Before the team headed to safari we had a final day to see the kids in Butangala and do some shopping afterwards.
When we arrived in Butangala, Pastor Jason headed straight to lead a catechism class for the church. The church in Butangala started weekly catechism classes on Saturdays for the community and Immanuel Wentzville is providing the church in Butangala with worship and instructional materials. Since this visit coincided with the catechism class, Pastor Jason took the opportunity to join in the weekly teach responsibilities!!! It was awesome seeing Jason and Bishop Charles work together to lead this class and the students were very appreciative!!!
While Pastor Jason & Bishop Charles conducted the class, we met with the women of the village to have fun with a small project. It is always wonderful to see the joy in the eyes of these women, as they are often not given too much special attention in their lives. They all gathered excitedly and were ready for decorating some tote bags - something so simple, yet this activity brought them so much joy. They took pride in every stroke of paint they applied and the bags turned out beautiful!
An extra special experience for Liz was when she was able to meet her newly sponsored child. After experiencing the villages earlier in the week, Liz decided that she wanted to sponsor a child and selected. Her little Praise had the biggest smile, despite having lost her mother several years ago. While she wasn’t too comfortable with Mzungus (or "white people"), she was adorable and happy to meet Liz. Liz has daughters similar in age to Praise, so it will be so great to watch them all grow together over the coming years!
The team then went to an away field to play some organized sports. The kids with their new netball and soccer jerseys looked like they were ready to take some Mzungus down! We split into a netball game and soccer game and the whole team had a lot of fun engaging in these kid’s favorite pastimes. Not sure who won either game, but the sweaty, tired look on all the Mzungu’s faces was a sign of how hard they had to play to match the skills of the students.
After exhausting a lot of energy and saying our last goodbyes to Butangala the team headed in to Jinja to eat lunch and do some shopping.
This is always a great way for the team to decompress from an exciting and exhausting week. The team loaded the bus back up with lots of fun goodies & souvenirs to take home and we were able to get back to Sunset earlier than usual.
This gave the Pastors Jason & Paul extra time to set up a wonderful church service that evening, since we would be traveling to safari that Sunday.
It is always such a blessing to have pastors join the mission team and Bishop Charles was also happy to assist. It was wonderful to pause on a Saturday night from a hectic, but joyful, week and prayerfully reflect on all that we have experienced during this amazing week. Each morning, before we jump on the bus for our planned itinerary, we take a moment for a brief devotion and then share our experiences from the previous day and prepare for what's to come the next. Each of us had experiences throughout this week that are at one moment joyful, and in the next sad. Uganda has a way of breaking your heart in one moment and then showing you God's love and joy in the next. Capping off a wonderful week in the villages with a church service led by Paul, Jason, and Charles was a perfect ending.
On to the Safari...
The next morning we were up bright and early as the safari vehicles awaited us. The team was made up of many people who had never gone on safari so excitement level was high.
We drove several hours to get to Murchison Falls National Park, which is located in the northwest of Uganda. Upon arrival, the lodge was waiting for us and spoild us with cold towels and cool, refreshing watermelon juice!!! It was wonderful after several hours of traveling!
It was soon time to head for our evening game drive and we were off to see many giraffes, elephants, lions etc. Driving through the safari park is a beautiful way to experience the majesty of God’s creation. Twaha, our safari guide, did a fantastic job of making sure all the 5 vehicles were able to see the animals up close. The 5 lions hanging out in a tree was the favorite that night!
We repeated the game drive early the next morning to see the sunrise and, although many team members couldn’t keep their eyes open, we were still in awe of the amazing animals and the beauty of God's creation!
Many people were excited about the boat ride we took later in the afternoon. Hippos and crocodiles were plentiful and we had a lot of time up close!!! The hippos would pop up out of the water so close to the boat - it was alarming, yet such a cool experience for the team.
Tomorrow we drive to the top of the falls to see how beautiful and strong they are from above, then we drive straight to Entebbe.
The team is overall ready to come home, yet sad they have to leave this wonderful place. The people and kids here really make this place feel like home to anyone who visits. I think we all leave a little bit of our hearts in Uganda - I know I certainly do!
Prayers for a safe journey home are requested.
This trip was epic and amazing and we owe it all to your prayers from home answered by our most gracious God.
Our last full day in the villages, how bitter sweet. The activities of the day definitely made up for the sadness we felt in the trip winding down.
