The Hearts and Hope mission trip in January was the 2nd visit to Uganda for Sara. She got to share the experience with her husband, Austin.
What a gift they were to the team! Enjoy her thoughts about this visit.
When asked to share something about my trip, being the Type-A person that I am, I first wrote out a list of possible experiences about which I could write. Next came the dilemma of which one to choose. How can you describe a life-changing experience in a couple of paragraphs? You can’t. But because I doubt you want to read a novel, I’ll try my very best.
Of the many options on my list, I found one common denominator: relationships. There is nothing more innate in our core than our desire for relationships – with family, with friends, and most importantly, our God. And I have never felt the importance of relationships more strongly than when I was in Uganda. A Ugandan welcome is like no other – genuine hugs, bright smiles, and lots of singing and dancing (I’m still not sure why Austin doesn’t greet me like that when I come home from work). They truly make you feel like the most important person on earth.
Their desire for relationships was never more apparent than when I witnessed the kids opening their sponsorship packets. While most packets were filled with toys, books, etc, they were also filled with cards and pictures of their sponsors. I’m pretty confident most kids here in the US would nonchalantly toss the card and pictures and focus solely on the toys in the packets. Not these kids, however. Even though the toys in these packets likely doubled their possessions, I was amazed to see how excited they were to see pictures of their sponsors and their families. They’d smile and proudly show their friends their family from the US.
Sending packets is a wonderful experience but Austin and I had the great privilege of meeting our sponsored girls. One, in particular, stole our hearts. She was sweet, smart, incredibly grateful, and had an infectious smile. It is hard to put into words such a surreal experience. It was as if, for just a few hours, we were family – not separated race, cultures, language, or 8,000 miles.
So if you sponsor a child, rest assured, all the effort and money you put into those packets are well worth every smile they bring. Even from across the world, they love you and desire a relationship with you. And if you get an opportunity to visit them, it will no doubt be life-changing.
Crystal has gone to Uganda with Hearts and Hope four different times. She brings so much joy and life to the team! Enjoy her description of her experiences below.
After 4 consecutive trips to Uganda, it’s safe to say I’m addicted. I’m addicted to the overwhelmingly warm welcome that I receive from the time I walk out of the airport in Entebbe. The local staff, our bus driver Julius, the receptionist and wait staff at the hotels we visit…and of course, every person in each village…the elder, the chairman, teachers, parents and children. I don’t think I will ever receive a more loving welcome than in the hands of the Ugandan people.
My first trip was so overwhelming that I didn’t really get to appreciate the trip as a whole. But as each year passes, it’s so awesome to see the people God places in our paths during these trips …the transformation I see from our own team members brings such joy to my heart…Grown men shedding tears…germ-a-phobic’s wiping little one’s noses…it’s as if we all just lose ourselves in humbleness when we are on this trip. We become patient, even though we are hot and dirty…we become little kids again when we join in to jump rope…and some of us even became confident in our dancing skills when pressured by an entire village to join in a celebration. Uganda allows us to live outside our American box, and enjoy life again…just living in each moment.
I keep traveling to Uganda to not just see the progress of an awesome organization, but to remind myself that there can be joy when you have nothing…there can be love for complete strangers whom you may not even be able to communicate with…and there can be so much more to learn from a culture focused on a relationship with a loving God….oh, and the safari is pretty darn cool as well.
Crystal and Henry, the Hearts and Hope Project Manager and a good friend.
Julie, Beth, and Crystal on their last night in Kampala.
This was Jerry Mayo's 4th trip to Uganda with Hearts and Hope. He and his wife and daughter sponsor Jacillin (the little girl on Jerry's left in this photo) in the village of Kamuli. His love for the kids in Uganda and the passion he has to make a difference are contagious. People ask why he goes to Uganda; his answer is below:
Almost two weeks after I returned from my 4th trip to Uganda, out of the blue, a co-worker stopped me and said "thank you for all that you do. I wait for every picture and post and its unbelievable how much progress is happening"....That made me smile, but not for the reason that I am doing some great deed to further humanity. The smile was because I thought to myself ...."I wish I could articulate how much THEY do for me"... and WOW "people are watching"
I must admit the first couple of trips were hard. Not hard in the physical sense, but emotionally. Its took a great deal of time for me to get my head around what I experienced. The sights, sounds, and smells of Uganda are unique. Everything is different; the food, the people, the language, the living conditions, the weather etc...Often times I found myself confused about what I was seeing and what my purpose was. How is it possible that I could offer anything of meaning? .......I think the feeling of be overwhelmed is a normal reaction to anyone that travels there, but with repetition comes knowledge and this trip was no different in that a few things "clicked" mentally......
