People in my generation often travel to "find themselves." We talk about living our truth, discovering our passions, and spiritual awakening as if Instagramming ourselves in Bali for a week will really profoundly change us on some unknowable level. Admittedly, I can be one of those people - endlessly fascinated with "getting to know myself" through Myers Briggs tests, self help books, and adventure. But Uganda was a different type of travel - that, for once, wasn't about me.
I had done a lot of work in the weeks and months prior to our trip prayerfully considering what God was calling me to do and how He could impact the lives of others through me. During that time, I was at a crossroads in my life - personally, professionally, and spiritually. So I prayed for Him to reveal His presence, to show me who I truly was and who He wanted me to be. Even though I was excited for our trip, I wasn't really sure what role I'd play in Uganda. I worried about the fact that I don't consider myself a kid person. I don't have the overwhelming urge to pinch babies cheeks like some of my friends do, and my mothering instinct has definitely not kicked in yet, considering sometimes I forget to feed my cat. I also identify as an introvert - I love people, but I need my alone time to recharge and gain energy for my day. Knowing alone time is fairly sparse in Uganda, I was concerned about how I'd handle all of that togetherness.
When we arrived in our first village in Kainagoga, as kids tugged on my arms in a dusty field in the hot sun, my first feeling was pure panic. My introvert and not-a-kid-person identities were in full alert mode, and I had a sudden longing to find a shady spot where I could take a few deep breaths, alone.
And then, as many of God's answers do, His response to my prayer came simply. I looked into the face of the girl that was clinging to my pointer finger and smiling shyly at me, and I felt a sense of divine peace. I knew in that moment that holding the hand of a little girl in an oversized, dirty t-shirt was all that mattered - because my identity is not this amorphous thing that I must seek to discover. If I want to know who I am, I just have to look to Christ - and strive to be his hands and feet alive in this world today.
So for the rest of the week, I just gave it to Him. I trusted Him to reveal how He wanted to me to spend my time with those kids, and not worry about the "roles" I was playing or the carefully crafted plans that I needed to execute. I set aside my control-freak identity and grabbed a parachute to play made-up games with 100 kids in a field. I laid down my alone-time and privacy-seeking persona to intentionally seek out community. I found myself, the professed not-a-kid-person, sitting in the dirt holding a baby named Geoffrey and not caring that I was imminently going to be peed on.
Our God is a God of disrupting plans. Of breaking down preconceived notions and biases and self doubt, and building all things new. Of asking us to set aside our quest for personal fulfillment and self identity, and instead look to him, our Creator.
Sometimes you just have to grab a parachute, smile, and say "let's go" to a 100 screaming Ugandan children. Sometimes you just have to look to God, say "you've got this," and keep forging ahead into beautiful chaos.
In Uganda, I didn't find myself - but when I looked, I found Him. And that's more than I could ever ask for.
I expected to just ‘watch’ and ‘see’ a lot of thinks in Uganda with Hearts & Hope. Prior to leaving on our trip, I selfishly did not want to get too connected to what I was doing or experiencing because I did not want to be overly impacted.
When we arrived at our first village school, I was amazed by what should be obvious, children are children no matter where in the world you are. They are funny, shy, happy, and sad. I was humbled by how happy they were to see someone come to visit them. Before long it became clear that these children had true joy and their needs were as simple as those of all children; they just wanted to spend time with someone, hold someone’s hand, play and laugh with someone.
I was humbled by how much the adults that made up the villages and schools gave their visitors. They gave us food that they could not afford to give away, and they gave it to us abundantly and with smiles. The greetings we received and the activities we participated in at the schools and villages allow you to understand how important we all can be to each other, if we listen to what God has put in our hearts, and allow ourselves to be.
One morning, prior to us leaving for a village, one of our team members provided a devotional based on a book she had read. In the book a mother described one of her children that played with their trash. While the mother felt it was indeed trash, the child found it to be something different and found joy in playing and creating with it. Later that afternoon, we visited the home of a young boy (Moses). Moses had a goiter removed from his neck during the course of 2017, benefiting from people listening to God and doing His work through Hearts & Hope. As we walked toward Moses’ house we saw the following that he had made:
I believe that God, our Father, works everything together for the good of His children and pays incredible attention to all details. Our visit with the children and people of Uganda allowed us to pay attention to some details. It allowed us to understand that God’s love, generosity, loving kindness and hope are manifest in each of us. It is a choice that we all make, every day, to reveal God’s love to each other.