Nalwire is a village slightly further out east on the Kenyan border. The landscape is slightly different, as is the language. It is more underdeveloped than the other villages we have visited, so it was great for the team to witness what a village looks like before a partner makes the investments.
Nalwire is in the beginning stages of its partnership with Redeemer Lutheran Church in a Redwood City, CA. We were lucky enough to have a team of 10 from that church on our team, including the pastor Paul and his wife Beth and they were able to meet and connect with Pastor Nicholas, who cares for this growing flock in eastern Uganda.
The village had recently finished building a latrine funded by Redeemer and we had planned to dedicate it with Pastor Paul.
One might think this sounds like a silly thing to do, but it is such a blessing for this village to have a sanitary restroom. It is something that not only prevents illness, but it keeps the dignity of the people intact.
How blessed are we in the USA to not even have to think twice about where we will use the bathroom. For the people of Nalwire, this latrine was a huge blessing. We were blessed in return with the joy they shared with us in their dancing and welcoming. A local dance crew was hired and invited us to learn the dance of that region. This was a great way for the team to blend with the villagers and share in their culture.
After the welcoming speeches and entertainment we started on numerous projects with the kids. Each time we visit Nalwire, it seems the children multiply so we had to be ready for a lot of different crafts to keep large crowds of very energetic kids very busy. Luckily, the group from Redeemer did a wonderful job planning out many “stations” for kids to visit and spread out. We had a Polaroid station, face painting, arts & crafts, parachutes/bubbles, and projects for the women and the men - all at the same time! This is the benefit of such a large group, we can divide into multiple teams and interact with various groups across the community!!!
After many faces were painted, pictures taken, and crafts in hand, we were invited back to the tents to begin the latrine dedication. Lunch was catered by the women in Nakabango, which is a small business initially funded by their partner Messiah. It was delicious as always and these women truly know how to cater for a large crowd, even when it's far away from home!
It was amazing to see the Nalwire people with the team from Redeemer mingling and enjoying lunch with one another. The speeches that followed were inspiring as Pastor Paul explained to the village that their partnership is a mutually giving relationship and a true partnership. It is not merely donors from the US and recipients in Uganda, but a group of people from across the world - praying for each other and using God’s gifts to bless one another.
Such an inspiring message that aligns so well with Hearts & Hope's mission!!!
The team then proceeded to the latrine for a one of a kind ribbon cutting ceremony led by Bishop Charles Bameka. We were once again witnesses to the spiritual richness of the people of this village and the gratitude they had for the new latrine.
Time went by too quickly and it was soon time to load the bus and say our goodbyes. The team from Redeemer left with a lot of love for this village and were fired up to keep going in making this school, congregation, and community more developed and successful. The villagers left with news that a student sponsorship program will soon be implemented and the hope for a quality education of their children will soon become reality.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to have shared this experience with the people of Nalwire!!!
As Beth put it, “we are together sharing in the kingdom of heaven here on Earth” and it was a wonderful time. We are beyond excited to see how this village progresses - together with Redeemer, Hearts & Hope, and God - anything is possible!
The team heads out for safari tomorrow for some relaxation to decompress and process all they have seen this week.
There are many first time safari goers on this trip and I can’t wait to see their reaction to all the lions, elephants, giraffes and more! Prayers for a safe drive to the park are appreciated.
Thank you for those at home who supported the team with thoughts and prayers - we appreciate every one!
Mbulamuti & Kamuli - a double whammy day!!! These two villages are about 2 hours north of our temporary home in Jinja, and about 30 minutes apart from each other so we make every attempt to visit both of them in a single day if possible. After running three full sponsorship programs, the team was ready to take on the challenge.
The team rose up earlier than usual and took off for Mbulamuti. The roads were muddy from an early morning downpour and it was more of a roller coaster ride than a bus ride to the village. It was miraculous that we did not get stuck in the mud on the way. When we finally got there we were given a full report by the head teacher followed by lovely singing and dancing. The group that went outside during packet time had a wild time with the parachute that Becky brought and were delighted by the bubble guns. It was great to look outside and see bubbles floating around everywhere and kids squealing with joy as they popped them.
Some of the younger crew went out back where they have an expansive field and played a long, hot game of soccer against some of the unsponsored primary students.
Sara, the program leader of Hearts & Hope, was able to see her sponsored child for the second time and first time seeing her as part of the school community.
