by Madeline Stroder
I love Uganda. I love everything about it – the smells, the bumpy roads, the road-side markets, the villages, the schools, the small business planted in the villages, the airport, the hard-working men and women I meet, and all the sweet children we see. I love seeing a shy child mashed between too many children on one bench, and inviting him or her to come over and sit on my lap instead. I love my little conversations with Henry, Ronald, David, Maj, and Mariah on the bus about things we saw that day, about our families, life at home, or whatever we feel like. I love Violet braiding my hair in the morning after I’ve already fixed it. I love seeing a group of boys who just opened their packets from their sponsor and aren’t too cool to play with their new toy cars. I love seeing the women admire the new bracelet they made – something simple and sparkly that they will treasure. I love seeing a woman plop her baby down and sprint to get the “sweeties” we tossed to her from the bus window. I love seeing a team member sit with their sponsored child that they have been so anxious to meet, and show them pictures of their family and show them the other treasures in their packet I love Violet announcing it is time for “self-service” lunch and dining with the village leaders and a few lucky others who will get to eat meat that day . I love Patricia whacking me on the back of my legs and then picking her up for probably the fifteenth time that day – and it being totally worth it when she falls asleep on my shoulder. I love hearing a choir of precious voices singing songs about education and about Jesus that they have been practicing for us
I loved watching my cousin Crystal take selfies with as many children as possible – making each one of them feel special and bringing some fun and silliness into their day.
I loved watching my mom greeting children by name and greeting the staff and village leaders as old friends, and watching their faces light up when they see her.
I loved watching Grant see Betty for the first time in 2 years and hugging her – and not letting her go until he was back on the bus.
I loved seeing Jen’s face as she got back on the bus after we visited our first village. I knew she was hooked.
I loved listening to Scott tell the story of how 2 years ago his sponsored child was timid and mostly speechless, and now called his name and waved as we drove into the village. It is amazing to see what a huge difference sponsorship makes in the lives of children as well as their sponsor.
I loved seeing Mary play with as a many children as possible at one time and hearing the children’s big belly laughs as they played along.
I loved seeing Pastor Schlie hold Cornelius on his lap, a boy with some special needs who likely does not get held often. The smile never left his face while he was sitting with him.
However, as full as my heart is when I am there, it is also broken to pieces. The reality that the individuals in these villages face each day really hit me during this trip. In the morning or at night during dinner I would often find myself wondering what the children were doing while I was eating one of my many meals of the day or lying in my bed. Are they doing homework? Are they on their way to school or did they have to stay home to work in the gardens today? Are they sleeping on a mattress or on a woven mat? Do they have a mosquito net?
Acknowledging and experiencing this friction that is created when we begin to understand the reality these children face is what fuels us as servants of the Lord and allows us to surrender everything to God. The situation is massive and we are only a few people, but there is no doubt there is change being made in Uganda through the support that is offered and the close relationships that have been formed. It is amazing to see the change that Hearts and Hope and the many people who have traveled on a mission team before us have created in the lives of the people in Uganda. I am so blessed to have been a part of this extraordinary team and this mission, and I am looking forward to the work to come! To God be all the glory!
Some of my thoughts about mission teams and their impact. Julie Stroder
And so another mission trip to Uganda is in the books. Trip number twenty; it doesn’t seem possible. I treasure every single journey to Uganda. People ask how my trip was when I return and I typically answer, “amazing” or “incredible”. And I mean it – every single time.
God puts these mission teams together. Sometimes the personalities all seem to jive from the beginning. Other times I look at the make-up of the team and wonder if they will get along. Will they work well together? Will they become that cohesive unit that I’ve seen come together so many times before? Will they “get it”? And they always do. Because His hand is on the team and those that go have answered His call.
I’m reminded time after time that there is a mission within the mission team. A group of people who go to Uganda to serve and find themselves being served – by our friends in Uganda and by each other. What a blessing to witness this happen over the course of a 12-day trip!
Five members of this team travelled to Uganda two years ago. Two people had never been before; some had been three or more times. That’s a lot of different perspectives and it’s something I’ve learned to be grateful for.
I love watching the faces of “rookie” team members as we pull into Kainagoga for our first village visit. The ear-to-ear smiles; the hesitancy to be the first one off the bus and walk into all those little hands reaching up to touch you. The thirst for attention by the kids doesn’t discriminate. They don’t care if you’ve been there before or if they are the first to indoctrinate you into the ways of welcome in Uganda. You are most welcome!
And then there are those who have seen it at least once before. They come, hoping to not feel so overwhelmed this time. Hoping to soak it all up just a bit more than the last time they were here. And they do. There are kids they look to find. There are women they remember. There are babies that have grown. There are kids who were sick that are now healthy. There are children they saw before who are now students at a Hearts and Hope school.
I love talking to these repeat-goers in the evening. Listening to their excitement of finding a child they held two years before. Or hearing them tell about seeing their sponsored child, who recognized them and was looking for them before they even got off the bus. Or listening to them recount talking to the woman who remembered them by name.
The entire team witnesses the disparity between the villages who have a partnership with a congregation in the US and those that don’t. There are Hearts and Hope schools that are moving rapidly towards being self-sustaining and there are those that just started meeting under a mango tree on land loaned to them by a local Ugandan. They can see what a partnership means. One hundred ten children in a sponsorship program and the operating expenses of the school are covered so that hundreds can attend. Healthier kids who are being fed lunch every day and have a mosquito net to cover them and their siblings at night. Shoes to wear for the long walk to school.
