Twelve bags, mostly sponsorship packets, are packed and ready to go! Almost 350 packets are heading to Kamuli, Nakabango, Kainagoga, and Butangala. That's a lot of smiles! Thank you to the many sponsors who brought or mailed in a special message and treat for your sponsored student.
The leadership team of four will leave Wednesday afternoon and arrive in Uganda late Thursday evening (mid-afternoon here in St. Louis.) We are looking forward to visiting all of the Hearts and Hope schools, meeting with village leaders, delivering packets, and spending lots and lots of time with the kids.
Your prayers for safe travel and for our families are appreciated! Watch this blog for updates of what is happening during our time in Uganda!
Betty, on the right, and the Deputy Teacher in charge of special needs. Those smiles say it all!
Abraham managed to talk me out of my sunglasses before saying his good-byes through the bus window.
New books for kids in Butangala today.
Carrie planting her eucalyptus tree.
Hmmmm, a heart? The bus ride home was long, so we found creative ways to entertain ourselves along the way!
The sugar cane trucks amaze us.
My goodness, it's chaos at the Sunset Hotel! I'm sitting here at 9:45 pm as dinner is being served and there is a buzz around the table; 10 Americans and 7 Ugandans - most of them talking at once. The wireless service is very slow so I will do my best to get this posted tonight.
We have Twizzlers and M&M's for dessert so life is good.
Another great day. This morning, Andy, Violet, Mariah, and I went to explore a school in Jinja that has facilities for kids with special needs. We are specifically looking for a school for Betty, a precious young lady in Mbulamuti that one of the team members in June has a special love for. It was such an informative trip. We were genuinely impressed with the teaching staff and the joy of the kids. We had the best time in a class of hearing-impaired kids. They signed to us and Violet (?) served as an interpreter. That's right - with no previous experience. They nabbed my camera early on and had the best time taking "snaps" of each other.
We later found out that Betty was assessed and accepted at the school. It is a boarding school so Violet and I will spend tomorrow morning purchasing all of the supplies she will need. Blessed that we have found an answer for Betty!
We picked up the team and headed to Butangala where we met with dedicated their new borehole well. We also got to plant eucalyptus trees; another item to check off the bucket list!
We met with the sponsored kids and handed out candy to everyone. After lunch we took a team picture with a beautiful backdrop. We were impressed that the church and school had taken the initiative to move to the newest piece of land and construct a better structure for the school kids.
I had asked to visit a village where we had never been so we went to Nawankompe. It was a long, bumpy ride but we always have adventures along the way. The kids at the school sang beautifully and we had a great time "interacting" after the program.
Dinner has been fun; it's our last night at the Sunset. Thankful for good health for everyone and safety along the way. Tomorrow we shop and head back to Kampala. Missing our family and friends but blessed to be here, serving in this way.
I think it was January of 2010 when I took my first trip to
Uganda. Four years later, I am astounded by what God is doing here as the Kingdom of God grows!
I can remember sitting in 8 or 9 villages, every one of them with the same situation; sitting under a canopy or broken down awning, joining in worship and baptizing long lines of children, and listening to village leaders share their hopes and dreams of having a church in their village and a better life for their children. Hundreds of
children would crowd around us – virtually none of them could attend school, they were too busy hauling water from the nearest well usually miles down the road.
Personally I was overwhelmed by it all.
So many people with so many needs. Where do you start? How do you decide where to start?
But the Spirit of God began to move in the hearts of God’s people! Everyone was thinking about what they could do!
Messiah had already chosen Nakabango and the work had begun; a well in the village so the children didn’t have to walk four to five miles a day carrying 40 pound water jugs, a sewing center so the widows of the village could make money so support the children, a carpenter shop, a temporary shelter to begin a preschool, and sponsorships….. lots of sponsorships!
Friends began to tell other friends, other churches, other pastors, other co-workers. Other villages were adopted, land was purchased, wells were built, schools were started, churches were planted, and Hearts and Hope was formed to help coordinate the growing operational needs.
This week we joined in a ceremony to break ground on a new High School and another ceremony to break ground on a new seminary. There are now 16 ordained pastors in the LCMU, compared to only one in 2010!
So many moving parts to make it all happen! And God’s Spirit is in the middle of it all.