The second time seeing your sponsored child is always extremely special as you can see that they recognize you and there is a certain connection with them that was just budding the first time. Peace, Sara’s sponsored child, is one example of this. She was definitely more comfortable and engaging. Especially when she handed her a doll and started role playing with it - the cackling laughter from little Peace could be heard all over the village!!!
Tori shared one thing which stuck with her from this day was when Paul, the headmaster in Mbulamuti, spoke to her and asked why we show such open love to these kids when we don’t even know them? Aren’t we afraid we will get sick from them?
What he didn't understand is that we receive so much more than we give. The love we get from these kids is worth more than any sickness we may receive. God is so present here and no where is this presence felt more than when embracing these beautiful children.
Unfortunately, we had to cut our time short due to time constraints and head to Kamuli. By the time we reached there lunch was prepared and we were able to enjoy some time eating before round two of packets with the sponsored children.
After packet time we were able to meet with the women’s group and hand out tote bags filled with toiletries and other home supplies to the women. The appreciation from them was shown from cheering and dancing soon after the group photo was taken. It’s astounding how happy something so simple makes these women. It also makes the team appreciate all the gifts & conveniences they have back home.
The village then had a surprise planned for the team - a goat roast! The village brought out the “largest speaker known to man” and blasted some Ugandan hits while roasting goat meat on a grill for the team to enjoy. The large team danced with the students and villages. We made such a scene that people from the surrounding community stopped along the main road to watch what was happening with all these Mzungus.
The best part, and I speak specifically for the crew from St Louis, was when the DJ played “Gloria” and all the children were dancing so enthusiastically!!! Little did they know about the recent Blues win in Boston, but they definitely were the cutest addition to the celebration of the Stanley Cup victory. Dance parties are always a spectacular way to end a day in Uganda!
The team has the final full village day tomorrow in Nalwire with the dedication of the newly constructed latrine. We are all ready for “potty time” with the people of Nalwire and we cannot wait for the celebration.
Today the team was greeted by dark clouds and rain early in the morning. The look of worry on the team’s faces as they wondered how many more shoes they had packed which could withstand another whole day of mud was ever present.
Nevertheless, we loaded up the buses and headed to Butangala. This village is partnered with Immanuel Wentzville and we were lucky enough to have Pastor Jason and some members of the church on our team to connect with their partnered village.
God blessed us in that as we drove the bumpy roads to Butangala, the skies opened up and it was sunny and beautiful for the rest of the day. We were greeted warmly by the children and the team was highly anticipating the dance performances as previous team goers had really talked up the skills of these kids. They certainly did not disappoint!!! The dancers were wearing the new dance costumes which were one of many initiatives funded by Immanuel Wentzville and presented on this trip. These new dance costumes were greatly needed as they are participating in upcoming competitions against rival schools and they need to look as good as they dance.
We proceeded with packet time as usual and the other part of the team was able to have a lot of free time with the large group of kids who gathered on the school grounds. To say the place was bustling would be an understatement. I had never seen such a crowd of people at Butangala and the energy was contagious. There was even a store set up with crafts made by local women and the team was able to shop for souvenirs while directly supporting the community - so great!
We were also able to see the new netball goals and soccer goal posts. A quality sports program was a need at this school and now the school children can play proper games of their favorite sports!!!. Pastor Jason, along with his children Jacob and Megan, also handed out new soccer/netball jerseys to the school teams so they can look and feel official when playing other teams. The clapping and smiles when we showed the teams their new jerseys were priceless.
Goats were next on the agenda and there were 10 to give away. Walking around the school grounds you hardly saw a tree without a goat or two attached to it, the unknowing team members might have thought Butangala bred goats, but it was simply another generous gift from the village’s partner!
Part of the team was also able to tour the land and see the beginnings of a live fence. This is a type of fence built around the grounds for security and consists of barbed wire with seedlings planted which will eventually become bushes to reinforce the fence - hence the “live” name. Being able to witness all the fruits of this partnership was very special.
A favorite experience from Betty was when she was helping Becky and Vicki sew some ripped uniforms and one student she was working on heard the call for sweeties (lollipops). When the team paused their sewing so he could go get the candy, the little boy insisted that he would skip the sweeties and asked them to finish sewing!!! It was touching to see the importance the children place on their appearance at school, even giving up the opportunity for a sweet treat - something they very rarely get.
