Okay, so this is a very exciting blog post for us to share. We met Mary in Jinja last April while documenting a very memorable adoption. The moment I met Mary I felt loved and accepted. She has the aroma of Christ and it flows through her to all she meets, and the best part about it is that she has no idea! Mary lives 6 months in Jinja and 6 months in Southern California. While in Jinja she spends most of her time loving on the sweet orphans of the Arise and Shine Babies home where we will be visiting in March. She holds them, hugs them, let's them fall asleep on her chest and most importantly helps them feel loved. She actually just arrived back in Jinja and is documenting her journey on instagram and her website, which we highly recommend you all following :) Okay, enough from us, meet Mary!
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It was October of 2011 and I had a feeling that something huge was about to happen. I invited the Lord to use me however He needed to, I was ready. With my palms facing upward, He grabbed hold of them and took me on the best adventure of my life. My good friends shared with me that they were in the process of adopting from Uganda, Africa and they wanted me to document their adoption. When the words exited their mouth, I knew this was it…this was how God was going to answer my prayer and use me. As the adoption process is one of spontaneity (meaning you never know when you are going to have an official answer from the government) I was pretty much an "on call adoption photographer". It was all I could think about and suddenly my life transformed into this passion and desire for Uganda. My friend and I could't handle the unknown and anticipation so we booked our own tickets and in February of 2012, visited Uganda for the first time and fell in love! All I could think about is when I could return…which happened to be in May of 2012 when my friends could finally meet their children and begin the final stages of bringing them home to America.
My friends adopted from Arise and Shine in Jinja, Uganda. Once I entered the gates of the babies home, I knew this was home. The way the children ran up to me without hesitation, the way the aunties welcomed me like I brought them bundles of gold and the way the director Sharon quickly became my best friend…it all was too much. I sat and watched Sharon with the children and was amazed that we were the same age. Sitting before me at 25 years old, she already had been running and developing the organization of Arise and Shine for a couple of years. She had taken in so many displaced children, whether they were true orphans, or their parents couldn't quite handle the challenge of taking care of them right now, she offered them a home and lots of love.
Something I LOVE about Arise and Shine is that they really do think of the best interest for not only the children but the family in whole. Maybe the parent(s) of the children were quite young and without jobs when their child was welcomed into the world and they couldn't imagine taking care of them how they deserved. Sharon welcomes the child into the babies home and then works on getting the parent(s) on their feet to be able to resettle their child with them one day. It could be a month, a year, a few years….Sharon doesn't give up hope and works in the best interest of the family.
Arise and Shine has developed an amazing community not only in Jinja, but also in a village called Kibuye that is 4 hours away from town. This happens to be the village that Sharon and her family grew up in and now it has a school, a garden to feed the community with healthy and nutritious meals, cows to provide milk for the villagers, HIV and nutrition classes, english lessons and last year they purchased 25 Singer sewing machines to provide women with tailoring jobs. It truly is remarkable to see what determination and hope has brought to Kibuye, hundreds of lives have been changed.
I have always had a heart for adoption. The day I was born my birth mother decided to give me up for adoption and it has been a decision that has transformed my life. The passion I have towards displaced, abandoned or transitioning children is one that God has used throughout my whole life. While I always wanted to help children and assumed that I would have to be a children's psychologist to do so, God placed a camera in my hands instead and has asked me to tell their story and to invite people in to see the beauty of these children, their families, the families they are joining and the community that surrounds them. A lot of people are involved in the adoption and resettlement process…a lot of people who work so hard and have hearts full of hope and love. It takes a lot of work, both emotionally and financially to be able to care for these children and give them everything they deserve. Everyone involved has a story and has a purpose and I am so excited to invite you in to document that and share it with the world and with your own communities. I pray that their voices are heard and people respond with support however they see fit, whether it's adoption or financially giving to this beautiful organization that is changing so many lives every day.
I am so excited to invite you into my home! Thank you so much for taking this time to venture over here to Uganda to share some of the most beautiful stories with the world. In true Ugandan fashion… YOU ARE WELCOME!
(All photos by Mary and the bottom collage are from her instagram account!)