The mission team was fortunate to be able to spend two days in
Murchison National Park. What an awesome opportunity to process all we have seen in the villages this week and to enjoy and be reminded of God’s greatness! Everyone was blessed by this gift.
The road to the park is a mixture of paved goodness and spine-crushing bumps, mixed in with a decent amount of dust. It’s around a 6-hour journey so you know it must be amazing once you get there for so many people to choose to make the trip.
We stayed at two different lodges; the second one was a new experience for all of us, so I appreciate the flexibility of the team and their willingness to try the unknown. Pakuba Lodge is located on a hill above Lake Albert which makes for a remarkable view. We were instructed to be inside at 10:00 due to the animals who venture up towards the
lodge after dark!
We enjoyed a boat ride to the bottom of Murchison Falls and two
game drives. So many surreal experiences along the way. The terrain changed frequently and drastically; truly beautiful! As we left the lodge on Tuesday morning, Charles surprised us by arranging for our drivers to take us to the top of the falls.
It seems there is nothing like a waterfall moving at that speed to remind you of God’s awesomeness and power! He even provided a rainbow and just enough mist to remind you how close you were to the water. To me, it was this neat little package wrapped up by God and handed to each of us as we began a long day that would end with us flying out of Uganda.
We stopped by a small nursery school outside of Masinde and
presented soccer balls and candy to the kids. It was a great chance to stretch our
legs and enjoy being with some precious kids one last time before our journey
We got caught in a “jam” in Kampala and sat in traffic for over
an hour. We finally made it to Pastor Charles’ home, where his wife, Eve, had prepared dinner for us. We all repacked suitcases, changed clothes, and headed to the airport in
I think the team was exhausted but thankful for everything we got
to experience during our last day in Uganda.
The Hearts and Hope mission team arrived home safely yesterday! Our flights were smooth and the planes were not full, so many of us had some room to stretch out. What a blessing!
It will take a few days for sleep schedules to get back to normal. That, coupled with mental exhaustion, can make for a tough couple of days. Keep the team in your prayers as they process all they have seen and experienced in the past 12 days!
The team has arrived safely at Paraa Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park! We started our day in Kampala with worship and headed out soon after it was over. We stopped for lunch along the way where many of us enjoyed a grilled cheese and chipati chips with guacamole or salsa. It was a nice change of pace!
The ride was extremely bumpy. We entered the park from the north - something we had never done before. Once we hit the park, we were able to see antelope, elephants, giraffes, and even a hyena. However, nothing struck fear in any of us like the 4-inch long, winged creature that came in through a window and made numerous appearances during the rest of the ride. It's true - Jerry Mayo CAN scream like a girl!
We had a fabulous dinner and are getting ready for bed. Early wake-up call in the morning. We will have the chance to go on a game drive and later, a boat ride to the base of the falls. Blessed to get to enjoy God's creation together; it should be a wonderful day!
Betty, on the right, and the Deputy Teacher in charge of special needs. Those smiles say it all!
Abraham managed to talk me out of my sunglasses before saying his good-byes through the bus window.
Tonight we are back in Kampala and I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad. Thrilled to know we have a some processing time ahead of us at Murchison Falls National Park and to know that we will see our families soon. Sad to know that our intense week of providing encouragement to each other and to those we came to serve has come to an end. It has been such a joy to work side by side towards a common goal; so many relationships created and so many strengthened over the past week!
Violet, Mariah, and I took off this morning to show for all of the items on the list for Betty's school. Everything from sheets to sugar to "stockings" to shoes; it only took stopping at 6 shops to knock everything out! We drove to her school to deliver the items, pay her school fees, and purchase her school uniforms. When I got off the bus, Betty ran to me and gave me the strongest hug possible and whispered "thank you" in my ear, as best she could. Her smile was the only "thanks" anyone would ever need.
The headmistress assured us she had had a good night and was being placed in the P4 class. Betty is 15 and has been living on her own for some time now, so I think she must have felt so much safer in that dormitory last night. The staff seems to love her and they feel like she is already fitting in well. We will be keeping a close eye on her and the Hearts and Hope staff will be checking in.
