We had loaded up in the matatu (taxi van) and were on the way. Going to find Jojo. Going to check on him - to see how he was. My little JoJo. I had not seen him in 6 months. As we rode down the highway headed toward Iganga, she said, “I hope he’s still alive.” I said, “He is. That thought hasn’t ever entered my mind. I am believing he is. He was strong when I left. He’ll be fine.”
I kept a stiff jaw the entire matatu ride back home. I couldn’t cry yet. Not yet. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real. I had to get back home. Maybe I could pretend this day never happened – pretend that we never even went to find him.
I got home. walked outside. sat. and sobbed.
I had remembered the way to his house. I had only been there two times, and neither time was I driving. Both times had been stressful and I had barely paid attention to the directions...but when the time came that I must remember, the Lord brought it all back. The way to his house was forever etched in my memory. Way back deep in the village. Praying the entire way, I kept looking for him, his mother, grandmother – anyone along the way. Last time we had first found them at a friend’s house. But today, I didn’t see anyone, so we went all the way to the house.
His grandmother was there. I kept glancing around checking for his mother but I didn’t see her anywhere. We all sat on a bench and greeted the grandmother. Sitting beside a best friend, I listened to the Luganda language as she began to ask about Josam. I waited, expecting my friend to turn to me any second and say, “He’s with his mother and will be back later.” Or maybe, “He’s inside the house, hold on a minute and I’ll go get him.”
I stared at her in disbelief.
“You’re kidding.” I said.
Not the kind of “you’re kidding!” one says when they are joking about something or you can’t believe something happened – but an emphatic: “You’re kidding.” Willing her to be joking. Begging her to say it’s not true. “You’re kidding.” You don’t mean it. There’s no way. He’s not dead. He’s not.
“He died last month.”
Back at home. Sitting outside.
The memories won’t stop coming.
Last September, a dear friend had found a baby boy in need of help.
Off we went to see what we could do to help him.
We headed out toward Iganga, took a side road and headed way back in the village. Bumping along in the car on those red dirt roads, I prayed for wisdom as to how best to help this baby. I prayed for his little body that seemed to be struggling to make it. We finally located his house. The family was there – his mother and grandparents.
His name was Josam.
A friend that went with me saw him sitting on the ground and thought, “He doesn’t look that bad for a 7 month old or so. Just small and a little malnourished.” Then, Josam cried. And she saw his mouth full of teeth and thought, “Whoa! This baby is NOT 7 months old.”
In fact, he was 16 months old. Almost a year and a half. So tiny. He weighed about 8 pounds. He was so malnourished. Dehydrated. My heart broke.
His mother was about 20 years old. The father was 70. Josam’s mother suffered from Epilepsy. During the day, she would walk to town and around to visit different people and she would take Josam with her. She would strap him onto her back with a sheet like Ugandan women do to carry their babies. The problem came when she would have seizures. Josam would be strapped to her back and she would fall backwards to the ground and land on him. She would sometimes roll around during these seizure fits and Josam would get all scraped up and bruised. He was at the mercy of his mother and she was at the mercy of these seizures. He had many sores on his little head and different places on his body, supposedly from these seizure fits. He was still breastfeeding and not getting any other food at all. His little mouth didn’t even know how to eat or chew the food that we fed him that day. The mother said she barely had food for herself and could not feed Josam anything else but breast milk.
I decided to take him home with me that day - to keep him for a number of weeks. I wanted to clean him, get him checked out by a doctor, feed him like crazy, give him medicine and vitamins…and love on him a lot. So, I scooped him up, wrapped him in my arms and carried him home with me. I told his mother I would bring him back in a number of weeks and we would talk then about his future. She was so grateful for my help with Josam and excited about him getting treatment and good food.
The rest of the 5 weeks is a whole lot of love.I fell in love with this precious baby boy.
My friend wanted to give him a nickname, so he became JoJo.
I took care of him and loved that precious baby boy for the 5 weeks that he was with me. He was so much healthier, stronger, and happier by the time he went back to the village and his mother.
I had to return to the States for 6 months.
6 months. I prayed for him, and never stopped loving him. I couldn’t wait to get back and go check on him…to see how he was doing. I selfishly wanted him back. I wanted him back with me. I did.
So, we went.
And then we knew.
My little JoJo.
I remember back…back to the days when he was in my arms.
I finally had to hire a baby sitter. I hated it. Oh, how I didn’t want to leave them with anyone! But I couldn’t take the children with me that day. And I remember having to sneak out before they saw me cause they would just cry and cry.
But when I came back that evening. There he was. Sitting with the babysitter. And the second he saw me, he started crying - reaching for me - struggling to get down and crawl his little way over to me. He hadn’t done that yet before. I’ll never forget that moment. I knew that he loved me. I knew that he was so special.
I called him my little monkey.
I had someone once tell me that that name wasn’t quite politically correct, and that maybe we should call him chimpanzee or something…but I didn’t care. He was my monkey. My little monkey boy. I called him my little monkey since the first day I took him home.
The first time he laughed. Really. Laughed.
He had the cutest little monkey face. The cutest ever.
We were sitting on the bed and I reached over to tickle him…to see if he would laugh this time. He had been so weak and malnourished that he cried a lot and would just sit.
But he laughed.
