Charlie and Sharon, his family's sponsored student in
Nakabango, and their kitty cat shirts.
It is funny how God works in your life. Uganda was really never a place that I thought I would go, or really wanted to go. I love living in my little world and I don’t like expanding my little circle. My wife Carrie has been to Uganda three times and loves everything about it. In my head, I always felt that if one of us was going to go it would always be her; I wanted this to be her thing. Carrie never felt the same way. She has always wanted Uganda to be something that we shared and loved together. Wow was she right.
Julie had given us a CD to listen to before we went on the trip and the first song on the CD stood out to me, Live Like That by the Sidewalk Prophets. I have this obsession with my funeral. I always ask myself - "Will anyone show up?" or "Did I really make a difference in someone’s life?", so the lyrics really hit home with me.
Sometimes I think What will people say of me
When I'm only just a memory
When I'm home where my soul belongs
Was I love When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of those
Was my worship more than just a song
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do Points to You
If love is who I am Then this is where I'll stand
Recklessly abandoned Never holding back
I want to live like that
Am I proof That You are who you say You are T
hat grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true
People pass And even if they don't know my name
Is there evidence that I've been changed
When they see me, do they see You
I thought that if I did one thing while I was on this trip I could show the people of Uganda a little bit of Jesus through me. Little did I know that it would be the Ugandans showing me Jesus through them.
As a teacher I think that there is more to teaching than just the subject that you teach. This is why I love religion time. This is a time that I get to talk to students about life, their relationships with others, and most importantly their relationship with God.
Uganda taught me great lessons about life. My job as part of this team was to put on a soccer camp for the older kids in the villages. Most of the time this consisted of throwing a ball out and playing with the kids: that I can do.
In Nakabango they have a soccer team that is coached by Eric Waiswa. I was going to show Eric new drills and talk about soccer strategy…I was going to teach Eric something. Eric and his boys did not need my help! They were awesome! It’s funny how God works...Eric and his boys showed me a few things about life. I saw Jesus through Eric.
I coached basketball for a number of years at Messiah and many times complained about the time that it takes up, freaked out about winning and losing, yelled at kids, yelled at refs…really important stuff. I hate losing. and winning often takes precedence over everything. While I was standing by Eric, one of his players came off the field and said he could not play anymore, he was too hungry. Wow, that never came up when I was coaching. Some things get lost in translation for me, but I believe that Eric gave the kid some money for food or sent someone to get him food.
Messiah helps pay for some of the travel and tournament fees, but I believe that Eric pays for some of this out of his own pocket. Eric preaches the importance of staying in school and getting an education. Pastor Schlie talks a lot about how the trip to Uganda is like hitting the reset button on life. This was a reset moment for me. I could see Jesus in love that Eric has for those boys.
I got to meet our family's sponsored child, Sharon. As l looked at the kids during the church service I wondered which one she was! During packet handouts, my job was to put the name tags on the kids. It seemed like forever, but I was so excited when her name was called, to see her walk up and be able to introduce myself. I will never forget the smile she had while she was opening her packet. She looks great in a kitty cat shirt too. I was so thankful that we got to go back to Nakabango a second day where I got to spend more time with her
I saw Jesus in so many people. I saw Jesus in the smiles of the kids, the giggle that every kid in Uganda seems to have. I saw Jesus in the joy that the packets brought the kids. I saw Jesus in the songs and dances and welcomes in each village. I saw Jesus in the people that work for Hearts and Hope. I have to be honest, I am very jealous of the people that work for Hearts and Hope. To see the difference they are making in people’s lives, to have the relationships they have with the kids. I said it many times and will say it many more, they have a heart for kids and a heart for Jesus. To me life does not get better than that!
One final story. I met this girl named Sharifa in the first village that we visited, Kainagoga. I was helping two boys open their packets when a young lady asked me to take her picture. I took her picture, had my picture taken with her, talked and joked around with her. We played netball and she even tricked me into throwing the ball to her. When I got home I told Carrie that we had to sponsor another kid. I saw a picture of Todd and Sharifa that was posted on Facebook and a comment from Julie - she was not sponsored. Our family now sponsors her! Funny how God works!
