Many times, we have asked the congregation at Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO to donate candy for our trips to Uganda - most notably, Dum Dums. They are inexpensive and they travel well. And, they hold up to being thrown out of the window to eager hands as we travel the back roads of rural Uganda.
I have had people ask me "why candy?" It's not healthy and it's such a small thing. Shouldn't we concentrate on more substantial gifts? Understandable questions, but the candy is so much more
It is a treat, a "sweetie" to kids who don't often get something special. It is the doorway to a conversation with a pre-teen boy. It's a gift for a teenage mother and the baby strapped on her back. It's a surprise flying out the window of a bus full of white people as a team bumps along a narrow road to a remote area.
During this trip I was struck by how many times candy plays a role in a story. Just like in the US, sometimes you need a reason to mingle with the crowd. Many times, handing out candy provides that for us in Uganda.
While we were in Butangala, a village plagued with extreme poverty, we had the chance to enjoy an unusual amount of free time. My mind was spinning with ways we could engage as many kids as possible. One idea was wheelbarrow races. The prize? Another piece of candy, of course.
I watched a two-man team dominate the first race. The older boy, probably 11 years old, was muscular and had stayed back as we had worked with the younger kids earlier. He was a typical pre-teen - a little too cool to come forward for candy, but wanting to be included just the same.
After they won the race, I gave him his Dum Dum and watched as he walked away. As the next race unfolded, I kept watching as he unwrapped the candy and bit off the entire end.
He bit it again and it cracked into 3 pieces.
He knelt down and gave 2 of the 3 small pieces to two small children who had followed him. Neither of them was over two years old; I don't know if they were siblings or just more kids in the village. I do know I was struck by the fact that no adult was telling him to share. He could have easily walked away with the entire treat for himself, but he didn't. He opted to share, of his own accord. I've seen it happen so many times and I'm always taken back by these kids' selflessness.
During a bus ride out of a village near Masindi, I shared a seat with an older gentleman. A lot of times, people will hitch a ride to the main road with us. He was most likely in his late 50's or early 60's, but looked more like he was over 70.
He had on a tattered suit jacket and didn't speak much. I offered him a piece of candy. He was an odd sight - very regal, with a blue Dum Dum in his mouth! After a couple of minutes of enjoying the treat, he took it out of his mouth and put it in the inside pocket of his jacket. One of our staff members saw me watching him and explained that he was saving the rest for his granddaughter at home.
I hurriedly opened my backpack and pulled out any kind of snack, candy, and mint I had in there and gave it to the man with a smile. He grinned and told me "thank you very much" in broken English. The bus reached the main road and the man got off with a wave to me.
Yep, candy isn't much. But maybe it is; maybe it's a universal language that says "hi" or "be happy" or "I noticed you" - no knowledge of English or Lugandan necessary. Whatever, keep those Dum Dums coming, Messiah! They are appreciated more than you know!
It is early Sunday morning here in Kampala; we arrived around 9:30 last night after a 3-hour plus drive from Jinja. Jinja Road is always busy, but there was a truck that had run off the road and was blocking traffic. While traffic is always a bit of a rat race here to those of us from the US, the jockeying for position last night rivaled anything I've ever seen. It was truly best to not look out the front window of the bus!
Saturday morning was spent in meetings at the hotel. We met with each staff member individually to discuss their new job descriptions, as well as projects and goals for the coming year. What a blessing to watch this team come together and align on plans for the future! To a number, they are passionate about helping the kids of Uganda and I look forward to seeing all that can be accomplished.
Around 1:00 we took the bus to the home of Henry Ballidawa for lunch. When I asked how far the drive would be to Henry's house, David said "just over the Nile." You don't hear that every day!
Lunch was fabulous and it was nice to enjoy the hospitality of Henry and his family.
After lunch, we dropped everyone off back at the hotel where we would have access to wifi so that everyone's email could be updated as well as some other technological updates. Violet and I seized the moment to do some shopping in Jinja. Afterwards, we sat and talked and shared a snickerdoodle at the Source Café until Charles came by to pick us up.