This is my third trip to Uganda which has quickly become my happy place. The place I go to in my mind when I'm feeling sad, mad, or just plain bored. It constantly grounds me and enables me to appreciate my abundant blessings. The past few trip posts I've written were full of examples of the many ways Uganda has made me a better person and enriched my life. last time I even mustered up the creativity to form these feelings into a poem.
This time however, I'm going to explain the ways Uganda has made my life worse. First of all, it has opened my eyes to the true meaning of poverty, the haunting suffering that doesn't only exist in newspaper articles and TV commercials and the suffering that doesn't just happen to the "bad guys" of the world. It happens to kids, babies even, and truly God-fearing people who seem to never stop trying to better their lives. Uganda has given me a face, many beautiful faces in fact, that now represent this issue personally. This has forced me to ask questions to God that maybe I don't want him to answer. The obvious question being 'why?'. I find myself asking God, Why do you allow all this poverty, war, and suffering to happen in this world to such innocence? Can't you do something?
Perhaps He is responding to me with the same question.
He says, "Kelly, I have given you the answer, you.... you are my body, you are my hands and you are my feet." God created us to help and care for one another and maybe the realization that we as a human race aren't doing our job is just too uncomfortable an answer for me to accept.
The second way Uganda has made my life worse is because it has ruined many major holidays...
Halloween, for example. I can no longer take my nieces and nephews trick or treating without seeing the faces of my kids in Uganda and wondering how much fun they would be having, if only...
Watching kids gets bellyaches because they ate too many Reeses and wondering how many empty bellies are aching from no dinner on the other side of the world.
I can no longer handle aspects of American Christmas when I recall that Santa Claus, jewelry or the newest iPhone have nothing to do with the birth of Christ and this consumerist waste of resources could be doing so much good for others.
You see, Uganda has in some sense ruined me, but through the ruins I am slowing being rebuilt. Rebuilt into a human being who will be and will do better for the world and for my brothers and sisters at home and abroad. Thank you, Uganda, for being the key to my soul's renovation.
On our last day at the Sunset, I’m eating a full breakfast of cheese pizza, watermelon, and toast, while watching a nature documentary with our four servers. We’ll miss this place!
We fit a lot into a relatively short amount of time in Butangala yesterday. Butangala is a partner village of Hearts and Hope, but doesn’t yet have a permanent structure - so our packet-giving-out system was tested! We were still able to give out the packets in record time, and to spend some time with the kids helping them open them and read their letters from their sponsors.
Butangala has an amazing dance, singing, and drama program, and we loved watching the kids perform for us! Richard, who is now a member of the Hearts and Hope staff, used to be the headmaster at this school - he’s credited with the success of the fine arts programs. We watched several dances and songs, as well as a poem about health and the importance of handwashing. This warmed our hearts, since we recently installed a new hand washing station near the latrine in Butangala.
Julie was also able to announce that Butangala’s partner congregation, Immanuel Wentzville, had raised enough funds to being construction on a semi-permanent structure in the village. As you can imagine, this was met with much celebration!
We had a good amount of free time for playing with the kids yesterday, which is always a blessing. More than any other village, this one includes many children who do not go to school - so we loved giving them some special attention and love while playing with the parachute and frisbees, and doing three-legged races.
Since this was our last sponsored village, we had lots of supplies left over from our activities - so we used some of them to draw pictures with the women of the village. They are some of the most hardworking and loving people in the world, and they always appreciate when we can spend some time with them. The village sponsorship assistant of Butangala helped us pass out paper and markers to draw pictures of their homes. We let them choose if they would like us to take them with them or give them to us, so we received some beautiful artwork that we assured them will be displayed prominently in the US!
In this village, we were able to do two home visits to sponsored kids’ homes. Often, this is a heartbreaking but important part of our village visits that helps us understand more about the daily lives of the students. We visited Bataganya Moses’ and Nangobi Prossy’s home, as well as Nambi Angela’s. Their guardians and parents were proud to greet us and show us their homes, kitchens, latrines, and gardens. We were also presented with a jackfruit, which has proven to be a polarizing taste among the team!
From Butangala, we headed to the Hearts and Hope soccer match! A crowd of kiddos surrounded us while we sat near the pitch, and we gave them hugs and covered them with shiny stickers while we watched the game. It's amazing how much it means to kids to receive some undivided attention and be able to sit on a lap for just an hour.
