This is my third trip to Uganda which has quickly become my happy place. The place I go to in my mind when I'm feeling sad, mad, or just plain bored. It constantly grounds me and enables me to appreciate my abundant blessings. The past few trip posts I've written were full of examples of the many ways Uganda has made me a better person and enriched my life. last time I even mustered up the creativity to form these feelings into a poem.
This time however, I'm going to explain the ways Uganda has made my life worse. First of all, it has opened my eyes to the true meaning of poverty, the haunting suffering that doesn't only exist in newspaper articles and TV commercials and the suffering that doesn't just happen to the "bad guys" of the world. It happens to kids, babies even, and truly God-fearing people who seem to never stop trying to better their lives. Uganda has given me a face, many beautiful faces in fact, that now represent this issue personally. This has forced me to ask questions to God that maybe I don't want him to answer. The obvious question being 'why?'. I find myself asking God, Why do you allow all this poverty, war, and suffering to happen in this world to such innocence? Can't you do something?
Perhaps He is responding to me with the same question.
He says, "Kelly, I have given you the answer, you.... you are my body, you are my hands and you are my feet." God created us to help and care for one another and maybe the realization that we as a human race aren't doing our job is just too uncomfortable an answer for me to accept.
The second way Uganda has made my life worse is because it has ruined many major holidays...
Halloween, for example. I can no longer take my nieces and nephews trick or treating without seeing the faces of my kids in Uganda and wondering how much fun they would be having, if only...
Watching kids gets bellyaches because they ate too many Reeses and wondering how many empty bellies are aching from no dinner on the other side of the world.
I can no longer handle aspects of American Christmas when I recall that Santa Claus, jewelry or the newest iPhone have nothing to do with the birth of Christ and this consumerist waste of resources could be doing so much good for others.
You see, Uganda has in some sense ruined me, but through the ruins I am slowing being rebuilt. Rebuilt into a human being who will be and will do better for the world and for my brothers and sisters at home and abroad. Thank you, Uganda, for being the key to my soul's renovation.
On our last day at the Sunset, I’m eating a full breakfast of cheese pizza, watermelon, and toast, while watching a nature documentary with our four servers. We’ll miss this place!
We fit a lot into a relatively short amount of time in Butangala yesterday. Butangala is a partner village of Hearts and Hope, but doesn’t yet have a permanent structure - so our packet-giving-out system was tested! We were still able to give out the packets in record time, and to spend some time with the kids helping them open them and read their letters from their sponsors.
Butangala has an amazing dance, singing, and drama program, and we loved watching the kids perform for us! Richard, who is now a member of the Hearts and Hope staff, used to be the headmaster at this school - he’s credited with the success of the fine arts programs. We watched several dances and songs, as well as a poem about health and the importance of handwashing. This warmed our hearts, since we recently installed a new hand washing station near the latrine in Butangala.
Julie was also able to announce that Butangala’s partner congregation, Immanuel Wentzville, had raised enough funds to being construction on a semi-permanent structure in the village. As you can imagine, this was met with much celebration!
We had a good amount of free time for playing with the kids yesterday, which is always a blessing. More than any other village, this one includes many children who do not go to school - so we loved giving them some special attention and love while playing with the parachute and frisbees, and doing three-legged races.
Since this was our last sponsored village, we had lots of supplies left over from our activities - so we used some of them to draw pictures with the women of the village. They are some of the most hardworking and loving people in the world, and they always appreciate when we can spend some time with them. The village sponsorship assistant of Butangala helped us pass out paper and markers to draw pictures of their homes. We let them choose if they would like us to take them with them or give them to us, so we received some beautiful artwork that we assured them will be displayed prominently in the US!
In this village, we were able to do two home visits to sponsored kids’ homes. Often, this is a heartbreaking but important part of our village visits that helps us understand more about the daily lives of the students. We visited Bataganya Moses’ and Nangobi Prossy’s home, as well as Nambi Angela’s. Their guardians and parents were proud to greet us and show us their homes, kitchens, latrines, and gardens. We were also presented with a jackfruit, which has proven to be a polarizing taste among the team!
From Butangala, we headed to the Hearts and Hope soccer match! A crowd of kiddos surrounded us while we sat near the pitch, and we gave them hugs and covered them with shiny stickers while we watched the game. It's amazing how much it means to kids to receive some undivided attention and be able to sit on a lap for just an hour.