While we were there, Pastor Jason and Sara, our Hearts & Hope Program Leader, were able to meet with the members of the Village Advisory Committee, a new team which brings together stakeholders from various parts of the community to identify & prioritize needs and build a long-term development plan for the village. They met for the first time in March of this year and much of the activities and projects going on in this village were a direct result of their report. And while meetings aren't exactly a fun thing to do when visiting a village, it was great for Pastor Jason to connect with the team that will help define the future of the partnership!!! Pastor Jason & Sara thanked the team for their efforts and congratulated them on all of the progress that they've made.
The team said their goodbyes and it wasn’t as bittersweet for everyone as we had the knowledge that we are returning to this village on Saturday for a few more activities!!!
We headed to the Nile river as we had planned a ride to the Source of the Nile, where Lake Victoria and the Nile meet. The crew waited patiently on the shores as one double-decker boat pulled up and we ALL loaded on - all 48 of us! This was a pleasant and unexpected change of the norm as we were all able to experience the boat ride together. It’s a very relaxing way to witness God’s beautiful creation with friends, new and old. It was a wonderful experience all around and dinner was full of funny stories and fond memories of the day.
The week is half way over and it has been such an unforgettable experience for everyone so far. Tomorrow is a double whammy as we venture out to both Mbulamuti AND Kamuli in one day. Looking forward to another busy day full of people loving people!
Thank you for your continued prayers for a safe & successful trip!!!
Well, our second day (first day as a complete team of 31!) is in the books and it was a huge success. The team got to sleep in a bit since the group from Redeemer arrived late the night before. Breakfast time was bustling with so many people and it was so great to see the team mesh so well and so quickly this first morning together. Our hotel is letting us use a large conference room overlooking the Nile River for our morning devotions (which have been wonderful as we have two pastors in the group). It was an awesome time for introductions, reflections, and spiritual preparation for our first full day together.
We loaded the two buses and headed out to Nakabango, a nearby village partnered with Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. The children there are very comfortable with Mzungus (an endearing Ugandan term for white person), so every team member had a buddy as soon as we stepped off the bus. Vicki from Redeemer said her favorite part of the whole day was just sitting down and holding the small children in her lap - and there truly was not a lap to spare. The open way these kids show us strangers such love is truly inspiring and every team member was able to experience that.
As soon as the team all walked into the school for the school program to start, the skies opened up and the rain on the tin roof was deafening! As the head teacher put it “God has a different agenda today.” The team made the best of it as we waited for the rain to subside. We sang songs, took some cute selfies with the kids, and held a lot of babies! Before we knew it, the program resumed and we were entertained by dancers and music. Then it was time to start handing out packets to the sponsored students. It's a great way for sponsors to connect with their students and it's always thrilling to see the joy in the students' eyes when they see a picture of their sponsor and see what goodies were packed for them. While we were focused on that task, Becky took the unsponsored kids outside to play with a huge parachute that she brought. Hearing squeals of laughter & joy from outside was so delightful.
It rained just enough to turn the whole ground into the thickest layer of mud and the buses had to move closer to the road (farther from the team) so they wouldn’t get stuck. This meant the team had to walk through the mud very often. The quickness it cakes onto one’s shoes is shocking! The team made the best of it and the day continued, just with more indoor activities!
One special story from the day happened while we were passing out packets. Toni Vogt (our Financial Coordinator at Hearts & Hope as well as a congregant of Messiah!) brought a blanket for a older student’s baby named David. The blanket was made by Toni’s mother and even had the baby's name embroidered on it. Unfortunately, that student did not show that day with her baby. However, Toni’s own sponsored student Mariam brought over her new little baby brother for Toni to meet. Can you guess what this baby’s name was? David! God works in mysteriously wonderful ways! We are shown examples of that daily in Uganda!
Before we left the village, the team split into two groups - one to visit Patricia at her new school and the other group went to visit some local families in their homes.
Patricia’s presence was definitely missed in Nakabango, so the team members who knew her from previous trips were excited to see her again. I was amazed when she greeted me and said, “Hello, Kelly, how are you?” I had never heard her say more than one word in English at a time. She is definitely learning and improving in her speaking skills!!!
The other half of the team were able to go on a few home visits and based on their reports, it was very impactful. The way in which the women who lived in these houses cared so much and were so proud to show off their homes was
very humbling to the team. These people don’t put their value in the size or price of their house and items, but in the wholeness of the community in which they live, quite the opposite of our American culture.
