I lost a lot of sleep fretting about the Ugandans.
After a month of pandemonium, my oldest two children had finally returned to their respective college homes and the youngest had retreated back to the basement. There was no longer a line for the bathroom, the heaps of clothes in the laundry room had dwindled and dirty dishes had found their way out of the bedrooms. I changed all the sheets, vacuumed the rugs, aired out the comforters and tossed the single socks that were balled up in the corner of the kitchen. I had a full week to savor the calm after the chaos before my life would be turned upside down again.
The Ugandans were coming.
When they came two years ago, I ducked out of town with an empty promise that I’d be an active participant if they ever visited again.
Sure enough, the Ugandans were visiting again.
Because this all stemmed from my church, I couldn’t possibly go back on my word and expect to spend eternity (or even part of it) in heaven. Besides, I have two empty bedrooms, a basement with two La-Z-Boy recliners, flexible hours and a mini-van. I was a perfect candidate to host four young men from Uganda for five nights.
Except for the fact that this is precisely the kind of thing that accelerates my anxieties. Before they even arrive, I start counting the hours until they leave. I worry about things I’ve never worried about before: the leaking shower, the peeling paint, the silent son, the working husband, the drafty house. And when I have conjured up every conceivable (and inconceivable) calamity, I worry some more. I worry that I’ll be a horrible host. That there will be long, awkward silences, that the heater will conk out and that I won’t understand their English. I worry that they’ll be afraid of the crazy dog, hate the beef stew and beg their chaperone to let them switch houses.
Twenty-four hours before they arrived, my stomach was in knots, my mind swirling with regrets, my heart racing with angst. I took to my desk and started Googling to see just exactly what I was getting myself into.
I learned that there are more orphans and vulnerable children in Uganda than almost anywhere else in the world, due to the AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty and decades of civil conflict. The Children of Uganda (www.childrenofuganda.org) is an organization dedicated to helping as many of these children as they can, providing food, shelter, medical care, clothing and education. To raise awareness, help with fundraising and to share their spirit and culture, some of these incredibly talented children sing and dance their way through America on an eight-week Tour of Light, living with host families along the way.
And now, the Ugandans were coming to New Jersey.
They were traveling by charter bus from Washington, DC and were due to arrive on Tuesday night. When I awoke Tuesday morning to blizzard warnings for up and down the I-95 corridor, I was certain I’d be granted a day’s reprieve. Surely, they’d stay put, waiting until Wednesday to make their move north.
Now, I have a heart the size of Kampala and a mouth that’s even bigger, but that doesn’t mean the execution of those warm and fuzzy words and deeds comes easy. Everyone assured me this was right up my alley and that I’d be fine. What they failed to realize was that my outward demeanor doesn’t always mirror my interior turmoil. My dear friends Leah and Susan knew exactly how I was feeling as they had both experienced the same pre-visit jitters two years ago. They also promised me it would be the best thing I ever did. Because I love and trust them, I started to calm down.
But, then I got the call. They had canceled their performance in DC, boarded the bus at 7 am to beat the storm and were due in New Jersey by noon.
The Ugandans were on their way.
I hadn’t gone food shopping. I hadn’t cleaned the bathrooms. And worst of all, I knew I’d be stranded in the house with four Ugandans all afternoon, and evening, and night. I was shaking in my boots.
But, there was no turning back. I pulled up to my Presbyterian church home in Leonia, took a deep breath, flung open the door and walked in to a room filled with two dozen laughing, chatting, smiling boys and girls from Uganda.
They were cold and wet and tired but when my pastor cried out, “This is Betsy – her family is hosting!” they swarmed me like puppies in a pet store. I got more hugs in those first ten minutes than I’ve gotten in twenty-one years of parenting.
The Ugandans were here.
And somehow I knew; this was just the start of something good.