The riveting account of a courageous eighteen-year-old from Nashville who gave up every comfort and convenience to become the adoptive mother to thirteen girls in Uganda.
What would cause an eighteen-year-old old senior class president and homecoming queen from Nashville, Tennessee, to disappoint her parents by forgoing college, break her little brother’s heart, lose all but a handful of her friends (because the rest of them think she has gone off the deep end), and break up with the love of her life, all so she could move to Uganda, where she knew only one person but didn’t know any of the language? A passion to make a difference. Katie Davis left over Christmas break her senior year for a short mission trip to Uganda and her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people and children of Uganda that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. She has given up a relatively comfortable life—at a young age—to care for the less fortunate of this world. She was so moved by the need she witnessed, she’s centered her life around meeting that need. Katie, a charismatic and articulate young woman, is in the process of adopting thirteen children in Uganda, and she completely trusts God for daily provision for her and her family.
Despite the rough conditions in which Katie lives, she has found a life of service to God to be one of great joy. Katie’s children bring constant delight and help her help others by welcoming whoever comes to their door. As the challenges grow, so does Katie’s faith and her certainty that what she’s doing in Uganda, one person at a time, will have far-reaching rewards. It isn’t the life she planned, but it is the life she loves.
To further her reach into the needs of Ugandans, Katie established Amazima Ministries. The ministry matches orphaned children with sponors worldwide. Each sponsor’s $300/year provides schooling, school supplies, three hot meals a day, minor medical care, and spiritual encouragement. Katie expected to have forty children in the program; she had signed up 150 by January 2008; today it sponsors over 400. Another aspect of the ministry is a feeding program created for the displaced Karamojong people—Uganda’s poorest citizens. The program feeds lunch to over 1,200 children Monday-Friday and sends them home with a plate of food; it also offers basic medical care, Bible study, and general health training.
Katie Davis is more than fascinating, she’s inspiring, as she has wholeheartedly answered the call to serve.
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About the Author
Katie Davis moved to Uganda over a decade ago with no idea that this would be the place that God chose to build her home and her family. Today, she is wife to Benji and mom to her fourteen favorite people. Katie and her family invest their lives in empowering the people of Uganda with education, medical care, and spiritual discipleship. She is also the founder of Amazima Ministries, an organization that cares for vulnerable children and families in Uganda. She is the author of New York Times bestsellers Kisses from Katie and Daring to Hope.
Beth Clark is a writer and publishing consultant and runs a business called Thinkspot Communications in Franklin, Tennessee.
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People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they’re satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.
People who want to make a difference get frustrated along the way. But if they have a particularly stressful day, they don’t quit. They keep going. Given their accomplishments, most of them are shockingly normal and the way they spend each day can be quite mundane. They don’t teach grand lessons that suddenly enlighten entire communities; they teach small lessons that can bring incremental improvement to one man or woman, boy or girl. They don’t do anything to call attention to themselves, they simply pay attention to the everyday needs of others, even if it’s only one person. They bring change in ways most people will never read about or applaud. And because of the way these world-changers are wired, they wouldn’t think of living their lives any other way.
This realization came to me on my first day in a small village near Katie’s home in Jinja, Uganda. My driver took me from Entebbe airport to the village because that’s where Katie happened to be when we arrived. The place is called Masese (pronounced Ma-SESS-ay). It is a place of intense poverty; it’s filthy and it smells like raw sewage rotting in the hot sun, often made worse by the distinct odor of homemade moonshine. To drive through Masese is to witness one gut-wrenching scene after another, and Katie absolutely loves it because she loves the people who live there.
Masese is located at the foot of a hill. On top of that hill is a school where the ministry Katie directs supplies food to the school students and, by special arrangement with the school officials, to the children of the village too, even if they are not enrolled in the school. The school was my first stop in Uganda and I could easily tell the schoolchildren apart from the village children. Certainly, the students’ uniforms distinguished them, but so did their cleanliness, their shoes, and the fact that their noses weren’t running and their mouths weren’t bleeding.
