purchases their baskets, could help. It could and did.
The Mighty River Project stepped in and provided the emergency funding for Mariam’s daughter to be treated in a church-run, modern, top-notch clinic. Not only that, but when the family returned home from their little girl’s clinic stay, their pantry was stocked with nutritious food and Mariam had a job offer with The Mighty River Project making banana fiber baskets, a skill which she had perfected as she sat among her new friends. The Mighty River Project also helped her family to find safer housing.
When she delivered a baby boy just a few months later, she did so knowing that she had the tools not only to bring him into the world safely, but also to nurture and provide for him.
As part of The Mighty River Project’s holistic partnership, Mariam and 14 vulnerable moms and grandmas like her receive fair and steady pay for their craft products, a family medical plan which allows anyone in their household to see a doctor as needed, and discipleship and mentoring with Lois. In addition, once Mariam’s children reach school age, they’ll be matched with sponsors who will invest in their schooling and develop relationships with them through letters and photos.
The Mighty River Project provides this care to women in Uganda for one primary reason: to keep families together. We believe that whenever possible, mamas like Mariam, not institution staff, should tuck kids in, give them buzz cuts, push them on swings, hold them when they’re crying, teach them about Jesus. We are committed to empowering these mamas to raise their kids with joy and tenderness and enough.
This is where your story can intersect with mine and Mariam’s.
From where you sit, 7- or 8- or 9,000 miles away from the hillside where Mariam and her friends gather to pray and learn and make baskets, you can help us to reach more of these families! By purchasing The Mighty River Project artisans’ baskets, beads, and textile products, you are allowing us to sustain our program and grow to reach more mamas and children! These items are beautiful, useful, tangible reminders of families being held together by the work and care of a group of amazing Ugandan mamas.
Mighty River Project baskets are made primarily of banana leaf stalks, a byproduct of food production. To the unskilled eye, these banana stalks are useless, destined for the garbage pit. But in the hands of a skilled craftsperson, these scraps are turned into something spectacular — a basket that is valuable, useful, and beautiful. Our greatest prayer is that our artisans and their children, in the hands of their infinitely skilled Creator God, will be transformed and see themselves as He sees them: valuable, useful, beautiful.
(*Mariam is a pseudonym used to protect the privacy of the artisan we are spotlighting.)
About Erin and Mighty River Project
Hi! I’m Erin! I’m co-founder of The Mighty River Project, wife to Scott, and homeschooling, daydreaming, dry-shampooing mama to four wild and amazing kids — two Ugandan-born and two “belly babies.” I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve and cheer on Ugandan mamas as they serve and cheer on their families. It is one of my great joys in life, despite always living the tension of having my heart in two places at once.
You can follow along with what we are up to on The Mighty River Project social media: fb.com/themightyriverproject.com and Instagram.com/themightyriverproject