Today, we’ll stop by Kainagoga for an hour or two before heading back to Kampala. The week has simultaneously gone very fast and very slow. We’re grateful to be able to have some time in the next few days to decompress and reflect on what we’ve seen and experienced.
Jessica Stroder ~ Mission Team Member
Good morning from our last full day at the Sunset! We got to visit two villages yesterday, both in the Kamuli district.
Pastor Schlie offered a devotion to start the day, and shared a verse from Romans 8: The resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Dad?” This was a sentiment we carried throughout the afternoon - asking God to guide us in what he wants us to see, do, and experience, and feel, in constant conversation with him. What a powerful reminder of why we’re here and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
First up yesterday was the village of Kamuli, a community that we’ve partnered with for several years now. We were so impressed with the dancing program we received in their school building! Terry, Rooney, Kelly, and Toni were even selected to join along - what a treat.
Next, we handed out sponsor packets, bags, and picture frames for the activity. Violet did a countdown to when the kids were allowed to open their packets, and there were nothing but smiles as they pulled out their letters, cards, and toys from their sponsors.
One thing that warms our hearts is seeing kids share what they received with their friends. Often, we’ll see students look through photos from their sponsors, and then pass them around so everyone else can take a look. Two girls in the back row of the school enjoyed coating each other’s faces with the stickers from their packets. These small gestures are just one example of the relational and community nature of the people of Uganda.
At dinner, we asked Mariah and Violet more about the huge, warm welcomes we receive from each village. They said children are taught that they must be hospitable and kind to everyone, even strangers, and are taught good manners and how to greet visitors warmly from a young age. They found it hard to believe that in the US, if we have guests in our homes, they typically only stay for a few days - and sometimes we’re ready for them to leave sooner! In Uganda, if you visit your relatives or friends, it’s rude to only stay for an hour - you must stay the whole day, and they would prefer if you stayed for a month! When it comes to kindness, friendship, and community, we are seeing that we have a lot to learn from the people of Uganda.
As the day went on, we also enjoyed spending some time with a few of the secondary school students. We distributed small notecards for them to write a message to their sponsors on, and they took this task very seriously. Several of the students took out their letters from their sponsors to make sure they answered each question thoroughly.
We did a few crafts with the kids, and after lunch, presented some library books and new Kamuli school shirts to the staff. Lunch in the village was absolutely delicious - homemade potato chips were a favorite among the team! We wrapped up a little earlier than usual to head to our next village in Namwemwe.
This village doesn’t have an official partner, but does have a borehole well that was purchased through Party with a Purpose in 2016. The well was dedicated last year, and many team members noticed the marked improvement in the health of the children because they now receive clean water.
We fit a lot into the hour and a half we were able to spend with the people of Namwendwa! We loved holding the many little babies of the village while the head pastor offered a devotion, and the choir sang a welcome song. About the time we started painting faces, a storm hit - which clearly showed the community’s need for a more permanent structure. It was mass chaos as the team, the women, men, children, and even chickens of the village huddled together, dodging the rain coming in from the sides and through holes in the roof.
Despite the rain, face painting was still a success, and we went through the faces of about 100 kids in a record-breaking 20 minutes. Some of the kids are a bit confused about what we are doing and why we’re painting suns on their foreheads - but the fun for many of them is just getting some undivided attention for a while.
We presented some tote bags to the women, and purchased some crafts from them before heading back to the Sunset to clean up. We loved getting to head to the All Friends Restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious - but the star of the show was really NIcholas’ baby boy, Austin.
We can’t believe it’s our last night at the Sunset tonight after Butangala! We’re looking forward to the day, but it’s bittersweet knowing it’s our last village.
Jessica Stroder - mission team member
Good morning from Uganda! What a great day in Nakabango. This is always such a special day, especially for the members of the team from Messiah.
Each morning of our trip, we set aside time with the team to reflect on what we’ve seen and experienced, and to hear a devotion to help set our minds and hearts for the day. Julie shared a moment from the day before that can only be described as a “God thing.” Before breakfast on Sunday morning, Jessica was chatting with another mission team that was staying at the Sunset. They shared that part of the work they were doing was handing out Days for Girls kits, which provide washable supplies for women so that they can still go to school while they’re menstruating. This is an organization that Hearts and Hope has also been involved in - we handed out several kits to women on our February trip, and Layet Dorothy in Nakabango is a trained educator for the program.