This is my life verse - 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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:11
I thought I knew what God’s plan for me was. Now I hope there is more to it.
Charlie and Sharifa
Charlie doing one of the things he does best - teaching.
Hearts and Hope continues to share stories from our mission trip, as told by team members. We are grateful for their willingness to let us see their view of our time in Uganda. Today's post is by Chrissy Nixon.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” James 1:17
This past Christmas, I unwrapped one of the best gifts my husband and children gave me. They strategized the ‘revealing’ perfectly and made sure I opened this very large box last. When it came time to open it, my son handed me the gift while my daughter grabbed my phone to record my reaction. A little uneasy and nervous, I slowly unwrapped the box and thought to myself, “ How am I going to show my excitement and thankfulness if I get another kitchen appliance or pair of slippers?” No matter what, I knew my children and husband were giddy with excitement and anticipation. I opened the box and pulled out a gray stuffed elephant along with a few notes written by my children. My son -- then a 4th grader, age 9 -- wrote:
We have heard you several times say you want to go to a place called Uganda on a mission trip. We got this present for you as we hope you see an elephant when you go on this trip!
We will miss you a lot, but we know this will be a life-changing experience, not just for you, but for the families you will help. This note is to encourage you to go on this trip. But before you decide, there are two things we want you to remember: 1) Take pictures...LOTS of pictures. And...2) Have fun helping kids and spread God’s love. Because we love you!
Wow! My family ‘gets it!’ I couldn’t believe I would have the opportunity to share the love of Jesus to so many in need; in ways unimaginable, but I would also be able to meet Fazila, the sweet girl our family sponsors. I saw Jesus’ love in the eyes of my family that Christmas morning. It truly was a ‘good gift from above.’
In Uganda, gifts were presented daily as our team visited villages and worked together with the Hearts and Hope staff. I was overwhelmed with emotions (and goosebumps) by our welcomes in the villages. Big smiles, loud cheering and laughing, and beautiful songs and dances were presented to us. What did we do to deserve any of this? We got off the bus and joined in on the celebration. I couldn’t help but wonder if God was showing me a small glimpse of what our time in heaven will be like when we’re rejoicing together! I looked around at God’s people and thanked Him for giving me this warm and heartfelt welcome. I saw Jesus’ love in the eyes of His children each day. It truly was a ‘good gift from above.’
"Fazila." Julie and the Hearts and Hope staff began to call out names of sponsored children in the Kainagoga village. Fazila’s name was called and I watched her quietly make her way to the front to get her picture taken and pick up her package from us. She did not know I was there and I was excited to introduce myself. I sat down next to her and we exchanged smiles. She was very shy. As Fazila began to open our family’s sponsorship package, Violet, our Ugandan friend and guide, made her way over to help translate our letters and anything else I wanted to say. The moment I’ll cherish most was when Fazila got to hear and read how much our family LOVES and PRAYS for her everyday. She covered her eyes to hold back the tears and said, “Thank you.” As I looked around the room at the rest of the children opening their packets, I witnessed Jesus’ care through the many who pray for and sponsor these children. It simply was another ‘good gift from above.’
I continue to reflect on the many ways I can share God’s gifts. Not all villages have sponsors or clean water. Not all children are in good health or have decent clothing. Not all communities have adequate structures for their church or school. The gift that I saw present though, was hope. Hope in a God who loves them in ways we might not understand. Hope in a community who trusts in Him and works together to strive to become better and stronger. And for a team who constantly puts its faith into action. Because of this, I see the hope of a loving God as ‘a good gift from above.’
The trip to Uganda with Hearts and Hope showed me that, in truth, the good gifts from above are the ones that are most unexpected. Whether opening a present, or being welcomed with great energy and love while entering a village, or bringing joy to someone thousands of miles from our home, what God gives with these gifts cannot be described monetarily … or even with words. They’re simply good gifts from above. And for that, I am ever thankful.
Today, our series of posts by mission team members continues with some thoughts from Shelby Schlie.
Since coming home from Uganda, I have been constantly reflecting over the time that I had spent there. Friends and family have asked me how it was, and my simple response is always “amazing.”
