Travel || Ruth's Story / by Madeline Harper

Today's post is one dear to my heart, it's actually one I wrote six months ago while sitting around a kitchen table in Uganda. In January I had the joy of spending a week at Elpis Ministries Children's Home in Iganga, Uganda to document orphan care. It was an incredible experience made possible by The Archibald Project. Since then, I've slowly been trickling testimonies of the kids onto the blog. I've held off sharing this story simply because my words can't even begin to encapsulate the beauty of this friend of mine. Stories are meant to be shared, they are meant to teach us and show us a new aspect of life, to grow us and inspire us. So meet my dear friend Ruth, and let her story impact you beyond this moment. 

Ruth is a book in the Bible, a story of the Lord’s deliverance from pain. The story of tenacity, hard work and faith in the midst of uncertainty. Today I got to sit with my new friend, aptly named Ruth, and hear her testimony of the Lord. Ruth is 17 years old and has a faith bigger than many middle aged believers who have known Christ for decades. I first met Ruth earlier this week amidst a surge of children. She stood out when she started jumping straight into pictures and laughing as though she’d known me for years. She wasn’t afraid to pull practical jokes and constantly would find me, flash a smile, then come over and push me around. I liked her gumption. The next day we sat among two other girls as they taught me a prayer in Lusogo, their local language. Amidst my struggling through their prayer, Ruth began telling me of the history of tribes in Africa- it was incredible. Ive never seen a young girl so passionate about her people’s culture and history. She was informative and animated and kept teaching me new things. I found out she wanted to be a nurse and with brains like that, I’m glad. Every day she would teach me new words, laugh at my pronunciation, and quiz me on what I knew from the day before. She was convinced I would learn her language and move to Uganda. She said I belonged in her country.

Ruth began talking about her sponsor, Sue. Sue stepped in when there wasn't enough funding to keep as many kids in the program. She lives in Texas but regularly writes. Those letters, as well as every picture sent, is kept right by Ruth's bed. At this point in the week, I thought my big story from Uganda would be about relationships with sponsors and the importance of writing orphans, but the Lord showed me so much more the longer Ruth talked. She showed me a picture of her and her brother thrown in with the other pictures and letters she shared. I didn’t realize how much this would impact me later. 

The next day, Ruth sat down with me to tell me her story. I have never met a person who has overcome so much tragedy. Looking at Ruth, you’d never guess it. She is open and inviting, she is quick to call you friend and even quicker to share her laughter. 

Ruth was made an orphan. Not by sickness, not by choice, but by the sins of another man. A friend of the family’s poisoned her father. Her father was working as a gatekeeper, as many do in Uganda. He had a jobless friend who was struggling, so her father offered his friend a position with him. They watched the gate together but Ruth’s father was paid more because of his experience. Jealousy began to eat away at this friend and he slipped poison into Ruth’s father’s water. As the arson kicked in, he began to lose ability to eat and was unable to drink. Soon he was bedridden. After a few days they took him to a hospital but the poison had already corroded his heart. A week later, he passed. Ruth is the oldest of six children- her mother could not take care of them all. Soon, they were thrown to the streets. Ruth recalls trying to find a place to sleep for the night, eating rubbish to survive, no water to drink for days. The African sun is merciless. Her family was just trying to survive. After her father passed, her brother was also poisoned and in two days he died. By the time he reached the hospital, it was too late to save him as well. She soon took up work as a housekeeper where they gave her enough food to stay alive and let her sleep in their home. However, there was no pay and the abuse was unmentionable. Ruth tells me this story without even blinking. One day, she had enough. She left the family and went to look for her youngest brother. She was starving and sick, trying to find a way to provide for herself. She found Sandy at Elpis Ministry’s children’s home. Ruth never had the fortune of being able to attend school. She was cast out at a young age without a stable home or means of provision. Phillip [the American missionary who started Elpis, also known as H.O.P.E. Children's Home in Iganga] took her in and sponsored her. Eventually Sue came in 2013, took over her sponsorship and wrote her letters. Relationships and friendships mean the world to this sweet girl, she guards them fiercely.

With trepidation, I began asking Ruth how she saw God in her life. She said her uncle taught her of Him when she was young, but the moment she knew there was a God was when she was in the streets eating rubbish and He rescued her to a home. Then again when He freed her from that abusive home and into the refuge of Elpis. She found God and He gave her the heart to forgive. I paused and questioned her- has she been able to forgive the friend who poisoned her father? She said after her father realized he was poisoned, he told her, “Do not do anything bad to the friend who poisoned me. It is in our hearts to forgive.” 

To have a heart that overcomes and forgives the murder not only of her father, but also her younger brother- the tenderness, the tenacity, the faith. 

We went on to talk of her favorite verse- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. She quoted the whole thing and then began to preach on it. Ruth laid down truth like a Southern Baptist preacher. This girl looks so much like Jesus. Radiant and passionate, friendly and inclusive, confidence and peace filled in the midst of trial. Strong, oh so strong. She is one of the most joyful souls I know. Ruth would help lead worship at night, taking care of the younger kids and being the first to step up and give thanks to God for His goodness that day. 

I asked her if she could teach me one thing about God, what would it be? “Even if you face problems, it’s good to get problems, because problems help you know God.”

I told Ruth I planned on sharing her story and to describe three things about herself she wanted my friends in America to know. This is her response: "I am Ruth. I have peace in my heart. I feel joy. And I can see God loves me."

Ruth. A story of the Lord’s deliverance from pain. The story of tenacity and hard work and faith in the midst of uncertainty. Of one thing I am certain, Ruth will lead nations to Christ. 

The night I left Uganda, I was a mess. I was holding kids as we both wept over the fact that our time together had drawn to a close. I have never felt the heartbreak of leaving that glimpse of heaven known as H.O.P.E. Children's Home. Ruth came up to me amidst the chaos. She held my face in her hands, and with a steady gaze wiped away tear after tear from my eyes. "We do not cry. My God is good for bringing you to me this week, we praise for being friends. Do not cry, N'Koma Madeline. God is good and I love you." So this, my dear friend Ruth, is my promise to share your story. With dry eyes and a praising heart, I invite you to see the world as she does, love others are boldly, and live a life of profound faith no matter your past.