We picked up the team at the hotel and made the short drive to the market and Source Café in Jinja. We placed our orders (mostly for chicken guacamole wraps!) and started shopping. We gathered back together when the food was ready and had a great meal. A we continued to shop, Violet came to get me to tell me that Abraham, one of the kids who lived on the streets in Jinja, had been taken to Nakabango, where he later ran off from, was looking for me. I returned to the Café and there he was - with that huge grin on his face as always. We got him food and talked about what he was doing. I try so hard to understand what draws him back to the street, but I don't understand it yet. He told me he wants to go back to school, but is afraid. I'm not giving up on him; he is so smart and loving. Stay tuned.
If you have a Hearts and Hope magnet, Abraham is the boy featured on it!
After shopping we gathered our treasures and got back on the bus to head to Kampala. Most people put on headphones to relax during the 2-hour drive. Violet, sitting in the middle of everyone, looked around and said, "I can not be quiet on this ride!" And so, headphones were removed... :)
A third of the way back, the bus came to a complete stop. Traffic moved nowhere for 10 minutes, so our bus made hard right-hand turn and we took the back roads for over 45 minutes. A bumpier ride, but we got to see so many children along the way! At one point, I was completely wrapped up in the faces I was seeing and the song "Spirit Fall" came through my headphones. It was an amazing, well-timed moment.
As we drove on, MercyMe's song "Beautiful" came on. Some of the lyrics:
Days will come when you don't have the strength
And all you hear is you're not worth anything
Wondering if you ever could be loved
And if they truly saw your heart they'd see too much
You are made for so much more than all of this
You are treasured, You are sacred, You are His
Such relevant words.
We arrived safely back at the Hotel Africana and had dinner at the Rock Garden restaurant. Pastor Paul deemed it one of the best meals he has ever had! Excited to worship together with our Ugandan friends in the morning and then head northwest to Murchison Falls!
New books for kids in Butangala today.
Carrie planting her eucalyptus tree.
Hmmmm, a heart? The bus ride home was long, so we found creative ways to entertain ourselves along the way!
The sugar cane trucks amaze us.
My goodness, it's chaos at the Sunset Hotel! I'm sitting here at 9:45 pm as dinner is being served and there is a buzz around the table; 10 Americans and 7 Ugandans - most of them talking at once. The wireless service is very slow so I will do my best to get this posted tonight.
We have Twizzlers and M&M's for dessert so life is good.
Another great day. This morning, Andy, Violet, Mariah, and I went to explore a school in Jinja that has facilities for kids with special needs. We are specifically looking for a school for Betty, a precious young lady in Mbulamuti that one of the team members in June has a special love for. It was such an informative trip. We were genuinely impressed with the teaching staff and the joy of the kids. We had the best time in a class of hearing-impaired kids. They signed to us and Violet (?) served as an interpreter. That's right - with no previous experience. They nabbed my camera early on and had the best time taking "snaps" of each other.
We later found out that Betty was assessed and accepted at the school. It is a boarding school so Violet and I will spend tomorrow morning purchasing all of the supplies she will need. Blessed that we have found an answer for Betty!
We picked up the team and headed to Butangala where we met with dedicated their new borehole well. We also got to plant eucalyptus trees; another item to check off the bucket list!
We met with the sponsored kids and handed out candy to everyone. After lunch we took a team picture with a beautiful backdrop. We were impressed that the church and school had taken the initiative to move to the newest piece of land and construct a better structure for the school kids.
I had asked to visit a village where we had never been so we went to Nawankompe. It was a long, bumpy ride but we always have adventures along the way. The kids at the school sang beautifully and we had a great time "interacting" after the program.
Dinner has been fun; it's our last night at the Sunset. Thankful for good health for everyone and safety along the way. Tomorrow we shop and head back to Kampala. Missing our family and friends but blessed to be here, serving in this way.
I think it was January of 2010 when I took my first trip to
Uganda. Four years later, I am astounded by what God is doing here as the Kingdom of God grows!