The "I got it moment" was when the bus arrived at the village of Nakabango and as I was walking off the bus, I heard kids yelling "JERRY!!!!"....I thought to myself I HAVE FREINDS IN UGANDA!!!!! This is when I knew that part of the reason WE are there is to make connections and to form relationships. These relationships are what brings confidence and structure to the kids, the schools AND the village. They KNOW that people half way around the world love them and want to see them excel.. These kids know that their sponsors are "watching" and I believe this little bit of accountability is pushing them to do amazing things. The children are so excited to learn and grow , and honestly I am amazed at how far they have come.....I can't wait to see what the 5th trip teaches me:)
Jacillin's mother gave Jerry a live chicken as a token of her appreciation!
Jerry brought along some donated school supplies to share with the kids in Nalwire. Nobody carries a Hello Kitty backpack better than Jerry!
Anne Peters made her first trip to Uganda with Hearts and Hope this past month. She attends Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville and was a true gift to the team! She came home and immediately sponsored a child in Butangala, where Immanuel partners. Her thoughts:
I received my sponsorship letter in the mail yesterday. This is Josephine; she is 9 years old and lives half a world away. As I was reading about her family and looking at the picture she drew me (red dirt fingerprints and all) I had an overwhelming feeling of love for this little girl who I've never met. As tears of love and happiness ran down my face Aidan and Jeremy said we need to frame her picture and hang it up with the family photos. I never thought a mission trip would affect me or my family so greatly. If you ever feel that you cannot make a difference in this world because you are just one person think again. No matter how insignificant your actions may feel to you they all matter to someone. It doesn't matter how you love the world just love it!
Austin Gelsheimer just made his first trip to Uganda with Hearts and Hope. He gets as excited as the kids about a "sweetie"! Thank you for sharing some of your post-trip thoughts, Austin!
Going over to Uganda was a life changing experience. When someone asks what Uganda is like, most people will immediately remember a distinct smell and the extreme financial poverty facing the small nation. But when asking why I would want to go over there again, I immediately mention with a smile, “I haven’t told you about the people yet.”
The only thing I can compare to arriving at the sponsored villages would be how David Freese must have felt in Game 6 of the World Series in 2011 (please take a moment to relive the glory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZVCrKcOl78). Specifically, when Mr. Freese rounds third base after the 11th inning homerun and everyone is packing around home to congratulate him. That’s how it is arriving off the bus at Kamuli, Nakabango, Kainagoga, Mbulamuti, and Butangala: There’s a certain feeling of being at home surrounded by family and friends who’ve been waiting for you to celebrate the greatest achievement known to mankind with them. The smile that they have on their face with open arms and the joyful non-stop singing and dancing just makes you fall in love and realize that this is how God intended us to interact.
It’s that “reconnection” of simplicity that I’ll remember the most. In a life full of entertainment, luxuries, and technology it’s easy to get temporary happiness. But a genuine person isn’t a profile pic. A genuine conversation isn’t a text message while waiting for an ellipsis to answer back. It’s getting to know a person and their story face to face that makes them tangible and creates an everlasting bond that makes you care for someone with the deepest part of your heart. Together, with the Ugandan people, we were able to do just that - Enjoy each other’s presence and learn about the differences in cultures, share some laughs, and make lasting happy memories.
During our recent visit to Uganda, I traveled ahead of the team by a few days. I had two days to do some work with our staff and to visit a remote village that has no partnership. I love these visits; new faces, new friends, and a chance to see a place I've never been.
Making the journey to this village was a bit of an adventure. It is quite a distance from the main road. A bus bumping along these crater-filled roads with a white woman on it was quite a departure from the normal traffic of children walking to get water and the occasional bicycle. We must have been a peculiar site!
As we passed mud hut after mud hut, I noticed a pattern of response from the dust-covered children we passed. When they heard the bus coming, they would run to the edge of the road with a stoic, confused expression. But, as soon as they caught my eye and I smiled and waved, their faces lit up! It must have happened over a hundred times! Confusion, recognition, connection - time after time.
This went on for over an hour and made me consider the power of a smile. It was a mood-changer, for sure. But it also is a connection-maker. When your eyes lock and you share a smile, you are connected, if only for a moment. But that moment lasts. You move on, whether it's by walking past or bumping along in a bus, but you've shared something for that brief time. And the little bit of happiness you shared can change a day.
