Watch this beautiful message from Nampijii Majorine (we call her "Maj"). She has been sponsored through the village of Nakabango since 2007. She asked one of the team members to record this and give it to us when we arrived home. What an incredible affirmation that lives are being changed through the Hearts and Hope sponsorship program!
Tuesday, February 17th
On Tuesday, we left our trial-run hotel as it began to sprinkle raindrops on the bus. No one complained; the weather was almost cool!
Our first stop was the village of Mbulamuti, where three churches in Dallas have partnered for almost 3 years. In that time, they have bought land, dug a borehole well, and built a beautiful school with a playground, soccer and netball fields.
Almost 500 students attend school hear now; as we drove up they poured out of the classrooms. We were told during the welcome speeches that the school is now “feared” by other schools because it is showing such success. Their first class of P7 students did very well on their standardized exams that they took in the fall; not one child failed. We look forward to even more success in Mbulamuti.
The women requested a netball game with the men. It was quite the sight; one of the competitors was at least 7 months pregnant. The men requested the game be kept to 10 minutes and came out victorious. We were all fairly certain that if it had gone regulation, the result might have been different.
After we left Mbulamuti, we went to Nakakabala. There is a Lutheran congregation there that has worshipped together since 2013. They really have nothing; someone has allowed them to meet on a tiny parcel of land where they have an orange tarp stretched over several poles. They are a joyful group though and have big plans for the future!
We handed out some shirts and dresses to the children, along with beach balls and candy. All those beach balls in the air at the same time was a beautiful sight! We ate lunch under a mango tree and got back on the bus to go back to Jinja. Ken and Violet worked on weaving some dyed banana fibers on the trip home.
Our last dinner at the Sunset was wonderful. That place really does become “home” during our trips. The staff takes great care of us and does everything we ask of them.
A huge “thank you” to Pastor Paul and Pastor Jason for leading our devotion time this week. They have given us much to think about and yet calmed our concerns over the feelings we each have of being overwhelmed.
Monday, February 16th
Team 2 left the Sunset Hotel in Jinja on Monday and headed to Nakabango for a quick visit to the school in Nakabango. Since we had spent Saturday at the wedding and ordination, we didn’t get to see the kids in their classrooms.
The kids had lined the driveway beside the church to greet us. As we got off the bus, one of Brian Watkins’ sponsored students, Samuel, caught my eye. I had told him in October that there was a good chance that Brian would be with me during our visit in February. I nodded my head “yes” and motioned towards the front of the bus, where I knew Brain was looking for Samuel. I stepped off the bus just in time to see an incredible embrace between the two of them; what a sweet reminder of the importance that relationships play in our work! It was a touching moment I won’t soon forget.
We met the headmaster in the school office and then visited each classroom where we were greeted by smiling faces. We were all wondered aloud how the kids could concentrate when there were, at times, three classes meeting in one room simultaneously. There is a lot of recitation in Ugandan classrooms and it seemed impossible to concentrate. The motivation to build a permanent school structure there, with separate classrooms for all, is getting stronger with each visit!
We left Nakabango and got back on the main road for our visit to Kamuli. The road has improved so much in the past 2 years; a 3-4 hour drive is now down to only one.
We pulled into the Hearts and Hope primary school in Kamuli as students ran from across the field to greet us. Some of us had not even left the bus before Brian was in full dance mode. The hope and joy in Kamuli is tangible and we love to be there!
We did not have a lot of structured activities planned, since we had met with the sponsored kids during Team 1’s visit so we had a few hours to just enjoy being with the kids. That time is always a gift! There were games of soccer, volleyball, and some with no names, but it seemed at times that there were 400 kids all engaged with a team member somewhere! Several times I surveyed the field and saw Matt in the exact same spot, playing catch with the same group of 15 girls; it seemed like hours! He assured me later that he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing!
We passed out soccer uniforms to the team and watched the smiles break out. We shared several hundred books with the school and Mark and Ann listened to kids read for at least an hour.
Alex is one of the kids we always look forward to seeing. He speaks perfect English and even seems to understand our sarcastic sense of humor. I was sitting with him and around twenty other kids watching volleyball and he asked if we could listen to music on my phone. He wanted to hear John Legend’s “All of Me”. I put it on and he sang every word from beginning to end. I don’t mean he quietly sang along; he belted it out! It was fun to watch him pour his little heart out!
