The following was written by Grant Ehlmann, a team member from the June 2015 Hearts and Hope mission trip to Uganda.
This was my second trip to Uganda in as many years. “Was this trip going to be the same or different than my first experience and if it was different, then how?” That was the question(s) running through my mind for weeks and months leading up to the actual trip. The answer to this would only manifest itself towards the end of the trip and in a way that I had not quite imagined.
As with my initial trip, the planning and implementation of the actual trip was flawless thanks to Julie and her preparation. That piece was gravy! Couldn’t have been planned any better in my opinion. Top notch all the way.
Fast forward to the actual Mission. Our first stop was like I recall from 2013. Awesome! We were greeted by droves of children and elders clamoring for attention or at least the ability to simply shake hands and be acknowledged. The welcoming one receives upon arrival to a village like Kainhagoga and Nakabongo is nothing short of amazing. While it is our goal to help spread the Word and Love to them, it is they that more than return the favor in ways that never get old; women singing and chanting and children reaching out for just a touch of your hand if only for a split second. Things that simply don’t happen back home. Right away, you feel the love and are welcomed in their homes.
Going from village to village, faces were familiar from my previous trip, only with a slight difference, they all looked even better. Was that because I “knew” them better or was it because they were actually doing better? Turns out, both! Children were doing better and as a result were much happier. A very welcome sight for several of us who had been there before.
Up to this point, the trip was proving once again to be a great trip yet quite similar to before. The one caveat to this was that I would be re-united with a beautiful young girl I had only fleetingly met two years prior. Her name, Betty. The circumstances in which we had met in 2013 were no coincidence in my mind. God had put both Betty and I there in that small village and had carefully scripted how everything would play out in the coming months and years leading up to our meeting this time.
Back story 2013 Trip:
In the village of Mbulamuti, myself along with 12 others, were doing our routine “hellos” and giving thanks to all the villagers, students, etc. Upon making my way through the crowd of hundreds of children I noticed a single girl, sitting quietly and alone in the back of the classroom structure. I could tell right away that she had a disability which I could tell was Cerebral Palsy. She was sitting quietly and taking in everything that was going on but doing so with the biggest smile on her face despite no one talking with her. I made my way towards her at the same time Violet was walking towards her. Violet introduced me to her but I could not quite understand what was being said. I touched her hand and she looked up with the biggest smile on her face. At the same time, I felt a tug on my hand and was whisked away by children wanting to play games. As I was pulled away, something was just not “sitting” right with me. I had to learn more about this girl. Who was she? Was she sponsored? Does she have family? All the things that go through one’s head when in a village like this.
So, I would continue to play with the others kids throughout the day and think about this beautiful little girl with the bright smile as the day pressed on. It wasn’t until we loaded up the bus for departure that something caught my eye. It was that little girl. The one with the biggest smile despite her disability and predicament. She was not standing in the front with all of the other kids. Rather, she was in the very back as if not to be noticed. Only I noticed her and she noticed me. We locked eyes and I reached out of the bus window. I motioned for her to come towards the bus. As she slowly walked towards the bus her cerebral palsy was quite evident. She struggled to make her way to the window where we held hands if only for a short moment. Then it hit me…. She was the reason I was sent to Uganda. One young girl, half a world away. She was the reason!
I would later learn that her name was Betty and that she did, indeed, have cerebral palsy. I would also learn that she was not sponsored and that that both her mother and father had passed away leaving her an orphan. Being an orphan would make life difficult enough but having a developmental disability all but guarantees no chance of success, let alone survival in a third world country such as Uganda. I knew she was the one and that my family would be the fortunate ones to become her new family. I couldn’t wait to see her again!
And so we fast forward to June 19th, 2015.