I tickled him again…and he smiled so huge that all of his teeth were showing! I was so excited. I hurriedly picked him up and ran to my brother’s room. My brother Mark was staying with me, so I grabbed the camera and said, “He’s smiling! Get a picture!” we sat on the bed getting pictures and just laughing at my little monkey.
The sobs come harder and harder.
He’s dead. I can’t even believe I’m writing the words.
My little monkey face. My little monkey. My little JoJo.
Is dead. He’s gone.
Last month. Last month?!
Only 4 weeks before I got back. 4 weeks. I cry out, “Lord! I feel as though I am 4 weeks too late. Could he not have held on? You knew I was coming! You knew when I would be here! He had made it for so long – his little body had hung on! Why?? Why now?! Why did he have to die now?! I was almost here! I was coming to get him! Why, God? Why?!”
The devil begins screaming in my ear. “It’s your fault! You killed him! You did this! If you hadn’t left him he would still be alive! If you had only done this, this, this…”
“God, help me! God, how? How can he be dead? How can he be dead? He can’t be dead. He just can’t be. I loved that little baby boy. His precious little face will forever haunt me. That shrill cry. That little face that had begun to light up when I walked in the door. That raspy laugh. The huge smile.”
If only. Such a dangerous world to live in - one I must not live in. I tell myself, “God is in control. Therefore…there are no if only’s.”
But as Satan continued to scream into my ear, the tears kept falling. As I beat myself up over and over…all I can see is his little face. Hear his little cry…his little laugh…the sobs become worse and worse.
Starved to death. HIV+.
“How God. How?!” I wanted to scream. “Why?! Why now?! Why did this have to happen?! Why him?! You know how much I loved him! You knew when I would be back! You knew when! You knew I would come for him! Why no warning? No prompting! No Holy Spirit screaming into me, “Send someone to check on him!” Why?!
Naïve. Believing. Hoping. I was praying that he would still be alive.
He had made it. 16 months when I brought him in for 5 weeks. Fed him. Got him medicine, tested him for everything - and yes. The tests came back negative. I just knew. He had to be alive. He had made it so far. So long. He was doing so well. I believed that I was doing the right thing - that taking him back was right. That his family wanted him back, didn’t want me to keep him for good - and so I had told them I would bring them back.
And now he’s dead. Dead.
It still rings ice in my heart.
My precious little monkey.
In a grave somewhere.
And that is what Satan wants me to believe. As I sit and sob over the loss of his precious little life…Satan screams at me that he’s in a grave somewhere. Somewhere I do not even know. And a place I do not want to see. Satan wants me to believe that lie. Live there. Picturing my JoJo cold and lifeless in a grave.
When I know the truth. I know the truth.
And my Jesus silently whispers it to my soul.
“Amy. You know where JoJo is. You know. Tell yourself, Amy. Tell yourself where he is. And keep repeating it over and over until you can see it…until you can see him…with me. He’s in my arms, Amy. In MY arms. Where else would you want him? Tell me, Amy. Where else would you want him to be?
He is here. And he could be in no better place. No better condition. He’s fine Amy. Just fine. He’s perfect now. Not starving anymore. Not sick anymore. Won’t have to go through the pains of the world. No, he’s with me. Rejoice, Amy. He’s with me.” Jesus whispers to my bleeding heart. “He is so thankful for you. He loves you. He loves you. Just as I do. Remember THAT. Meditate on THIS. Truth.”
And so…I listen. I pray. I feel. I try to see.
He took him home. My Jesus took my JoJo home. How can I doubt my loving Savior’s perfect will. His decisions. His plan. His purpose. How can I doubt.
I can grieve, yes. But I can not doubt. I can not live in the world of “if only”. That is not the world of faith…of trust…of God’s sovereignty.
God had my mother call me.
In the middle of teaching field trips at our farm…she calls her grieving daughter…and speaks life into her ears. She whispers the same words of Jesus to her soul…“Speak truth to yourself, Amy. Speak truth.”
She knew. She knew the attack that was imminent. The tormenting thoughts that would be raging in my mind.
Even the thoughts of wanting to starve myself just to know how it feels. What these babies and children feel. To starve to death.
I do not even know.
What is it like to starve to death? To not have enough to eat? To waste away to nothing. To be so hungry that your stomach hurts - HURTS - such pain…and then to die.
I do not know.
But I do know that JoJo’s death will not be in vain. I have learned so much. Even just through his life and death – God has taught me so much. And I know not how God is going to use this new knowledge…unveiling my naïve eyes just a bit more. But He will. Because there are more. Sadly, there are so many more like JoJo. And so, I grieve. And I trust. I miss him. And I look forward to the future. I look past the grave…and look forward, yet again, to heaven.
My little monkey face,
Oh, how I miss you my sweet JoJo. I don’t even know where to start.
I loved you so very much. I prayed for you. Please know that. Just because I was not here with you physically does not mean I did not love you, miss you, and pray for you. When I left you, I trusted you to Jesus. JoJo, I left you with Him. That was all I could do. And so, even now, I am trusting you to Jesus…and leaving you with Him. As my tears flow, you are with Him in glory. He is wonderful. So perfect. He truly does love the little children. He loves you…so much more than I ever could have. He took you away form this world…home to be with Him. I can’t wait for the day when I will see you again. In all your perfection. In no more pain, no more suffering. You are wrapped in the arms of Jesus…and I anxiously await the day when I will be wrapped in those same loving arms too.
Until I see you again…I love you, little monkey.