Julie asked them about their work with Days for Girls later on in breakfast, and they shared that they’d been praying for guidance because they were almost out of kits. It so happens that Hearts and Hope had 70 kits stored in their office, just waiting for an opportunity to be distributed. We’re bringing the kits to the team later today. Suffice it to say that there were many hugs, tears, and thanks to God for this small miracle.
Our day in Nakabango began, as usual, with a wonderful welcome from the kids and women of the village. We received a tour of the community, which included the school and church buildings and various income-driving projects like a piggery, carpentry shop, and the catering company. The caterers were inspiring to many of us - they were able to purchase new plates and new uniforms with money they’ve raised from their work. This self-sustaining model, where income is used to make their business better, is something we hope to replicate with other projects.
A little girl named Patricia is always a constant on our trips to Uganda. Patricia has a developmental disability that makes her very small, even though she is twelve, and has a hard time expressing herself verbally. Most of the time we’re in the Nakabango, her feet barely touch the ground because of all the time she spends in the arms of team members. The best way to describe Patricia is “a hoot,” and we loved spending time with her.
Programming, including songs, speeches, and poems, followed our tour. One of our favorite parts was the poem that the school choir recited about education. “Education, education, education. I am a policeman because of education. I am a doctor because of education. Education is the key to success.” School leaders presented a report of how the Nakabango Primary School students performed in 2017 - twenty-two of the twenty-three students who sat for their PLE entrance exams (to allow them into secondary school) were admitted, which is a huge deal! How exciting to see how far we’ve progressed since sponsoring Nakabango ten years ago.
Three other mission team members join us today - Pastor Chuck Schlie, Rooney, and his wife Terry. They jumped right in, and we’re thrilled to have their gifts and see our team finally completed! Abraham, Dan, and Timothy Mark also joined us, and they’re always a huge help at organizing the kids and keeping the peace.
Packets and crafts with the sponsored kids were next on the agenda. The team loves getting to sit with their sponsored kids and friends’ sponsored kids while they open their packets of small toys, letters, and photos. There are many secondary school kids that are sponsored in Nakabango, so it was a blessing to see them and talk to them about the gratitude they feel for their sponsors at home.
One inspiring part of the day was reading with the P4 (fourth grade level) children in the library. We presented some books to them, and let them select a book to read to us. The team was really impressed with the high level of reading skill, and the kids enjoyed being able to show off their knowledge.
At this point, the team feels that we could write a book about the fine art of face painting and giving out candy - we have it down to a science! We also closed out the day with the parachute, a presentation of soccer balls, and lots of hugs. We’re thankful for the time we were able to spend with the people of Nakabango yesterday, and are looking forward to two more villages today!
We had an excellent Super Bowl party in Nairika yesterday! :) This was our first time in this village. It’s always a good perspective to see unsponsored villages and witness the work that’s still to be done in most of Uganda. Violet joined us today, so it was wonderful to be able to catch up with her and watch her at work in the village!
The kiddos in Nairika were super smart. Many were a bit apprehensive about the team until they warmed up to us, but once they did, it was nothing but love. As is typical, our numbers grew throughout the day. When we showed up there were around 25 kids - within a matter of an hour, there were close to 200. We had a great time playing games like duck, duck, goose and doing the hokey pokey, while showing a little bit of extra love to kids who lingered on the perimeters.
Every member of the team fell in love with the sweetest baby in the world named Geoffrey. His sister - who must have been around 8, and hardly bigger than he was - was carrying him around, and we were happy to hold him for her for a while. What a joy to be able to show God’s love to the littlest of his kingdom.
After a few hours of playing, we headed into their structure for the worship service. Most of the service, including the hymns, were in Lugandan. Karen was the star of the show when it came to pronouncing and singing the songs - Violet said that she could have been Ugandan! Pastor Schult preached, and Bishop Charles translated the sermon, the baptisms, and the confirmations. Speeches followed, where many of the community leaders urged the congregation to stay strong in the faith. It was clear that a more permanent structure for worship and classrooms were needed in order to serve the growing community effectively - and this was confirmed by these leaders.
