by Ande Fanning
The alarm clock rings. You roll out of bed and head to class. It’s likely your biggest decision so far has been what size latte to order, and your main concern has been finding a parking spot on campus. For 22-year-old Katie Davis, there’s no alarm clock. Instead, she wakes up to several pairs of little hands on her face and several pairs of feet bouncing on the bed. Her biggest decision will be choosing to live another day in Uganda, and her main concern is caring for her children – 14 daughters and 147 million orphans scattered around the globe.
Beyond the Shadow of Doubt
Like most of her peers, Katie graduated from high school with a diploma in one hand and a fistful of big dreams in the other. But this Brentwood, Tenn., native didn’t hold fast to the hopes of a university; she wanted Uganda. God works in mysterious ways, and at the age of 16, over a plate of sushi, Katie pitched an idea (one that had been stirring for quite awhile) to take a year off after graduation and explore mission work before going to college. Though the verdict was unfavorable at first, God changed hearts and minds. As a senior, Katie pleaded for a visit during a school break to an orphanage she found online. Her parents agreed, so she traveled more than 7,000 miles away from home. In Uganda, she met a local pastor and got a glimpse into her future as he laid on the table an offer for her to teach kindergarten at his orphanage.
Fast forward. Graduation day comes and goes, and Katie hops a plane to The Dark Continent. She arrives and immediately starts doing what she does best: loving children. Within the first few weeks, she hosts slumber parties and paints toenails, makes dinner out of popcorn and eggs, has encounters with rats and bats in the bathroom, hears that a man across the lake has been eaten by a crocodile, and comes face to face with the lawlessness that runs wild in this land. Life here isn’t easy, but she notes on a blog post (August 2007), “I know beyond a shadow of doubt that this place is where I’m supposed to be, where the Lord wants me to be.”
The Problem of Poverty
Katie, now a kindergarten teacher, invests in her students. With hugs, songs, games, and laughter, she finds ways to connect with them. She writes, “The children do not speak much English, but love knows no language.”
While walking students home from school, she notices many children begging, sitting idle, and working in the fields along the red dirt roads. She discovers that there’s only a small number of government-run public schools in Uganda, none of which are near the area where she works. Private schools that charge attendance fees are far more common, but the extreme poverty that plagues her new surroundings makes that option impossible. Enter divine inspiration.
Beneath a mosquito net on a hot African night, God gives Katie the idea for combining her blessed life in Brentwood with the needs of the children – a sponsorship program was the answer. She now has the “what,” but not the “how.” No worries. With God, all things are possible.
Without a clue about how to operate a nonprofit organization, Katie set out to start one anyway. And within months, Brentwood-based Amazima International Ministries (Amazima means “truth” in the local language, Lugandan) is up and running. The original goal is to get sponsors for 40 children. By January 2008, Katie has 150 children signed up to attend school. Simply put: God provides. All 150 children receive school supplies, minor medical care, and two hot meals a day. Things are changing in Uganda.
Redefining the Idea of Family
In the meantime, things are also changing for Katie. She shares love with children daily, feeding them beans and rice, giving them showers, removing jiggers from their feet, picking lice from their hair, taking them to the hospital for medicine, and teaching them about Jesus. Then one day, tragedy strikes three young girls in her circle of students. Their parents are dead, and they’ve been living in a hut by themselves, the eldest caring for the other two. One of the hut walls collapses on the oldest child, and at the hospital, Katie hears the doctors and police discussing not treating the girl because she has neither guardian nor money to pay. Katie intercedes. Before the day is done, custody papers for all three girls are in her hands. (Note to reader: Remember this is Uganda. Things like adoption and guardianship are far different there than they are in the States.) She has gone from being Auntie Katie to Mommy.
It starts with three daughters, and the number increases. Katie’s family needs more room, and God provides a house. At a time when many college students are learning to live on their own, so is Katie – only she’s doing it with eight children in tow. And still more come. Every day. Children from the villages, covered in red dirt and some many other things, stop at her house on the way to and from school for showers, for food, for a tickle fight, and for a hug. Months pass, and her family grows larger (14 daughters altogether). Still others come, for a night or a week or a month, children with scabies, a pregnant runaway, a desperate grandmother who can’t care for her grandchild. Under Katie’s roof, the hurting, hungry, sick, lonely, and needy find shelter. “It’s a house of many cultures, many languages, and many colors,” says Katie. “It’s a house of laughter, and tears, and sometimes frustration, but mostly elation. It’s a house of praise and worship and thanks. It’s a house that’s usually teeming with children, laughing and dancing and singing and just being kids, something many of them have never had a real opportunity to do. It’s always a loud house, and it’s always a grateful house. It’s my house. But mostly it’s God’s house.”
The Decision to Be a Disciple
“People ask me quite often why in the world THIS is what I have decided to do with my life,” says Katie. Her answer: “Because this is what makes my heart sing. Yes, it really is complete selfishness; this is where I am happiest. Because I believe that today is all I am promised. Because I believe that Jesus is coming back, and this is what I want to be doing when Jesus comes.” Some don’t understand the call. Some call her crazy. Some can’t fathom wasting time and energy in such difficult circumstances, much less rejoicing in or choosing that life. But a typical day for Katie is bursting with opportunities to love, in all its various forms: visiting a 90-year-old blind woman; feeding a tribe of outcasts; turning the back of a van into a makeshift clinic; sorting rocks from beans; catching a chicken for dinner; cleaning out a hut that’s filled with feces, filth, and grime so that the children who live there will have a place to sleep that isn’t disease-ridden; holding a severely malnourished girl and whispering in her ear that Jesus loves her; and dancing with the girls around the yard, singing and shouting praises. “People tell me I’m brave. People tell me I’m strong. People tell me good job,” says Katie. “Well here’s the truth of it: I’m really not that brave, I’m not really that strong, and I’m not doing anything spectacular. I’m just doing what God called me to do as a follower of Him. Feed His sheep, do unto the least of His people” (see Matthew 25:31-40).
So as a college student or simply as a fellow Christ follower, what can you do to help? Answers Katie, “Every circumstance is an opportunity for God’s work to be displayed. How will you change your world today? Love. Not just in Africa, but wherever you are. Love. Love the way God loved you. Look to Jesus; watch His life. ‘Now, go and do likewise.'”
Check out this great webcast interview with Katie Davis and Jason Hayes:
“Connecting with Threads” Webcast with Katie Davis
Ande Fanning is freelance writer/editor from Birmingham, Ala. While working on this article, she substituted the name of her niece, Kyndall, for Sumini, a little girl Katie tells about who was once considered cursed and therefore abused and seen as unworthy of love. The writer stopped reading and wept. She’s praying that God won’t let her forget that each child, whether in Uganda or down the street, is His Kyndall.