Many of the village children appeared to be sick, but one little girl, who looked to be two or three years old, stood out more than the rest. Her tiny body seemed barely able to carry her enormous belly, and her dirty skin was dotted with unidentifiable bumps that each resembled a wart, a blister, and the kind of sore that appears with chicken pox, all in one lesion. A wound that was part scab, part raw and oozing covered about half of her little mouth. I watched Katie walk over to this fragile child, pick her up gently, assess her needs almost instantly, and begin asking other children questions about her.
“Who is this child?”
“What is her name?”
“Where is her home?”
“Where is her mother?”
At first, no one seemed to know the answers, but word must have spread that “Auntie Kate” wanted to know about this child, because soon the little girl’s aunt approached Katie to say that her name was Napongo, her mother had gone to Kampala and had been away for months. Her father had gone somewhere else (gone is a word far too often associated with fathers in Uganda). The aunt, who must have been twelve or thirteen years old, was responsible for the little girl.
Within a few minutes, I was being jolted along the uneven road from the Masese school in Katie’s sixteen-passenger van with the fragile little girl, her aunt, and four of Katie’s fourteen children. We were headed to the home of Katie’s friend Renee to give Napongo a bath because Renee’s was the closest place Katie knew that had clean running water.
I watched in awe, and a bit of disgust, as the little girl stood motionless in the tub as Katie ran water from a portable showerhead and sprinkled it on her wrists. I silently wondered why she didn’t move a little faster with the bathing process and then it dawned on me: Perhaps the little girl had never been in a bathtub. Having her entire body sprayed with the showerhead could have terrified her. Katie was dripping water on her own wrists, and then on the little girl’s, to help her feel safe and at ease.
Napongo barely moved as Katie tenderly ran a bar of soap over her. The clean, clear water that came out of the showerhead became dark red as it rolled off her into the drain. And then, in a move that surprised Katie and me, the aunt walked into the bathroom, took the soap from Katie, and began to scrub the little girl. I was afraid the child would burst into tears, but still she stood without squirming or squealing or raising any of the objections toddlers typically raise.
Katie and I watched quietly, both of our minds filled with the same question: “How can it be that this aunt, who isn’t clean herself and lives in squalor in a dirty village, knows the importance and urgency of cleanliness for this child?” She was washing the little girl with determination and concentration, as though she understood that this activity was vital to the child’s well-being. More than likely, this auntie had really wanted Napongo to be clean and well all along, but simply didn’t have the means to help her.
When the child had been bathed to her aunt’s satisfaction, Katie wrapped her in a towel and carried her to a nearby bed. She knelt in front of her and began to remove jiggers from her feet. Jigger was not a word I’d heard before. In Uganda, jiggers are everywhere and they cause much trouble. They are small insects that burrow painlessly into a person’s skin and create a tiny egg sac, leaving a little bump that appears as inflammation. While having jiggers doesn’t hurt until they have practically infested an area of the body, having them removed can be excruciating. But the child didn’t wince, scream, or jerk in any way as Katie removed the jiggers and cut away dead skin around them. She simply sat silently as a few tiny tears made their way slowly down her face.
I backed into a corner, thinking that if I fainted, I wouldn’t fall backward; I would simply slide down the wall. I told myself it was fatigue from jet lag, and it was—partly. And partly it was a mixture of disgust, sadness, and shock over the child’s willingness to so quietly endure this painful procedure.
Under normal circumstances, I might have been tempted to think the little girl was too sick to recover. But because I knew she was in Katie’s care, I had every reason to believe she’d be just fine.
I knew the stories. I’d read all of Katie’s blog, her chronicle of her life and work in Uganda, starting in 2007. I knew that if anyone could give a little girl the love and attention she needed, it would be Katie. I was aware that Katie would not only tend to the child for part of an afternoon but for days or months to come if necessary.
Not unexpectedly, about ten days later, Katie saw Napongo in Masese. She was not improving as Katie had hoped. Certainly, she looked better than she had when I first saw her. The wounded place on her mouth had healed completely, probably because her young aunt applied the antibiotic ointment Katie gave her, as instructed. But the child’s belly was still enormous and tight. The sores all over her body remained. Ugandans recognized the disease and had a name for it, but no one anywhere could translate that name into English.