Five days into the nitty gritty of the Mission trip and the day I had been anxiously awaiting was here. It started off like the other days but with one minor twist. I was going shopping. Yep, shopping. I hate shopping but on this day it wasn’t your typical shopping spree. It was to buy supplies and food for Betty. I received the “list” from Violet and we went to town grabbing everything that could possibly fit in a basket and then some. I actually had fun shopping if you can believe that! Parting the store, we made our way to Walukuba School-Walukuba is the school my family supports to help Betty receive an education and a place to live. Betty receives schooling and physical and occupational therapy at Walukuba.
As we pulled into the dirt entrance, children started to gather around the bus just like other village children. The difference was all of these children had some physical limitation due to disability so their cheers were different. As we made our way around the entrance we spotted Betty exiting a small building. She was walking towards the bus in a hurried fashion and at the same time I hopped off the bus in front of everyone. I made my way to the front of the bus and she all but ran into my arms. As she fell into my arms she gave the biggest hug. Almost as if she had been saving up the energy over the last two years to let it go in this one emotional moment. We hugged for a couple minutes while the rest of the team exited the bus to meet this gem of a person. Each person met her and greeted her. She was smiling from ear to ear. We then walked to her dormitory where she and I sat on her lower bunk and proceeded to go through her care package we had sent. She opened it with enthusiasm like I had not seen before.
She got to the end of her package and Ronald, H&H Interpreter, indicated she was “overwhelmed and very emotional.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but as soon as he said those words, she dropped to her knees and repeatedly thanked me. Over and over. And right then, I fell apart. 2 Years of thinking about her and wondering about her hit me all at once. We sat there and embraced each other for quite awhile. Sharing the moment we had both been waiting for. It was, after all, WHY I was “sent” there. All part of the skillfully crafted script set in motion two years earlier in Mbulamuti.
As we spent the next hour visiting and seeing the school and her surroundings it became ever so clear that Betty was in the right place and with the right people. Hearts and Hope made this happen for one disabled orphan girl when everyone else had all but turned their back.
We embraced one last time after a brief photo op and then parted ways. She was smiling ear to ear and there was a sense of peace and calm that set over me. Everything had “come together” at that small school in the middle of Uganda with that beautiful young girl at that very moment in time.
As we drove away, I was immersed in deep thought and trying to process what had just transpired. I am not sure my body and mind were used to having this much of an emotional response. I found myself almost shaking at times. My eyes, swollen from trying to choke back tears of happiness, eventually started to dry and my thoughts started to become clear again. She was the reason I was there. The devotional that Pastor Chuck had given earlier in the morning really hit home. It was no longer a question of why I was there and what my purpose was. It was all very clear… Betty. Betty was the reason I was there in 2013 and the reason I came back in 2015.
The brief “photo op” mentioned above will serve a purpose that I hope to share at the H&H Party with a Purpose in August. You know what they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
The following was shared by Jen Ritter, a team member who attends Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville.
The day we visited Butangala was a very special experience for me. This is Immanuel Lutheran, Wentzville's sponsored village, so I was filled with excitement knowing I was going to meet the people that my congregation is sponsoring. Thinking back to that entire day, I felt a wide variety of emotion. Everything from excitement, joy, and happiness to sadness, grief, and disbelief.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the children waving Eucalyptis branches and singing. The kids were so happy we had arrived! We were greeted by Butangala's leaders, and before I knew it, we were walking the perimeter of their land. What a beautiful area...filled with Eucalyptis trees, crops, and rolling hills. The Butangala members are so very proud of their village. They have grown, and expanded the village in such a short amount of time...just 2 years. As Butangala continues to set goals and reach them, I look forward to seeing more growth and prosperity.
Our time in the village was mainly spent with the kids. I was finally able to meet Sanon! My family's sponsored child. He is so very sweet. He is quiet, but very loving. We didn't say much to each other, but the smile on his face said enough. I really enjoyed hugging him, playing with him, and showing him pictures on my phone. The time with Sanon flew by...its was difficult to leave.
