I wore Africa on my feet when I was three.
I wore it red on my soles, padding softly across the dirt to stare through the wire fence at neighbors dressed in bright prints and singing deep songs from somewhere low, their hips swaying as they washed dishes and clothes in the sun, in bubbles in a bucket.
The same kind of bucket I bathed in with my brother who was borne premature in the Congo, and our house was made of cement and my crib covered in mosquito netting, the legs of the crib in bowls of water to keep the tarantulas from climbing.
We ate mangoes, fallen red and plump on the ground by the garden where Mum grew legumes and squash and she canned those mangoes and we spread them on homemade bread.
I stopped talking when we moved to Africa and didn’t say a single word while I lived there. I just laughed and all those words, they got caught in my throat and then we went back to Canada when I was four.
And they said we were home but I didn’t see it. Because home wasn’t white and cold, it was red dirt roads and hot like the sun, and I’ve spent my whole life trying to get back there.
I’ve spent my whole life trying to find home.
I tried to find it in an eating disorder when I was nine because even though I’d found my voice I wasn’t allowed to say what I needed to. We were pastor’s kids and we moved a lot, we were home-schooled and I was the eldest of four, and my Dad was always at church and I didn’t have any friends, so I stopped eating.
And even after I nearly died at sixty pounds, and the nurses said I was a miracle and I began to believe in God, it wasn’t enough and I couldn’t leave our house fast enough at eighteen.
Searching the whole globe for home, but I never made it back to Africa.
Not until this January, when I went on a bloggers trip to Uganda and that red dirt, how it clung to my soles.
I embraced every bright-clad woman I saw, every child, and I couldn’t stop holding the people because they were family.
But my family was hurting.
They wouldn’t say it. They just hugged me and moved over so I could sit with them in the dirt, in their life, and hold their babies.
And even though I visited Rwanda too, it was Uganda which wrapped my heart tight like Kikoyi, an African cloth, and I was there for three and a half days.
I took Uganda back with me on the plane, I took it sobbing and restless and wrecked for the abandoned babies I’d seen, for the slums with their cardboard walls and the hunger, and the child-headed households and the thirst—the hospital that had no well, the kids who had no school to attend or shoes to wear, I took it all home, and I fell on my face every night begging God to show me what to do.
And he said to this girl who hadn’t spoken until she was four, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
The Lulu Tree is a name God gave me before I knew it was a real tree in Uganda, a Shea nut tree which produces fruit, as the website says, in the people’s exact time of seasonal hunger. Lulu means pearl in Swahili, and Uganda is the pearl of Africa, and we have no plan except to be like Jesus.
To feed beans and to read a Bible story. My friend Joy is our hands and feet in Kampala, she lives there with her family and she is overseeing a team of nationals who will minister to the mamas and children in the slums of Katwe.
And in four years, in September of 2018, my husband, kids and I will be moving to Uganda for one year to serve alongside Joy.
God whispered it to me when I left for Uganda in January: “Your job is not to fix. I could fix the world with one breath. Your job is to love.”
I hear this every time I fall on the floor in the dark begging God to help those children, the ones sniffing glue to numb their hunger, the ones lying in the same dirt chickens defecate on.
All we have is a pot of beans and a Bible. But it’s our loaves and fishes. And we’re trusting Christ for a miracle.
My memoir, ATLAS GIRL, is releasing this month, and I am excited to give away FIVE copies today. Just leave a comment below to win!
From the back cover:
“Disillusioned and yearning for freedom, Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents’ rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else–anywhere else. Her travels took her across Canada, Central America, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. She had no idea that her faith was waiting for her the whole time–in the place she least expected it.
“Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a very personal story of a universal yearning for home and the assurance that we are known, forgiven, and beloved. Readers will find in this memoir a true description of living faith as a two-way pursuit in a world fraught with distraction. Anyone who wrestles with the brokenness we find in the world will love this emotional journey into the arms of the God who heals all wounds.”
Click HERE for a free excerpt.
I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to: firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir — an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.
ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.
Bio: Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.