Everyone met at the Total station on the outskirts of Jinja and we headed for Kampala. When we arrived at the Hotel Africana, we sent the Uganda teams home to rest and we had a late dinner.
Fred Magezi, a member of the LCMU Board and his daughter joined us. Fred's daughter has some special needs and we are looking into ways that we can provide support for her.
She is a sweet little thing and I fell in love watching her drink her orange Fanta.
We are up early this morning, ready (?) to make the long drive to Masindi, where we will worship with a congregation there. We hope to visit a village this afternoon where we have never been and then will spend the night in Masindi for the first time. Looking forward to the adventure!
This is the time in the trip where we start to wind down; we are all physically and emotionally exhausted. We've been bombarded with joy and sadness and sometimes you wonder if your mind and heart can take anymore. And then you see one more child that you know needs help and they smile and you summon up the energy to do it another day! It is a blessing to be a part of this work!
On Friday we visited a small village called Butangala. This is a village that is located in a remote area of Eastern Uganda. It is a simple place in many ways, but also complex at the same time. While life here is simple, it is clear that life here is also
Talking to our local team it we learned that many of the families in this area struggle to provide for themselves and their children. Most can be found working as laborers in the sugarcane fields where they might make 1,000 to 3,000 shillings per day. In U.S. dollars that would be the equivalent of making $0.40 to $1.20 per day.
For those of you who have heard me talk about Uganda, you may recall me talking about how happy the children seem to be. You may have heard me talk about how refreshing it is to see the children get so excited over the simple things in life, as it more common for our own children to completely take for granted all that they have.
But as I reflected on what I saw in Butangala, I realized that if you look close enough you will begin to see the real truth.
And the real truth is, there is more hurt than happiness and there are more challenges than opportunities.
So while some of the harsh realities may be masked by the big smiles, they are harsh realities nonetheless. And this helps explain why each trip to the villages is such an emotional roller-coaster.
On Friday, the roller-coaster ride begin as we turned off the main road and took the bumpy dirt pathway a few miles back, deep into the remote areas of the village. Along the way, we tossed “sweeties” out the window as we so often do. The smiles and screams of excitement from the children as they scramble to pick up their little treasures is truly something I wish everyone could experience.
Yet despite behind the smiles, and excitement, you can’t help but notice the living conditions.
These children are standing in front of homes that are typically no larger than 100-200 square feet. They do not have electricity, running water, nor plumbing and many of them sleep on a dirt floor at night.
When we arrived in the village, we are greeted by more smiles, a lot of singing and a lot of dancing. And during our time with the children we introduced them to new games like human pyramids, wheel barrel races and Frisbee. There was much excitement and much laughter.
Once again, there was a sense of joy and happiness.
But after the initial excitement wore off, and the laughter died down, in the quiet moments you begin to what is really going on in the village. There were dozens of young children walking around unattended. They weren't laughing, and they weren't smiling. They looked hungry, they looked tired and they looked sick.
One little girl in particular caught my eye.
She was maybe 18 months old, and was walking around lost and crying but her mother was nowhere to be found. This is not an uncommon site, however, usually when a small child like this begins crying an older sibling will walk over to calm
the child, or take her to her mother. But no one seemed to pay attention to this child, and she simply stood crying louder and louder.
I asked the other children where the mother was. No one seemed to know who the mother was, or where she lived. So I picked her up and put her on my lap to try and calm her down. Bit by bit, second by second, she began to calm down until she sat calmly and quietly on my lap. Her clothes were tattered and soiled. Her hair was knotted and nappy and there were flies all around her face.
Sitting there with her I was faced with the reality that this is likely not the exception, but the rule in this village. I do not know for sure, as I never did find the child’s mother (instead gave her to a few elder women as we left) but it is likely that the mother was out working in the fields and a younger sibling simply let her get a little too far away.
She was not happy. There was no joy in her.