On our way out of Butangala, we stopped for a few home visits of two sponsored children. It was interesting to see the home life of the kids, and to meet their mothers. I was amazed by the mud huts used as kitchens to cook meals, and the dirt floors where they slept with a blanket, and if they are lucky, a misquito net. The reality of life for the kids started to settle in, and I became overwhelmed with disbelief. How can anyone survive on so little? I remember thinking of my own children, for a brief moment, while I was standing in the home of one of the sponsored children. And I thought about not being able to feed them, or give them clothing, or shoes. What does that feel like to the mother of these children? The sponsored kids are given meals at school. Possibly, the only meal for the day. But what about the next door neighbor of a sponsored child, that is not in school? I was able to meet some of the children...the neighbors to a sponsored child. The difference in appearance is unimaginable. Tattered clothing, no shoes, malnourished bodies, and sad faces. The guilt and grief I felt while shaking hands with the boys and girls was overwhelming. We handed out candy (sweeties) to them as we headed to the bus. What happened next, I have never experienced. One of the boys knelt down on his knees to thank me for two pieces of candy. I was shocked. Saddened and overwhelmed with emotion. My immediate response was to give him a handful of candy, because I didn't know what else to do. The image of his sunken face, malnourished body, and tattered clothing will always be with me. Something must be done to help these families! This sense of urgency is with me continuously!!!
I am happy to say that there has been so much accomplished in Butangala!! This is a thriving village that will continue to flourish!! I am very worried about the kids that live near Butangala, but are not in school. I pray for their health and wellness, and for their families.
During the coming days, we will be sharing stories from team members who were a part of the recent mission trip to Uganda. These stories are some insights into their experiences. We are grateful for their willingness to share.
From Scott Williams
This was a transformative and completely different trip for me than my first journey to Uganda. In some ways it was much more joyous; I got to experience the change that our support can have just by seeing the difference in places and people over a couple of years. In other ways this was a very hard trip. I saw many things I haven't yet been able to process that caused great pain.
Regardless I have come home with a very different feeling than before. The first time I wondered what the purpose of me going was; it wasn't clear that I actually achieved anything by being there. This time I left knowing we had done good by sharing our time and love with the people of Uganda.
There are many individual moments that stand out in my mind from this trip. It's hard to pick just one, from seeing the complete turn around in Damali, my family's sponsored child, to seeing how one well completely transformed and energized an entire community in Butangala. And then to see how an entire school that Hearts and Hope doesn't even directly support had such an outpouring of love and support because of the generosity of one man to go the extra mile to became the "father" of one very special girl. No words can express that experience.
But there are two events that have really stuck in my head, maybe because I can relate to them to some degree on a personal level. They both happened only a handful of hours before we left Uganda in a tiny village outside of Masindi. They both were great examples of Christ's love. But one has left me filled with gratitude while the other makes me angry beyond comprehension.
I know several teachers here in St. Louis that teach in very difficult situations and give daily beyond what is required of them because they love their students. I had never, until I met Adam, met a teacher who was willing to walk four to five miles each morning and then four to five miles each night to teach students in a small two room church and to do it all for no pay because the school isn't sponsored and can't afford to pay him. I was so moved by his commitment to God and to the education of his students. I won't forget his face, and I pray that God can grant me just a portion of that kind of servant's heart when I don't feel like getting out of bed to go to work.
After meeting Adam we had the chance to play for a short time with the children of the school, most of whom were preschool aged. I handed a soccer ball to one boy, probably 3 or 4 years old. He just held it; he didn't seem to know what to do next. A teacher explained to him that he should put it on the ground and kick it to me. We kicked the ball back and forth 7 or 8 times and then he just stopped. I kicked the ball to him and it just rested right on his foot and he didn't move. He stood there with a blank, exhausted look on his face with the ball sitting on his foot and he didn't move.
The image is burned into my head. This boy was sick. He was suffering from malaria, a death sentence if untreated, and we were told he hadn't been given treatment. This child is the same age as my children, and he could very likely not be alive the next time a team makes it to this remote village.
