I often have trouble trusting God. Oh sure, it sounds great in theory, “letting go and letting God” but when it’s someone or something I care deeply about, I do not want to give up control. It’s terrifying. But then I met a woman who changed my outlook on what it means to truly rely on God. I met Mama Naziwa.
Mama Naziwa was quiet. By that I do not mean so much that she didn’t talk, but rather that she lived quietly. The earliest glimpse I saw of her character was when she received her first paycheck. It was 100,000 shillings for the month, equivalent to 50 United States Dollars; a decent sum, but in no way extravagant. When we gave it to her, she fell silent, looked at it for a long time, and handed it back whispering “It’s too much.”
“Mama Naziwa,” my mother pushed it back to her. “It’s not that much. You earned it.”
“It’s too much, I can’t take it.”
My mother put a hand on her shoulder. “You worked for this money. It’s yours. It’s not too much.”
Mama Naziwa reluctantly reached for the check, looked at it again, crying openly. She bowed on her knees, clutching the money in one hand, and desperately holding onto my mother’s hand with the other. “Thank you,” she whispered over and over. “Mama Hannah, thank you.”
As the time she spent with my family increased, I began to see more of just how wonderful this woman was. While pregnant, she would walk over half an hour to work every day to provide for the four children she already had. She took care of my siblings and me as if we were her children as well. She brought us tea and snacks during school, folded our laundry, cleaned our rooms, and occasionally left special treats in the fridge for us. She also acted as our mother by making us help with the chores. We were roped into helping wash dishes, snap peas, and shuck corn, but fought over who would got to help because it meant more time with Mama Naziwa.
The first attack came. Mama Naziwa was to be baptized. She was overjoyed as she walked down into the papyrus, and in front of her church family and the surrounding community proclaimed her allegiance to Jesus. As she made her way triumphantly home, a messenger met her on the road and delivered the news that her baby daughter was dead.
Mama Naziwa ran the dirt road back to her house and arrived to find family members sitting silently in the living room.
“Where is she?” Mama Naziwa gasped.
The gathered around her, and walked with her into the next room. The little girl lay in her crib, lifeless, but still warm. “She died in her sleep,” the deceased child’s grandmother said. “I don’t know what happened. I gave her some tea, and laid her down for a nap. When I came to check on her, she was not breathing.”
For the next three days, the family mourned for the child. My family went to pay our respects, and sat silently in the living room with the aunts, uncles, and church members who had come to do the same.
While Mama Naziwa mourned, she never despaired. Through her sadness, she immersed herself in the word, and clung to who Jesus says he is. Although shaken, she did not let her faith crumble. She let the Lord lift her up, and became even more actively involved in church activities, and in her devotion to her remaining children. However, another attack was soon to follow.
Since the beginning of her employment with us, Mama Naziwa had been saving up to build a house. The one her family lived in was not sturdy, and much too small for how many members it held. With each paycheck, she added a little more onto the house until it was finished. During this time, she and her husband had been fighting. Then Mama Naziwa became pregnant with twins. One day she came to work and said to my mom, “Mama Hannah, my husband doesn’t love me anymore!” While she and her husband still lived together, the entire village of Katwe knew he spent many nights in another house, with another woman.
Instead of focusing on her hurt, she continued to be thankful for the things she did have. She added a courtyard to the house, spent more time with her children, and began decorating cakes as a hobby.
About six months after mama Naziwa disclosed her husband’s unfaithfulness to my mom, my family had to unexpectedly return to the States. Because of this, Mama Naziwa lost her job. The Jesspersons, missionary friends of ours, recorded and sent us a video with news from Uganda. Mama Naziwa looked in the camera, and said, “My husband brought another woman home, and has asked for a separation.” As is common in Ugandan culture, “He is going to take the house and my children.” She took a moment to compose herself, and looked in the camera again. “I will be able to keep the babies, Mark and Martha.” She smiled. “Katonda mulungi”—God is good.
This woman had lost her home and her family, and yet, she smiled. She, more than anyone else I’ve known, knew what it meant to trust Jesus. Because she had him, she had all she needed.