Today, we’ll stop by Kainagoga for an hour or two before heading back to Kampala. The week has simultaneously gone very fast and very slow. We’re grateful to be able to have some time in the next few days to decompress and reflect on what we’ve seen and experienced.
Jessica Stroder ~ Mission Team Member
Good morning from our last full day at the Sunset! We got to visit two villages yesterday, both in the Kamuli district.
Pastor Schlie offered a devotion to start the day, and shared a verse from Romans 8: The resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Dad?” This was a sentiment we carried throughout the afternoon - asking God to guide us in what he wants us to see, do, and experience, and feel, in constant conversation with him. What a powerful reminder of why we’re here and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
First up yesterday was the village of Kamuli, a community that we’ve partnered with for several years now. We were so impressed with the dancing program we received in their school building! Terry, Rooney, Kelly, and Toni were even selected to join along - what a treat.
Next, we handed out sponsor packets, bags, and picture frames for the activity. Violet did a countdown to when the kids were allowed to open their packets, and there were nothing but smiles as they pulled out their letters, cards, and toys from their sponsors.
One thing that warms our hearts is seeing kids share what they received with their friends. Often, we’ll see students look through photos from their sponsors, and then pass them around so everyone else can take a look. Two girls in the back row of the school enjoyed coating each other’s faces with the stickers from their packets. These small gestures are just one example of the relational and community nature of the people of Uganda.
At dinner, we asked Mariah and Violet more about the huge, warm welcomes we receive from each village. They said children are taught that they must be hospitable and kind to everyone, even strangers, and are taught good manners and how to greet visitors warmly from a young age. They found it hard to believe that in the US, if we have guests in our homes, they typically only stay for a few days - and sometimes we’re ready for them to leave sooner! In Uganda, if you visit your relatives or friends, it’s rude to only stay for an hour - you must stay the whole day, and they would prefer if you stayed for a month! When it comes to kindness, friendship, and community, we are seeing that we have a lot to learn from the people of Uganda.
As the day went on, we also enjoyed spending some time with a few of the secondary school students. We distributed small notecards for them to write a message to their sponsors on, and they took this task very seriously. Several of the students took out their letters from their sponsors to make sure they answered each question thoroughly.
We did a few crafts with the kids, and after lunch, presented some library books and new Kamuli school shirts to the staff. Lunch in the village was absolutely delicious - homemade potato chips were a favorite among the team! We wrapped up a little earlier than usual to head to our next village in Namwemwe.
This village doesn’t have an official partner, but does have a borehole well that was purchased through Party with a Purpose in 2016. The well was dedicated last year, and many team members noticed the marked improvement in the health of the children because they now receive clean water.
We fit a lot into the hour and a half we were able to spend with the people of Namwendwa! We loved holding the many little babies of the village while the head pastor offered a devotion, and the choir sang a welcome song. About the time we started painting faces, a storm hit - which clearly showed the community’s need for a more permanent structure. It was mass chaos as the team, the women, men, children, and even chickens of the village huddled together, dodging the rain coming in from the sides and through holes in the roof.
Despite the rain, face painting was still a success, and we went through the faces of about 100 kids in a record-breaking 20 minutes. Some of the kids are a bit confused about what we are doing and why we’re painting suns on their foreheads - but the fun for many of them is just getting some undivided attention for a while.
We presented some tote bags to the women, and purchased some crafts from them before heading back to the Sunset to clean up. We loved getting to head to the All Friends Restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious - but the star of the show was really NIcholas’ baby boy, Austin.
We can’t believe it’s our last night at the Sunset tonight after Butangala! We’re looking forward to the day, but it’s bittersweet knowing it’s our last village.
Jessica Stroder - mission team member
Good morning from Uganda! What a great day in Nakabango. This is always such a special day, especially for the members of the team from Messiah.
Each morning of our trip, we set aside time with the team to reflect on what we’ve seen and experienced, and to hear a devotion to help set our minds and hearts for the day. Julie shared a moment from the day before that can only be described as a “God thing.” Before breakfast on Sunday morning, Jessica was chatting with another mission team that was staying at the Sunset. They shared that part of the work they were doing was handing out Days for Girls kits, which provide washable supplies for women so that they can still go to school while they’re menstruating. This is an organization that Hearts and Hope has also been involved in - we handed out several kits to women on our February trip, and Layet Dorothy in Nakabango is a trained educator for the program.
Julie asked them about their work with Days for Girls later on in breakfast, and they shared that they’d been praying for guidance because they were almost out of kits. It so happens that Hearts and Hope had 70 kits stored in their office, just waiting for an opportunity to be distributed. We’re bringing the kits to the team later today. Suffice it to say that there were many hugs, tears, and thanks to God for this small miracle.