All too soon it was time to leave. Ronald, who was travelling with us, asked if I would like to try out the new hotel in Kamuli. Many people know that staying at our regular hotel in Kamuli is my least favorite part of the trip, so it’s no surprise that I jumped at the chance to try the new one. The receptionist gave us a quick tour and Charles negotiated our price. I believe the consensus was that it was a lovely stay and we will be trying it again!
It was a wonderful day and the team continued to see the progress being made through Hearts and Hope. We have seen a huge disparity in the schools we have visited. I think we are all wrestling with what we can each do to change a life!
It's Monday morning about 8:30. I just left breakfast so that I could write some things about our day in Butangala. I am a bit overwhelmed by our day! It brought so many memories of when Messiah's partnership with Nakabango was brand new; all of the excitement of new friends, new faces to love and the beginning of many wonderful relationships.
Our day began with the 30-minute drive to Butangala. We threw candy to the many kids waiting beside the one-lane dirt road. I really believe they knew we were coming!
We were greeted by hundreds of beautiful kids. They lead us to the thatch-covered shelter where the worship service soon began. Pastor Charles had lead us in singing some of the hymns during our bus ride so that we would be prepared. You haven't lived until you've sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" in Lugandan! We seemed to reach our peak when we hit the words "Yesu" and "Kristo".
There were baptisms of 5 infants and 2 adults. What a precious occasion for us to be a part of! There are always interesting twists to stories and events in Uganda - Pastor Jason handled them all with grace!
Pastor Jason's sermon focused on the woman at the well. There were so many parallels to be drawn in Uganda. But it was also interesting to personalize the feelings of being an outcast at times - for all of us.
After worship, we took a tour of the land and each of us planted a eucalyptus tree from the nursery they have at the back of the property. There are rows and rows of sweet potatoes currently planted behind the school.
When we returned, we listened to speeches by various leaders and I had the opportunity to introduce the team. We had lunch and then the dancing began. A company had been hired to provide a DJ, dancers, and a sound system - with incredibly large speakers that were heavy on the bass. It was great fun! Video to follow of my friends dancing....
We gathered the sponsored kids together and began the process of handing out packets. Such a beautiful thing t.o watch them cautiously open those envelopes and see the smiles that come when they pull out a picture of their sponsoring family! Jason, Matt, and Ann got to visit with their own sponsored child - that can be a life-changing experience all by itself. The Fesslers got to meet Muhammed's family.
Pastor Paul and Brian brought out the soccer balls to entertain the kids in the village who aren't sponsored. Giggles and dust filled the air!
We passed out new Hearts and Hope shirts to the teaching staff. It is truly easier to get a photo of 80 kids than it was to get one of the 14 staff members! They were so busy posing and laughing....they are a great group, working under some really tough conditions.
Immanuel Lutheran members donated funds at Christmas for some specific gifts for Butangala - school supply money was used to build a school office where supplies can be stored and secured, textbooks have been purchased and a cabinet built to hold them, benches and desks that were purchased so the kids don't have to sit or kneel on the ground, bedding kits (mattress, blanket, and mosquito net), and goats. The village leadership determines the recipients of these gifts, based on our request for the neediest children to be included. The next hour was spent making formal presentations of all of these items. There was much to celebrate!
Our thanks to the Hearts and Hope Project Coordinator, Henry Ballidawa, for spearheading these projects and making everything run so smoothly! Many thanks to Ronald, Violet, Mariah, Maj, David, Peter, and Nicholas as well - we know how many hours must have gone in to making this day such a success.
We look forward to the future of Butangala and Immanuel! Lives are truly being changed by this partnership.
This morning we are heading to Kamuli, with a brief stop in Nakabango to tour the school. We will have no internet access tonight so it will be awhile before we are able to make another update. Thank you for your prayers!
Our second day in Uganda began with an early breakfast and a devotion lead by Pastor Paul. He used the song "Just Be Held" by Casting Crowns. The chorus contains the words "stop holding on - just be held." What fabulous words - especially for those of us who really like to believe we are in control. Sometimes there is nothing like a mission trip to remind you who is in charge - and who is not.