I can remember sitting in 8 or 9 villages, every one of them with the same situation; sitting under a canopy or broken down awning, joining in worship and baptizing long lines of children, and listening to village leaders share their hopes and dreams of having a church in their village and a better life for their children. Hundreds of
children would crowd around us – virtually none of them could attend school, they were too busy hauling water from the nearest well usually miles down the road.
Personally I was overwhelmed by it all.
So many people with so many needs. Where do you start? How do you decide where to start?
But the Spirit of God began to move in the hearts of God’s people! Everyone was thinking about what they could do!
Messiah had already chosen Nakabango and the work had begun; a well in the village so the children didn’t have to walk four to five miles a day carrying 40 pound water jugs, a sewing center so the widows of the village could make money so support the children, a carpenter shop, a temporary shelter to begin a preschool, and sponsorships….. lots of sponsorships!
Friends began to tell other friends, other churches, other pastors, other co-workers. Other villages were adopted, land was purchased, wells were built, schools were started, churches were planted, and Hearts and Hope was formed to help coordinate the growing operational needs.
This week we joined in a ceremony to break ground on a new High School and another ceremony to break ground on a new seminary. There are now 16 ordained pastors in the LCMU, compared to only one in 2010!
So many moving parts to make it all happen! And God’s Spirit is in the middle of it all.
I am amazed!
One week away from home! I am finally getting adjusted to the daily routine and all that goes with it. One thing I have not adjusted to, however, is what I see and experience anew every day. Overwhelming poverty. I have visited areas in the States that are run down and lacking those things that that average American takes for granted. I have travelled in Mexico and seen a greater level of poverty than their neighbors to the North.
But Uganda. I have not yet digested the level of poverty I have seen. I don't know if others who have more expertise in world poverty will concur, but these people may be the poorest of the poor. Children no older than 7 walking two miles to get water, many from streams of dirty water, and then carrying those 5 gallon jugs back to their village being careful not to spill. There are no caps on these jugs. Upon their return, many of these children will exchange the water jug for a sibling, holding and carrying their younger brother or sister wherever they go.
Without mentioning the other issues and responsibilities these children have, you would think they would have no energy to muster a meager smile upon our arrival in their village. But such is not the case. At one of our visits the children ran alongside, in front of, and behind our bus - for nearly a mile - singing as they went! At another visit, we barely had enough room to step off the bus as throngs of children pressed toward us, hands outstretched, faces beaming, asking us in English, "how are you?"
I guess I am overwhelmed in multiple ways. Overwhelmed with so many who could benefit from my abundance; overwhelmed with their gracious, kind, and loving demeanor.
So, now what? I can't help but think of a couple of Scripture passages. One is from Matthew 25 where Jesus declares, "as you did to the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me." The other is from Philippians 4. "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me." Even though what I a have seen is overwhelming and the task seems too great, I... you... we... have the One True God who can accomplish anything even when doing so through me and you, as overwhelmed and "under" qualified as we may be!
May we all consider again how the Lord might accomplish His will using you and me!
It’s Friday morning and we are back in Jinja.
We arrived back last night around 6:00 pm after spending two days in the Kamuli area. I think we were all competing for wifi signal last night so updates were difficult.
Thursday started in the village of Mbulamuti. Water’s Edge in Allen, Texas partners with the Lutheran congregation in Mbulamuti and has helped them make great improvements in the past two years. During devotions, Pastor Paul recalled preaching at a worship service in Mbulamuti in a dilapidated building where the roof was caving in around us only two years ago. Now, there is land, a borehole well, and a school that is being touted locally as a model school. The pride and joy is palpable and the 400+ students obviously enjoy being at their school.
We watched the kids dance and enjoyed dramas that referenced everything from teen-age pregnancy to HIV/Aids prevention to caring for the sick. These kids have seen and experienced more than many adults in the US and it’s amazing the things they need to be educated about at such an early age.
We met with the sponsored students inside the main hall next. Again, the team blasted into action and made the process look easy - which it isn't! I think they pride themselves on the system they have created and it's great to see it work so well!