The energizing spirit of the Hearts and Hope staff that we had worked with was amazing. They were so passionate about their work. They were so willing to help or answer questions. They were compassionate and empathetic and kind. Although they were strangers at the beginning of the week, I now consider them great friends!
The characteristics of the people who lived in the villages were amazing. One of my favorite parts of the trip was Margaret: a women in Nalwire who invited us into her home. Her house was made of mud and timbers. There was no electricity and there were only curtains used to partition the single room. However, what immediately stuck out to me was the images of Jesus that she had hung all around her house. Despite all problems that she faced, her pride, strength, and joy came from the Lord. It was an amazing picture of a God who provides, and of a women who put her trust in her God.
Working in the villages was amazing. I loved seeing the joy of the children when they would open their sponsorship packets. One of my favorite moments happened in Kainagoga as I was sitting next to a girl (around 7 years old) as she was opening her packet. What really struck me was when she started to cry (tears of joy) as she was opening the school supplies. At first I was surprised. Like what 7-year-old cries at school supplies?! That’s when it really hit me that it is a HUGE deal to sponsor a child. Although it seems like a simple gesture, sponsorship gives so much joy and so much hope. It really changes lives. Being able to see that first hand was amazing.
Finally, our God is amazing. I think it is easy to go to a place, like Uganda, and see so much poverty and curse our God because of it. However, this is not the case at all. We can do nothing to earn his favor, however he gives us his favor anyway. God’s hand is in Uganda. He cares so much for his people. He provides for his people. He put his only son on the cross to die for his people. He loves his people. I was constantly in awe of his love and in awe of his beauty. He gives us what we truly need: his grace.
Ephesians 2:4-5 says: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
This is the promise that we get to live in every day! I am so thankful for that!
My trip to Uganda is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was truly amazing.
Members of the latest Hearts and Hope mission trip to Uganda have been sharing some of their experiences with us. Enjoy some of Kelly's story...
Meeting my kids
Uganda. When I told the typical person I was going to Uganda some didn’t even know where that was, but the vast majority hit me with one question, why? I myself did not know exactly how to give them an answer they would find acceptable, yet the answer I did give them was always, “I gotta go see my kids.” That is- the 3 children I sponsor through Hearts and Hope, but they are undoubtedly, mine. Uganda as a country is beautiful all on its own. The always “70 something” “Southern California-like” temperature, the green mountainous landscape, the spicy and flavorful food, it all has a beauty to it that can’t be reproduced in the states, like many other cultures. The main source of Ugandan splendor, however, comes from the huge, white, sparkling smiles on the faces of children who have nothing, yet give you everything.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting face to face 3 of those children. The first 2 were the kids in the pictures that were sent to me. The kids I pray for daily. They were adorable and sweet and so thankful for the little gifts I had brought them. They warmed my heart and gave me purpose. The third child I met, though it seemed impossible, was even more special.
The circumstances through which I met this child were not usual. In the village of Butangala, I had my third and final “kid” to meet. Unfortunately, I was told the little girl had moved 2 days prior. My heart sank as I wondered where she was, and how she’d get to go to school, if at all. I also had a bag full of gifts and I certainly was not leaving that village with them. Then I was given a gift myself. I had the chance to go and find a young girl in that village who I thought would most appreciate the contents of my gift bag. It took me about 3 milliseconds and I saw her. Small girl, tattered clothes, no shoes, with a baby brother on her hip…bingo. I remembered her from earlier that day, how she kept walking past me smiling ever so slightly, like we had a secret. I immediately took her hand and rushed her to Julie for approval ; ).
It turns out her name is Prossy, she is 10 years old (not as little at I thought), and goes to a government school. The way her face changed when she was able to choose between the 2 dresses in the bag is an image I will never forget. We both came to the village that day expecting different things. She probably just imagined some muzungus to look at and maybe a sweetie or two. However, we both left that day with a new friend and me hopefully with a new “kid” : ).
Uganda has numerous problems: many kids without a meal or access to medical care, many adults without income or the hope of job. But this trip taught me that I cannot fix those problems. I can only love, pray and never lose hope.