The treatment the boy needs isn't expensive by our standards, maybe $3.00. But because of distance to medication, lack of resources and medication being hoarded by those with means, this boy and countless others could die. It makes me so angry to think that $3.00 could be all that stands between the life and death of children like this.
Hopefully this particular case has a happy ending. There was no way we were leaving without making sure this kid had the means needed to get the medication. One of the team members provided money for the treatment as well as extra should another student need it. I pray the medication was available and got to this poor child as quickly as possible. I can't get the picture of him standing next to that ball out of my head. No life is worth less than $3.00.
Adam, who teaches at the school in Kijimbura.
The team landed in St. Louis today around 12:45pm. All of our bags were collected and everyone is most likely home - except Crystal, who had a 3-hour drive ahead of her. Prayers for safety for her!
The next few days will be spent fighting jet lag, fatigue, and periods of missing Uganda and our friends there. We are thankful for the time we spent together; we accomplished a lot and I think we all were touched by what we saw and experienced.
Please be patient with team members; they are tired and are going to feel frustrated at times as they try to paint a picture of what they were a part of for the past 11 days! I will continue to pray for each of them as they decide what they will do with what they saw. I am thankful for their "whatever it takes" attitude and look forward to moving forward together!
Our final full day in Uganda was spent on the early morning game drive, some great down time at the lodge in the afternoon, and then a boat ride to the bottom of Murchison Falls in the afternoon. It was a fabulous day, but now it's time to come home. We will leave the lodge around 9:00am, board the ferry to cross the Nile, and then drive to the top of the Falls. Afterwards, we will drive to Masindi to see Raymond and a school and then we are off to Kampala.
We are ready to head home, knowing we have given this our all in the past 11 days. Please pray for safe travel on our way home!
So we are checking out of the Sunset Hotel in Jinja today. A little sad, a little glad. We will be leaving for Kampala later this afternoon.
We are driving to the location of the seminary land first thing. Construction has begun on the road so I am excited to see progress. Pastor Charles Bameka has been working very hard this week with the contractors.
We are also visiting a school here in Jinja where a student from Mbulalmuti attends. Her name is Betty and she has some special needs. She is sponsored by the Ehlmann family; Grant is on this team and is so excited to see her this morning!
Shopping and lunch in Jinja is next on the agenda and then the bus ride to Kampala. Everyone is busy packing up. Please continue to pray for the team!
So we pulled out of the Hotel Africana around 8:00am this morning - and then waited 45 minutes for Charles to join us. :) It was raining and cold (?); Twaha, the man who sets up our tours for us and drives us, showed up in a wool sweater!
We made the drive to the Paraa Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park in a record 5 hours (south entrance, for those of you who have been here.) We had lunch and relaxed until 4:30 when we set off for our evening game drive.
Being here is always an incredible way to celebrate God's creation - and today was no different. The countryside is beautiful and the animals are breathtaking. We saw a mother lion and her 3 cubs today and more giraffes (a personal favorite) than I have ever seen together. Magnificent!
We got back to the lodge around 6:30 and had dinner at 7:30. Everyone is enjoying the evening together and decompressing a bit after seeing all that we have seen in the past week. Looking forward to a blessed day tomorrow!
So many packets to deliver in Kamuli - but this team is a well-oiled machine!
Scott is a fingerprint expert now!
And there was dancing in Nakakabala!
The team started our day with a devotion about the royalty that we all are in God's eyes. We ended with a song by Audio Adrenaline, "Kings and Queens". Everything about it is pertinent to what we are seeing everyday - orphans that God considers royalty.
We loaded up the bus, after a brief blessing from the balcony by Pastor Schlie. Lots of supplies needed for our projects. We hit the road at 10AM "sharp" :-).... and headed to Kainagoga Lutheran school where we received a joyful welcome! The choir/drama team performed several songs and dances for the team. The Headmaster also introduced the teaching & school staff. Pastor Chuck commissioned several top students as prefects for the following school year, with the formalities out of the way it was time to have fun!
