Katie Davis abandoned her upper middle-class upbringing just after graduating from high school to travel to the other side of the world to become a modern-day Mother Teresa, her childhood hero. Her days are spent nursing the sick, feeding and educating the poor, and sharing the love of Christ. Known as “Mommy” to her 13 Ugandan daughters, Katie has created a safe and loving home in the midst of unfathomable adversity. Those who know Katie, describe her abandonment to God’s plans for her life as extraordinary.
How did a young woman in the prime of her life get to this place? In her own words, “Jesus wrecked my life. For as long as I could remember, I had everything this world says is important. In high school, I was the class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car. I had wonderful, supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. But I loved Jesus.”
The more Katie grew in her love for Jesus, she discovered that she loved and worshiped Him without doing what He said. She wanted to get to the place of wanting to do what Jesus did. So, in her words, she quit her life. She quit college. She quit her cute designer clothes and her cute yellow convertible. She quit her boyfriend. She no longer held on to the things that the world said were important. Instead, she fell in love with a beautiful country full of gracious, joyful people living in immense poverty and squalor. She couldn’t deny it any longer. She actually wanted to do what Jesus said to do.
Katie went on a three-week trip to Uganda with her mom and fell head over heels in love, so she bought a one-way ticket back to that dot on a map and while she doesn’t have electricity on some days, she has everything she knows is important. She has joy and a peace knowing God’s plan for her life is much bigger than what she could have ever imagined. She has given her life and soul to Uganda – particularly its children – the poorest of the poor. From the minute her feet touched the foreign soil in 2008, on what she thought would be a one year trip to teach kindergarten, her heart was forever captured by this country, its people, and the mess that comes with poverty. Her heart physically hurts every time she feels the tiny fingers of a street kid wrapped around hers – and she’s moved to action. That’s why, at age 19, she birthed Amazima Ministries—a non-profit ministry that helps provide education for hundreds of children and feeds over 1,200 daily.
Despite the hotter-than-imaginable sun beating down on her most days, Katie finds this country and its people beautiful, especially her 13 daughters whom she is in various stages of adopting. This is her Africa where she lives and loves, and where God called her to an extraordinary love and lifestyle. This is home.
JBU has the privilege of introducing you to Katie and her ministry in Uganda. Grab a cup of coffee and plan to be inspired and moved by this extraordinary young woman’s outrageous love and obedience. JBU is!
JBU: How did your parents and upbringing prepare you for now?
Katie: As a young child, I was aware that there was a world beyond my comfortable neighborhood. My parents taught me that my family and I, and the people around us, were some of the “blessed ones.” I understood that people all over the world were hungry, poorly clothed and living in ram-shackled huts or under bridges. These realities broke my heart.
JBU: How did this journey begin?
Katie: Looking back, I see God spent my whole life preparing me for the life He had planned for me in Africa. Years before my first trip to Uganda, I fantasized about doing something incredible for God and others. Soon the human tragedy which had captured my attention as a child, began to weigh heavier on my heart. I had to do something about it. The fact that I loved Jesus was beginning to interfere with the plans I once had for my life and certainly the plans others had for me. My heart had been apprehended by a great love, a love that compelled me to live differently. I began to realize that God wanted more from me, and I wanted more of Him. So at 15, I told my parents I wanted to do missions work overseas after high school. As my senior year approached, I looked for opportunities in Africa or India. Trips planned to both places fell through. Then I got a call from an orphanage in Uganda. I was asked to be the orphanage’s first kindergarten teacher. My parents were hesitant, but after much persuading my mom agreed to accompany me. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I felt at home. I was instantly in love. I was willing to drop everything to stay there.
When I returned to the States, I tried to convince my dad to let me go back to Uganda instead of going to college in the fall. After much negotiation, he reluctantly agreed, on the condition that I stay for only nine months and then attend college the following year. I was ecstatic.
JBU: Initially your parents weren’t supportive of what you wanted to do. How did you work through that?
Katie: I returned to the States and tried college one semester for them. That was enough. I simply couldn’t live with my body in one country and my soul in another. And yet I wanted to. I tried to figure out how to honor both my earthly father and my heavenly Father. The battle within me was agonizing.
It wasn’t that I hated college or America; I just so desperately missed my new home and family in Uganda. On the other hand, as much as I reveled in my life, ministry, and motherhood in Uganda, I also had moments when I wanted to live near my family and marry my high school boyfriend. I didn’t want to give up everything I’d grown to love in Uganda; I wanted all that—with a few American blessings added to it. But the reality is no one can serve two masters. To follow Jesus, we have to make choices. Sometimes, making those choices is anguish.
While in the U.S., I was not in the center of God’s will and that is a dark place. God taught me that it didn’t matter what the world said, that it didn’t matter that almost none of the people closest to me believed in what I was doing, that it didn’t matter what they said was impossible, because God did this, and He was going to continue doing it.
My parents eventually saw my passion for the people of Uganda and that God was undeniably leading me, so they began to surrender their own hopes and dreams to God, came alongside me, and allowed me to move forward. Now they are my biggest supporters and encouragers. My mom came with me to Uganda for the first trip; my dad came with me the second time to help me settle in.