Afterwards, Pastor Paul and Pastor Jason lead the kids on opposite ends of the hall with the stand-up/sit-down version of Allelu, Allelu, Allelu, Alleluia. They almost brought down the house! Paul also shared his fallback favorite, "My Aunt Came Back" - video is coming.
Andy walked the perimeter of the land with Henry and some of the village leaders to talk about plans for near-future expansion - a playground and school garden. It was a joy to see what can happen in a 2-year time period when people care! Thank you, Water's Edge!
We had lunch in the main hall and had the opportunity to purchase some items made by the women. Afterwards, we said our good-byes and headed to the village of Namwendwa on the other side of Kamuli.
Namwendwa has no partnership but in October, Andy, Todd, and I had requested a visit to a new village and this is where we ended up. The people were so warm and friendly and the needs so very great, we felt we had to go back. Also, the worship leader at the church is a graduate of the sponsorship program from Nakabango. Another success story!
The team enjoyed a program while Violet, Mariah, Ronald, and I attempted to organize some of the many items we have had donated recently. The team joined us as we handed out backpacks to P5 and P6 kids, and shirts and shorts to the younger ones. Of course, everyone was given candy - including the older boys watching from a distance.
We left Namwendwa around 5:00 and made it back to Jinja a little after 6:00. Discussions on the bus ranged from how much some of like Taylor Swift, to "what can we do for those people", to "what are you ordering for dinner?" I think everyone was a little bit broken by what they had seen that afternoon and it seems there is a lot of processing taking place.
A wonderful evening under the stars was a great way to end our day. Violet brought the Ludo boards so there was extreme competition at one end of the table. Hoping everyone got a great night's sleep.
Off to Butangala this morning, but the team gets a chance to sleep a little later. Violet, Andy, and I are going to investigate a school for a special needs girl from Mbulamuti today. Praying for a positive experience and a solution!
Mbulamuti - now.
Mbulamuti - two years ago.
I could tell she hadn't seen Jerry yet, so I took her hand and walked around the bus to find him. She saw him before I did and she let go of my hand and ran and jumped into his arms. I’m not sure who had the bigger smile – him or her! I
didn’t see much distance between them the rest of the day.
I say it a lot – but it really is about the relationships.
We gathered inside one of the classrooms and enjoyed the privilege of having a chapel service with the students. Jason had a great message about not being afraid and it was obvious the kids were hanging on every word.
There was singing and dancing after that. The harmonies during one of the songs the P3 class sang brought tears to my eyes. Almost everyone got to enjoy the final dance with the women leaders in the village. We are hoping there is no video proof.
We met with the sponsored kids next, handing out packets and taking pictures with each of them. This is when a team always shines – everybody pitching in to do whatever is needed. Blessed by this hard-working team!
It is always a special time when anyone gets to meet their sponsored child for the first time. Sam sponsors a boy named Jonah.
So much fun to watch them sit together and open his packet – even when there was a Red Sox hat involved. Jonah wasn't hard to pick out of a crowd the rest of the day; he wore that hat with pride!
Lynn, Kim, and I found one of our friend’s sponsored child, Daphine, and took some pictures with her. She is a beautiful little girl who seems to smile all the time. It was a blessing to watch her take each item out of her packet and see the look on her face. She seemed to especially love her turquoise and hot pink bandanas!
We met with the P3 class next and passed out books. Listening to them read was a highpoint of the day! Looking around the room and seeing each team member sitting with a group of kids made my heart ache; I wondered how often these kids get that kind of attention.
My family’s sponsored child, Matia, read through a book about construction vehicles that took me back to listening to my own son when he was learning to read. It has been interesting to think about the content of children’s books through the eyes of a Ugandan child! It made me wonder how well Barney and Baby Bop translate…
Lunch was next and then it was on to bead-making for the women…and Jerry. What he lacked in quality, he made up for in speed and the women were impressed. We had a chance to purchase some of the paper bead necklaces as well. I’m thankful that Edith took the time to show the team how they are made.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent just enjoying time with the kids. David, the Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator for Hearts and Hope, refers to it as “time for interaction”! It’s a bit less formal than that, but one of my favorite ways to spend my time!