So, for the remainder of my stay in Uganda, Napongo lived at Katie’s house with the rest of us. She received nourishing meals and vitamins, plus the affection and care of fourteen sisters. On her first Sunday there this child, who literally wore dirty tatters and went barefoot every day because she had no other option, had a brand-new sundress and a pair of shoes to wear when she went to church for the very first time.
One of the moments with Napongo etched most deeply in my mind took place when Katie took her to be tested for HIV. Katie and I, with all fourteen girls and Napongo, piled into the van and went to Renee’s house because Renee had HIV-testing supplies. Napongo sat on the kitchen counter. I once again stood in close proximity to the wall—just in case. This child who had so stoically endured the painful removal of her jiggers began to shriek as the needle pierced her veins. The sound was like a vise grip on my heart as I watched drops of her young blood fall on the paper testing strip. Katie, Renee, and I, along with a couple of other friends, waited nervously, fully aware of what the test results would mean to Napongo’s life and future.
And then, after a weighty sigh, Renee announced with a whisper, “She’s positive.”
The kitchen was silent.
Today, Napongo’s mother has returned from Kampala and has learned to love and care for her in a whole new way. With Katie’s help, Napongo is receiving regular HIV treatments, infusing new life into the body that was wasting away only a few months ago. She attends preschool, and she runs and laughs and dances and giggles—as four-year-old girls are supposed to do. Katie and her family visit Napongo often, amazed and overjoyed by the way her life has turned around.
Napongo’s story is only one. Many others in Katie’s community can tell of times when she took notice of their situations and stopped to provide as much help and compassion as humanly possible. During my short stay in Uganda, I witnessed a steady stream of people who dropped by Katie’s house or stopped her on the street for various reasons. One woman, a neighbor, came at night. She had a fever and wasn’t feeling well. Katie quickly put on a pair of latex gloves and pricked her finger to test for malaria. Over the next few days, someone dropped by to ask Katie for a letter of reference to help him obtain a visa to the United States. Someone came to speak to her about his schooling. A neighbor stopped by to share her struggles with her health and finances. As Katie cared for each one and did what she could do to assist or encourage, I realized that there are no statistics in Katie’s world. There are only people, and every life matters.
You’ll see that over and over again throughout these pages. It’s not only the way Katie lives, it’s also the way you can live if you choose to do so. Human suffering and need are everywhere. Katie is not a superhero; she’s really just an ordinary woman who wanted more than anything to obey God and say yes to whatever He asked of her. It just so happened that a great adventure awaited her when she did, and she now finds herself in the midst of a remarkable story that is unfolding in jubilant ways, in heartbreaking ways, and in courageous ways every day.
God has been writing a story in Uganda for a long time. He’s used lots of people to accomplish what He has wanted to do there over the years. Some of them have given their lives for His purposes in this country, and though we don’t know them, we honor them. Others are giving their lives to participate in all God is doing in this land today, as we write this book. They are both Ugandan natives and citizens of countries far away; they are Katie’s friends and colleagues; they are ordinary people who love an extraordinary God; they are part of Katie’s story and part of God’s ongoing story here.
If you are ordinary but hungry to obey God, may you find inspiration and encouragement in these pages. May you find the strength to say yes and be launched into your very own amazing story.
© 2011 Katie Davis
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Kisses from Katie includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Katie J. Davis. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Katie Davis had everything going for her: a loving and supportive family in Brentwood, Tennessee; a cute convertible and an even cuter boyfriend; and a bright future in college and beyond. But she felt a pull to break free from her set course, to find her place in God’s bigger plan. A quick internet search for volunteer spots in orphanages led Katie to Uganda, where her passion for spreading God’s love through helping the needy and caring for the sick was further ignited. Though Katie insists that her journey was never easy, it was—and still is—powered by a remarkably simple goal: Love her neighbors. Every one of them. In any way they need it.