“People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they’re satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.” ― Beth Clark, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption
In the coming weeks, we will be sharing some thoughts from team members who recently made the trip to Uganda. Today's contributor is Mary Schlie; this was the first time she had been to Uganda.
When I was in Uganda, I couldn't help but think about the beautiful Starfish story. It goes like this...
A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die."
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”
That last line of the story..."It made a difference to that one" really is true with the sponsorship program through Hearts and Hope. In each village on our trip, I was able to meet children whose lives have been changed because of being sponsored. I met a young woman who used to be sponsored and she is now a teacher in one of the villages. I met a young man who walks with a crutch but has a huge smile on his face because he has been sponsored and now has a wife, beautiful child, and owns his own small business. I met an older boy who is in secondary school and asked for special permission from his school to miss classes for the day so that he could come and thank our group personally for the sponsorship that he is receiving.
I was also given the special opportunity to meet my own sponsored child named Doreen and her mother. I would guess that Doreen is about 12 years old, the age of my own son, Will. Doreen is a beautiful girl, with a lovely smile. She doesn't speak much English yet, but Violet was able to translate for me and explain to her and her mother who I was. While spending time with Doreen, I couldn't help but put myself in her mother's shoes...thinking about my own son being about Doreen's age. In my own little world, I so often take for granted the fact that Will is able to go to school, has enough food to eat, and fresh water to drink. My prayer is that Doreen and her mother are blessed through the sponsorship program and that it will truly makes a difference for them.
One other moment that sticks in my mind from our trip, was visiting a village where the families do not yet have a well. The children and parents were so happy to welcome us to their village just the same as all of the other villages that we had been to...but this village was different in that so many of the children showed signs of sickness...runny noses and coughs. Fresh clean water is so important for overall health and I am confident that a well installed in that village will truly make a difference for the children who live there.
In the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, Clarence says to George Bailey... "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" I am so thankful for everyone at Hearts and Hope...for all of the people who "choose to be around" by being the sponsor of a child, because by doing so, they are touching so many other lives and they are making a big difference.
Mary, Doreen, and Doreen's mother in Nakabango.
Our last dinner in Uganda.
It is Monday morning in the US and the Hearts and Hope mission team has returned! Our flight arrived in St. Louis yesterday afternoon around 12:30 - 15 minutes early. So early that one spouse of a team member was still mowing the yard when she arrived! It was a bit of a close call in Detroit as four of us slid into our seats only 2 minutes before the door to the plane was closed. We have to clear customs and immigration when we reenter the US and one of the team got to experience a random bag search so we were a bit delayed. In the end, we were all on the plane when it left!
All of our flights were uneventful; many people slept during our 11:30pm flight from Entebbe. It was a short layover in Amsterdam and we were off for Detroit!
Sleep will be off-schedule for a few days. The eight-hour time difference makes the adjustment difficult. The team has much to share so be patient, family and friends! They have seen things that have changed them. I look forward to the future relationship each of them shares with Hearts and Hope and our friends in Uganda.
Our last morning in Uganda. It will be a long one. We are waking up at Paraa Safari Lodge and will drive to the top of the falls when we leave this morning around 8:45 (have to catch the 9:00 ferry!) From there, it will be another 1 hour to the south entrance of the park and then through Masindi and to the Kabalega Diner, where we will have lunch. We are trying something new today – Violet and I took menus during our last visit there and we are going to phone our order in around 30 minutes before we get there, to save time. We’ll see how that goes!
We will arrive back in Kampala in the late afternoon where we will take showers and reclaim all of our bags at the hotel. After a quick dinner, it will be a drive to Entebbe.
Our boat ride yesterday was cut short by a storm that blew in while we were on the water. We forged on for a time, huddled in the center of the boat, but when we saw lightning near the falls, we made the decision to turn around and head back to the dock. It was a bit of an adventure and the team, as expected, made the best of it. On the return trip, we snacked on ground nuts, popcorn, and potato crisps.
The shortened boat ride gave us some time to gather as a team for a couple of hours before dinner. I had asked them to be thinking all week of their “story”; what would they tell people when they return home. Last night, everyone began that process by talking about things that stuck out to them during the past week. There are many and some are gut-wrenching, but it was evident that God has worked in incredible ways in the last ten days. It is always good for me to hear these stories as a reminder of what may seem like meaningless organization turns into work with an impact! I am humbly proud of this team and what they have done and how they have shared.