One of the most powerful parts of the service was seeing the six baptisms and twenty-six confirmations from the congregation - including Ashraf’s baptism, and Dan and Abraham’s confirmation. These three boys have been connected with Hearts and Hope for several years now, after living on the streets in Kampala. Julie served as Ashraf’s sponsor, which included choosing his Christian name on the fly. She chose “Timothy Mark” - and Ashraf has already changed his name to Timothy Mark Stroder on Facebook!
We had about an hour for activities after the service and speeches, which included a lightning round of face painting, bracelet making, and coloring. Lunch is always a necessary part of our visits to villages, as this is a way the communities like to show their thanks and appreciation. We were all proud of newly-confirmed Abraham for offering our prayer in flawless English. If you would have told us Abraham would be praying over our meal a few years ago, we may not have believed you!
After that, we had some time to say goodbye to the kids and give some new clothing to the little ones that were most in need. A presentation of soccer balls to the headmaster of the school was met with much excitement!
Dan, Timothy Mark, and Abraham accompanied us back to the Sunset for a meal and entertained us with some dancing - what a treat! God was clearly at work in Nairika. We’re looking forward to a full day at Nakabango today!
After a good night’s rest for most of us, it was time for the 3-hour bus ride to the village of Nalwire. This village is east of Jinja, where we stay, and is on the border between Uganda and Kenya. This was this team’s first exposure to the dusty red roads that Uganda is know for; the roads that provide an “African massage”! Pastor Paul and I couldn’t help but recall the good old days when that’s the only kind of road we traveled here. (Uphill, in a snowstorm?)
Pastor Nicholas who serves in Nalwire and his wife joined us on the bus ride. We also picked up two sweet girls that are special sponsorships in Iganda, who also joined us for the day.
We arrived to find a throng of beautiful kids - and lots of adults. We enjoyed some dancing and reports from the head of the school and the church inside their small mud structure.
Pastor Paul and Beth Schult serve at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City, California. Redeemer is partnering with this village through Hearts & Hope. What a thrill for them to see the new well that was funded by the generosity of their members! Life changing! They brought shirts for the Nalwire leaders from their friends at Redeemer. They were also able to present musical instruments to the church - a precious gift, especially in a community that expresses their joy through music so well.
We made bracelets with the women and then enjoyed lunch. Afterwards, the parachute came out and the face-painting and tattoos began! The line never got shorter over the next hour but there were a lot of kids walking around beaming with a flower or soccer ball painted on their foreheads!
All too soon it was time to climb back on the bus. We got back to the hotel after 7:00 and ordered dinner before heading to the shower. For the second night in a row, most of the team headed to their rooms before 10:00!
We are looking forward to worshipping in a new village today - even our staff has never been there. It is sure to be a great experience. Photos to follow!
What a productive day in Kainagoga! It was packed with activity, but even with all that we had to do, we were still able to enjoy plenty of precious moments with the kids and women. Being able to turn in early for the night was also a blessing so we can catch up on some sleep.
We began the morning at 9 am sharp - also known as 7 am Africa time, according to Nicholas! A two-hour ride from Hotel Africaana brought us to our home-away-from-home, the Sunset Hotel, where we took a quick pit stop before making our way to the village.
I think we could see and hear the kids in Kainagoga a half mile before we even reached the school! We celebrated with singing and dancing programming from the students, parents, and even some of the staff! We toured the new Kainagoga library, and were able to present some new books to the teachers to add to it.
Thirteen of the checked bags were full of packets for sponsored kids this year - that’s 650 pounds worth of letters, small toys, photos, and notebooks! We enjoyed handing out over one hundred of those packets in Kainagoga. As always, the most celebrated and treasured items are the letters and photos from their sponsors. And just like American kids, Ugandan children who received fidget spinners were enamored.
Along with their packets, sponsored kids in the village received Hearts and Hope tote bags (always a hit!) and were able to decorate a picture frame and name card that will be sent back to their sponsors.
After lunch, we participated in some activities with the women and guardians in the village. Paper bead making is a popular art and way of making income for women in Uganda, so we learned how to make the perfect beads out of calendar paper wrapped around a needle, glue, and resin. Mavis had to take a remedial course in bead-making from a few of the women, but after a few false starts, she rolled the perfect bead - which was met with celebration!