Our day in Nakabango began, as usual, with a wonderful welcome from the kids and women of the village. We received a tour of the community, which included the school and church buildings and various income-driving projects like a piggery, carpentry shop, and the catering company. The caterers were inspiring to many of us - they were able to purchase new plates and new uniforms with money they’ve raised from their work. This self-sustaining model, where income is used to make their business better, is something we hope to replicate with other projects.
A little girl named Patricia is always a constant on our trips to Uganda. Patricia has a developmental disability that makes her very small, even though she is twelve, and has a hard time expressing herself verbally. Most of the time we’re in the Nakabango, her feet barely touch the ground because of all the time she spends in the arms of team members. The best way to describe Patricia is “a hoot,” and we loved spending time with her.
Programming, including songs, speeches, and poems, followed our tour. One of our favorite parts was the poem that the school choir recited about education. “Education, education, education. I am a policeman because of education. I am a doctor because of education. Education is the key to success.” School leaders presented a report of how the Nakabango Primary School students performed in 2017 - twenty-two of the twenty-three students who sat for their PLE entrance exams (to allow them into secondary school) were admitted, which is a huge deal! How exciting to see how far we’ve progressed since sponsoring Nakabango ten years ago.
Three other mission team members join us today - Pastor Chuck Schlie, Rooney, and his wife Terry. They jumped right in, and we’re thrilled to have their gifts and see our team finally completed! Abraham, Dan, and Timothy Mark also joined us, and they’re always a huge help at organizing the kids and keeping the peace.
Packets and crafts with the sponsored kids were next on the agenda. The team loves getting to sit with their sponsored kids and friends’ sponsored kids while they open their packets of small toys, letters, and photos. There are many secondary school kids that are sponsored in Nakabango, so it was a blessing to see them and talk to them about the gratitude they feel for their sponsors at home.
One inspiring part of the day was reading with the P4 (fourth grade level) children in the library. We presented some books to them, and let them select a book to read to us. The team was really impressed with the high level of reading skill, and the kids enjoyed being able to show off their knowledge.
At this point, the team feels that we could write a book about the fine art of face painting and giving out candy - we have it down to a science! We also closed out the day with the parachute, a presentation of soccer balls, and lots of hugs. We’re thankful for the time we were able to spend with the people of Nakabango yesterday, and are looking forward to two more villages today!
We had an excellent Super Bowl party in Nairika yesterday! :) This was our first time in this village. It’s always a good perspective to see unsponsored villages and witness the work that’s still to be done in most of Uganda. Violet joined us today, so it was wonderful to be able to catch up with her and watch her at work in the village!
The kiddos in Nairika were super smart. Many were a bit apprehensive about the team until they warmed up to us, but once they did, it was nothing but love. As is typical, our numbers grew throughout the day. When we showed up there were around 25 kids - within a matter of an hour, there were close to 200. We had a great time playing games like duck, duck, goose and doing the hokey pokey, while showing a little bit of extra love to kids who lingered on the perimeters.
Every member of the team fell in love with the sweetest baby in the world named Geoffrey. His sister - who must have been around 8, and hardly bigger than he was - was carrying him around, and we were happy to hold him for her for a while. What a joy to be able to show God’s love to the littlest of his kingdom.
After a few hours of playing, we headed into their structure for the worship service. Most of the service, including the hymns, were in Lugandan. Karen was the star of the show when it came to pronouncing and singing the songs - Violet said that she could have been Ugandan! Pastor Schult preached, and Bishop Charles translated the sermon, the baptisms, and the confirmations. Speeches followed, where many of the community leaders urged the congregation to stay strong in the faith. It was clear that a more permanent structure for worship and classrooms were needed in order to serve the growing community effectively - and this was confirmed by these leaders.
One of the most powerful parts of the service was seeing the six baptisms and twenty-six confirmations from the congregation - including Ashraf’s baptism, and Dan and Abraham’s confirmation. These three boys have been connected with Hearts and Hope for several years now, after living on the streets in Kampala. Julie served as Ashraf’s sponsor, which included choosing his Christian name on the fly. She chose “Timothy Mark” - and Ashraf has already changed his name to Timothy Mark Stroder on Facebook!