She was just content to be in the company of someone who cared.
And that is when it hit me. What appears to be joy, may just be the excitement knowing that someone cares. And while we are only there a few times a year, these people have a strong faith that allows them to know that God is always with them.
They have faith that He will provide for them and faith that He will answer their prayers. Upon further reflection, I realize that they may see the small things that we do as an answer to their prayers.
Thanks to the sacrifices of many, this village now has a few children being sponsored to attend school and they now have access to clean water as well. And if we are open to doing His work, we just might be that answer to more prayers and we just might be able to bring more joy and more hope to this village on the other side of the world.
May God bless the people of Butangala and all of His children in Uganda. And may God continue to bless us all, that we may be willing to sacrifice a little so that the prayers of many may be answered in Africa.
On Friday we spent much of the day in Kamuli, a village which is directly sponsored by Hearts & Hope. The team arrived and was greeted by hundreds of children singing & dancing.
Like many of the villages we visited this week, the purpose was to share with the community leaders how Hearts & Hope will further assist the community to offer the highest quality education in their area and for the village itself to become self-sustaining over the long-term. The messages are well received and the villages understand that in order to become self-sustaining, they have to focus on making educational & school improvements a priority in order to attract other students from the surrounding area.
The spirit in Kamuli and its leaders continues to inspire me - they are hopeful and positive about the future and are thankful for the support that they receive. They know that they still have a lot of challenges and a long way to go, but their devotion to each other and their spirit will ensure that their dreams for the future will become a reality.
One huge surprise for Andy, Julie, and me was when Ashraf Woira and his mother walked into the meeting. Ashraf is a small boy that we met in the village of Naminage in November of last year. He required advanced surgery and Hearts & Hope launched a campaign to raise the funds.
I held back tears as Ashraf entered the room - thinking about his situation almost a year ago and now to see him entering the room with a smile on his face.
He and his mother walked all the way from Naminage to see us.
The village chairman stopped the meeting and Ashraf's mother came forward. She described to the Kamuli leaders Ashraf's medical problem that he has suffered with since birth, gave thanks to God, and thanked Hearts & Hope for supporting them.
She was so thankful that she brought two chickens and a bunch of plantains from her village.
Here was this poor woman, unable to provide little if any of the medical fees for her son for the past 7 years, giving probably more than she had to thank us.
It's encounters like these which take your breath away - when you think back to the first time that you met someone and then later see how their lives have changed.
And how many other lives have we encountered and how many relationships have we developed?
As I looked at the students in the school and remembered them all by name - Veronica, Alex, Annita, Patrick, Fida, Daniel, Jonah, Jonathan, Margrate - I realized that each of them likely has a story not too different from Ashraf's. I met a student whose father had passed away several years ago and who had just recently lost her mother. Fortunately, she is able to stay with family members nearby and still attend school. But she is only in 1st grade.
While there is joy, there is also heartache. Kamuli and its people certainly encounter both on a daily basis. While they've seen a glimpse of what a partnership can provide, they know that there is much work to do.
After being away for almost a year, my return to Uganda was just like the encounter today with Ashra.
I have seen the pictures of the progress from the local staff and from the teams that visit, but to see all of the changes first hand truly energizes me.
Where once there was nothing, there now are wells.
And next to those wells are schools with children in uniform, wearing their shoes, and proudly carrying their backpacks - eager to learn.
It brings tears of joy to know that our supporters - many of whom have yet to visit Uganda - are willing to make all of this possible and to impact the lives of so many.
We woke up this morning to rainy skies but had beautiful weather for most of the day. Tonight it's jacket weather!
We left the hotel around 10:30 this morning (our intention was to leave by 9:00 but the rain postponed our departure a bit). First stop was Nakabango, the partner of Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, MO. We met with the teaching staff and the leadership of the church and school, explaining in greater detail to mission and vision of Hearts and Hope and announcing some of our plans for expansion.