Saying goodbye is always difficult, but knowing we’ll be back to the village on Thursday made this one a bit easier.
Once we were back to the Sunset, we ate a quick dinner with the staff and with Pastor Schult and Beth. and turned in early to catch up on some sleep from our travel. We’re excited to hit the ground running in Nalwire today!
Jessica Stroder - mission team member
The latest Hearts & Hope mission team has arrived safely in Uganda! We pulled into the Hotel Africana around 12:45am - a little unsure of what morning it was, but today we have decided it is Friday!
We’ll be running on only a couple hours of sleep but adrenaline will push us through today. We are excited to be here and can’t wait to get to Kainagoga! Hoping to enjoy some time with a LOT of sponsored kids.
We appreciate your prayers for safe travel!
Another mission team is prepping for a trip to Uganda this week! Most of the team will leave this Wednesday, January 31st; three team members will leave on Saturday. The team has been busy packing - both their own personal bags and the supplies that will be used during the trip.
A primary focus of the trip will be to deliver over 600 packets to sponsored students in five of our partner schools. We will also be spending some time organizing games for the entire school and craft time with the women. Something new - we are delivering hand-washing stations to the schools and helping teach the kids how important it is to wash their hands!
Follow the team on this blog and our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Pray for the team and their families as we get ready to leave in the coming week!
Some of the students in the Hearts & Hope sponsorship program have been receiving support for over 10 years now! They may have started as they entered Primary 1 and are now in secondary or vocational school, or even university.
As more kids reach these advanced levels, Hearts & Hope is working hard to accommodate the needs of this age. One recent addition to our program is an Advanced Student Conference, hosted by the Hearts & Hope staff in Uganda.
The first conference was held on January 5th at Nakabango Lutheran Primary School. David Kulaba, the HH4U Advanced Sponsorship Coordinator, said "the conference was intended to bring together students in the program for interaction, understanding Hearts & Hope, understanding the Lutheran Church in Uganda, Education Counselling, and students' general counselling." He reported that 156 students were invited, but attendance grew to over 200!
The facilitators at the conference included: Rev. Charles Bameka, the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Uganda, the Jinja District Inspector of Schools, Mr. Eria Kisambira, Ms Deborah Nalukwago a professional Counselor, Nicholas Bateganya, Director of Operations for HH4U, and David.
David also reported that, after the presentations, the students agreed to form a body to keep the group together and coordinated. They elected a committee for coordination with mobilizers from each village.
Commenting on the conference later in the day,the LCU Bishop said it was a success and that he wished it it could be made an annual event.
We are thrilled with this inaugural effort and hope to make it an annual occurrence. Many thanks to our staff and to those donors who support our education programs!
The photo on the left was when Moses was visiting the doctor to seek his first treatment last fall. The photo in the middle is Moses with one of his doctors yesterday and the photo on the right is Moses - with NO MASS. Thank you!
Many of you have followed the story of Bateganya Moses for some time now. He is a boy who lives in Butangala - where one of the Hearts & Hope partner schools is located.
He was living with a large mass on his neck that was growing larger. Eventually, it started to effect his breathing and eating. He became a very sick little boy.
Our staff in Uganda paid to get Moses on a list at a hospital where surgery could be performed to remove the mass. The cost would be over $750 - a lot of money anywhere, but especially in Uganda. Friends of Hearts & Hope, just like you, rose to the occasion and donated those funds, plus more, to cover the expenses.
Moses entered the hospital in late September where he received a treatment to reduce the size of the mass. This was going to be necessary before surgery could even be considered. Moses stayed in the hospital while he received the treatments and they soon found the procedure was making permanent changes. Eventually it was decided he might not need the major surgery after all; perhaps only a minor operation! He remained in the hospital with his mother for over a month. Thankfully, funds donated covered their expenses.
Moses was dismissed in early November and was told to return in 6 weeks for a check up. Today, we received news that the mass is totally gone! And not even a minor surgery will be required! Prayers of thanksgiving for this precious child. And many thanks to our staff in Uganda for their diligence in getting Moses appropriate care and for all of you who donated to our Major Medical Fund which allowed us to fund this treatment. We are grateful!
Moses is now sponsored and will get to begin the new school year in Butangala very soon!