JBU: How did you let go of the plans you had for your life?
Katie: It is not about God making my dreams come true but about God changing my dreams into His dreams for my life. I am by no means living my plan. I thought I wanted to go to college, get married, have a successful career and children, settle into a nice house near my parents, and live happily ever after.
Today, I am a single woman raising a houseful of girls and trying to teach them and others the love of Jesus in a land that is a far cry from my home and culture. This is not the life I dreamed up on my own or even knew I desired. I am watching God work, and as I “delight myself in the Lord” by doing what He asks of me and by saying yes to the needs He places in front of me, He is changing the desires of my heart and aligning them with His. As I go with Him to the hard places, they become the most joyful places I could ever imagine.
People from home say I’m brave. They tell me I’m strong. They pat me on the back and say, “Way to go. Good job.” But the truth is, I’m not really very brave; I’m not really very strong; and I’m not doing anything spectacular. I’m simply doing what God has called me to do. He said to feed His sheep and He said to care for “the least of these,” so that’s what I’m doing, with the help of many people.
Despite the obstacles, I feel a surprising level of comfort living in Uganda most of the time. Living here seems more natural than living in the U.S. I have an unexplainable feeling, a settled knowing, that I am where I was made to be.
JBU: How do we figure out God’s plan for our lives?
Katie: I certainly don’t believe everyone should sell all of their belongings, pack a suitcase, and move to Africa. I don’t think people should drop everything to become missionaries. I believe all of us can be missionaries right where we are.
Every day we have a choice. We can stay nestled in our safe comfortable places. Or we can take a risk, do something to help someone else, or make a person smile. Each one of us was ultimately created by the same God to do the same thing, but it doesn’t look the same. It may be in a foreign land or it may be in your backyard, but we were each created to change the world for someone. To serve someone. To love someone the way Christ first loved us. Some days it will be excruciatingly difficult, but the blessings far outweigh the hardships.
JBU: Tell us how you came to be a mom to 13 girls?
Katie: My family and I get all kinds of questions. Why do you do it, why so many children, why these specific girls? We get crazy stares and huge smiles and every look in between. This is our perfectly God-orchestrated family. I did not decide: Jesus did. I don’t mean to give the impression that this all happened naturally or easily; there were definite struggles involved. I believe that adoption is absolutely God ordained, but it is also about the most unnatural way to grow a family. It comes with huge heartache and huge God-wrestling.
JBU: How do you respond to people who question your age as a single mother to so many?
Katie: God has come alongside me and given strength, resources, and wisdom when needed. The choices I face are to either invite a child into my home or let them starve in the street. I can’t find in the Bible that I should leave them starving in the street, so they come into my home.
With each addition to my family, I spend a lot of time in prayer until God confirms one way or the other. We have had foster children whom I thought I was going to adopt and God opened doors for them to return to their biological family. We have children who I didn’t think I was going to adopt, and God opened no other doors for them other than my house. God has confirmed each one of my children to join my family.
People are quick to say it would be better for the children to have a mother and a father. But what do we do with this huge tragedy of hundreds of millions of orphans in the world who don’t have anywhere to go? If the Bible says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and we are to care for the orphan and widow the best way we can, then single parent adoption is one response to an un-ideal situation.
JBU: How do you tell your child to trust or that you love her when she has only known broken trust?
Katie: I prove it. I earn it. I remind them over and over again with words, actions, hugs, and kisses. When a child bites me, hits me, or looks into my eyes and tries to shove me away so she can hurt me before I hurt her, when a child overeats to the point of vomiting because she was once so hungry and is afraid of that hunger, when my child cries out for a birth mother or birth father who was abusive, what then? I love anyway. I get on my knees and cry to God about the hurt they have experienced and I ask Him why. Then I remember that a good God who wants good for His children can give only good. I remember that all of this, even this hard part, is working for the good in their lives, for His kingdom. I remember He is using these hardships to strengthen us as a family, so He may transform us into His likeness.
JBU: What has it been like to live in a Third World country?
Katie: When I first went to Uganda in 2007 I felt like I was emptying the ocean with an eyedropper. It still feels that way today. I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need and the number of people who need help. I see the destitute, disease-ridden children lining the streets in the communities where I live. I want to scoop up every single one of them and bring them home with me and feed and clothe and love them.
Materially, the people who fill my life are the poorest I have ever met, yet they overflow with the riches of the heart. These people have every reason to be despondent and downcast, yet they are the most joyful human beings I have ever met.
I have learned that I cannot change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for 13 little girls and for 600 schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it’s worth every minute—so I continue to stop and love one person at a time as Jesus did. And even though I realize I cannot always mend or meet, I can enter into someone’s pain and sit with them. This is Jesus. He comes with us to the hard places. Daily, the Jesus who wrecked my life enables me to do so much more than I ever thought possible.
JBU: How do you deal with all the suffering you see?
Katie: I would like to say that as I become more and more surrounded with sorrow and destitution, it gets easier or less painful. But it doesn’t. The brokenness of this world doesn’t become any less sad. It’s overwhelmingly devastating that people have to live and die like this. While it doesn’t get easier, I am able to face each situation with a little more hope.
