Could God’s love for Ugandan children in 2015 be one of the reasons He permitted a 4 year old American girl to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 22 years earlier? SSMF missionary Emily Johnson thinks so.
In this incredibly thorough and honest post, Emily, who currently serves in Entebbe, Uganda, with her husband Byron, recounts some of the reasons why she believes that’s true.
When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes and started receiving insulin shots.
By the time I was eight years old, I realized that if I was ever going to spend the night at a friend’s house, or even be away from my parents for more than a few hours, I had to learn how to give myself my own insulin shots.
It was hard at first, but slowly, I learned how to measure the amount of insulin I needed as I drew the insulin into the syringe, how to give myself the injection, and how to carefully and properly dispose of needles.
Ok, now fast-forward twenty-two years.
Our first week here, we sat down in the conference room at Calvary Chapel Entebbe and got a rundown of the different ministries done through the church. We heard about the farm ministry, school outreaches, the Calvary academy, worship team, and many others. We also heard about the island ministry.
The island ministry is a medical outreach that couples taking care of people’s spiritual needs and physical needs.
On Fridays, the island ministry team gets on a boat and goes to one of the islands that are nearby (20 minutes – 2 hours away by boat) and ministers to the people.
They first set up tents and a counseling/evangelizing area, where potential patients must pass through before they can get treatment.
Then, the patients can go to the medical area that best suites their needs – HIV and malaria testing, baby vaccinations, or doctor consultations.
After that point, they can go to the pharmacy, or if they received results from the doctor or testing that was hard to hear, they can come back to the counseling area to talk and pray with someone from the counseling/evangelizing team.
After hearing the explanation, the island ministry/medical outreach leader asked a question, “Does anyone in your team have any medical skills?”
I paused to think for a second, and then I spoke up: “I do.”
“What is your skill?”
“I’m a diabetic, and I’m really good at giving shots.”
“Great, we will get you trained.”
The following Friday, I went to my first island, Makusa.
Makusa is somewhere around 1 1/2 hours away from Entebbe by boat. This particular island is about half the size of an American football field, with a population of what I would guess to be upwards of 200 people. The island is so small, there is no dock for the boat, you just arrive and hop out. However, it’s very important to be wearing rubber rain boots, because the water near the island is dirty and full of disease.
My senses were completely overwhelmed as soon as we arrived. The people on this island are forced to practically live on top of each other. The alleys between the different “houses” are so small, sometimes you have to turn to the side to shuffle through them because your shoulders are too wide to fit. Everywhere you turn, there is water, and where there isn’t water, there are goats and chickens. And then, as you look even closer, past the drunken men and the women who are probably prositutes, you start to notice the big eyes of children. Children with nowhere to play. Children with nowhere to go to church. Children with no education. Children with no hope.
“Emily!” I hear nurse Barbara call to me. “You’re with me today.”
I suddenly feel my chest fill with emotion and fear. It was all too much too fast, and I was terrified. The only reason why I was able to follow Barbara that morning was because Byron and I had diligently prayed about me giving vaccinations, and we felt the Lord confirm that I was called to give vaccinations on that specific morning. That didn’t negate my fear, but it did allow me to keep moving in the calling that the Lord had given me for that morning.
Right before I started following after Barbara, I grabbed Byron’s arm to tell him how scared I was. And, let me just say, my husband is amazing and he agreed to stay near me the whole day so that I wouldn’t be so scared, and so he could watch over me and be near by if I needed anything. In fact, Byron is such a sweetheart, he agreed to be the person that weighed the babies before they received their vaccinations, just so he could stay near me. And believe me, this is not an easy, or safe job, because most of these babies don’t wear diapers and just pee and poop whenever they need to on whoever is holding them. However, to this day, Byron is able to say he “walked through the fire and was unscathed.” I, on the other hand, have been “baptized” MANY times haha
So, I followed Barbara to the vaccination area, which was inside a little shack that was vacant during the day, but acted as a bar during the night. I was handed a pair of gloves, and she started going over the details of my job.
And then, the first mom with the first baby came and sat down in front of me.