We met with the sponsored children inside the church building and had a great time working on a super secret special project! (Sponsors - you will find out what we accomplished later this year!)
I had the chance to visit the land Messiah helped the disabled ministry in Nakabango purchase and see the crops they are growing - Bananas, beans, and passion fruit. Very impressive! I was really pleased with the progress they have made. It is always good to visit with Alex Bakaki, who leads the program.
Andy toured some land that Nakabango is interested in purchasing to have a dormitory that can be used as a home for street kids from Jinja, as well as for some other projects.
We had the chance to spend some quality time with a lot of kids - my best day!
I never can put into words how much I want these kids to reach their full potential. They are precious and every story I hear from them tugs at my heart more. Their joy-filled little faces are a blessing to behold. Moral of this story: there is much work to be done!
Late in the day, we headed to Kainagoga. Sadly, a lot of the kids had already left, since we were running so late, but many were still waiting for us! We repeated our sponsorship activities and played football (both the Ugandan and the American versions) and I must have taken over 300 pictures of kids who were more than willing to pose. Always amazing how easy it is make them laugh!
Kainagoga's school is still growing, despite the deplorable conditions of the building. The well put in last year has changed their lives for the better, but I continue to pray that there is an organization looking for a partnership that can change their lives as well! Those precious kids need a partner organization to love!
We are waiting on dinner now; it is 8:20 in the evening. Updates are not likely tomorrow as we will spend the night in Kamuli where there is no wireless service available. Looking forward to our visit to Kamuli and nearby Mbulamuti!
Woke up this morning to a storm and the rains are now obscuring my view of the other bank of the Nile river. Since Uganda is near the equator, there is no winter or summer, just an alternation between rainy and dry seasons.
Despite the rain, we have a full day's agenda ahead and I hope that the weather doesn't slow us down. Today we are going to visit Nakabango, which is a short drive north from Jinja. The relationship between Messiah and Nakabango has been strong over the years and was the inspiration for starting Hearts & Hope. Through this partnership, where there was once just green fields there is now a community with a borehole well, an operational primary school, and a sewing & carpentry center.
I can't wait to return and see the friends that I've come to know over the past few years. I also hope that I'll be able to see Patience, the little girl that my family sponsors in Nakabango.
Have a great day and check back for an update later this evening!
Our final full day was spent in Nakabango, the village that Messiah Lutheran has partnered with since 2006. We were greeted by the school kids (over 300 strong) singing outside as we arrived. Such a thrill to see that many smiling, familiar faces!
We received our official greeting from the leaders and then moved on to meet with the 145 sponsored kids. They loved the packets that their sponsoring families sent along! Thanks to those who participated. It is so much fun to watch the kids open the packets and look at the pictures sent by their sponsors.
Future's so bright, they gotta wear shades
We followed that up with some crafts provided by Water’s Edge – Allen and small gifts for the kids. Everyone got new sunglasses!!!
We walked to the site of the temporary structure that Nakabango has built for a secondary school. They started a S1 class on Monday and have 8 students registered. Their goal is to add a class each year and reach a full secondary school by 2018. I love their vision!
We saw the carpentry shop and then visited the women’s sewing center to look at some of the beads they have put together since our last visit.
I am always inspired by these women who work so hard to help provide for their families. I’m anxious for everyone to see some of the new colors!
Andy and I had some meetings next while the rest of the team handed out jump ropes, soccer balls, and
“skip-its”. Toni demonstrated the skip-it with style and grace!
In our meeting with the council we discussed beginning the process of putting the concrete floor in the primary school building as well as some plans for the future. We also talked with Alex and confirmed that we will be able to purchase the land near the church for use by the Disabled Ministry members. That put a smile on his face!
Trying to get position. Is there a yellow card on the way?!?
Next up was the much-anticipated soccer match between the Nakabango boys team and the men of Hearts & Hope. They agreed to 10-minute halves; a blessing for the older team, for sure! There were easily 300 people, mostly kids, gathered for the match and it was great fun. I’m happy to report there were no injuries to either side, but I expect to hear a few moans and groans when the guys come down the stairs in the morning. I appreciate their willingness to get out there and play – the boys loved it.
