Making a wish for a boy in Uganda

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made a wish upon the first star I see at night. My childhood wishes were inspired by Jiminy Cricket who sang, “If you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.”

Once my children went out on their own, I found it comforting to know no matter how far away they were from me, they could look up at the night sky and remember we were all safe under the same blanket of stars. The wishes I’ve made for them are as numerous as the twinkling dots in the sky. This evening, I will make a wishful prayer on one of those stars for a little boy in Uganda who turns ten years old today.

Several years ago my husband and I began sponsoring Lukas through Compassion International, a Christian humanitarian aid organization. Lukas lives in a small village 300 miles away from the nearest city. Through the work of Compassion, Lukas and many of the children in his village are able to attend school a couple of days a week. On the other days he helps his father tend to animals, gather firewood, carry water and care for his brothers and sisters.

Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. Most families depend on subsistence farming, and water shortages frequently cause food scarcity. Many Ugandan children are significantly malnourished. I don’t know if Lukas understands he lives in poverty. If so, his smiling school photos and crayon drawings of him playing soccer, climbing trees and laughing with friends outside his little home with the blue roof belie the fact.

When I find myself wishing for material things or for even more ease in my life, I think of Lukas and the three billion people on our planet who live in poverty. There is a quote I turn to when my life seems inadequate, when I let advertisements and social media make me feel small and envious.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself. Tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches. For to the creator, there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” Rilke’s words both shame and inspire me. I keep the quote close at hand, just in case I need to snap out of it.

Our sponsorship of Lukas includes annual Christmas and birthday gifts. He always writes to thank us and tell what he purchased with the money. Once it was a chicken. Another time he bought mosquito netting. Last year we were happy to know after buying a mattress there was enough money left over for a piece of candy. I am reminded of a quote by Ghandi, “Live simply so others may simple live.”

This week I sent a birthday message to Lukas through the Compassion website which an interpreter will help him read. I asked him to look up at the sky this evening. “Remember that we live on the same planet, under the same sky dotted with the same stars,” I wrote. “I am making a special wish on one of those stars, a prayer just for you, Lukas, for a very happy birthday.”

A Simple Story about Mangos

As I shuffle through the mail, I casually chat with my husband about things on my list of home improvements. Among the bills and catalogs is a familiar envelope that makes me stop and flush with embarrassment. It’s a letter from Lukas, an eight-year-old boy who lives in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda, one of the poorest nations in the world.

The envelope includes a sweet picture drawn by Lukas and a letter written in English by a translator. Lukas asks how we are doing and tells us more about himself. We know the names of his brothers and sisters. He likes to read and play soccer with his friends, and his favorite color is green.

Reading the letter out loud, my voice cracks, “Lukas also adds that he appreciates so much his birthday gift of 86,350. With that money, he bought a mattress and a piece of candy.”

We forgot his annual birthday gift of $25 had been automatically withdrawn from our bank account. Lukas didn’t replace an old mattress with a new one. He bought the first mattress he’d ever had to go with the mosquito netting he bought with last year’s Christmas gift.

The little boy’s grateful words tangibly hang in the air next to my greedy ones. The ones about all the things I need in order to sit squarely in the lap of happiness – things Lukas has no idea even exist.

The next part of the letter is something neither Mike nor I can get out of our minds – something incredibly humbling and beautiful. It reads, “The thing that makes Lukas happiest is climbing trees for mangos.” My heart feels simultaneously heavier and lighter.

We love mangos. We buy them at the grocery store when they’re available. Mike is good at picking a perfectly ripe one. He slices through the yellow-red skin and makes neat cuts in the bright yellow flesh to release cubes of the tropical treat. Biting into the fruit brings a burst of floral sweetness with a slight hint of pine. If eaten mindfully, it’s heaven.

I imagine our young friend nimbly skittering up a mango tree in his village. His bright brown eyes spy a ripe fruit. His tiny hand picks it off the limb and stuffs it in his pocket. He climbs back down the tree, laughing. He sits on the ground and leans against the base of the tree. Pulling the golden prize from his pocket, he takes a big bite, juice dripping down his smiling face.

When we find ourselves getting caught up in our first world delusions and disillusions, Mike and I need only say one simple word. Mangos.ยง