A few months ago, you may have seen some posts on Hearts & Hope's social media platforms about a young girl in our sponsorship program in Nakabango who was pregnant. Catherine is a true orphan; no parents, no grandparents - no siblings willing to take her in. She was starving and receiving no prenatal care.
Many of you responded to our plea for help. You donated funds that allowed our staff to take her to a clinic and buy her food and supplies to get her through her pregnancy. She gained weight and the reports at the clinic indicated that her baby was growing well.
Three weeks ago, a healthy baby David came into this world! Catherine and her baby are doing well and yesterday we had the chance to visit both of them in her small one-room home. The love she has for that small child was evident from the moment we stepped inside. She showed him off with pride and thanked us over and over. "I don't know what I would have done without your help," she said.
Layet Dorothy, the Hearts & Hope Village Sponsorship Assistant, who stayed with Catherine during part of her pregnancy, said that Catherine had more supplies at the hospital than any other patient, due to the generosity of our donors! Others sent clothes, blankets, and toys with us for the baby that she handled with great care when she took them out of the backpack they were delivered in. The bags of Skittles and Gummy Bears were a great treat as well!
Catherine and David's lives are not easy. She has not even completed primary school. But she has an added reason to survive now. She has a mother's love for her baby - and support of friends of Hearts & Hope. We will be checking on them during our visit in February as well and will continue to pray for their well being. Many thanks to everyone who helped this story continue to be a good one!
Tuesday was a long day for the Hearts & Hope leadership team! We visited two of our partner villages, Kamuli and Mbulamuti, and had a 4-hour meeting discussing how to improve our schools that didn't end until 11:00pm! It was all time well-spent, as we walked away with a tangible plan for researching and implementing some new ideas. Thank you to our Uganda staff as they had done a lot of work prior to our arrival to prepare!
Mbulamuti and Kamuli both have established schools with quality structures. It's always a thrill to drive up to both and watch the field flood with dark red uniforms and giggling kids! We met with sponsored kids in both schools and enjoyed entertainment from the school choirs. They are great kids and we love spending time with them. Many of them were some of the first kids sponsored through Hearts & Hope and they are growing up!
Our meeting was a great discussion about education in Uganda. We learned a lot about some cultural norms here that were definitely new to us. Our goal is to continue to improve the quality of the education our sponsored kids are receiving and we are excited about the numerous possibilities to make that happen!
Thank you for your prayers as you support this team during our time in Uganda. We are traveling to Butangala today and more meetings are planned for this afternoon and evening, with a boat ride on the Nile squeezed in between.
The Hearts & Hope leadership team is currently in Uganda for a week of village visits and meetings with our staff. While meetings are never the highlight of a day, having this time to spend with our staff is priceless. So much of our work is done via email throughout the year that we value this time of being in front of one another to have meaningful conversations about the work we do and how to be more effective doing it.
Last night's meeting topics were "Staff Roles and Responsibilities" and "How Can We Help You Do Your Job More Effectively?" The results of both subjects will help us attain one of our goals of maximizing our impact here in Uganda.
These meetings always bring to the surface some of the cultural differences between the US and Uganda. Those discussions sometimes are the most eye-opening. Our expectations of conduct and deliverables may conflict directly with a cultural stance here in Uganda. Our goal is never to inflict US culture on those we serve and work alongside. However, certain accountabilities are necessary in order to meet the requirements of donors in the US. A lot of time is spent finding a balance that fits in with the needs of those on both sides. What an honor to work with a staff so willing to adapt and learn!
We look forward to the remainder of this week as we align ourselves even better to serve more children in Uganda.
Not many little girls in the United States grow up hearing words like "Uganda" and "Nakabango" frequently in their homes. I feel so fortunate that this was the case for me. At Messiah, I have constantly and consistently been surrounded by loving people who are dedicated to going wherever God tells them to go. The first time I went to Uganda, I thought that I had a clear idea of what to expect. And to be completely honest, a lot of what I had heard about this country was true. Children surrounding you and wanting to be near you, even if you don't have anything to offer them besides a weak, "how are you?". (The answer is "I am fine" by the way).
Despite all these preconceived notions, of course there were so many surprises. One thing that struck me was the strong relationships that I saw between family members. Each individual person, no matter how old or how young, seemed to be doing whatever they could to support their family. It really stops a person in their tracks, to think about what a blessing God has granted us, when he gives us our families and friends. The bond between siblings, or between parents and their children, is simply international.