She didn’t speak the same language as me, so I couldn’t communicate with her. In her arms, she held a small baby, one that obviously resembled her. The girl couldn’t have been older than 18, but you could tell she had lived a life far from easy. Her profession, although unmentioned, seemed unmistakable.
Barbara handed me a needle filled with the DPT vaccine. I swallowed hard. The baby, eyes open, just starred at me. My hands started to shake. Then, then started to shake uncontrollable, so much so, that I couldn’t control the syringe in my hand.
“I can’t do it.” I said to Barbara.
“Yes, you can.” She encouraged.
But the shaking got worse, and finally, she took the syringe from me, injected the baby, and then mother walked away with her crying child.
It took all of my strength to not burst into tears. All I could do was call out to Jesus in my mind. I know You called me to do this today. Please, help me to do this.
The next mother walks in. She’s a bit older, and so is the baby. Again, I’m handed a needed filled with DPT. My hands start to shake and I begin praying fervently. I show the mother how she needs to hold the baby so it doesn’t squirm. I firmly grasp the syringe and steady my hands. I give my first vaccination. The Lord showed up in such an amazing way during this time. My hands felt supernaturally steadied, everything felt under control, and when I was finished, I discarded the needle safely and properly.
“Well-done.” Barbara tells me. “That was your first HIV positive baby and your first vaccination.”
At her words, I felt a huge wave of fear surge through my body, but I felt the Lord comforting my heart. I’ve called you to do this today, I won’t abandon you.
It was one of the hardest days of my life. I easily gave 60-70 different vaccinations, seeing numerous babies – some with HIV, some without.
After doing this for a few hours, I finally needed a break and had to go to the bathroom. I quickly found out that there was no bathroom, just a small area elevated above the water and full of flies. I couldn’t bring myself to enter the latrine, so I just peed on the shore in the water. Suddenly, everything caught up to me and I just threw up. It had been such an emotional day for me, my body came to the point where I couldn’t process anything else, and the only way I could deal with everything was to physically throw up. Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten the whole day.
I left the shore and went back to the vaccination area. While I was on the shore, everything wrapped up and we were done for the day. We packed all of our supplies, got back on the boat, and headed for Entebbe.
I wish I had pictures of Makusa to show you, but it was such an emotionally and physically taxing day for me, I never even considered taking pictures, and I haven’t had the opportunity to go back to that particular island after my first experience. However, I have gotten to go to a few other islands since then, and I’ve added some pictures below for you.
I’ve been learning a lot during my time here in Uganda, but I just wanted to highlight a few things.
Firstly, nothing goes to waste. The Lord didn’t make a mistake when He allowed me to be a type one diabetic, and through my diabetes, I’ve been able to help numerous babies, through the grace of God.
Secondly, God has a DAILY calling for our lives. Because of how the medical outreaches can be dangerous for me (there is a lot of disease on the island, the boat is old and sometimes the waters are rough, and I’m giving vaccinations to babies that are sometimes HIV positive), I have learned that I have to seriously pray before each island trip. Before each trip comes, I seek the Lord. I ask Him to show me if He’s calling me to continue giving vaccinations or to do something else. And the Lord has been so faithful to guide me, and Byron. In fact, a quick testimony… Last island trip, Byron and I both felt the Lord telling us not to have me give vaccinations, so I took care of the paperwork instead, and nurse Barbara gave the vaccinations instead.
Thirdly, I’ve learned that caring for someone’s child often opens the door for you to care for the parent. So many times, I will be giving the vaccinations to a baby while Barbara ministers to the mother, encouraging the mother and telling the mother about Jesus.
I know this has been a long blog (I’m notorious for those though haha), but as our time is coming to a close here in Uganda, I want to make sure that I don’t miss any opportunity to give God the glory for the work He’s doing. He’s doing an incredible work through Calvary Chapel Entebbe, He’s moving in a mighty way on the islands, and He’s faithfully working in me as well.
I hope this blog finds you in a place where you also are allowing the Lord to do a good and mighty work in your life. Please be praying for the islands here, the babies and mothers I’ve come into contact with, and for all of the places all over the world that need Jesus.