All too soon, it was 5:30 and time to make the 5—minute bus ride to our home for the evening in Kamuli. After checking in, we gathered around tables put out on the grass in the courtyard area and enjoyed the evening. It was actually cool enough for jackets! We painted nails and enjoyed chatting with some of the leaders from Kamuli. Violet broke out some Kenny Rogers tunes at one point.
Later in the evening, Charles brought out two decks of cards (Titanic-themed) that he had brought along. Our Ugandan friends taught us to play a game that is basically Uno with real cards and a few rule twists. The twists, surprisingly, seemed to
occur whenever Violet was losing, but I'm sure that is just a coincidence! Clubs are referred to as “flowers” and Jacks are referred to as “J’s”. That took a bit of getting used to but the entire process made us all laugh until our stomachs hurt. Such a fun evening!
Prayers for continued safe travel and healthy team members are appreciated. It has been a wonderful trip!
I wanted to share a bit more about the end of our day in Nakabango on Tuesday. We had spent a physically exhausting day, especially working with the sponsorship children. As usual, there were several kids who weren’t there, and we always put their packets together in a bag so that they can be handed out when the child returns to school. I was sad to see that the packet for Richard, a boy that is sponsored by my parents, was still lying on the table.
I asked Ronald about him and he said that Richard wasn’t there, but we were going to his house as we left to see where he lived and to deliver the bedding kit he was receiving. I was so happy to hear that he was on the list created by Nakabango leadership to be a recipient of these gifts from Messiah Lutheran!
When we left, we turned off the main road and bounced along for almost 10 minutes before we stopped in front of a rectangular mud structure that had holes so large, you could see through to the other side. Ronald explained to us that this is where Richard had lived until a few weeks ago when they had relocated to a house next door that was in somewhat better shape.
We got off the bus and we were met by Richard’s grandmother. She cares for Richard and his 3 siblings and his mother, who is mentally disabled. Ronald explained that the children each had a different father and the mother was incapable of caring for the children and quite possibly, had been taken advantage of by the men. The story of one of the children’s birth is something to be shared later.
As I attempted to explain to him who these people were, I was flooded with emotions I still can’t explain entirely.
I think a huge part of it was the disparity between that family in the picture and
the one standing in front of me at that time. It was a physical hurt that I didn’t
understand and I was broken by the small gifts we were giving him that we hoped
made him feel loved and noticed.
Ronald helped me give Richard his bedding kit as the grandmother continued her “thank you’s”. James, one of the Ugandan pastors, suggested we gather around this family and pray for them. His words were beautiful to me and I know even more beautiful to God’s ears. Surely this family felt the love poured out on them that
I was again blessed by a reminder of why we do what we do – and that being here DOES make a difference.
Grateful for that.
It's early Wednesday morning and I win the prize for the first person to show up for breakfast - in the entire hotel! There were a lot of exhausted team members last night, so it may be a slow-start kind of morning. Of course, the Sunset staff, most of whom were here until after midnight last night, are hard at work all over the hotel. We are blessed by the relationship we have established with these people over the years. They take extremely good care of us.
Tuesday we spent the entire day in Nakabango, the village where Messiah Lutheran in Weldon Spring, MO has had a partnership since 2006. It's always good to bump along Kamuli Road and be surprised when that beautiful church pops up on the left!
It was only the second day of the school year, but we were greeted with several songs from the primary school kids. We toured the grounds - the carpentry shop, the sewing center, the secondary school that was just started last year, and each of the primary school classrooms.
For those of you who know and love her, Patricia was a little off her game yesterday. She didn't show up until we had been there for about 10 minutes! She was quick to the make the rounds of every team member (including Pastor Paul in the picture above) and spent the entire day with us. She even got to join us for lunch and polished off 3 heaping bowls of food, including mine.
We met with the sponsored kids first. Most of the secondary school kids were unable to be there since their school year had just started too, but it was exciting to see the primary school kids in their uniforms and ready for another year. Kim and Pastor Paul got to spend time with their sponsored student and packet distribution went as well as we ever expect in Nakabango!