We broke out the sponsorship packets which were greatly received from 25 students. ("shameless plug"-lots of children are waiting to be sponsored for just less than 83 cents a day). We let the kids paint, which they love, and spent a lot of time just hanging out with them - always a favorite day. We had lunch and boarded the bus for Nakabango.
Within minutes of our arrival the skies opened up and we dashed inside the school structure. The sound of the rain on the tin roof was deafening and it only got worse over the next 30 minutes. The red dirt turned to a slick clay. When the rain subsided a bit, we set up stations so that the sponsorship kids could paint. So much fun to watch them get to be creative! Primary school sponsors - you are going to love those paintings!
We left around 4:30 and headed back to the Sunset Hotel International - our home away from home. We are set up on the veranda, in case of more rain, and just enjoyed some beef samosas as "starters". It is our last night here, so I'm anticipating a late night.
The team is in great health and good spirits; such a blessing to accomplish all that we have in the past few days. Thank you for your prayers!
Some pictures from our time in Kainagoga & Nakabango on Thursday
What a great day! Today we arrived in Butangala around 11:00am, ready for a full day. We were greeted with waving branches and cheering women and children - they know how to make us feel welcome!
Butangala is a village that has come a very long way in the past few years. About 2 years ago, the congregation was meeting under a tarp and school was held in a very small brick building with a tin roof. Now, following a partnership with Immanuel Lutheran in Wentzville, MO, they have a much larger structure where school and church is held, as well as much more land that they can cultivate and use to benefit the village.
We began the day by walking the property line of Butangala, with several sweet children in tow. The leaders showed us where maize and beans are planted in the "school garden" and several rows of eucalyptus trees that will also benefit the village. Most of the crops from the garden are harvested for lunches in the school. What a great plan!
After our walking tour, we listened to reports from several leaders of the village. There is great progress being made and they are so grateful for the partnership with Immanuel Lutheran in Wentzville.
After reports and some entertainment, we began the process of meeting with the sponsorship kids. This time, we let them pick from a variety of hats and headbands which made for some darling photos that will be sent to sponsors. After pictures, kids began opening their packets. We cannot stress enough how huge a deal it is for these children to receive something from their sponsor. They treasure every gift, every picture, and every word that is sent to them and they are so grateful for the support they receive!
Sponsorship chaos was followed by a few crafts. We let the older kids paint some pictures while the younger children did a project with craft sticks and also a project involving some finger prints - all turned out darling! The love the attention they get from us and we cherish those little moments with them working together.
We also got a chance to visit the homes of a few members of Butangala. It is humbling to see where the children go after the fun of the day is over, and the women were so proud to show us their homes.
We are so impressed and excited with the progress that is taking place in Butangala. There is much work to be done but we are excited for continued growth!
The team is doing wonderfully. Each and every member has the "whatever-it-takes" attitude, which is a huge blessing. Thank you for your all your social media comments and continued prayers! - post by Madeline Stroder
It was a long, incredible day for the team yesterday. We started with a devotion lead by Scott that was encouraging for all of us. Sometimes it is difficult for team members to fully grasp the impact they have during their visit. We all found encouragement in the reminder that God uses each of us in unique ways, every day. Blessed to be here - for sure!
We made the 45-minute drive to Kamuli first. What a gift that is; when Pastor Chuck and I first came to Uganda in 2005, this was a 4-hour drive, due to the condition of the roads! The paving is complete and the drive flew by (sometimes, it seemed, literally!)
There are 106 sponsored children in Kamuli and almost everyone of them was there to greet us, along with 250 other students in the school. We toured the grounds and saw where a piece of land has been purchased with some of the school fees; it will be used to relocate the latrine.