If I thought that I had high expectations for my first trip to Uganda, they doubled in size for my second trip. This time, I had spent an entire year with this African country in the back of my mind, to the point where I would be wondering where the "matooke" is at lunch. I will be forever grateful to Hearts and Hope and to Messiah for giving me the opportunity to come back. During my second trip, I had my own personal mission to accomplish. I was going to attempt to capture, through video, as much of this unpredictable and incomprehensible country as possible. I am currently in the process of taking hours and hours of footage and cutting it down to a few five minute videos. It feels a lot like writing a blog post, a futile attempt to grasp a weeks worth of thoughts and emotions and break them down into a couple of easy to read paragraphs.
It also reminds me of when I first came back from Uganda, and my friends, who had never heard of Hearts and Hope, would ask about my trip. I had no idea how to tell them about all the things I had seen and heard without going into a full on sermon about it! I know that it will be impossible for me to create videos that will literally make a person feel like they've been to Africa. Still, I firmly believe that there are few things more captivating than a Ugandan child's face. They make my job so easy.
For the past few years, I have struggled with this concept- God's plans are always better then my plans. I had the opportunity to meet my sponsored child on my most recent trip. Lovisa is a beautiful and intelligent young girl. Meeting her in person was so touching, but the moment when my heart broke was when I met her aunt. The woman was old enough to be her grandmother, and when I was introduced she explained to me that Lovisa didn't have any parents, and she was the one taking care of the child and her family. She then sincerely thanked me for paying the Lovisa's school fees. It struck me so hard, because of how easy it was for me to help this family. God has given me such an abundance of wealth that at such a young age I can change the life of this girl and her family. Wow. I want to empathize again the importance of everything that is done at Hearts and Hope, and everything that could not be done without God's interference. I can't pretend that I could help Lovisa by myself. It required the work of the Hearts and Hope staff, a group of people who commit their lives to connecting the countries of the United States and Uganda together. And it takes the passion of every person at every church who donates their time and their money towards attempting to improve the lives of people they've never met. This is a passion that can only come from God. God's plans are always better then my plans, and I wait with anticipation to see what he has in store next in Uganda.
In addition to our sponsorship program, Hearts & Hope has, for the past few years, awarded scholarships for secondary school and university to the "best and brightest" with the greatest need. Wyclyff Wambuga is one of those recipients.
The following are some comments from Wyclyff, sent to us, after he was asked how receiving a scholarship from Hearts & Hope had impacted his life:
With my school, I am now at the university. Hearts & Hope sponsored me from high school level and I am now getting my Bachelors degree of Procurement and Logistics Management at Kyambogo University in Kampala. (I have three years to go.)
I personally am from Kamuli, my homeland, and my mother died while I was at age of 2 years. (She died of HIV/AIDS) I was in the hands of my father but afterwards he couldn't manage to take care of me so I went to live with my grandfather. He managed to give me a primary education. Later he was broke and afterwards became very poor due to age and being job less. Right now my grandfather is very sick. Before, we used to do agriculture on a small scale - like livestock rearing, maize growing and pineapples.
The reason why I needed help from Hearts & Hope was that I felt I deserved to be at school and I always believed God could set me free. And yes, here was the organization! I couldn't even buy a book or a pen or clothes to wear or put on. I had lost faith. That's when you came by and gave me hope by providing me an education. It changed me forever and that's how I can now see a smile on my face.
I hope to prosper in my education and meet those who can help me impact my people positively.
Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of times the thought “some things are universal” runs through my head while I'm in Uganda. I think I originally believed that a culture so different from ours in the US would differ from us in EVERY way. I worried about all the differences; how would we ever relate to one another? During the last Hearts & Hope mission trip, I was struck, once again, by a huge similarity in how we all, particularly women, are wired.
During some of our village visits, I ask our staff to arrange for us to make a home visit. I want the team to see how the kids live: where they lay their heads at night, how they eat their one meal a day, what keeps them dry when it rains. This is always an eye-opening, sometimes even shocking, experience for team members.
