Eight is Enough – How about 21?Rich Stigall
by Marsha Campbell
Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, a popular TV sitcom, Eight is Enough, shared the saga of a family with eight independent children growing up amidst all their ensuing drama. Today, reality TV showcases “Jon & Kate Plus 8” and The Duggar’s “19 Kids and Counting.” Through the decades, we are both intrigued and entertained by the dynamics of larger than life families. They are outside our American social norm and therefore pique our interest.
Fast forward to a different reality—8,625 miles away. Northern Uganda. In Lira, we experienced the African norm. After a long day of travel, we were warmly greeted and invited into the Bishop’s home (right). Our team bent down to cross the threshold doorway into the “family room” where they entertained guests. The native circular mud hut with thatched roof held chairs for all around a large table. We were made most welcome with a sumptuous spread of African tea and all the accoutrements. As we sipped our African tea and enjoyed the food so lovingly prepared, we shared introductions. Inquiring of the Bishop’s family, he asked if we would like to meet some of his children. That is when we learned what a true African family is like.
Bishop Charles and his wife Miriam have 21 children. Yes, you read that correctly. A loving, growing family of 23! Graciously, they came four or five at a time to meet us in the cozy space. They were beautiful and one by one, Bishop Charles introduced each and shared something beautiful and significant about each one. We were amazed to learn that it is fairly typical for African families to be so large…you see, family is a priority and every child is loved and wanted. Upon further discussion, we learned that eight were their biological children and the remaining 13 children were his brother’s or sister’s who had died. Accidents, illnesses and AIDS had “orphaned” them. Yet, they were never alone. They were “adopted” into the nearest family in their clan. They know no distinction from their brothers and sisters—they only know that this is their family. You see, in Africa, clan is strong, extensive, embracing and enveloping. Family does not have the boundaries and distinctions that we in America know. While we are a culture of individualism, they are a culture of community. Cousins call themselves sisters and brothers; Aunts and Uncles are known as their extended Fathers and Mothers. The family exists to support and nurture the fullness of their clan and tribe. There is no question…they are Family.
We were humbled by the commitment and care for each other that we saw and wondered silently, would we open our hearts and homes to all those children?
These children were fortunate to be enfolded into this loving family. However, as well intended as African families are, there are some that are struggling to provide for all the children they have absorbed and sometimes, simply cannot care for more than their eight, let alone 21.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of children…an orphan pandemic. The extended families/guardians often need help to relieve the pressure to provide and care for these children beyond their own. This is exactly what GO Project strives to do. We seek to come along side the local parish community to both care for her children and keep them connected to their culture and extended village clan.
Open hearts, open hands and open homes — we have so much to learn about what it can mean to be in the family of God.