JINJA, Uganda – Lauren Ziehmer distinctly remembers being in church around the age of twelve and listening to Ms. Ruth. Ruth founded an orphanage in Africa and was sharing about the physical and gospel needs of the children there. As Ziehmer listened, she also heard God’s calling on her heart, setting her apart for a specific purpose.
As she got older, doubts crept in and she not only questioned it, she almost felt ashamed she dared think she could ever serve in that way. Over the next seven years, God broke her, healed her, and cultivated a passion for disability ministry. This summer, she said yes to the opportunity to live and work with orphans who have disabilities for two months as an intern for Ekisa Ministries in Uganda. She had never felt more at peace. Right up until she arrived in Jinja, a city of about 70,000 people on the northern shores of Lake Victoria in East Africa.
“My first night after I landed, I questioned if I was really supposed to come,” Ziehmer, a member of First Baptist, California, said. “However, who am I to question the Lord’s ability to use me? As soon as I arrived at Ekisa, I was at peace and knew that the Lord called me there to thrive and learn so much through the Ekisa kids.”
Ekisa is a ministry that resettles children with their families while providing education and therapy. Ziehmer and other volunteers also help run summer school for the months of the kids’ summer break.
“Many times parents abandon their child with a disability because of the lack of understanding of the disability or the stigma of those with disabilities,” Ziehmer said.
Ziehmer is studying early childhood/special education at Missouri State University in Springfield, and has a passion for special needs orphan care. Though she is careful to give God the glory and is quick to point out others’ work being done around her, she calls the summer internship her “dream job.”
Through working with and observing operations and ministry at Ekisa, she is learning the logistics and complications of being a non-profit in East Africa. She also gets to see first- hand the benefits that hard work can have on the children. She’s seen kids resettled with their families, and children that have been cast aside by the world welcomed by the unconditional love and grace of Christ. In fact, in one of the local languages, Ekisa is the word for “grace.” By showing God’s grace to children with special needs, the ministry demonstrates to the children – and the world – that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.
God is using Ziehmer to be a blessing through Ekisa, but he is also using it to bless her. She’s learning practical skills related to what she hopes will be her life’s work, but she’s also learning to rely fully on God – regardless of any doubts or fears – because that’s what He called her to do.
That jumped into sharp focus one afternoon as Ziehmer walked through a small village near Ekisa, where children quickly gathered to take a peak at the obvious outsider.
“By the time I arrived, I had five kids chasing after me because I’m white she said. “All wanting to touch me and play. On the safari I took a couple weeks ago, Ugandans were taking more pictures of my group and me for being white than the animals. How easy it has been to stick out like a sore thumb here, but it makes it so easy to radiate God’s love to the people and communities.”
Sticking out in that way, however, gives Ziehmer inspiration to continue her work for the kids’ physical and eternal wellbeing. Even more conspicuous than skin tone should be the way Christians reflect God’s love.
That conspicuous love and grace “is how I envision Matthew 5:14-16; We cannot be hidden and we are set apart. Exactly how the Lord called us to be.”