As I looked out the back of the bus, I could see kids stay by the side of the road until we had faded into the distance. Then they most likely returned to what they were doing before the interruption - playing with siblings, helping their mother weed a garden, washing plastic dishes from a recent meal - but I have to believe they felt a tiny bit different for awhile. I know I did!
So make it a mission to share your smile today. You never know who needs it. And it just might change YOUR day as well!
The view from the bus window.
Traffic on the road to Nawampiti.
A boy lucky enough to own a bike.
One of the smiles I received!
Beth Schult is the Director of Worship at Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, Missouri. This was her first trip to Uganda. This is David, who is sponsored by Beth and her husband, Pastor Paul, and other members of their family. Read her thoughts below on the power of sponsorship:
Meet Mark and Sumaya. Last year on a journey to visit and greet his sponsored children, while visiting the village of Butangala, sweet Sumaya caught his attention. Mark will tell you, he didn't know what it was, but it was just an instant connection. She was one of those kids who stands on the outside of the structure looking in. She was one of those kids your heart aches for, because there is not enough sponsors to care for them all. But when God is in the equation, something so small like a smile and spark in an eye causes miracles to happen.
Mark left the village that day, and immediately upon returning home and talking it over with his wife, embarked on a journey to find Sumaya and sponsor her. He knew that this girl needed a chance, and he was the vehicle that God was going to use to give her that chance. The only problem was that they couldn't find this little one right away, they tried and tried, but nothing. The dots were not connecting...I am not sure if they even had a name to associate with her, probably just some minor clues like what she was wearing.
Now, most people give up and say, "OK...there are others." But not Mark...and not God. Every single child matters to Him. "Let the little children come unto me!" Every single one! So, Mark kept asking, he kept seeking, he kept knocking. After almost one year, just weeks before we returned, Hearts and Hope staff finally located Sumaya and worked out the details on sponsorship. I wish you could of seen Mark that day. His world stopped for an entire 5 hours that we were in that village. He was giddy, elated, nervous, speechless, but most of all just overwhelmed by the joy that sweeps over you when God uses your life in the midst of HIS miraculous work.
Mark found a translator and was able to tell her exactly what was in his heart...he was able let Sumaya know that she matters-- that someone across the ocean is praying for her needs, and loving her deeply with support. 300$ doesn't seem like much to you and me...but in the eyes of this little one it is EVERYTHING. Her life was turned upside down-- Sumaya will now have the chance to grow up knowing her Savior, Jesus. She will be clothed and fed, and educated to pursue her dreams. Thank you, Mark...you had NO idea how much your actions were affecting me. But so truly grateful for your passion to serve no matter the obstacle. It is truly a picture of how God treats each and every one of us daily. IF you find yourslef wondering does my 300$ matter? The answer is YES....please visitwww.heartsandhope.org to get connected to someone you needs you.
Watching mission teams work together brings me such joy! I love seeing personalities mesh and everyone work together for a common good. Whether it's delivering packets to sponsorship kids, playing soccer in a makeshift field, or helping 100 kids wind yard around popsicle sticks, there is something cohesive about sharing the experience with people who have the same passion for caring.
This team's ability to do "whatever it takes" was never more evident than when they were given a couple of hours to just play! As the team leader, I like to take a 360-degree look wherever we are during these times and see who is doing what. It never fails to bring a smile my face!
Enjoy these photos I captured of the most recent team using their gifts to make a child feel loved!
Before I went to Uganda for the first time, I thought the image of a child playing with a tire was fiction; a made-up Hollywood image intended to tug at our heart strings a bit. The reality is that it happens all the time. There isn't much time for a child to play and there aren't many toys in the areas where we work. Time and time again, I see kids running beside the road pushing a tire with a stick or even a water bottle they have smashed and created a groove in that helps them control the tire. I'll never get used to it, but that's okay - I never want to become immune to the plight of some of the kids we serve. And they make pushing a tire look like the most fun a kid could ever have!
The Hearts and Hope mission team has returned from our winter trip to Uganda! We apologize for not being able to post on the blog during our visit; technical issues prohibited us from being able to access the site. Watch for lots of posts in the next month that will give you a deeper look at what happens on these trips and why we go!
The team will be working to process all that they have seen and done in the past two weeks for some time. Their emotions may range from joy to sadness to frustration; please be patient with them! Thank you again to our friends and family for allowing us to experience this together as a team!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.