Now, several years later, Katie is the proud mother of thirteen Ugandan girls, the director of a ministry sponsoring hundreds of children, and a tireless advocate working to bring food, education, medical care, and God’s love to her adopted country every day. Bold, bright, and resolute, Katie embodies the truth that one person’s unwavering commitment to Jesus and love truly can change the world.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the book first in a literary light. Did you feel anything was missing from the narrative? What parts of Katie’s story do you wish were fleshed out further?
2. What purpose did Katie’s journal entries serve within the overarching narrative? Did you like them? How did they stand out from the rest of the book?
3. Have you ever traveled to an area plagued with extreme poverty? What brought you there? How did you feel after witnessing such a radically different way of life than our generally comfortable American existence?
4. Katie says that the one word that most fully described her first weeks and months in Uganda is “contradiction” (p. 19). Why?
5. Reflect on the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In what ways did Katie begin to give Ugandans fish, metaphorically speaking, and in what ways did she teach them to fish for themselves.
6. Discuss the significance of the word “Mommy” for Katie and for her village. How did hearing that word change Katie’s life?
7. What did Katie realize on her trips back home to Tennessee and during her semester in college?
8. Why do you think the section where Katie tells the story of her relationship with her boyfriend (starting on p. 227) is written in the third person?
9. Discuss the times Katie struggled with her faith and with her life path. What did she wrestle with? How did she resolve her inner conflicts?
10. Do you think it’s possible to be as inspired to help the world through secular or humanist beliefs as Katie is through Christianity?
11. How much, if any, self-care does Katie practice in between tending to the needs of so many other people? How important is self-care to you? Do you think self-care is a crucial aspect of a healthy life?
12. Katie writes, “I have learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person” (p. xix). Discuss how Katie comes to terms with being unable to help every person, every time. How does she find satisfaction in her work anyway?
13. Katie writes, “My heart found its joy as I served the beautiful people the world calls ‘poor’ but who seemed so rich in love to me” (p. 4). How do Katie’s definitions of wealth and poverty evolve throughout the book? How did yours? What are you rich in, and what are you lacking?
14. While visiting Tennessee, Katie felt overwhelmed with “modern” life and kept thinking of all the children dying of starvation and preventable, treatable diseases in Uganda. She wonders, “Why, with all the wealth, technology, and resources that exist in the western world, have we not solved these problems?” (p. 87) Why do you think?
15. Katie often reflected on the disconnect between words and deeds among many Christians in America: “I wondered…why so many Christians didn’t seem to be doing what God so obviously wants us to do where the needy are concerned” (p. 33). Do you agree that there’s a disconnect? Why does it exist, and what can be done to bridge it?
16. Do you think Katie could have immersed herself as deeply in Christ’s love in America as she has been able to in Uganda?
17. Katie writes that “even in the frustrating moments I was filled with an inexplicable happiness and peace, my daily proof that I was living my purpose” (p. 10). What is Katie’s purpose? What is yours?
18. At the end of the book, Katie writes, “I can’t see the end of the road, but here is the great part: Courage is not about knowing the path. It is about taking the first step” (p. 247). How did Katie’s story inspire you? What will your first step be?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit Katie’s blog at www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com and explore her most recent posts, as well as her archived entries from when her life in Uganda was just beginning. What is it like to read the more detailed blog posts about her daily life, after having experienced the overarching narrative of her journey in Kisses from Katie?
2. Learn a bit more about Katie’s adopted home country of Uganda. Have each member in your book club pick a topic to research and bring your findings to share at your discussion. Topics to consider include religion, culture and language, politics, economic growth, geography and natural features, women and poverty, human rights, education and literacy, and HIV/AIDS.
3. Katie writes, “In so many places [in America], we sit in church and talk about compassion, unimaginable love, revival. And then an hour later, we are still sitting there talking about it. But revival is happening. Now” (p. 143). Take inspiration from Katie’s story, stand up, and start practicing these values today. First, define what compassion, love, and revival mean to your book club. Second, make a plan for how you can collectively practice these values in a tangible way (volunteering, donating money or goods, spreading prayer, etc). Third, go do it!
