This is my friend Gladys. I met her while in Uganda last fall. She’s a beautiful girl, but at the time the thing I noticed most was that her eyes were incredibly sad. When we asked her how she was, her answer was “Bad.” She didn’t mean she was doing poorly, but that she was a bad person.
It’s all she’d ever been told. It was the only thing she could believe.
Gladys is one of the many orphans I met during the two weeks I was in Zana. Like many children, she’d been taken in by another family member who saw her as one more mouth to feed. She’s 14 years old and the bulk of the words she’s known from her family were spoken from anger, frustration, and despair.
Yet for all that, she is cared for. She wasn’t malnourished physically, but emotionally she was starving.
In the days that followed, everyone in my group made it a point to tell her how beautiful and how loved she was each time we saw her. Towards the end of our stay my friend Shelly had the joy of leading Gladys to Christ. Something in her face changed in that moment. We’d seen her smiling with her mouth, but after that short little prayer the forced grin cracked and the tears flowed. Like the tender mother Shelly is, she held Gladys tight to her chest and let her cry.
I had the joy and privilege of doing and seeing so much during my time in Uganda, but of them all, this moment remains one of my most cherished memories.
The next day when we asked how Gladys was her answer was different. “I’m still bad,” she said, and then truly smiled. “But now Jesus keeps telling me I’m good.”
On the day we left, she still insisted on saying she wasn’t beautiful when we said she was, but everything about her expression had changed. She’d gone from complete disbelief to saying “No” and ducking her head down because she simply wanted to hear us say the words, “You are so beautiful!” again.
Of all the people I said good bye to, she was one of the hardest to leave.
The photo above was taken in December, a little over a month after we’d returned to the States. I love it because in Gladys eyes I see a girl who now recognizes her worth.