We finished the night with the largest table setting at the Sunset hotel we have ever seen! The hotel did a tremendous job at increasing their staff & capabilities for our large group. Food usually doesn’t arrive for up to 3 hours on a typical visit, but it was there in record time on Tuesday night - even with a record group size! We are so blessed to have such a cozy, caring and accommodating place to call our home in Uganda. This is why we often refer to the Sunset as our "home away from home."
Tomorrow we head to Butangala which is partnered with Immanuel Lutheran Church & School in Wentzville, MO. Pastor Jason Auringer and members of his congregation will have a great opportunity to connect with the village, church, and school leaders there and continue to strengthen their relationship with this poor, but joyful community. Hearts & Hope recently facilitated a Village Advisory Committee a few months ago and we're excited to see first hand the progress of the various initiatives the committee identified!
We have quite a busy day planned and we are looking forward to every minute!!!
What a day! The Hearts & Hope team visited Kainagoga today - always a high energy village which comes as a relief with our short amount of rest the team got the previous night.
It was so great to see the aisle of children and village leaders singing welcoming songs to us as our buses rolled in. It’s always slightly overwhelming being bear hugged by 5 kids as soon as you step off the bus - literally bombarded with love! I personally love watching first timers come around the corner with what seems like 10 children attached to them and barely able to walk.
We were thoroughly entertained by some singing and dancing by everyone in the village and then it was time to hand out packets - little packages of joy that bring a smile to each sponsored student!
The team carried out the process flawlessly and luckily we had enough team members to stay outside and play with some of the other kids while the packet process was happening. This helps ensure that we don’t have so many small faces looking in and feeling left out. With a team this size, we're able to share the joy of interacting with multiple groups throughout our visit!
Our craft activity for the sponsored students involves a lot of paint, but we had enough people to hand out wipes faster than the kids could get messy. Only one team member ended up with paint on their face, and I think it was self applied! :-)
We had plenty of free time which as always included soccer games, bubbles, stickers etc. The children always find a way to add a personal touch to the fun and with Kainagoga it was by finding every team member they could and placing bright pink flowers all over their hair/head/ears. We were quite the beautiful sight.
It was soon time to distribute a few goats to some families from the community. These goats were donated by some of our team members and the recipients will breed them and pay it forward to other families in the village.
While the team departed from Kainagoga, I headed back to Entebbe to the airport to pick up the final members to make our team of 31 complete. It's astonishing how a 2 hour journey turns into a 6 hour car ride due to the time of day it is in Kampala! It was worth every minute when we saw Paul, Beth and their team from Redeemer in Redwood City, CA walking up to us with their luggage.
Everyone is here, safe and sound! Praise God!!!
Tomorrow we all head to Nakabango, which is partnered with Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. The team is looking forward to spending time with the children and village leaders there. The partnership between Messiah & Nakabango has been in place for a long time and it's always great to see how this community has been blessed by Messiah and how Messiah has been blessed by its work in Uganda! Thank you for the continued prayers for a safe journey. We're excited to see how God continues to touch the hearts of our team.
Ahhhhh, Home sweet Uganda.
The team arrived in Uganda Sunday night (just in time to watch the Blues at 3am Uganda time!). The flights all went well and on time so that was a relief. When we arrived in Entebbe, we were also pleasantly surprised to see all our bags had made it without a hitch. We don't usually have an issue, but if it does happen, it can be quite a challenge!
We were greeted by our lovely Hearts & Hope staff member Nicholas, his wife Jackie and our 2 buses - yes one entire bus was filled with our nearly 50 bags!
As in February, we skipped our typical stop in Kampala and instead traveled on to Jinja. It was a comfortable ride and we arrived at the Sunset around 1:45am. While this may seem very late, it felt like it was early evening since we're all jetlagged. This also means that we don't have to unload & load our bags in Kampala and, most importantly, we avoid the morning traffic in Kampala which can take hours to navigate!
The wonderful staff at the Sunset Hotel were ready to help us no matter what time of day/night. They’ve been preparing for our very large team since February and I could see the excitement (or was that fear?) in their eyes when our two buses pulled up. I hope they like a challenge because we will be adding our final 10 team members on Monday night!
I believe this will be the Hearts & Hope compound for the next week and I could not think of a better place to be welcomed.
We head to our first village, Kainagoga, on Monday. It's always a great first stop as the kid’s very high energy always lift up our tired team on the first morning. I can’t wait to see those faces and take some new pictures with the kids and their packets!
Thank you for all of your prayers for a safe journey. We thank God for his protection and guidance and we continue to pray for the success of this trip.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.