And it’s good for me to be reminded that progress is being made. I am fortunate to be in Uganda up to three times per year and it can be unsettling sometimes to not be able to see progress fast enough. Children are still standing outside the school because there are no school fees available and no sponsors to help them out. Coughing, feverish kids who need medication to fight the malaria that attacks their little bodies more often than we want to know. Strong, resilient, exhausted women who struggle to work in someone else’s garden during the day so that they can be given something to feed their children that night.
It is easy to always get caught up in what is still to be done, so I rely on the team, without their knowledge, to encourage me. Reminding me that progress is being made. Talking about kids who are going to school who, without a sponsor, would not be. Discovering that there are healthy kids who, during my last visit, were not.
People will always question why we go to the trouble of taking teams to Uganda. Why not just send the money it costs to get there and directly support the kids? Because being there is more important than the cost of plane fare. Our friends in Uganda know what it requires in time and resources to make the trip. They know it is expensive. They know we leave our families and our jobs behind. They know we aren’t use to being in the heat all day. And that knowledge lets them know that they matter. That it is important to us to visit them . Important for us to try to encourage them. To make plans with them.
And in turn, we are encouraged. Yes, we cry at times and feel overwhelmed with all of the work to be done. But at the end of the day (to quote Violet), we are encouraged by them. We see their love for God and their commitment to sharing that with others. And we are all encouraged to try harder, be part of a solution.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Thank you to this team for all you did to be a part of the encouragers and for allowing yourself to be encouraged. You rocked the mission field. Lives are changed because of your willingness to go. You are awesome and I love you!
Why I Go…
Over the last several years I have been asked in some shape or form, why I would want to travel to Uganda? I feel the biggest hang up for most people is the fact that we have so many people right here in our backyard that need help…why travel thousands of miles to help someone in a foreign country. Here is why….
First of all, it’s a God-thing. The stories that I’ve heard just from the team members I’ve traveled with is proof that God really does bless those who choose to go…money appears at the right time to pay for expenses, opportunities open up that allows the time for others to go….things just fall in to place. Some of us dreamed of mission trips like this, others were touched by God to overcome their comfort zones to serve in His name….regardless of how we were called. It happened.
Here’s how it happened for me…..
One random day I told a friend about my cousin, the Mission Director for an organization called Hearts & Hope. Then I showed him a picture of my sponsored child with my cousin delivering her sponsor packet. This man had sponsored children through other organizations but always had doubts as to where his money was actually going. He looked at the picture and within a week he and his wife offered to sponsor me to go see Grace (My first sponsored child). This particular person is not even a Christian…in fact he is Muslim….but he saw the passion I had to make this journey and felt moved to provide the financing that would allow me to fulfil a dream to serve.
My first was trip was as expected…overwhelming. It seemed as if everywhere I looked there was a need. I had questions…I wanted to provide solutions….the entrepreneur side of me immediately wanted to help these communities succeed…I held kids, hugged women, and listened to leaders reports of accomplishments, but mostly of challenges each village was experiencing. Despite the challenges there was so much love for God. The smile of a Ugandan child was forever impressed on my heart. True faith showed in their eyes that Jesus loves even the least of these…
Upon returning home it was harder than expected to speak to anyone about what I experienced. I answered as many questions as I could but until you’ve seen it with your own eyes, it’s just words.
Due to my continued sponsorship by my friend, I was allowed to tag along with the Board the next year in the fall. This trip was what changed it all for me. The shell shock lessened, and allowed me to then connect with the local Hearts & Hope staff. I learned so much about their culture and their appreciation for what this organization is doing for their communities. I heard their challenges with being the “boots on the ground” and saw first-hand the unique gifts God had given each of them in order to form this successful team. I find it amazing that the staff seems to know every kid, their siblings and their family situation without pulling out a laptop, tablet or smart phone. The relationships are real, and the needs are many. I was impressed with the level of commitment each member exhibits and the grace they display even with their own challenges.
The most recent trip was special in a whole different way…After several trips to see Grace…this time upon pulling into the Kamuli school, she met the bus at the road. I was sitting in the front seat and I heard her call my name. It was one of the most joyful feelings I had ever experienced. In the past she had sat with me but did not speak….she allowed me to take pictures with her, but was incredibly shy (or maybe a little sassyJ). Hearing her call my name melted my heart. I finally felt we connected on a whole different level. Throughout the day she kept me in her eye sight as we did crafts and played with the kids. Upon leaving she followed the bus down the drive and then blew me a kiss. As a sponsor I can tell you that while it took 3 years and several thousands of miles traveled…that moment is irreplaceable.
I was blessed to see other returning team members experience similar emotions with their sponsored children…which was even more emotional for all of us. It’s moments like this that make it all worth the trip. I don’t remember the heat, the chaos, the poverty…I remember the smiles on those kids faces and the faith that our presence, while seemingly small, makes a difference.
Our family sponsors another child in Butangala. I was surprised to find out that he lives just across the road from the school. It was an honor to be able to visit his home and meet his extended family. The biggest moment for me at this point was seeing some of the things I had sent to him in his “bed” area….I immediately noticed a blow up globe that I had sent the year before…It was hung from the ceiling above his bed. It was reassurance that every packet sent really does matter to these children.
I look forward to the future trips, God willing, to see my new friends and sponsored children. I pray that Uganda continues to be a yearly adventure for myself and others that have the opportunity and feel God pushing them to go. It will forever change your life.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.