Please continue to pray for us as we head home. Our flight leaves at 11:30 tonight so it will be a long day. There should be some sleep waiting for us on the first leg to Amsterdam. See you soon in St. Louis!
Why we turned around during our boat ride...
It has been our pleasure to be in Murchison Falls National Park for the past 24 hours. This side trip is a wonderful way to rest and prepare for our travel home, surrounded by some of God's most magnificent creatures!
We arrived at the Paraa Safari Lodge around 3:30, had a quick briefing, and set off for our evening game drive. The drive to get here was almost six hours but we all agreed it is worth every minute. The lodge is exactly as you might expect and the food is wonderful.
The conversations have been so interesting. You can truly see everyone working to process what we have accomplished in the past week and begin to think about how things will be different for them when they return home. Families, please be patient with them as they adjust to life at home again! Their hearts have been touched.
We are going on a boat ride to the base of Murchison Falls this afternoon and will leave first thing in the morning. Looking forward to our last full evening in Uganda!
Our last day near Jinja…. It’s always a day full of emotions. Sad to leave, excited for our side trip to Murchison Falls, sorry to leave so many friends behind. Mix in a lot of exhausted team members and you could have a long bus ride back to Kampala.
But not last night. There was a buzz the entire way back. And this one wasn’t all Violet talking! Discussions about shopping purchases, kids we got to see again in Nakabango, Jason watching me and 5 boys in hot pursuit of another boy who stole a Frisbee from Mirabu, and Charlie’s fluency in the local language. So many laughs! So many tears! And they are all good.
Our first stop yesterday morning was in Nakabango. I wanted the team to see the students in school, since our previous visit was on a Sunday. It was good to tour each classroom and listen to their greetings. We played Twister with the P6 and P7 kids; just as much fun to watch here as it is at home!
Chrissy and Charlie had the chance to do some teaching in the P6 classroom. They both did Immanuel-St Charles and Messiah proud, although Chrissy did have to step in and alter Charlie’s sketch of the United States. The kids loved the variation in their day!
We had about an hour to play with the kids during an unplanned recess and it was priceless time. Jump ropes and Frisbees were everywhere and giggling kids were the norm. It was a tough goodbye but we left knowing we had brought a little sunshine to those students.
From Nakabango it was on to the Source Café for lunch and then shopping. So. Many. Bags!!! Mariah, Maj, and Violet are wonderful help and bargains were secured by everyone. I love watching team members make choices for their family and friends. Please know that much thought goes into those puchases!!
Our next stop was Kampala. We managed to avoid any major “jams” and arrived at the hotel around 6:15.
We spent the evening having dinner at the Rock Garden restaurant. It is a nicer venue and is a great place to unwind after a long day. Many were in their rooms shortly after we returned to the Hotel Africana.
This morning we are off to Muchison Falls National Park. I can think of no better place to process what we have seen and to enjoy God’s creation as a team. Please pray for safe travel and some peaceful days as we prepare to come home this weekend!
Tuesday was spent in eastern Uganda in a village called Nalwire, near the Kenya border. It was a beautiful drive along Iganga road. We arrived in under three hours and spent the bulk of the day with these new friends.
We met in a mud structure that serves as their church. Everyone was surprised at the cool temperature inside! We were entertained by some dancing from the school choir and then proceeded with some activities with the children.
Chrissy met with the younger kids inside one of the classrooms to let them paint. We were so impressed with their skills – and their ability to keep the paper dust-free! The older girls made headbands and painted nails, while the older boys moved across the road to play, what else, soccer! Mary and Kelly spent time outside playing jump rope and reading books to the nursery students.
We had the opportunity to deliver some shirts donated by Lutheran High School in St. Charles, Missouri. There is a lot of Under Armor being represented in Nalwire today! The bright, neon colors look beautiful on the kids and it was a thrill to replace a rotted shirt with something new.
Margaret, the leader of the women’s group, invited us to visit her home. We took a short walk through some tall grass and hedges to the clearing where she lives. She was a most gracious hostess! We were also able to visit another set of homes that have immaculately sculpted bushes in front. It was fun to visit with the women who live in these homes as they shelled beans for their dinner.
Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, Missouri also provided funds to purchase six goats to be donated to the women of Nalwire. They will breed these goats and pass along the offspring to other members of the congregation. I believe it may have been the first up close and personal encounter with a goat for some of the team!
As we left, we went knowing that it was our last full day in a village for the team. Always a bit of a sad time. The team is tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are times that you don’t really know if you can “feel” anymore. I do know this team is leaving behind a lot. They have spent their energy wisely and most likely, left a little of their heart. It has been a joy to serve beside them.
Today, we are heading to Nakabango for a brief visit to the school. Then it will be back to Jinja for some lunch and shopping and then on to Kampala. We are thankful for good health for everyone and safe travels.
Saw this guy and some friends along Iganga road!
Our days always begin by picking up cases of water in Jinja. Yesterday was no different, but we also had shopping to do for Betty, a beautiful girl with some challenges, including mild cerebral palsy, who goes to school in Jinja and is sponsored by the Ehlmann family. Tonya, Violet, Maj, Mariah, and Ronald roamed the aisles of the supermarket finding all the requirements. The rest of the team enjoyed an ice cream treat while we waited.
What a great day in Butangala! If being greeted by hundreds of singing children waving eucalyptus branches with drums beating in the background is on your bucket list, you need to visit Butangala! This village is a bit further off the main road than most that we visit so it always seems the anticipation is a bit ramped up by the time we hear those sweet voices. These kids never cease to take our breath away.
We began our visit with a walk around the perimeter of the recently purchased land. Many thanks to Butangala’s partner, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville, Missouri for your generosity that made this happen!
We enjoyed some speeches by the church and school leadership and amazing dancing by the girls. The headmaster in Butangala has a reputation for encouraging music, drama, and dance. It is evident in the short time he has been in this school that he has had a huge impact.
After introductions, we had the chance to present two sewing machines and cabinets to the women’s group. Funding was provided by some friends of Hearts and Hope at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois. This gift will be one more way that they women can support their families. Thank you, St. Peter’s!!
We were presented with a goat as a gesture of thanks (it’s been quite a week of livestock for us!) Their generosity was touching, even if the goat’s life was short-lived….
The afternoon was spent with our usual projects. I told the team I could have stayed on the bus – they didn’t need me anymore! Shelby, Charlie, and Susan had a chance to help make soap with the women, culminating with songs from Shelby and Charlie, and a robust dance from the latter. I have been touched by the response from the women; I truly believe this is life-changing for them.
The younger set gathered with the “middle school” girls under the eucalyptus trees for some precious time of sharing. They made headbands, bracelets, and painted nails. Some things are universal!
Sweeties were delivered and it was time to leave. Anyone who visits this village marvels over the beautiful views of the surrounding hillsides. We stand in awe!
Our last stop of the day was Betty’s school. No surprise that she was waiting in the school yard for us when we arrived. The hug that she gave Tonya is not something I will soon forget. Her curled arms wrapped Tonya in a bear hug to beat all bear hugs. It was, indeed, a “moment”.
We toured a bit and then went to the dormitory where Betty stays. Watching her take out each treasure from the slightly-oversized J that Tonya brought her was mesmerizing. We all stood by as she and Violet put each item back in her trunk and lock it up. The entire room was brought to tears when Betty pulled out a special photo given to her on a previous trip. It is the Ehlmann family with Betty photo-shopped into it – the perfect family portrait and obviously something she treasures.
We left with not many dry eyes on the bus and returned to our beloved Sunset Hotel. It was our night to go to the All Friends pizza kitchen restaurant – always a fun evening. We shared dinner with the Uganda Hearts and Hope team and I had a chance to visit with Nicholas’ wife, Jackie. I love the chance to learn more about our staff and their lives here. They are a hard-working, dedicated group.
We are heading east today to the village of Nalwire. They have no partner and it is striking example of what most of the Hearts and Hope partner villages looked like before they had partners. Prayers for safe travel and a productive day are appreciated.
here to edit.
