Letters of Hope

Letters of Hope

By: Daisy Byarugaba in Uganda, with Brandy Campbell   |   Posted: April 02, 2007

John Ochieng, an LDP student in Uganda, took on the adult task of raising his brothers when he was just 14 years old.

John Ochieng walked the dirt road to his home in Bugiri. As he rounded the corner, he saw his two younger brothers sitting alone on the side of the road, tears making muddy tracks down their dusty faces. The lanky teenager set down the small packet of rice and beans he had picked up from the market and used his shirttail to clean his brothers' faces.

John didn't even have to ask why his brothers were crying. Since his father and mother had left town to seek treatment for his mother's failing health, neighbors had taken to calling the Ochieng boys rejects. Their words stung with the ring of truth. John's parents had left nearly a year before, leaving 14-year-old John in charge of his younger brothers. His parents had traveled to Mukono, a city hundreds of miles away, seeking treatment at the large hospitals there. John had no way of knowing if his mother was still alive. And without help even from his father's relatives, the Ochieng boys were completely neglected.

"My father thought his relatives would help us, but that didn't happen," remembers John. "No one checked on us. I felt rejected, like no one cared about us. Sometimes I wondered if God even intended for us to be on earth."

"We wouldn't have survived without them."

As John tried to comfort his brothers, he remembered the one thing that always made them smile. John grabbed their hands, and the three boys ran home. John sat his brothers down on a worn mat while he pulled a stack of ragged letters from their hiding place. As soon as his brothers saw the familiar pages, their tears stopped, and they reached eagerly for the smudged letters in John's hand. He read the familiar words, then he let his brothers flip through the pictures as he prepared their supper.

By the time he put the small helpings of rice and beans on their plates, the young boys were laughing and playing. As they prayed over their food, each one thanked God for Scott and Crystal the only family who hadn't rejected them.

"The letters of my sponsors are the only thing that got me through that time," remembers John. "We wouldn't have survived without them."

The letters of Scott and Crystal would get John through the next few years a period he calls the most difficult time of his life. He pulled them out when his mother died, and again when his father battled mental disease. He read them the day he decided to drop out of school so he could support his family. He read them and felt a bit of joy in the midst of sorrow.

A Moment of Breakthrough

John found a job in town, helping truck drivers load heavy shipments of brick and coffee onto their trucks. The days were long, and he arrived home tired and depressed. For months, he didn't even write his sponsors after years of their encouragement, how could he tell them he would never finish school, never attend college? But John desperately missed their words of hope, so one evening he sat next to a flickering candle and poured his heart out on a crumpled sheet of paper.

"I was so depressed that I finally wrote to my sponsor to tell him about the situation," says John. "This was my moment of breakthrough. He wrote me back, amazed at the drastic change in life, and he asked if there was any way I could go back to school & if there was any way they could help me."

Justice for the Poor

Scott and Crystal's letter to John inspired him to begin attending the Compassion child development center again. For the next several months, 17-year-old John struggled to find acceptance. He enrolled in vocational classes, then he transferred to a state college. Finally, he was accepted to Compassion's Leadership Development Program, where Scott and Crystal continued as his sponsors.

John recently completed his law degree at Uganda Christian University, and he is now studying for his law certificate in order to practice in Uganda. He hopes to one day be an advocate for children in poverty.

"I feel like being a lawyer for the poor is a way for me to show my appreciation to my sponsor," says John. "If I could help the poor get justice, then I would be showing my sponsors how much I appreciate everything they have done for me."

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