May 29, 2024

Worship in the Ward- What Does Faith Look Like to Women in the Malnutrition Ward?

Jaina Sparling 25'

Photo Courtesy of Jaina Sparling

Worship in the Ward What Does Faith Look Like to the Women in the Malnutrition Ward?  

Jaina Sparling ‘25 

It was a chilly day at the Noah’s Ark malnutrition ward. When I arrived at 8 am, only the overnight nurse was around. The rest of the clinic was locked up and Dr. Brenda was nowhere in sight. The emptiness of this place felt colder than the air outside. Yet when I walked into the ward, the clinic no longer felt empty. Doctors and nurses complete their shifts and leave, but the members of the ward exist perennially. This has become their new home. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, changing diapers — all these activities now take place in and around the clinic.  

What’s more, a new community develops. Women of Mukono who did not know each other’s names before now spend every moment of every day together. They are committed to being there day and night, rain or shine, weekend or weekday. Powerfully, they support and uplift each other as their babies grow stronger and can one day be discharged. But where do they get this power? Some of these women are already pregnant again while also trying to support a malnourished baby. Others are HIV positive and desperately pray that their babies do not contract HIV also.  

This lonely morning, I witnessed the source of their strength. Amid the cribs, blankets, and bottles of milk, one woman was sitting down and reading Scripture on her phone in Luganda. Everyone else listened in silence, hanging on every word. Then, the whole place erupted in singing! As they praised God, I noticed how some of the words were difficult to say. Is God really faithful? Does he really care? I felt that I might not be able to praise God if I was in their circumstances. 

Even more powerful was their communal prayer. One woman led, yelling out sentence after sentence in Luganda. Other voices soon joined her. The strongest emotion I felt was joy. If they can trust God, no matter the circumstance, so can I. I realized that I subconsciously assumed that these women would be doubting God’s ways or caught in despair — I know I would be. Many people from my home church have dealt with sickness and other trials, yet they always have a strong support group to guide them.  

These women appear to be all on their own, but they have each other and God. This experience taught me an important lesson about engagement. From a practical standpoint, it would be better to go to my internship at 9 am when the doctors arrive and the “real learning” begins. However, this negates the true beauty of experiencing Ugandan culture in such a raw form, as I did that morning in the ward. Although I felt a bit out of place in this setting, they welcomed me into their worship service with open arms, eager to share their faith and culture with me. 

In The Art of Crossing Cultures, C. Storti says there is always risk in opening oneself up to a cross-cultural situation. You will be changed, positively or negatively, “there is no possibility of a…neutral reaction” (p. 115). The risks in this situation could be rejection by the women in the ward, failure to engage properly in their worship, and fear that, by just watching, I am not doing enough to help the work of the clinic. If I had let these fears take hold of me, I would not have been touched by their steadfast trust in God, no matter the circumstance. 

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