The opposing teams pose for a photo after the match
One more meeting while the rest of the team got to find some shade and just relax with the kids (one of my favorite times of the day in Nakabango!) When our meeting finished, it was time to leave, so we passed out candy in a semi-orderly fashion and got on the bus.
On the way to the hotel, we stopped at Vicar Simon Peter’s house to pray for his new baby, Christina. She is only 6 weeks old and is having breathing issued. Further tests are supposed to take place next week. She is absolutely precious and it was a privilege to be in their home.
After quick showers, we headed to the Two Friends Pizza Kitchen for dinner. Always a bittersweet evening for me – it’s great fun, but also our last evening together with our Ugandan friends.
Tomorrow we will head into Jinja to the Source Café for lunch and some shopping later. While the team shops for souvenirs, Andy, Curt, and I are going to finalize the order on backpacks and shoes for the sponsored kids tomorrow morning. Thank you to all of our sponsors for making a difference in these kids' lives. Without your support, these children would not be able to attend school and prepare themselves for a better life.
The team will be heading to the airport on Saturday night. I’m staying an extra night in Uganda, but the team will be in good hands with Andy as their leader! I know that everyone on the team is exhausted, but in a happy, fulfilled kind of way. So many stories to tell and I know we're all excited to share with our families & friends.
Thank you again to everyone for the prayers during this trip. It's always encouraging to know that people are praying for a safe and successful trip.
Looking forward to seeing everyone very soon!
Great day today, but that's not a surprise! The Missouri team spent the day in Kainagoga and Butangala. Lots of paper flowers and soccer balls!
We had the opportunity to dedicate the well in Kainagoga - what a blessing! I can't even describe how amazing these kids can sing and dance. What a blessing to see how much they love God.
The Texas team met us in Butangala today and we are now all together at the Sunset Hotel in Jinja for the night, enjoying some dinner together.
Before meeting us at Butangala, the Texas team wrapped up day three at Mbulamuti - doing crafts and handing out balloons which had a picture of the globe printed on them.
When they were handing out the balloons, the children didn't quite understand what they were receiving or what to do with them. However, once the afternoon break came, they all flooded the courtyard, blew up their balloons, and had a blast with them. The smiles of joy on their faces were overwhelming. It is a universal truth that a balloon in the hands of a child is a joy to observe, regardless of where they live.
Kids enjoying the clean water
The greatest highlight for the team was the chance to spend so much time with the children, getting to watch them celebrate the opening of their school, and see them open the packets from their sponsors. There is a joy in watching the children enjoy the many gifts that were shared with them. We often underestimatehow important the communication between the sponsor and the student can be - it's a key aspect of developing the relationship and it's the foundation of the sponsorship program.
The Texas team ended their time in Mbulamuti by giving the newly hired teachers stickers, paper, and a gift to thank them for their service to the children and the families at the school. It is amazing to see a school start with over 300 students on day one. Thanks to the sponsors and donors who helped make this a reality. In addition to preparing future leaders in each of these villages, the schools also provide income for the teachers and support staff, benefiting the larger community.
Hearts & Hope is certainly improving children's lives today throughout Uganda, but it's also changing peoples' futures and eternities. God is doing a mighty work here!
Looking forward to our day in Nakabango tomorrow!
There was no internet at the hotel in Kamuli on Tuesday so we have much to tell you tonight!
Andy Wiggins, Curt Moothart, and Paul Schult open the new school
We spent Tuesday in Mbulamuti. It began with the Water's Edge portion of the team presenting goats to six families. After that, we proceeded to the first home to assist in building a goat pen. It was hot, but satisfying work!
The afternoon was spent dedicating the new school in Mbulamuti. What a celebration it was! Hundreds of people attended, including local and military dignitaries.
The Marching Band!