The team's day began in worship at Nakabango Lutheran Church. There were baptisms, confirmations and communion - a beautiful service!
In the afternoon, the team blasted into action! There are over 170 kids from Nakabango sponsored by Messiah Lutheran Church and friends so there were many packets to deliver. We set the desks up outside and it was much more pleasant than when we work inside the church building. Pictures were taken and everyone got a packet. The buzz in the air as the kids opened their packets made us think of Christmas morning. Thank you to the sponsors who sent packets for their kids!
After the service we processed to the field where the new permanent school will be constructed. Funding is being provided by Messiah and we look forward to this huge step in our partnership!
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing our normal activities: playing soccer (this time with a clinic by Charlie and Jason!), making soap with the women, painting a lot of little girls' nails, creating chalk masterpieces, and just enjoying times with the kids. At one point, I looked across the lawn in front of the current primary school and say beach balls, soccer balls, and Frisbees all flying through the air. The joy on the kids faces is priceless when this kind of attention is given to them by the team!
On our way home, we stopped by a "pork joint" owned by one of the previously sponsored students, Alex Bakaki. This was a special visit for Charlie Brewster because his parents have provided support for Alex for several years. He sells "takeaway" grilled pork, but he also has a table set up inside for those who want to stick around to eat! We had the chance to buy a few crafts and then went on our way to the Sunset Hotel.
Dinner was wonderful, as usual; lots of team members had their second whole tilapia of the week! After dinner, a dance party erupted so that Pastor Chuck could learn the Cha-Cha Slide. Mission accomplished!
We look forward to our visit to Butangala today, where Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville partners. I am thankful for this hard-working team who gives their all - every day!
To quote Violet, "Oh my GOODNESS!"
We have been unable to update our blog for some time! It has been an incredible trip so far and we can't wait to share our stories - the internet just isn't cooperating! I am going to try again this morning; we are able to update Facebook and Instagram, so you may want to check those as well.
The team arrived safe and sound - a little groggy, but thrilled to be in Uganda. We had quite the time fitting 30 bags in our bus so we were thankful that Pastor Charles had also driven to the airport to meet the team. After a fabulous dinner of fish fingers, grilled chicken and "chips", most were in bed by 2:00am.
The next day, we made the journey from Kampala to Kainagoga - a tw0-hour bus ride that allowed the team to enjoy the true beauty of Uganda. The greeting from the school children in Kainagoga was priceless and set the tone for the rest of the day. As they sang and danced, I didn't see many dry eyes in the room.
Speaking of room - it was our first time to meet in the brand new school building!! It is beautiful - the breeze from the large windows our staff recommended were a major design improvement!
Sponsorship packets were delivered, nails were painted, art was created, soccer was played and Chrsissy and company painted an awesome mural on one of the classroom walls - complete with the words "Jesus Loves the LIttle Children". And so do we!
We made the 20 minute drive back to Jinja and checked into the Sunset Hotel for our first night. There were a lot of whole tilapias consumed that evening and the unanimous opinion was "thumbs up"!
On Saturday morning, we headed north to Kamuli, where there is a Hearts and Hope school whose partner is - Hearts and Hope. There are 110 children sponsored here and over 200 more who also attend the school. As we arrived, there was a ribbon across the drive and the school children lined both sides of the road. We got out, cut the ribbon, and paraded (there really is no other word to describe it) to the school building amidst singing and clapping from the kids. What a start to the day!
We had a lot of entertainment and even managed to squeeze in a report by the headmaster of the school. Afterwards, there was another ribbon cutting in the lower pat of the field for a proposed fish pond, where the community will raise Nile perch. I had the chance to plant a tree to replace the one I planted years ago that died. When I asked what type of tree it was, I was told it was a "Julie tree" - and that's all I got.
Next it was time for packets and pictures. It was all hands on deck and the team rose to the occasion. It is a highlight when we get to help open packets! Every single item is touched and viewed as if it were a treasure. One little boy had a tiny kite in his packet and spent the rest of the afternoon running around the fields trying to keep it airborne. What a great idea!
There was more art by the kids and another mural project lead by Chrissy. Three of the teachers assisted and you could see their confidence grow as Chrissy stepped back and let them work. What a blessing for those women!
In the next room, I walked in to see flower headbands already made and sitting perched on top of some beautiful little heads! They were already deep into making rubber band loom bracelets - a craft I never mastered. Lots of little nails were painted before the girls were done.
Volleyball was the sport of the day and the guys played hard! I anticipate some sore muscles this morning!
Violet and Tonya helped the women make liquid soap. This is a fabulous project that will allow the women to generate income as they can sell the product. Many thanks to Violet for leading this!
Kelly and her wireless speaker were a huge hit! We love when the kids know American music; our sweet friend, Alex, serenaded us with an awesome version of "Locked Away" and he didn't seem to mind the attention it generated!
We said our good-byes after lunch and headed to Namwendwa, a village that has no partner. The poor condition of the children was evident in their clothes and skin. They are beautiful and cared for, to be sure, but resources are lacking. We did a simple craft with the children, handed out some gifts and candy and had to head back to Jinja, but our hearts were changed after this visit. On the way out, we stopped to view the location where the community gets their water. Unbelievable. Party With a Purpose will focus on providing clean; I can think of no better location than Namwendwa.
We got back to the hotel around 8:15; dinner was ordered around 9:00 and we were all eating by 10:30. That is a FULL DAY!
Everyone on this team is rising to every occasion. Families, thank you for sharing them for this time - they are AWESOME! Please continue to pray for our safety and that God would break our hearts with what breaks His.
It is travel day for the mission team! Right now, they are arriving for a brief 2-hourr layover in Amsterdam and will arrive in Entebbe around 10:30pm tonight. I am excited for them to join me and to get started on all the work to be done!
I have spent the past two days in the southwestern region of Uganda, mostly in and around the town of Ibanda. Pastor Dan Schneider and the congregation at Immanuel Lutheran in Brookfield, Wisconsin have built 5 churches there (three that I got to see firsthand!) They are interested in building a school to serve the community as well. Currently, details are being worked on that will allow them to work through Hearts and Hope, in conjunction with the Lutheran Church in Uganda to make that a reality, maybe even before the 2017 school year!
Ibanda is a six-hour drive from Kampala on relatively good roads. Bishop-elect Charles Bameka claims this is because of the high number of politicians from the area! J I spent three hours meeting with LCU leadership and local leaders to talk about the continued alignment between the LCU and Hearts and Hope. It was exciting to confirm that we are prepped to do more great things, now in a new-to-Hearts and Hope area!
Wednesday began with a lovely breakfast with Violet, Peter (the H&H Education Coordinator) and Nicholas (the H&H accountant). We travelled to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church where I met with more leaders and discussed ways to help pastors and other church leaders in the region provide a quality education for their children. It is not an easy problem to solve as it is a huge area and attendance at the newly-proposed school will not be logistically possible for many of them. It was a productive meeting and ended with great information to take the next steps.
From there the entire group travelled two hours to a Kabale Primary School where a Lutheran congregation is currently meeting. We had lunch with them and made the journey back to town to visit two more Lutheran churches. All had nursery schools that were in session – something that always brings a smile to my face! Seeing the importance of education always serves as a great reminder about why Hearts and Hope is doing what we are doing!
The day was long and we didn’t begin the long trip back to Kampala until around 6:30 pm. The lack of fast-food restaurants in Uganda quickly became evident as we stopped in three different places along the way, hoping to find something for dinner! What I would have given for even a QT about 9:30 last night! It was a fascinating discussion as I tried to explain the food available at such an establishment to Violet. Eventually we found beef samosas and chipss at a “takeaway” restaurant and shared a meal on the road.
We got back to the Hotel Africana around 12:30. Today will be spent meeting with some of the staff and doing some supply shopping in Kampala. I am giddy, waiting on the team to arrive! Please continue to pray for this group and their families!
Eighteen supply bags were packed last night by the Hearts and Hope mission team. At 50 pounds each (or very close to it), that is a lot of love being sent to Uganda!
Thank you to the many sponsors who sent or brought packets in for your sponsored students! That effort guarantees a smile!
Prayers for team members and their families are appreciated. There are nine people making this trip for the first time! Watch this blog and follow us us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates on the trip.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.