Recently, I had the privilege to visit Uganda, Africa. I was there with a group of pastors for some speaking, and to visit the homes of several ministries that our church supports through Hear the Cry in partnership with Bob Goff. The country is beautiful, the culture wonderfully contagious, and the people full of life. I was struck by their hospitality, faith and perseverance in difficult times…but especially (and ironically) their joy. This was surprising, because virtually everything in their physical environment screamed the opposite of joy. The level of poverty we witnessed was profound. Their history of war and bloodshed all too recent. We heard stories of loss, tragedy and heartache. I’ll never forget sitting in the Bokuto home (a ministry for women rescued from sexual violence), listening to an 11-year-old girl share her story. So emotional. So devastating. Words fail…And this was just one story among many that I experienced during our time.
And yet…emerging from the midst of these stories was a common and incessant theme: joy. It couldn’t be suppressed. It refused to yield to the pain within them. It rose up in defiance, like a flower that inexplicably finds its way through hardened soil. It doesn’t belong there, it shouldn’t be there…but it is there. And its presence changes everything.
David, who also suffered in terrible ways, once wrote that the ‘joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Psalm 16v11). Notice, he didn’t say my joy is my strength. It wasn’t his. It was something else. Something other. Something beyond and standing in defiance of his story. It was God’s joy. It was his presence in difficult times. This was a reality that no experience could alter. In fact, it only made it stronger.
We saw all of this in Uganda, and to be honest, I’m still processing what it means for my own life.
But for now, I’m convinced that joy is never a product of circumstance…but the beauty of the heart.
I’m learning that joy is a choice…but it’s more than a choice. It’s a posture. It’s a reflection of where we look for meaning, hope and justice.
And, finally, joy is real. You can fabricate happiness, but it quickly dissipates when times are tough.
Joy, however, is relentless.
Here is a video about the Bokuto home in Uganda: