‘dupiyenit means servant in Kuku, one of more than 50 tribal languages spoken in northern Uganda. James was many things to many people — husband, father, brother, son, mentor, leader, inspirer, friend, but above all he was a servant. My opinion on this doesn’t really matter, but if I had to bet on why he was such a man of impact in all of those realms, I would undoubtedly say because he sought to serve first and foremost. His life mission was to serve.
James Moses Lomude
March 23, 1981 – January 18, 2021
Today, is Saturday, February 6, 2021 — one week since I returned home from Uganda. A last minute trip planned in about 6 hours somewhere along I-40, after receiving the news of James’ unexpected death. To paint the picture, I was in North Carolina with my parents, sitting at the kitchen table reading a book called “sacred rhythms” (a practice we do with Seed Effect) when I received a call from my boss, Missy. It was about 10:00 pm. Good calls rarely come that late. There are a lot of lovely adjectives that describe the attributes most evident in Missy, but amidst the top is steady strength. Her voice was shaky as she got out the news. I knew. James died. Of a heart attack. I bawled as she spoke and then was able to manage words. I’m not really sure what else was said.
Around noon the next day, Missy called again and said, “I’m going to Uganda as soon as possible, and I want you to come with me.” I packed up and hit I-40, we planned a trip to Africa, I stopped in Chattanooga to spend an hour with Denny, our stewardship advisor, somehow got PCR COVID tests (fun new logistics to add to international travel), packed (praise for the familiarity of doing this trip a time or two and knowing exactly what I needed), got pulled over for the first time in my life en route to the airport (I got a warning), met Missy in Detroit and we were on a plane to Uganda by 6:50pm.
I know to some that might sound totally irrational and unwise given the current climate we are in and I hear that and honestly get it — part of it felt irrational and unwise. And to everyone, I’m sure this sounds overwhelmingly chaotic and stressful, especially when you add grief on top of planning a trip that typically takes a month (at best) to plan. It was.
So why? Why did we go? Family. Simple. James was family. Seed Effect is family — regardless of whether you are talking about the four of us at Seed Effect USA or the 56 full time staff at Seed Effect Uganda. Missy and I got on a plane to Uganda the same way you would if it was your brother, because that’s exactly who it was. And not only was he a brother and colleague to us, but as aforementioned he was also every good thing to his family, his staff, his church, his community, strangers. We got on a plane to be with our people. To sit in the space with them and their grief, which meant ours needed to be largely compartmentalized, because this trip wasn’t about us and our grief it was about them and theirs. It was about showing up and saying we are with you, you are not alone, we love you. It was about honoring the life of a man that was other worldly.
We were told time and again what an encouragement it was that we were there, especially given how difficult it is to travel anywhere at this point in time. And as hard as it was, the encouragement I received from them feels far greater than anything I could have possibly done for them — but simply put, I think that’s love. It’s the mountain tops and valley lows. And in the valley lows when you feel like a high-functioning robot and are literally just showing up, but don’t think you have anything else to give, and couldn’t possibly be helpful in such a tender time where you can nearly see hearts wrenching in the watery eyes of those around you, love says thank you. Love is when you show up in the hard. Our brothers and sisters in Uganda did this even though I know they didn’t see it like that. And I know they didn’t see it like that, because they told me I did this for them, and while I believe them, I didn’t see it like that. While I see them as indomitable even despite the grief, they see the weightiness of their grief, hurt, and brokenness at such loss, and the reverse is also true. They showed up for me no matter how weak they felt, and Missy and I showed up for them no matter how weak we felt. And we saw the indomitableness of the other by joining in grief and celebrating in truth.
There’s so much more I could say and I’m sure so much more to process from this trip, but what I really want to talk about is James.
He was 39. He had a marriage one would be silly to not want to aspire to, with his beautiful wife, Stella. They have four girls, Mercy (almost 8), Rachael (4), and twins, Lydia and Sarah (2.5). And once we arrived in Uganda discovered that they have a fifth child on the way.
He was one of the most Spirit-filled people I have ever met in my entire life. Honestly, just about anyone could see that by the radiance of this man’s smile — I’m not sure I have ever seen a more sincere, joy-filled smile in my entire life. And that’s just a physical feature you can see from afar. Can you imagine what it was like to get close? To watch him not as a remarkable leader in the professional world (which is truly very close, because Ugandans do it differently and we could learn a thing or two), but to watch him in his home as an adoring husband and the sweetest girl dad. To know him as a friend, as a mentor. To walk and talk with him. To drive him. To eat with him. To sing with him. To dance with him. To pray with him. To be prayed over by him. To love him. To be loved by him. I got to be that close.
And that closeness was instantaneous, it’s an illustration of what I imagine meeting God face to face is like. Every time, without fail, I saw the face of Jesus in James, because that was his greatest identity, a servant of the most High. Man, did it show.
