What started as a one-year trip to Uganda eventually led Katie Davis to single motherhood, taking 13 foster daughters into her home. The 22-year-old has begun the adoption process, but official approval might not come for a few years since Ugandan law requires adoptive parents to be at least 25 years old. Davis is the founder of Amazima Ministries, an organization based in Jinja that sponsors Ugandan school children, provides vocational opportunities for poor Ugandans, and distributes food and health care services to the families of more than 1,600 children in Masese, a nearby slum.
Davis recently completed a tour in the U.S. for her new book, Kisses From Katie (Howard Books), in which she writes about her life and journey in Uganda. Morgan Feddes, editorial resident at Christianity Today, spoke with her about the book, her ministry in Uganda, and her growing family.
What are you hoping will come out of this book?
The goal of the book was for other people to be encouraged that, in small steps of obedience to God, he can create something more extraordinary than you could have imagined. When people come into my story from this side of things, they might say, "Oh, this young girl has this organization and all these children—either she's totally crazy or she's gotta be incredible." I'm neither, but the story started with one open door of going to this third-world country. I said yes, and then God placed needs in front of me, and I tried to meet them in the best way I could.
What has Amazima been doing in Uganda?
Amazima started originally as a sponsorship program. I saw so many children who were unable to come to school and parents were trying to drop them off at the orphanage—not because they were orphans, but because they would get to eat three times a day. I thought, We have to be able to keep these children in their biological families and still get their basic needs met. That grew from about 10 children initially to 450 children today.
Now we do a feeding and nutrition program in this other slum community [Masese]. Because we have put food back in the school, the children are able to come to class. With the help of several merchants, we also do some free medical care in that community. We also do some vocational training. We have a group of women who make necklaces and bracelets, and we sell them here in the United States. Any extra [profit] goes back into the feeding program that's done in that same community.
We built a playground last year, which I wanted to be more sustainable than a building. Instead of having several teams come over and build it, we found eight 15- to 18-year-old boys who would have qualified for sponsorship but didn't want to go back to school. After two or three months of training, we hired the boys to build the playground, and now they have built other projects. Several of them have gone on to get other carpentry jobs in the community or have used the money they made to go into some kind of vocational training program.
There was quite a bit of attention drawn to issues surrounding adoption after the Haitian earthquake, where children who were not orphans were being sent to the U.S. Have you seen any issues similar to that in your attempts to adopt in Uganda?
The process is a little different for me because I live in the country and I don't intend to emigrate with my children. I can do the three years of foster care, and then I'll finalize the adoption, but only with the intention of being completely under the law and not with the intention of applying for any kind of immigrant visa. But because I live there, we can be flexible, and if we can't receive a court date immediately, that's okay. We wait until we can.
It's hard for people who are trying to adopt and want to get back to the States quickly, because the process takes longer. I don't know if it's directly related to what's going on in Haiti or if it's because Uganda is becoming a more popular country to adopt from, but the Ugandan law has tried to put some practices in place to try and protect its children.
How would you respond to concerns about your young age, motives, or the fact that you are a single mother?
The choice is to invite a child into your home or let them stay outside in the street. I don't think you'll find it in the Bible that you need to leave them starving in the street, so they come into my home. Before I adopted each of my children, I spent a lot of time in prayer before God and felt him confirm with a decision to bring them into my home. We have had foster children whom I thought I was going to adopt and God opened other doors for them to go back to their biological family, so I didn't. We have had children who I didn't really think I was going to adopt, and God continued to open no other doors other than them staying at my house. Through prayer and through different signs and affirmations, God has confirmed each one of my children is to live in my home.
Do you believe single parenthood is something that should be considered more strongly in the right circumstances, or is the ideal still a father-mother family?
In a perfect world, every child has a mother and a father, but in a perfect world, adoption wouldn't exist. Adoption is great and beautiful—I'm obviously in support of it—but it only comes after a place of huge tragedy in a child's life. People are quick to say it would be better for them to have a mother and a father. Yeah, and it would be better if the first mother and father hadn't died or abandoned them. So then there's this huge tragedy of hundreds of millions of orphans in the world who don't have anywhere to go.
The question is, is one parent better than no parent? Yes. I'm in a unique position because these children who have no one to raise them are literally at my doorstep sometimes. But adoption is the best response to an un-ideal situation. If a person is single and considering adoption, of course it looks different for each person, and we have to pray and seek God and wait for confirmation. But if the Bible says we should love our neighbor as ourselves and we should care for the orphan and the widow, then we need to do that the best way we can, and sometimes it looks like adoption, even as a single parent.
Do you see examples of people following in your footsteps?
I only ever really know about a reaction happening if someone happens to e-mail me or tell me about it. But I have seen a really neat transformation in a lot of my Ugandan neighbors and in my Ugandan staff. Several of my staff members have now taken in children from the community who aren't biologically theirs but didn't have anywhere else to go. It's not a job to them anymore—it's a lifestyle and a ministry, and so it's been neat to see transformation in the people around me and in their thinking.
How would you advise people who want to follow in your footsteps?
I think prayer is key. I would encourage people to follow and obey, and try to serve others one step at a time, whoever is in front of them. If there is an open door to go to a foreign country and it is something you want to explore, walk through the open door. Once you get there, God will open other doors and bring needs to you. And as you meet the needs right in front of you, he can build something different than we ever would have thought or planned.
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Kisses From Katie is available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Previous articles on adoption include:
The Adoption Crusade | What a misleading article in the The Nation can teach evangelicals. (April 27, 2011)
Strong on Zeal, Thin in Knowledge | Lessons from Haiti's arrest of American Christians trying to take children out of the country. By Jedd Medefind (Feb. 2, 2010)
Abba Changes Everything | Why every Christian is called to rescue orphans. (July 2, 2010)