I am amazed!
It’s Friday morning and we are back in Jinja.
We arrived back last night around 6:00 pm after spending two days in the Kamuli area. I think we were all competing for wifi signal last night so updates were difficult.
Thursday started in the village of Mbulamuti. Water’s Edge in Allen, Texas partners with the Lutheran congregation in Mbulamuti and has helped them make great improvements in the past two years. During devotions, Pastor Paul recalled preaching at a worship service in Mbulamuti in a dilapidated building where the roof was caving in around us only two years ago. Now, there is land, a borehole well, and a school that is being touted locally as a model school. The pride and joy is palpable and the 400+ students obviously enjoy being at their school.
We watched the kids dance and enjoyed dramas that referenced everything from teen-age pregnancy to HIV/Aids prevention to caring for the sick. These kids have seen and experienced more than many adults in the US and it’s amazing the things they need to be educated about at such an early age.
We met with the sponsored students inside the main hall next. Again, the team blasted into action and made the process look easy - which it isn't! I think they pride themselves on the system they have created and it's great to see it work so well!
Afterwards, Pastor Paul and Pastor Jason lead the kids on opposite ends of the hall with the stand-up/sit-down version of Allelu, Allelu, Allelu, Alleluia. They almost brought down the house! Paul also shared his fallback favorite, "My Aunt Came Back" - video is coming.
Andy walked the perimeter of the land with Henry and some of the village leaders to talk about plans for near-future expansion - a playground and school garden. It was a joy to see what can happen in a 2-year time period when people care! Thank you, Water's Edge!
We had lunch in the main hall and had the opportunity to purchase some items made by the women. Afterwards, we said our good-byes and headed to the village of Namwendwa on the other side of Kamuli.
Namwendwa has no partnership but in October, Andy, Todd, and I had requested a visit to a new village and this is where we ended up. The people were so warm and friendly and the needs so very great, we felt we had to go back. Also, the worship leader at the church is a graduate of the sponsorship program from Nakabango. Another success story!
The team enjoyed a program while Violet, Mariah, Ronald, and I attempted to organize some of the many items we have had donated recently. The team joined us as we handed out backpacks to P5 and P6 kids, and shirts and shorts to the younger ones. Of course, everyone was given candy - including the older boys watching from a distance.
We left Namwendwa around 5:00 and made it back to Jinja a little after 6:00. Discussions on the bus ranged from how much some of like Taylor Swift, to "what can we do for those people", to "what are you ordering for dinner?" I think everyone was a little bit broken by what they had seen that afternoon and it seems there is a lot of processing taking place.
A wonderful evening under the stars was a great way to end our day. Violet brought the Ludo boards so there was extreme competition at one end of the table. Hoping everyone got a great night's sleep.
Off to Butangala this morning, but the team gets a chance to sleep a little later. Violet, Andy, and I are going to investigate a school for a special needs girl from Mbulamuti today. Praying for a positive experience and a solution!
Mbulamuti - now.
Mbulamuti - two years ago.
I could tell she hadn't seen Jerry yet, so I took her hand and walked around the bus to find him. She saw him before I did and she let go of my hand and ran and jumped into his arms. I’m not sure who had the bigger smile – him or her! I
didn’t see much distance between them the rest of the day.
I say it a lot – but it really is about the relationships.
We gathered inside one of the classrooms and enjoyed the privilege of having a chapel service with the students. Jason had a great message about not being afraid and it was obvious the kids were hanging on every word.
There was singing and dancing after that. The harmonies during one of the songs the P3 class sang brought tears to my eyes. Almost everyone got to enjoy the final dance with the women leaders in the village. We are hoping there is no video proof.
We met with the sponsored kids next, handing out packets and taking pictures with each of them. This is when a team always shines – everybody pitching in to do whatever is needed. Blessed by this hard-working team!
It is always a special time when anyone gets to meet their sponsored child for the first time. Sam sponsors a boy named Jonah.
So much fun to watch them sit together and open his packet – even when there was a Red Sox hat involved. Jonah wasn't hard to pick out of a crowd the rest of the day; he wore that hat with pride!