This August, would mark 4 years since I met James. I stepped off the plane in 2017 in the middle of the rawest, most depleted, broken season of my life. I was starting to get my feet underneath me again with the help of ferociously dedicated family, friends, a counselor (same one I call up today when life happens, alternative art therapy for the win at least for this weird mind that talk therapy wouldn’t suffice for), and the stepping stone of anti-depressants, but gosh I was so far from Grace. If I reflect on it now, I knew I was going to make it through, first and foremost because I knew God, but also because He wired me to be high-functioning and stubborn (call it disciplined if you want), but honestly I didn’t think I would feel like me ever again. I also didn’t think anyone would see me without seeing a fragile sticker slapped across my forehead, that is if they really got to know me. I had also convinced myself that it wasn’t safe to be fully me or rather to allow people to know me fully. It wasn’t safe to show up unashamed, to walk fully in whom I was created to be, to be that vulnerable and let people in because surely it would be too much or not enough and they’d leave. And yet, I went to Uganda because I knew deep in my heart that there was something about this that I was made for. I didn’t know what that meant.
But I stepped off that plane and my life changed. I’ve told many people that part of the reason I got up and moved to Nashville on what seemed like a whim is because I have never felt the pull to anything more strongly, anything other than Uganda that is. And the feelings were the same. I felt like I could show up unashamed in Nashville. And even though I have been so fortunate to have absolutely incredible, rockstar kind of people in my life through every season of my life (and some have remained steadfast through every season), the only other place I ever felt as though I could show up exactly as I am and not only be respected, but also deeply loved and cherished simply for me was Uganda — with Seed Effect, with his family, with James.
James saw me. Not the frail casing of my body, but me – my soul, who I was made to be, and who I was made by. I wrote about this back in an instagram post on April 26, 2019 after our spring fundraising luncheon that James was in the states for (his first and only trip outside of Africa, and the fact that we got his visa approved given how difficult that was during this time for citizens from Uganda was and is truly miraculous), but I am going to touch on it again now. On the second or third evening of knowing James, he said, “Grace, you are a helper in the background, a servant to those around you.” You can go digging in the archives for everything I said about that then, but basically upon the initial hearing of those words I was insulted. I hated hearing them. Hated it. I felt so diminished and overlooked by this incredible leader. But I realized shortly thereafter, that what those words really revealed was how seen I was. And today, I realize it’s the grandest compliment James ever could have possibly given me. “you are a helper in the background, a servant to those around you,” from the most servant hearted man I have ever known (and I’ve known some good ones).
What sparked this reflection and the impact that James had on my life during that time in 2019 was a prayer he spoke over me. Immediately following our spring luncheon I was getting on a plane to Cincinnati to attend and speak at my paternal grandmother’s funeral. This unexpected event meant I had to leave Dallas before James left to head home to Uganda. It meant our “see you later” came sooner than either of us anticipated. I went to Missy’s back house, where James was staying during his trip, to say goodbye. We talked and thanked one another and then he prayed for me. We shared the biggest embrace, the only kind James Lomude knows how to give, and then I left. As soon as I got in my car I opened my notes and typed the following excerpt from James’ prayer
“I thank you for her heart of service. It is so rare for someone of her age to dedicate and commit their life to following you and your plans for her God.”
I don’t know what made me jot this down with such urgency, but I do know God moves in mysterious ways to give us glimpses and reminders of who he is, especially in the trying times. Right now is one of those trying times. One of the humans God used to absolutely wreck me, to bring me to himself, to break my chains, and give me freedom — to save my life, is no longer walking this earth. And my heart aches. And my eyes are all watery as I write these words. And my throat has a big ol’ lump in the back. BUT my heart is full of gratitude because the fact that I even knew this man is an honor, and the fact that I get to read words he spoke over me is an unmerited blessing. The fact that I got to be with his staff and his wife and his girls, who experienced the types of moments I just shared in their everyday, during a time of unthinkable grief and sadness is an honor. The fact that I got to work alongside James and that I get to continue to do this work, is the honor of my life, thus far. As I told our Ugandan and South Sudanese co-workers the day after the service, my heart has never been more full and more shattered simultaneously than it is right now. Shattered at this great loss. Shattered and angry at the injustice that there wasn’t a doctor present at the hospital, and that one didn’t show up. Shattered that his girls and this new babe won’t get to have their daddy physically present for the rest of their life moments. Shattered that Stella lost her love so young. Yet so immensely full. Full because of them (staff, Stella and girls), because of the man James was, because of this work. And full because there has never been anyone that I am more confident is with Jesus than I am about James. I cannot help but smile thinking about James singing and dancing and embracing in Heaven. And I absolutely beam thinking about the words James heard once there, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”