This was a big day in Nakabango - vicar Simon Peter was married and ordained all in one day! We arrived in the village around 11:00 and took an impromptu tour of the area with several kids in tow. Since it was a Saturday, there was no school; we are going by on Monday morning to see school in session.
The decorators and DJ's were busy preparing for the reception. White tents covered the soccer field behind the school and hot pink ribbon was tied to everything.
Pastor Jason performed the wedding ceremony and did an awesome job! Tough to preach when you have to interject pauses for translation.
The bride and her bridesmaids entered the from the back of the church. I can't wait to post the video of the procession to the altar! The men were decked out in tuxedos and the bridesmaids were fuschia gowns.
After the wedding ceremony (which was an hour late due to some missing bridal shoes!), we moved right into the ordination for Simon Peter. Several local pastors and Pastors Jason and Paul were part of the service. Pastor Paul lead the service and delivered a great sermon that focused on the Messiah core process - Love, Learn, Live. He even managed to include a reference to "chocolate pudding"!
The reception followed - what a party that was! Everything was brightly colored - including the traditional dresses worn by the women. There was another procession by the bridal party, who had just returned from a trip into Jinja for pictures! There were several speeches by family members and a huge buffet of local favorites. The cake was cut and a receiving line was formed to present gifts to the bride and groom.
The DJ's cranked up the music and the dancing began! Such a good time! As it got dark, things wound down and we got on the bus to head back to our hotel. It was a full, exhausting day. Ann and I talked to tonight about how we definitely get our money's worth!!!
Wow - it's so hard to be without internet! The "technician" came to the Sunset today and made some improvements. We'll see how long this lasts!
Yesterday, Team 2 made the 2-hour drive from Kampala to Jinja and went straight to the village of Kainagoga. This village has no partner. The school is in such shambles; it breaks my heart to see the conditions that these kids attempt to learn in. However, the joy that surrounds every face lets you forget about it temporarily. They are a precious group!
We visited the classrooms, met with the sponsored kids and delivered their packets. We also left books with the P7 class and passed out uniforms for the soccer team. That put some smiles on some faces! They were thrilled! The guys played some football with them - and learned a few things.
It was a great introduction to the kinds of things we will see the rest of the week. This team is awesome and I have no doubt they will change some lives this week.
There were a lot of whole tilapia eaten last night! Most were in bed by midnight to get ready for a busy Saturday.
The weekend – Murchison Falls National Park
By Friday night, it was easy to see the team was exhausted – mentally and physically. The high heat was a factor, but we had seen a lot in five full days and our minds and hearts were full.
It is always a challenge to know what to do with what you have seen. For some, it is to go home and tell the stories of what you have seen; others encourage people to sponsor children or come on a trip. For all of us, the world will be seen a little differently.
During our last devotion time in Jinja, Andy talked about how he tries to live his life using what he has seen during his time in Uganda. It doesn’t mean going home and wanting to see everything you own (although some have felt that pull!) It means appreciating what you have more and using those kinds of blessings to help others. Some return from the trip and become strong advocates for Hearts and Hope; others use their experience as motivation to pursue other causes that have touched them personally in the past. Whatever the result, team members almost always feel a call to action. I pray for clarity as they rest and prepare to see their families and friends.
On Saturday morning, we checked out of the Sunset Hotel and headed to a nearby school where Betty is enrolled. We had a chance to visit the classroom where the deaf children were meeting. We took pictures with the kids and moved on to where Betty sleeps. She seems happy and stronger than when I saw her before. She opened her package from the Ehlmann family and gave us lots of smiles!
Next we made the short trip to the Source Café where everyone ordered lunch and descended up the market to shop for treasures to take home. We did our part in supporting the local economy and enjoyed our chicken guacamole wraps. Afterwards, we boarded our bus to make the 2-hour drive back to Kampala.
In Kampala, we checked into the Hotel Africana and changed to go to dinner at the Rock Garden. Later, we drove back to the hotel; some made it an early night and others enjoyed the stars for awhile longer.