But, I have learned if I really want to follow Jesus, I must go to the hard places. Being a follower of Christ means being acquainted with sorrow. I’ll be honest—a hard place can seem unbearable. It’s dark and it’s scary, and even though I know God said He will never leave or forsake me, sometimes it’s so dark that I can’t see Him. But then the most incredible thing happens—God takes me by the hand and walks me straight out of the hard place and into the beauty on the other side.
JBU: How do you keep going when things are so tough?
Katie: When I have a rough day, or several rough days in a row, I can easily forget why I do what I do. I used to repeat to myself, “Do not forget in the darkness what you have been promised in the light.” When my days are dark and difficult, I am tempted to look around and think, Why do I do this? Why would I take on one more child? Why would we live with less so we can give others more? Why did I leave my family and friends to go to a land of strangers? What am I doing here?
I don’t usually forget the answer to these questions: “For Jesus. Because He called me to do this and because He gave His life for me.” This means that is my privilege, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for Him (see Phil. 1:29). What a privilege it is just to be able to be in His presence, to share that with my sweet Savior.
I see thousands of deep brown eyes and feel thousands of little brown hands and I know that even on the hardest day, stopping is worth it. A life changed is worth it. God’s love made known is worth it. I will not save them all. But I will keep trying. I will say “Yes.” I will stop for one.
JBU: Tell us how you started Amazima.
Katie: One day after school I followed a pair of seven-year-old twins home where I found four older siblings who were not attending school because they didn’t have the fees. I learned that 75 percent of the children in my village were in a similar situation. My eyes were opened! No wonder they’re poor; they don’t get an education, so they can’t grow up and get a job. It’s an awful cycle. So I decided with some of my savings I would help provide an education for that entire family. I got them in school for a year, two hot meals a day, and bought their uniforms and new shoes—all for only $300 a child. I come from a place where we spend $300 a month on gas for our four cars and $300 a week on groceries. I thought if we could get the word out, we could send more of these kids to school.
Through communications with my dad via a Ugandan Internet Café, we established a non-profit organization called Amazima Ministries International. My first goal was to get 10 children into school, but my friends and family started pouring out their hearts and the number of children I found in need kept increasing. Ten grew to forty and forty grew to 150. Now we have over 600 kids due to my inability to say “no” and the fact that God keeps blessing us with more and more money.
JBU: How do we live extraordinary lives for God?
Katie: I believe Jesus was serious when He said to love my neighbor as myself, and I believe He meant this even when my neighbor was not tiny and cute and cuddly. I believe He really meant for me to care for others as I would care for my family or myself, and I would never let my family or myself live in such conditions.
We need to choose Jesus every moment of every day. We need to be fully committed to Him. When helping just one more person on some days seems like too much, we need to choose Jesus. We need to want every day to become a day we say “yes” to Him.
Read Katie’s Book
Kisses from Katie – A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis with Beth Clark This book will grip you so tightly that you won’t be able to put it down. The New York Times Bestseller Kisses from Katie tells the story of how Katie Davis – an extraordinary young woman followed her heart to care for vulnerable people living in Uganda in extreme poverty. Her stories will move you to tears, to take action to make the world a better place. Her life will compel you to ask, “Am I really open to God’s will for my life?” She will inspire you to love and serve Jesus with everything you have. Through Katie’s life as the mother to 13 Ugandan daughters, we are reminded how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We simply need to be willing and available. (Available on Amazon and Christian bookstores.)
Read Katie’s Blog
Read About Katie’s Ministry: Amazima
Amazima Ministries was founded in 2008 by Katie Davis. God laid it on Katie’s heart to start a child sponsorship program, connecting orphaned and vulnerable children who are unable to afford schooling with sponsors from all over the world. Sponsors pay $300 per year to help children go to school, providing school supplies and uniforms, three hot meals a day, discipleship, and medical care. Originally planning on having 40 children in the program, Katie had signed up 150 by January 2008. Today the program sponsors over 600 children.
The organization, based out of Franklin, TN, seeks to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the people of Uganda. At the core of all Amazima does is discipleship. Katie and her team are passionate about nourishing the spiritual needs of the people, not just the physical. In the Luganda language, Amazima means “truth.” Amazima desires to reveal the truth of God’s unconditional love through Jesus Christ to the Ugandan people.
Katie also reached out to the Karimojong people of the Masese community. They are the poorest of the poor, and losing their children to malnutrition and starvation at an astounding rate, she noticed their desperate need for nutritious food. Partnering with a local school, Amazima began a feeding program providing a nutritious lunch to over 1,200 children Monday through Friday year-round. Children are able to attend school instead of begging on the street. Medical care and general health training is also provided.
As friendships developed with the people of Masese, Katie wanted to help the women provide for their families through safe means. She initiated a self-sustaining vocational program to empower these women to make unique Ugandan magazine bead jewelry. They are also taught money management skills. The jewelry is purchased in Uganda and sold in the U.S. All proceeds fund the feeding program in the village. Amazima is developing similar vocational programs for the men in Masese.
Additionally, Amazima operates farming and construction initiatives to encourage the people to work their way out of poverty.