BUTTE - It was a perfect summer evening. On July 31, a small group of people stood silently at the front of the Immaculate Conception Church in Butte. The congregation was clearly moved and prayed over them. As the group received the very meaningful blessing, their facial expressions reflected a spectrum of emotions, including a hint of nervousness. It was the eve of a grand adventure.
"It was a life-changing experience for each of us." — Marietta Sorini
The nights in Uganda do not cool down much. The humidity feels even higher than during the day. It was only 6 a.m. — Mijah McLeod and Gia, Marietta, and Bella Sorini were starting their day. They were still sleepy, but what they saw in the streets made them alert. Crowds of colorfully dressed, smiling, and fast-walking people were everywhere. Minus the smiles and the colorful dress, a New Yorker would find the sight familiar, but not Montanans.
"The constant congestion is what surprised me the most about Africa." — Mijah McLeod
The four young Butte women were on a medical mission under the direction of Butte's Dr. George Mulcaire-Jones, his son Liam, and a capable team. Dawn Lewton, an energetic real estate agent from Whitehall, spent a lot of time with the four teenagers and helped coordinate outreach to the Ugandan youth and children. Audrey Mendenhall is the owner of Sound Health Imaging that provides diagnostic imaging in Butte, Anaconda, and Helena. Her mission contribution was teaching ultrasound skills. The general objective was to train local health professionals to improve the care of expectant mothers and the newly born.
Improving care does not take place in a medical exclusion zone. It is the result of a slow and beautiful process of developing trust and earning respect. With smiles that exude sincerity, the Butte quartet engaged in a mission of friendship.
"The littlest things made the biggest difference." — Gia Sorini
She describes a number of simple gestures that generated gratifying reactions. They gave toothbrushes to a woman with her four children in a hospital and to many others. They brought toys and games to 115 orphans in Kamuli. They shared Montana stories with young school children crammed in a tiny classroom. Everywhere they went, they took Polaroid photos of people whom they met on their journey — literally hundreds and hundreds of happy, appreciative faces who were all so easy to love.
Some of these Ugandan faces belonged to highly memorable people. Like John Mark, made wise by poverty and faith, bright as daylight and a born leader. He was mature way beyond his 15 years. Or the delightfully lighthearted and kind Henry, who selflessly and joyfully ran a youth camp in Masaka.
Young Americans are now conditioned by a culture defined by undiluted and unhealthy self-centeredness. So this was also a mission of discovery.
Gia observes: "Listening to what different people had to say was very interesting and rewarding."
Mijah offers this insight: "There is no way you can form a valuable opinion or credible system of beliefs without seeing what the rest of the world has to offer."
"My dad would have been so happy that we were able to put a smile on the face of so many." — Marietta Sorini
For three among the group, the Sorini sisters, the journey took on an added level of significance. They were doing this, in part, as a tribute to their recently deceased father, the late Dr. Pete Sorini, outstanding neurosurgeon and an exceptionally giving human being.
Gia, the eldest daughter, explains: "Dad always wanted us to do a mission trip as a family. In a sense, I did go for my dad, because he wanted us to help as many people as we could."
One encounter proved particularly moving. They met two precious little children suffering from untreated hydrocephalus — a condition their surgeon father was particularly skilled at correcting.
"My dad could really have helped them," Gia said.
As someone who has observed closely the Sorini family in the wake of the cruel loss of a husband and father, it did not surprise me at all that all the sisters made a point of mentioning their mother as a great fount of motivation and strength. While herself tormented by searing grief, Ms. Stephanie Sorini has been able to magnificently and selflessly provide for her daughters hope and a path to resilience.
The groundbreaking for the Dr. Pete Sorini Family Center in Masaka was a powerful moment. At the emotional ceremony, Gia gave a remarkable speech.
Her words were received with unique warmth, gratitude and kindness. Sympathy and condolences were extended to the sisters. The sisters were hugged as they were enthusiastically being adopted by these Ugandan families. No longer were they visitors. They now belonged.
That same night Bella texted her mother: "It was like the best day ever Mom. It does not matter the color of your skin, we are one big family here."
Bella also made a heart-warming comparison between the mission leader, Dr. Mulcaire-Jones, and her father: "They are so much alike. They work very hard to help others. They are filled with immense kindness, and both are very funny."
In the weeks leading up to their African mission, I thought a lot about Gia, Marietta, and Bella. I wondered how the memory of their brilliant father was going to influence their lives. Were Dr. Sorini's astonishing accomplishments going to represent for them a source of inspiration, or rather intimidation?
I no longer wonder. It is clearly all about inspiration.
"As his daughter, I feel lucky to carry on his legacy, and going to Africa on a mission trip is part of that." — Gia Sorini
She could not have answered my question more perfectly.
To the high plateaus, lake shores, rainforests, and bustling cities of Uganda the four brave young women delivered fragments of the giant heart that is Butte. They also brought with them the irresistible spirit of the unforgettable Dr. Pete. Through them, he will continue to transform lives for the better for a long, long time to come. His mission is not over, because theirs is only beginning.