The next morning, the tour company picked us up in two vehicles for the long drive to Murchison Falls National Park. We stopped for lunch along the way and arrived at Paraa Safari Lodge around 5:00 pm. The guys headed straight to the pool to cool off; the women headed to the showers. I suppose the end result was the same!
We enjoyed an early-morning game drive the next day and a boat ride on the Nile in the afternoon that took us to the bottom of Murchison Falls. Dinner was around 7:30 and almost everyone was asleep by 10:00pm!
We left the lodge around 8:45 Monday morning. After a 45-minute drive, we arrived at the top of the falls and enjoyed a half-hour break there. From the falls we drove another hour to the south entrance of the park and then two hours on to the town of Masindi.
In Masindi we met Pastor Raymond and enjoyed our boxed lunch under a tree. He accompanied us to the school in Kijambura where they have students in nursery school through P3. Their plan is to continue to add a grade each year, but all 5 classes currently meet in one large room so space has become an issue. The P3 class sang “Shake the Mango Tree”, one of my favorites. We handed out candy and got back into our vehicles for the 3-hour drive back to Kampala.
I checked into my room at the hotel and everyone got the chance to shower before they headed to the airport. I said my teary good-byes as the team got on the bus, accompanied by Henry, Ronald, and our driver, Julius.
The team is home now and I’m sure fighting jet lag. Please ask them about their trip!
I finally have access to our blog again! I will try to keep the posts in sequence.
Our Thursday night was spent at the Kyemba Sande Garden hotel in Kamuli. This is a bare-bones hotel; the power was on and off for the first hour we were there. We ate outside and many made it an early night.
Friday morning we woke up and headed to the village of Mbulamuti, where a small group of churches in the Dallas area have partnered. This village has gone from almost nothing to an amazing school in a little over two years.
There is a beautiful Hearts and Hope school, with large fields in the back for playing soccer and netball. There is a playground to the right where brightly-colored swings, slides, and more are rarely not in use.
We enjoyed a brief program by the children and then headed outside to play (packets are being delivered here by Team 2). The guys played soccer with the boys for a long time; I finally had to be the bad guy and officially call the game. Our guys, hot and sweaty as they were, would not be the ones to say it was over! Playing with these boys is such a gift to them.
Jerry and Mark played netball on the other field with a group of older girls. It looked fairly intense; that game had to be called when Mariah, a Hearts and Hope staff member, stepped in a hole and twisted her ankle.
Our next stop was the village of Namwendwa. We have been here a few times before. This congregation owns a strip of land and have started a school in a very temporary structure. We were greeted in a familiar, enthusiastic way and spent some time getting to know the kids there. We handed out t-shirts to the students and then presented a duffle bag full of books, donated by Messiah Lutheran families last year. I love having time to listen to these kids read!
There was more soccer and then lunch under a huge mango tree. It is incredible how much cooler it is in the shade. We passed out candy once again and headed to our next stop.
This was the first visit for all of us to the village of Buwaiswa. Chairman Emmanuel is from this area and asked if we would stop by. They have started a small school that meets under a blue tarp.
The village leadership presented a report and the women sang and danced for us. We were able to hand out flip-flops to most of the kids, along with more books and candy. Our visit wasn't long but it was a joy to be among these friendly people. We look forward to seeing them again.
We finally headed back to our home base - the Sunset Hotel in Jinja. We had our final dinner there that night and enjoyed meeting up with some friends from Texas and Michigan. It is amazing to hear all that God is doing in Uganda through so many!
Posters inside the school building in Mbulamuti.
We have talked about this concept several times this week during our devotion time in the morning. It truly comes alive when we are with the kids in Uganda.
All of us are frequently asked, prior to a trip, about what we are going to accomplish. What will we build? What will we do?
Sometimes it is difficult to explain that what we do is more about encouragement and hope. Often times it is more about the intangibles than the things we can physically see at the end of the day. Being a task-oriented person myself, I like a good project! I love working on something and seeing the results of my work. However, working in Uganda has taught me that sometimes that isn't what we are called to do. Sometimes it's just about being here.
I am thankful for a team who "gets it"; they have touched, literally, hundreds of kids this week. Many children here don't get that. While their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, guardians, love them, there is not much time to sit and hold a baby or cuddle a toddler or throw their arm around a 10-year-old boy.