We had about an hour for activities after the service and speeches, which included a lightning round of face painting, bracelet making, and coloring. Lunch is always a necessary part of our visits to villages, as this is a way the communities like to show their thanks and appreciation. We were all proud of newly-confirmed Abraham for offering our prayer in flawless English. If you would have told us Abraham would be praying over our meal a few years ago, we may not have believed you!
After that, we had some time to say goodbye to the kids and give some new clothing to the little ones that were most in need. A presentation of soccer balls to the headmaster of the school was met with much excitement!
Dan, Timothy Mark, and Abraham accompanied us back to the Sunset for a meal and entertained us with some dancing - what a treat! God was clearly at work in Nairika. We’re looking forward to a full day at Nakabango today!
After a good night’s rest for most of us, it was time for the 3-hour bus ride to the village of Nalwire. This village is east of Jinja, where we stay, and is on the border between Uganda and Kenya. This was this team’s first exposure to the dusty red roads that Uganda is know for; the roads that provide an “African massage”! Pastor Paul and I couldn’t help but recall the good old days when that’s the only kind of road we traveled here. (Uphill, in a snowstorm?)
Pastor Nicholas who serves in Nalwire and his wife joined us on the bus ride. We also picked up two sweet girls that are special sponsorships in Iganda, who also joined us for the day.
We arrived to find a throng of beautiful kids - and lots of adults. We enjoyed some dancing and reports from the head of the school and the church inside their small mud structure.
Pastor Paul and Beth Schult serve at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City, California. Redeemer is partnering with this village through Hearts & Hope. What a thrill for them to see the new well that was funded by the generosity of their members! Life changing! They brought shirts for the Nalwire leaders from their friends at Redeemer. They were also able to present musical instruments to the church - a precious gift, especially in a community that expresses their joy through music so well.
We made bracelets with the women and then enjoyed lunch. Afterwards, the parachute came out and the face-painting and tattoos began! The line never got shorter over the next hour but there were a lot of kids walking around beaming with a flower or soccer ball painted on their foreheads!
All too soon it was time to climb back on the bus. We got back to the hotel after 7:00 and ordered dinner before heading to the shower. For the second night in a row, most of the team headed to their rooms before 10:00!
We are looking forward to worshipping in a new village today - even our staff has never been there. It is sure to be a great experience. Photos to follow!
What a productive day in Kainagoga! It was packed with activity, but even with all that we had to do, we were still able to enjoy plenty of precious moments with the kids and women. Being able to turn in early for the night was also a blessing so we can catch up on some sleep.
We began the morning at 9 am sharp - also known as 7 am Africa time, according to Nicholas! A two-hour ride from Hotel Africaana brought us to our home-away-from-home, the Sunset Hotel, where we took a quick pit stop before making our way to the village.
I think we could see and hear the kids in Kainagoga a half mile before we even reached the school! We celebrated with singing and dancing programming from the students, parents, and even some of the staff! We toured the new Kainagoga library, and were able to present some new books to the teachers to add to it.
Thirteen of the checked bags were full of packets for sponsored kids this year - that’s 650 pounds worth of letters, small toys, photos, and notebooks! We enjoyed handing out over one hundred of those packets in Kainagoga. As always, the most celebrated and treasured items are the letters and photos from their sponsors. And just like American kids, Ugandan children who received fidget spinners were enamored.
Along with their packets, sponsored kids in the village received Hearts and Hope tote bags (always a hit!) and were able to decorate a picture frame and name card that will be sent back to their sponsors.
After lunch, we participated in some activities with the women and guardians in the village. Paper bead making is a popular art and way of making income for women in Uganda, so we learned how to make the perfect beads out of calendar paper wrapped around a needle, glue, and resin. Mavis had to take a remedial course in bead-making from a few of the women, but after a few false starts, she rolled the perfect bead - which was met with celebration!
Saying goodbye is always difficult, but knowing we’ll be back to the village on Thursday made this one a bit easier.
Once we were back to the Sunset, we ate a quick dinner with the staff and with Pastor Schult and Beth. and turned in early to catch up on some sleep from our travel. We’re excited to hit the ground running in Nalwire today!
Jessica Stroder - mission team member
The latest Hearts & Hope mission team has arrived safely in Uganda! We pulled into the Hotel Africana around 12:45am - a little unsure of what morning it was, but today we have decided it is Friday!
We’ll be running on only a couple hours of sleep but adrenaline will push us through today. We are excited to be here and can’t wait to get to Kainagoga! Hoping to enjoy some time with a LOT of sponsored kids.
We appreciate your prayers for safe travel!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.