A Conversation with Katie Davis
What aspects of your upbringing in Brentwood, Tennessee, prepared you for your most unconventional life in Uganda?
My father taught me that people want to be heard and understood, and he encouraged me to be genuinely kind and respectful to everyone who crossed my path. My mother taught me to be grounded in what I believe and to cling to that faith no matter what. They both were incredible examples of our Heavenly Father’s self-sacrificial love, and I am truly blessed to call them my parents. I spent a fair amount of time in high school volunteering at domestic violence shelters and halfway houses in Nashville. I cherished my time with the people there and carried many of the lessons God taught me during that time with me to Uganda.
You’re the founder of a thriving international nonprofit, an author, a single mother of thirteen young girls, and a care provider to more than four hundred needy children. When do you sleep? Seriously, how do you balance your professional obligations with the demands of a large family?
Well, I don’t sleep much. Truly, God has blessed me incredibly with so many people who help me carry out this calling. I do not do it alone. I have an incredible staff here in Uganda, a great board and staff in the States, and many volunteers. I have wonderfully supportive friends and family, both here in Uganda and in the United States, and an absolutely unbelievable Savior whose power is made perfect in my weakness! As a rule, though, I fill up on Jesus first, serve my children and run our household second, and then meet all the other needs that are thrown my way. My children are awesome ministry partners and love to serve alongside me. In my life, there is no separation between job, ministry, or home life—everyone is family and everything is done for Jesus, all the time. Each morning as we wake up, our goal is simply to be available: to one another, to the sick who come needing medicine, to the homeless man on the sidewalk, to the short-term missionary seeking community in a new place . . . just available to share the love of Jesus with whoever God puts in front of us. I am so thankful for the opportunity to teach my children this.
How often do your parents and your brother journey to see you in Uganda? To what extent have they embraced your life’s work and your young family as their own?
I am so incredibly blessed by my family. They are hugely supportive and encouraging. Mom gets to spend the most time here, sometimes several months at a time, but Dad and Brad visit as often as they can (about once a year). When they can’t be here they call often and text nearly every day, just to let me know I am loved, supported, and prayed for. They adore the girls and it is mutual. One of our favorite things to do on a Saturday night is Skype with Jja Ja and Papa (this is what they call my parents)!
Your story is truly inspirational. Whom do you personally look to for inspiration and why?
Jesus Christ the Risen Lord and Savior. I try and I try to live selflessly and to love others as God loves them, and I still fall short. I would absolutely not give myself to such torture as a cross for this crazy, broken world, and I am so thankful to serve a King who did. He made Himself low, touching the sick and washing feet. I strive and I beg to be a little more like Him with each breath.
As a single woman in Uganda, why are you forbidden from adopting a little boy?
Forbidden is a little strong. The law of Uganda states that unmarried men and women must adopt children of the same sex; however, one can get away with adopting the opposite sex if the judge deems it in the best interest of the child. I have known a few single women to successfully adopt boys. Quite honestly, though, God has never brought me a little boy who I felt strongly was to be a part of our family.
You believe poverty and hunger could be eliminated if faithful people gave more of their surplus to those in need. Why do you think these problems are still so entrenched worldwide?
I also believe that God is sovereign. That just as He has intended, so it has happened, and just as He has planned, so it will stand (see Isaiah 14:24). While I think Christians are called to be doing more about the world’s hurt than many of us are doing, I also fully believe that God sees all who are hurting and suffering and knows what is right and best far better than I do, and He will use all of this mess for His good anyway. In the book and in my blog when I talk about people giving more I am speaking mostly to people who look at the poverty and hurt in this world and ask, “Where is God?” God is right here living inside the hearts of all who believe. So maybe the question is, “Where are we?”
You describe the adoption of your daughter Grace as a moment when you had to rely even more completely on God. Can you talk a bit about this experience and your journey as a parent and believer?
