Smiles for Saidah

June 11, 2012 • Uganda

A camp supported by Samaritan's Purse in Uganda seeks to heal the discouraged and broken-hearted

Saidah withdrew to a corner of the room. A look of anguish clouded her face as she watched the other girls deftly roll balls of clay between their fingers, molding them into figures representing Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Even gentle insistence by the camp counselor and the other children to join them proved unsuccessful.

The counselor, “Auntie” Barbara, knew Saidah was capable of doing most of the activities performed by the other girls. She simply wasn’t putting forth any effort. If only there was some way to break through Saidah’s private world of pain.

The 11-year-old Ugandan girl was one of nearly 50 former Children’s Heart Project patients who attended a Heart Camp near Kampala, Uganda, in April. Children experienced the love of Jesus Christ in fresh and fun ways, and many of the campers prayed to receive Jesus as Savior.

Saidah had surgery to repair her heart condition in 2007. The procedure was a complete success, but the little girl is hampered by other physical challenges that Children’s Heart Project could not fix.

Saidah was born without arms.

Although the disability poses limitations, it hasn’t stopped Saidah from going to school, feeding herself, or doing other activities most people take for granted. Feet, she has learned, can accomplish the same tasks as hands. It just takes a little training and a lot of practice.

The greatest hurdle has been overcoming rejection. One of 12 children, she was virtually abandoned by her family and placed in a government boarding school for special needs kids. When the other students go home for holidays, she remains behind at school.

There are cultural superstitions to battle too. In Uganda and other parts of Africa, some people believe contact with anyone who is missing a limb means they may also lose an arm or leg.

“Barbara was nervous as she took Saidah into her group,” said the director of the Heart Camp. “She feared that the girls would not accept Saidah. That she herself would not be able to love on Saidah well.

“We all gave ourselves over to prayer, entrusting God to teach us all how to richly love on a heart so desperate for genuine care and compassion.”

The counselor was relieved to see the kindness of the girls in her group, who eagerly contributed their hands to help her with tasks. Yet Saidah remained in her shell, solemn and silent, never cracking a smile.

During the second night of camp, Auntie Barbara showed the group a video about Nick Vujicic, a Christian motivational speaker who could lend insight into Saidah’s world. And for good reason. Nick was born without arms—or legs.

After viewing the film, the counselor asked each girl to share two key points they learned from Nick’s story. One by one, they expressed their amazement at everything he could do. They encouraged Saidah too, pointing out:

“You have strong legs,” said one child.

“Eyes that can see,” replied another.

“And a strong mind,” echoed another girl.

Then a wonderful thing happened. Saidah opened up for the first time.

“I can swim too!” she announced proudly. “And skip rope!”

Saidah’s countenance lit up. The other girls nodded with affirmation.

“Up until that afternoon, no smiles were to be found on Saidah’s beautiful face,” the director said. “Yet once we moved the focus from her disability to her ability, her smile began to show.”

Although still tentative, Saidah gathered enough confidence to join in social activities. She played soccer, skipped rope, and even won the dance competition.

Each of the seven groups prepared skits and Bible readings to present to their parents at the graduation ceremony on the last day of camp. Saidah’s group, named “Amazing,” acted out the story of the Good Samaritan from the book of Luke. Her role was to ask the crowd of bystanders, “Why didn’t you do anything to help? What did this person need?”

The audience was taken aback, not by Saidah’s appearance, but by her boldness in the dramatic presentation. Her group had shared the truth about God’s love through Jesus Christ, deeply stirring their hearts.

After the ceremony, camp staff found Saidah alone with tears streaming down her face. Her parents were the only ones who had not attended the graduation.

“We just held her and let her tears fall,” the director said.

After all the children but Saida had left, the staff gathered around her and made her a promise. Every month a member of the staff would visit her at school. They would call her. They would try their best to show her the meaning of unconditional love.

The Children’s Heart Project team who transported Saidah back to school was surprised to find her father there, waiting for her. The child’s face immediately lit up. Her father had come to get her after all. She would get to spend the last week of school break at home!

“His presence was an answer to so very many prayers,” the director said. “Hundreds of seeds were planted in her life this week, but it will take the consistency of unconditional love to win her shattered heart to Christ. The pain she holds is so very deep.

“As we visit her, love on her, and pray for her, slowly her walls will come down. Our prayer is that she will find the courage to lay her brokenness in the hands of Jesus, so that He can heal and mend every part of her heart.”