Friday, February 18, 2011

Shadow People

- Posted by Thomas

Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But they people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!” Numbers 21:4-5
Exodus 15:24, Exodus 16:2-3, 17:1-4, Exodus 32: 1 about Moses gone for so long
Numbers 11:1-6, 14:1-4, 16:1-3, 20:1-5

As I read this passage in Numbers, I was provoked to look back and see how many times the Israelites had already grumbled, complained, and rebelled against Moses’ authority and God’s promise of provision. By Numbers 21 they were finishing up their 40 year punishment of wandering in the desert. One would think that after all the bad experiences Israel had endured that began with someone complaining – that the nasty habit would have died in the desert with so many of the people. The Israelites complained in Exodus 15:24, 16:2-3, 17:1-4, and 32:1. They complained in Numbers 11:1-6, 14:1-4, 16:1-3, and 20:1-5. They had seen the faithfulness of God’s power and felt the fury of his wrath so many times already that surely by Numbers 21 they would have learned their lesson. Surely they have matured enough to simply celebrate their precious freedom and trust God for provision. Wrong. It seems that we humans have the lifelong habit of forgetting all the wrong things and focusing on what we do not have.
In Uganda, it would be pretty easy for me to make a list of what I do not have. I am currently existing with less “stuff” than I have since my college days. No vehicle, no carpet, no hot water, no washing machine, no oven, no television, and no cereal. But I have noticed something here on the magnificent hill we call Suubi Village that has turned my attention away from my list of things I do not have. At first they seemed to be mere inconspicuous shadows that flickered and flitted around the peripheral of our campus. But after a couple days here we began to actually take notice of them. Allow me to first explain that there are 937 youth and children who call Suubi village home. These are Watoto students and around 50 boarding students whose families pay for them to live on campus and attend the school because of the academic opportunities. So there are children everywhere – either walking to class, on their way home, or just playing with friends. But the ones we began to notice were different. Watoto children wear simple school uniforms and bright t-shirts that say Watoto. Modest by American standards but not by Ugandan. However we have been spying “other” children around occasionally. These children range in age from 4-12 and do not wear Watoto clothes. They wear things that would only be found in a garbage can in America. Brown, stained, shabby, torn, inappropriately sized “rags” for lack of a better word. They are always in groups of 2 or 3 and they avoid contact with everyone else at all costs. Sometimes they stare from a distance but they never dare to look you in the eye. These “shadow people” are never alone when we see them. They are always accompanied by large yellow 5 gallon or 10 gallon plastic jugs. What we would use to store gas for our lawn mowers back in Tennessee. These children are neighbors of the village – living in huts and shacks the size of your bedroom along the side of the mountain. The reason they dare to daily scamper on and off the campus is because the huts and shacks they live in do not have water. There is no life without water. With water we drink, cook, clean, and sustain livestock. Suubi village has a very good well that is tapped into a deep, bountiful underground water supply. There is plenty of water for every home, apartment, bath-house, and even some open spigots on the outside of buildings. It is the “extra” open spigots that draw these shadow people. Sometimes in the morning and almost every evening they come. Almost like ghosts or silhouettes in the fading light of dusk. They try very hard not to be noticed and try to accomplish their mission as quickly as possible. However, once their yellow containers are full, their task becomes immensely challenging. Next time you are near a 5-6 year old child I dare you to give them a 10 gallon jug full of water and ask them to move it. These children are forced to strain with all their might as they drag, haul, tug, carry, or whatever it takes to get the jugs back down the hill down the footpaths leading through the brush. It is often a team effort with one child carrying it a short distance and passing the challenge on to another. Someone must have explained to these children very clearly that they are second class citizens because they play the part wholeheartedly. They employ themselves in their laborious chore without even a hint of engaging another human. Silence is the prevailing code. Sometimes though, they cannot help but stand and watch. I cannot imagine what goes through their mind as they watch the Watoto kids prance around in their uniforms, playing soccer, or singing songs. Every Watoto home has running water. I came to Uganda hoping to serve “the least of these” on a Watoto Village only to find shadow people who daily gaze upon the lives of Watoto children with a bitter mix of curiosity and envy that I have never known. Most of them appear no older than my own two sons.

Mika and I are learning a lot from these shadow people. We are learning to be grateful for water. Water coming right out of our kitchen and bathroom sinks. Right out of our shower head. Flowing right into our toilet. Clean (by Ugandan standards), clear, cool, water at our fingertips everyday. Something these kids only dream of. So I challenge you to guard your heart from the disease that the Israelites had of complaining. Next time you are stuck in traffic, short on cash, slightly embarrassed by the noise your car is making, or frustrated at your neighbors – take the time to thank God for water. . . at your fingertips. And maybe say a prayer for the millions of shadow people on planet earth who trek daily with jugs in hand in search of the most basic sustenance of life. And besides water, I challenge you to ask God to show you who the shadow people are in your life. People you may not have noticed who intersect your world daily or weekly. Those who are not very engaging but are looking longingly at the most basic things in your life with envy. The widow who longs for a family. The neighbor who has never had a happy marriage. The waitress dreaming of a career. The child who has never called someone dad. May God give us hearts for the shadow people in our lives.


  1. Dear Nephew--This message has challenged and convicted me! Father God, please forgive me for grumbling, and allow me the privilege of sharing grace upon grace that you have bestowed upon me. Thomas and Mika, thank you for your faith-full insights. Love, Auntie S.

  2. Thank you for this post. Love you guys!