That's a big part of what has been accomplished this week. Lots of touch. Lots of hand-holding. Lots of cuddles. Blessed to be a part of this team.
Enjoy a few pictures that capture the power of touch in Uganda....
Good morning, Jinja! My apologies for the lack of posts the past 2 days; there was no wifi in Kamuli, where we spent Thursday night, and it was incredibly (painfully?) slow here at the Sunset in Jinja last night. Trying again this morning!
We took off for Kamuli around 10:30 Thursday morning. It's an hour drive - now that the road is paved 90% of the way. This has been such a blessing; just 18 months ago, you could count on 2 1/2 hours, easily - and potentially some back pain.
The team was a well-oiled machine when it came time for packet distribution. I can't tell you how important this is to your sponsored child! So many smiles as they read their letters and looked at pictures sent to them.
Some fun with watercolors and colored pencils was next!
We made banners to hang at church with the women. We also gave them "treat bags" filled with all kinds of things to make them feel a bit special.
Many of the team members have sponsored students in Kamuli so we allowed for lots of "free time" with the kids.
The day ended with a visit to Jackline's home (she is sponsored by Jerry Mayo, above). I love these visits! Getting to see where these kids live is a real insight into how they live and the meager possessions they use to survive. It never ceases to surprise me how little they own - and yet they are full of joy. We are blessed to be a part of their lives.
Butangala is a village that just partnered with Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville last fall. Prior to that, some land had been purchased and a borehole well installed - major improvements to their quality of life.
Since Immanuel began sponsoring students, the number of kids in the program has grown from 16 to 78 and there is a tangible excitement in the air! We had one of the most magnificent greetings ever when we arrived yesterday! The kids were waving eucalyptus branches, singing, and dancing. There were shrieks of happiness from the women. Wonderful things are beginning to happen in Butangala!
We took a quick tour of the land and saw the gardens being managed by the school and church. They have a field of eucalyptus trees planted that will grown 8-10' per year. Those of us who were here in February 2014 got to see the saplings we planted at that time.
Some of the funds raised by Immanuel at Christmas were used to construct a brick school office and storage room. This is a huge deal to a school. They need a place to keep books, paper, etc. where it will be safe from the weather. Textbooks are being purchased as well and they will be stored here.
We were entertained with dancing and music. The new headmaster at Butangala also enjoys music so it will be fun to watch that influence take hold in the next few months.
We let all children in the school spend some time drawing. Afterwards, Barb, Toni, and Tracy lead the women in a special projects - making banners to use when they have worship services on Sunday. It was hard, hot work, but the results are beautiful and the women loved the attention.
We had some free time to read with the kids, play football, and of course, take lots of pictures. We ate lunch and handed out candy to everyone. When it was time to leave, we had the opportunity to visit the homes of three of the students in the sponsorship program who live nearby. It is a sobering experience to see what these kids go home to after we leave. Such small spaces with dirt floors and no light. Our hosts are gracious and seem to love that they have been chosen as recipients of a team visit - even when they don't know we are coming!
We left Butangala and headed back to the Sunset for showers. Dinner was at All Friends Place last night (formerly Two Friends). It is always fun to go there - just for a change. We donned our glowsticks and turned on our flashlights for the walk back to the hotel. Five minutes into the walk, our bus pulled up beside us and some of us hitched a ride back.
Back at the Sunset, we played cards with our Ugandan friends, per Mariah/Violet/Maj rules. These are NOT set in stone apparently and can change as they see fit. Never a dull moment!
We are going to Kamuli today and will be spending the night there. Most likely, we will not have wifi and we won't be able to post much. No worries - we will catch you up when we return to the Sunset Hotel in Jinja tomorrow!
The team is really doing well and they are fantastic at adopting a "whatever it takes" attitude - key to mission team success! Prayers for continued good health and safe travel are appreciated.
Nakabango Day - always eventful! Hearts and Hope teams always seem to experience a little more rowdy crowd in this village that any other. A reflection on their partner, Messiah Lutheran in Weldon Spring, Missouri? I think not!