So much has happened since then that I hardly remember that time in my life as being difficult. In the last nine months, I have had a child I intended to adopt return to her biological mother; I have fostered newborn babies whom I fell in love with and then gave to another mom; I have had at least twelve different homeless people or families live in my house and two of them die of terminal illness. I have held mothers’ children in my lap as they breathed their last, and I have had to walk thirteen precious little souls through all this pain. Yesterday I looked deep into a mother’s eyes and told her that I remember what it feels like to go home without your baby. That I know what it feels like to wake up each morning and not want to be this woman. That we can only hurt this deep because we loved, were loved, and that love is how we keep living sometimes. Life just gets harder, but there is purpose in the hard. That is how God’s grace works, I think. I believe I am at my wit’s end, that this must be the hardest moment of my life, and He carries me. Then I reach the harder moments, laugh at myself for once thinking I had done the hardest moment of my life already, and remember how He carried me. He always carries us. The hard places, the desert places, they mold us and they teach us who we really are—broken and completely dependent on God’s grace to give us one more day.
How do you combat the inevitable spiritual droughts in your life? How do you sustain your personal relationship with God?
I believe that the Holy Spirit lives in me and with me, and I talk to Him throughout each and every day. I murmur my thanks and my frustrations and my joys and my sorrows to God, who is alive and with me always. There are always hard moments and then moments that are harder still, but there are no droughts when we drink from a well that never runs dry.
What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Most days, I am kind of a mess. People who read my blog assume that because I am able to express my heart well, I have it all together. This is not true. The laundry piles, and I go to bed with dirty dishes still in the sink. My tongue hurls unkind words at my children before I have even thought about what I am saying. I can’t even find my keys some days. We do not have it together around here. But my prayer is that as we invite people into our home and into our mess they feel free to be real—to express their weakness and their filth and know that they belong because we too are broken and in need of a Savior’s grace. I pray that in our brokenness we would shine Jesus to everyone who comes into our home and be an example of His redemptive love.
I also love to cook. The more people around my table, the better. Some days, it is just me and my thirteen daughters who circle our huge table, but more often than not there are at least five or six extra—a homeless person in need of a warm meal, a family who has taken refuge in our guest room, a lonely grandmother in need of a family, or maybe a friend of one or two of my girls. This kind of hospitality was not always easy for me (nor was learning to cook for twenty or thirty people at a time). This lifestyle of sharing and inviting others in—to sit at my table, to rest on my couch, to shower in our bathrooms, and to sleep in our beds—goes against everything our culture teaches about valuing personal space and privacy. I used to find it inconvenient, disruptive, even uncomfortable. But God continued to stretch me more and more and to teach me that this interruptible, public lifestyle is the way He desires me to live and to love. So we welcome all to our table. And I smile while I chop pounds and pounds of vegetables, praying that as people are filled physically at my table they will be filled spiritually in our home.
How has your blog, www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com, opened your life up to the world? What has it enabled you to share?
I never meant for my life to be so public. My blog was originally for only a handful of close friends and family and I truly expected it to stay that way. Sometimes if I think about it too hard it can be a little scary how much people know about my life and my family, how many people can see my heart and my weakness just laid bare on the Internet. I believe in hard honesty, though, and my hope is that even one person will see the Savior through my life or be encouraged in his or her walk through my words. The notes and comments I get from readers bless my heart and encourage me. I am so thankful for the Body of Christ.
You have written that we are called by God to “love with abandon.” How has that path changed you as a person?
There is truly no greater gift than to give yourself away. The more we give the more He fills, and this is fullness of joy. I give and I trust Him, and as I trust, I overflow with joy and peace (see Romans 15:13). We pour out and He fills us, time and again.
Few people would change their lives as you have. What would you like readers of Kisses from Katie to take away from your book and your experience?
I would like them to know that God uses us in our brokenness. We simply have to be willing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my life would look like this—I am a normal, flawed, selfish, ungraceful human being. Why would He use me? Because He created me in His image and delights in me and can pour His wholeness and perfectness and extravagant grace into any open hand or heart that is surrendered to Him. If He can use me, He can use anyone.