One of the highlights of the day was distributing 50 more bedding kits to some very-deserving children. The kids and their guardian/parent were so appreciative and every presentation was greeted with the now-familiar shrieks of the women. I believe we were all humbled to see the reaction to such a seemingly small, practical gift. Again, Messiah, thank you for this; it's hard to describe the impact.
After lunch, some of the men played football with the boys, while Ronald, the primary sponsorship coordinator for Hearts and Hope, organized some relays with the kids with some supplies we had brought along. Even the teachers got a bit competitive during the Ping-Pong ball on a spoon relay. It was great fun to hear the students cheer them on!
We had time to just sit and talk with some of the kids today - always one of my favorite things. Lynn had a great conversation with one of the older kids about people coming to Uganda. She wondered why every sponsor didn't come to meet them! Lynn explained the cost and the amount of time away and Mariam seemed satisfied, but I think it reiterates the importance of the packets and the communication between a sponsor and their student - these kids love the connection!
After we left Nakabango, we went to two more homes to visit the recipients of the bedding kits. I'll write more about that in a separate post, but it was a mentally-draining experience for all of us.
When we got back to the Sunset Hotel, we cleaned up and most of the team headed off to the Two Friends Pizza kitchen for dinner. Another lovely evening spent basking in what we had seen that day and enjoying the time to wind down.
Other than being tired, everyone is doing well. A fantastic team of people willing to do "whatever it takes". So appreciative of that attitude.
Today we head to Kamuli and most likely will not have internet access for the next 36 hours. Much to catch up on when we get back to Jinja on Thursday night, I'm sure. Just a note, we are 9 hours ahead of CST in the U.S.
Pastor Jason helping deliver a bedding kit in Nakabango.
Another bedding kit presentation by Kim and Jerry!
Sam seems to make friends wherever we go!
The teachers enjoying a little friendly competition in Nakabango.
Tom having some quality kid time on Tuesday.
What a fabulous day we got to experience today! Wow - blessed beyond belief!
We started our day leaving the Hotel Africana and heading to Kampala and the land where the seminary groundbreaking would take place. We were redirected to another piece of land had just that had just been purchased and where Hearts and Hope will begin work to build a secondary school. Unbeknownst to us, we would be participating in a groundbreaking for the secondary school as well! Both services were amazing and a privilege to attend. Several us turned a shovel full of dirt - some with more ease than others... Tim Radkey, a pastor in Dallas, has worked tirelessly to lead the charge to raise funds for the seminary. Such a thrill to join them at dinner tonight.
Next we headed to Kainagoga, where we would meet with the 16 sponsored kids and spend some time with the 350 kids who attend the school. It was so much fun for the team to experience the warm Uganda greeting we have grown to love! We handed out packets and took hundreds of pictures. Some beautiful moments!
One of the great joys of the day was presenting 50 bedding kits (a mattress, blanket, and mosquito net) to kids in Kainagoga. Messiah Lutheran Church raised this money through their Christmas mission offering. Before the presentation, I asked Henry if he would take us to a home of one of the kids who would receive a new mattress. This picture was taken in one of those homes; this women's four children currently sleep where she is sitting. It was pitch black in the room - at 4:00 in the afternoon. The mission team members each presented to 5 or 6 different kids and we all basked in the smiles! It was so rewarding - and humbling. Thank you Messiah - you have changed lives today!
We have arrived! We rolled into the Hotel Africana around 12:45 am. The flights were long, as expected, but anticipation keeps everyone going.
All 31 of our bags made the trip with us. We were quite the site with our bus packed to the ceiling and Charles' truck loaded down.
We checked into the hotel and most of us gathered back downstairs for a snack of fish fingers, chicken wings (?), and chips. Most were in bed by 2:30.
It's 8:00 am now; we're having a great breakfast before our big day. We will leave here in the next 45 minutes and head to Jinja to participate in the groundbreaking for the new seminary. Blessed to be able to witness this huge step for the LCMU!
So thankful for the prayers and support of our family and friends. Hoping to update the blog soon!