We drove up to the church and the lawn was dotted with kids in their bright orange uniforms. We sat in desks under a large shade tree while the kids sang their greetings for us and the headmaster and the Hearts and Hope Education Coordinator gave their reports.
We took a tour of the grounds, including the carpentry shop and sewing center and then headed back to the church building to meet with the sponsorship kids. We delivered packets and shared some projects. It's always a favorite time of mine when I get to see kids open their packets from their sponsorship famlies; I can't stress how important this is!
Next we headed to lunch in the sewing/women's center. The ladies have just recently started a catering company and had the enormous table decorated just as if this were a very special event. After Violet shared the menu, we stood up to make our way to the table. About that time, the ENTIRE buffet table fell to the floor, sending food and their new ceramic dishes crashing to the floor. We all froze for a minute and then jumped into action! We salvaged what we could and helped clean up the rest. We felt SO SORRY for the women; this was intended to be such a special day for them. They bounced back though and we enjoyed our meal together.
Afterwards, we had the privilege of presenting 7 goats to families in Nakabango. The goal is for these goats to be bred, and the offspring passed on to another family. We all loved being a part of this and thank the donors who gave to this cause at Celebrate Uganda!
In the afternoon, we had 2 totally unstructured hours. My favorite! We all just enjoyed our time - some playing football, some playing volleyball, some of the teachers in the group playing word games, etc. It is truly a time to connect with the women and kids. I treasure these times!
Dwight Bailey, a doctor who is travelling with us, had the opportunity to care for four students at the school, ranging from a fairly severe ear infection to a nasty wound that wouldn't heal. So thankful to have him along!
There was line dancing and pretzel M&M's after dinner tonight. Dwight finally got his cashew chicken so all is right with the world again!
Looking forward to a visit to Butangala tomorrow!
We arrived in Jinja around 1:30 in the afternoon. There were several “jams” along the road from Kampala to Jinja and so the journey took longer than we anticipated. Imagine that!
We stopped at the market in Jinja to buy paper and at the HH4U office to pick up a box of candy that had been already been purchased by the staff. Finally, we were off to Kainagoga!
Kainagoga is a village where a small parcel of land has been purchased, and a well and latrine have been added. The school is housed in a very temporary, rundown structure. Today was the first day of the school year, a day that is not attended by many students.
We met with the 15 students who are sponsored there and had some fun with watercolors and crayons. Later, we played with beach balls, kickballs, and soccer balls. The kids truly love the attention they are given during our visits!
Yesterday was the first day of school for primary schools in Uganda. Typical attendance for the first week is very low; Kainagoga was no different. I suspect the student to team member ratio will be much higher today!
There is a home for disabled children next to the school in Kainagoga. We had a chance to tour it during the afternoon. Thirty-seven children live there - many of them dropped off on the porch overnight and left. Most of them have cerebral palsy. The experience was difficult to handle. There was a large bulletin board near the entrance with each child and caregiver's photo; underneath the pictures were the words of Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I love that verse, but it was especially powerful in relation to these kids.
We handed out "sweeties" and headed to our hotel in Jinja - but not before flinging close to 400 pieces of candy out the window of the bus on our way to the main road.
Check-in at our beloved Sunset Hotel International was a breeze and dinner under the stars was as divine as ever.
Overheard at dinner:
Dwight: Well, that was great stir-fry cashew chicken, but I didn't taste one cashew.
Tom: Uh, well, that's because you ordered the Szechuan chicken....
Excited about heading to Nakabango today! Hello to our families and friends!
The team is ready for our first full day in Uganda! We arrived at our hotel in Kampala around 12:30am. We checked in and shared some fish fingers (they are very small, if you're wondering!) and chips and most went to bed around 3:00am. There is a nine-hour time difference so we went to sleep before we had any Suoer Bowl reports.
Everyone woke up happy and ready to go. For all of you who are concerned, Mark Oppeaus is doing great! It's an awesome team and I'm excited to see what the day holds!
We had the privilege of visiting with a friend and supporter of Hearts and Hope at the hotel this morning. Pastor Cliff Hellmers and a friend from Finland, Anu, have been here all week and dedicated a new school in Kateete yesterday. What a great way to start the week!
Please continue to pray for the team and those we came to serve!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.