Packets were delivered and projects were completed with the kids. I love watching this team go into motion! They have lead the projects several times now and they know their jobs well! We also made bracelets with the women while the guys played volleyball and threw out ANOTHER 20 Lang Insurance frisbees! :)
We had a chance to buy some crafts from the women and enjoyed lunch with them. One of my favorite lunches is always in Kamuli - they make potato chips and they are DIVINE!
All too soon, it was time to leave. Those of us who sponsor kids here struggled with leaving just a bit; it is never easy. At the same time, it is so encouraging to see the health of these children and the quality of their school improve every time we are here.
We made visits to two other villages in the area after that. First stop was Buwaiswa. There is a small structure set up on borrowed land where they worship on Sundays and have started a school. The excitement in the air when we arrived was absolutely electric; so much joy. We visited for awhile and handed out bags to the women, frisbees to the kids, and sweeties to everyone we could find!
Next stop was Nakakabala. What a wonderful congregation and school! Again, very bleak conditions but so many smiles. We had t-shirts donated from Lutheran High - St. Charles, Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, Salem Avenue Baptist Church in Rolla, MO, and many other friends. They were all represented in the massive t-shirt handout that took place in Nakakabala! We also had 20 pillowcase dresses to give to some deserving girls. There was a lot of celebrating.
We made the short journey home and "freshened up" for our visit to the All Friends Pizza Kitchen for dinner. Several of our staff joined us and it was a beautiful evening of good friends and good food. Some of the team opted to ride back to the hotel in the back of Charles' truck; Chuck and I were the only passengers for Julius on the bus. I have no control...... :)
We are making repeat visits to Kainagoga and Nakabango today. It will give us some time to visit with kids and the women, but it will be a tough day because it is our last in the villages. Please continue to pray for this team and those we are serving!
Our wifi is too weak to use my laptop, so a quick post from my phone. A great day in Nakakbango yesterday. Packet delivery to almost 140 kids, some fancy fingerprint artwork, hats delivered to the entire school, award ceremony for the soccer team, and skits for the school. We capped off the evening by hosting a teacher appreciation dinner for the staff at Nakabango Lutheran School at the Sunset Hotel. Lots of smiles delivered today and Hearts and Hope was well- represented by this team!
The Hearts and Hope mission is checked into the Sunset Hotel in Jinja, after a long day in the village of Kainagoga. We left the hotel in Kampala around 9:00 and went straight to Kainagoga for worship.
Pastor Chuck preached (thank goodness he carries a file of sermons!) and did an amazing job of washing the kids' feet as he talked about how much God does for each of us - only because He loves us - and how He wants us to do the same for others. It was a precious experience for the little girl; she even got some Starburst and a new wash tub out of the deal!
We had the chance to make bracelets with the women today. Each bracelet has at least one cross charm. We wanted the women to be reminded anytime they wear that bracelet that God loves each of them so very much! It is always fun to spend time with the women alone and give them some undivided attention.
We also did a quick thumbprint project with several of the kids and then it was on to lunch. Afterwards, we took lots of pictures and played with the kids.
We are getting ready to spend the evening talking about our day and making plans for the rest of the week. Please continue to pray for this team and for the work that lies ahead. We will be going to Nakabango tomorrow. On Thursday, we will return to Kainagoga to hand out packets to the sponsored kids there.
One note - we had one supply bag that did not make the trip. It should be on the flight tonight and be delivered to us in Jinja tomorrow. Prayers for those supplies to arrive are appreciated as well!
Two days until the 8-member Hearts and Hope mission team heads to Uganda! We met to pack our supply bags last night and there are a lot of smiles in those suitcases and duffle bags!
The sponsorship packets alone took up 6 bags - 300 pounds of connecting families in the US with a special child in Uganda. We are so thankful to everyone who took the time to get a packet to us.
The team will met at the Hearts and Hope office on Friday morning around 9:30 and leave for the airport from there. Prayers for peace for each of us and for our families is much appreciated!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.