Lynn, Kim, and I found one of our friend’s sponsored child, Daphine, and took some pictures with her. She is a beautiful little girl who seems to smile all the time. It was a blessing to watch her take each item out of her packet and see the look on her face. She seemed to especially love her turquoise and hot pink bandanas!
We met with the P3 class next and passed out books. Listening to them read was a highpoint of the day! Looking around the room and seeing each team member sitting with a group of kids made my heart ache; I wondered how often these kids get that kind of attention.
My family’s sponsored child, Matia, read through a book about construction vehicles that took me back to listening to my own son when he was learning to read. It has been interesting to think about the content of children’s books through the eyes of a Ugandan child! It made me wonder how well Barney and Baby Bop translate…
Lunch was next and then it was on to bead-making for the women…and Jerry. What he lacked in quality, he made up for in speed and the women were impressed. We had a chance to purchase some of the paper bead necklaces as well. I’m thankful that Edith took the time to show the team how they are made.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent just enjoying time with the kids. David, the Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator for Hearts and Hope, refers to it as “time for interaction”! It’s a bit less formal than that, but one of my favorite ways to spend my time!
All too soon, it was 5:30 and time to make the 5—minute bus ride to our home for the evening in Kamuli. After checking in, we gathered around tables put out on the grass in the courtyard area and enjoyed the evening. It was actually cool enough for jackets! We painted nails and enjoyed chatting with some of the leaders from Kamuli. Violet broke out some Kenny Rogers tunes at one point.
Later in the evening, Charles brought out two decks of cards (Titanic-themed) that he had brought along. Our Ugandan friends taught us to play a game that is basically Uno with real cards and a few rule twists. The twists, surprisingly, seemed to
occur whenever Violet was losing, but I'm sure that is just a coincidence! Clubs are referred to as “flowers” and Jacks are referred to as “J’s”. That took a bit of getting used to but the entire process made us all laugh until our stomachs hurt. Such a fun evening!
Prayers for continued safe travel and healthy team members are appreciated. It has been a wonderful trip!
I wanted to share a bit more about the end of our day in Nakabango on Tuesday. We had spent a physically exhausting day, especially working with the sponsorship children. As usual, there were several kids who weren’t there, and we always put their packets together in a bag so that they can be handed out when the child returns to school. I was sad to see that the packet for Richard, a boy that is sponsored by my parents, was still lying on the table.
I asked Ronald about him and he said that Richard wasn’t there, but we were going to his house as we left to see where he lived and to deliver the bedding kit he was receiving. I was so happy to hear that he was on the list created by Nakabango leadership to be a recipient of these gifts from Messiah Lutheran!
When we left, we turned off the main road and bounced along for almost 10 minutes before we stopped in front of a rectangular mud structure that had holes so large, you could see through to the other side. Ronald explained to us that this is where Richard had lived until a few weeks ago when they had relocated to a house next door that was in somewhat better shape.
We got off the bus and we were met by Richard’s grandmother. She cares for Richard and his 3 siblings and his mother, who is mentally disabled. Ronald explained that the children each had a different father and the mother was incapable of caring for the children and quite possibly, had been taken advantage of by the men. The story of one of the children’s birth is something to be shared later.
As I attempted to explain to him who these people were, I was flooded with emotions I still can’t explain entirely.
I think a huge part of it was the disparity between that family in the picture and
the one standing in front of me at that time. It was a physical hurt that I didn’t
understand and I was broken by the small gifts we were giving him that we hoped
made him feel loved and noticed.
Ronald helped me give Richard his bedding kit as the grandmother continued her “thank you’s”. James, one of the Ugandan pastors, suggested we gather around this family and pray for them. His words were beautiful to me and I know even more beautiful to God’s ears. Surely this family felt the love poured out on them that
I was again blessed by a reminder of why we do what we do – and that being here DOES make a difference.
Grateful for that.
A team of ten is heading to Uganda on February 1st. Plans for the team include visits to at least 8 villages and delivering packets from sponsors to over 300 students! The team is taking books and soccer uniforms as well. Since the new school year in Uganda begins on February 3rd, we have the opportunity to distribute new uniforms, shoes, and backpacks to the sponsored kids! Everyone is excited about working together to make a positive impact on the lives of those we meet. Prayers for safe travel are appreciated!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.