My personal favorite moment was the marching band that came down the road with a banner in the front and kids following along behind.
Tents were set up for shade from the hot Ugandan sun and the afternoon was spent celebrating the new Hearts & Hope Nursery and Primary School. The people are so excited about the partnership with Water's Edge and the fact that they have over 380 kids registered for the new school year!
The day concluded with lots of dancing and the distribution of over 1,000 glow sticks.
In the evening we continued the celebration with a cake that Charles and friends bought for us. Chocolate is good wherever you go, but it especially good after our wonderful day in Mbulamuti.
On Wednesday morning, we began with a devotion lead by Bryce and then took some team pictures in our new t-shirts.
While we all spent the previous day together in Mbulamuti, Wednesday meant that it was time for us to split into two teams, with the Waters Edge team headed back to Mbulamuti to deepen the relationships that are forming there while the Missouri team heads to Kamuli to deliver sponsorship packets and spend some time with the children & leaders there.
I haven't heard from the Water's Edge team today but I can only assume they had another fantastic day in Mbulamuti. Their plans included lots of crafts and presenting packets to over 100 sponsorship kids.
The Missouri team had a great day in Kamuli. We handed out packets to 110 sponsorship kids and taught them some new songs until the candy arrived. It was so fun to go into the song archives for new ideas to teach the kids!
Soccer balls and beach balls filled the air as the guys headed out to play with the kids while Toni, Violet, Maj, Mariah, and I made paper flowers with the women of the village. It was so much fun! Great pictures to follow soon, I hope.
After a long day in Kamuli, the Missouri team headed back to our hotel in Jinja. Some claim the trip is a 4 hour ride, but it's only takes about 2 hours. :-)
After getting back to the Sunset Hotel along the banks of the Nile, we ordered up some "starters' for the evening - beef samosas, garlic naan, and chef's buttons.
Meanwhile, the Texas team is spending the night in Kamuli and we will all reunite on Thursday.
Family and friends - please know that everyone is happy, healthy, and serving God in amazing ways! Hoping to be able to post pictures soon.
Thanks for all of the prayers!
Winding down a great first day in Uganda. Toni and I are enjoying some “starters” in the form of beef samosas with David at the Sunset Hotel International Hotel while the rest of the team is headed up the Nile on a boat ride. It’s a great ride – but we opted out since we’ve been multiple times. They will have a great time – what a treat!
We exchanged our money and headed to the supermarket after we left the hotel this morning. We bought cases of water as well as some socks, t-shirts, etc. for the guys who don’t have their suitcases yet. We expect to get those from the airport first thing tomorrow morning.
We had an uneventful ride to Jinja and then on to Mafubira. We received a warm greeting there and had a couple of hours to play with the kids.
Most likely will be an early night tonight for some, but so excited to head to Kamuli tomorrow and dedicate the brand new school in Mbulamuti! Hoping to post pictures of the ceremony soon!
We arrived safely in Uganda last night – or early this morning. Six of our bags did NOT make the trip from Amsterdam and should get here this evening. There’s an interesting exchange of clothes going on this morning, so don’t fret if you see pictures of your spouse or friend in someone else’s shirt!
Paul lead us in a devotion this morning to get our day started and to prepare us for the week ahead. He talked about the stories we will hear and share this week. Such a special part of this experience!
We have checked out of the Hotel Africana and will be leaving soon for Jinja which is several hours east of Kampala. We are pumping up soccer balls so we’ll be ready to play with the kids in Mafubira, which is a great village for our first visit.
Love the personalities on this team. God always pulls people together in the most interesting ways.
Thank you for the prayers while we are gone!
Five members of the twelve-member team headed to Uganda on Saturday were commissioned at Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring, Missouri this past Sunday. The team is comprised of people from North Carolina, Texas, and Missouri.
The team members from Texas held a poker tournament fundraiser and a sponsorship drive this past weekend that was wildly successful! Thanks to all who contributed to this effort. Because of you, kids' lives in Uganda are being changed!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.