As we left the village of Nakabango, where Messiah Lutheran partners, I was told we would be visiting the home of Mary Ozele. Mary is sponsored by Elmer and Sheryl Williams; she is a beautiful little thing who always seems to have a smile on her face.
As we bumped along the road to Mary’s home in our bus, I was struck again at how many homes were tucked in the area around where the church and school are situated. So many people on the periphery! No wonder the number of kids always grows during the day of our visit!
We stopped on a narrow road and started to get off the bus. There were 16 of us plus 5 staff members, along with an entourage of kids who had followed us on foot. We walked along a well-worn path that opened up into a beautiful compound of small structures and a palm tree. Mariah directed us to one of the homes where a woman stood outside. Her hair was covered in fabric and there was a piece of cloth wrapped around her body, covering her dress. Violet spoke with her in the local language and translated for the team.
As always during these visits, the woman was thrilled that we had come to her home. Her smile gave that away. Ugandans ALWAYS make guests feel welcome. Not just to sit outside, but welcome to come INTO their homes. Homes that are 4 mud-covered walls where five adults couldn’t stand comfortably at the same time.
Violet reiterated to us that we were “most welcome” by the woman, whose name was Jennet. She is Mary’s mother. Violet continued to translate Jennet’s words and explained that she was embarrassed that she had just come from the fields, harvesting maize. Violet explained that the next day was market day and the woman would take the maize to sell the next day in the local market. This would be her income for the week that she would use to feed Mary and her five siblings.
When women work in the fields, they wrap their bodies in cloth that protects their dress (maybe their ONLY dress) from getting dirt on it. Jennet was still wearing the cloth and you could see that she wished she had known we were coming. She would have been prepared; she would have looked more presentable.
I stood amazed that this woman, who had spent the day picking corn, was most concerned that she wasn’t presentable to her guests. This woman who had probably been working since 5:00am in a dusty field was distressed that she didn’t look her best. Oh my – do I know that feeling? Haven’t we all been there, ladies? Guests drop by unannounced, and we take a glance in the mirror as we go to answer the door, wishing we hadn’t thrown our hair up in that pony tail at the end of the day and that we changed into a shirt that didn’t have an ice cream stain on the front?
Jennet slowly unwound the fabric from her hair as she continued to speak to us through Violet. She apologized over and over again, as we tried to convey our appreciation for her hospitality.
This woman, so beautiful, smiled through it all, even when she covered her face in embarrassment. Oh my, she was gorgeous. My mind raced with gratitude for her hospitality and for God showing me, once again, how similar we are. I loved her in that moment. I wanted to make her feel better; I wanted her to know she was perfect.
Isn’t that what God wants? For us to know we are presentable to Him, just as we are?
I knew the team was feeling it too. They looked at me with eyes that said, “what can we do?” I asked Violet if I could buy some of her maize for the team; not at “normal” cost, but also not at something that would demean Jennet. I ended up giving her 40,000 for eight ears of corn – outrageous by village norms, but the equivalent of $12 in US dollars. It was equivalent to almost two weeks’ wages for most Ugandans.
Mariah and Violet sorted through the ears of corn, selecting the best eight. They made the transaction legitimate by insisting on the largest, firmest of the crop. In the end, Jennet tried to give us all of her harvest – maybe 30 ears of maize. We finally convinced her to keep the extra and still sell it at the market the next day.
As we walked back to the bus, my mind buzzed with Jennet’s response to our visit – welcoming, but she wished she looked her best. I was right there with her; she’s a woman and we care about how we look! No difference between us when it comes to vanity.
I pray for Jennet. I thank God for introducing us to her and for showing me our similarities. And I pray for a great harvest for her before this week’s market day.
Hearts & Hope for Uganda
It’s tough to pick one story about the Uganda trip. It would be easy to write a book. I can’t not mention the emotions that come over you when you meet your sponsored child and her blind mother, knowing how you’ve touched their lives, and in turn they have touched ours. The ear to ear grins tell the story. However, since my wife Michelle already wrote about our child Mary, I chose to write about soccer instead.
If you ask what we take for granted in this country, you would probably get a variety of answers, but most would likely mention a job, clean water, a roof over your head, abundant food, etc. What most people wouldn’t think about is the ability to play organized soccer (or football in Uganda as in other countries outside of the US.)
One of the most unexpected experiences was playing against the Nakabango soccer team that Messiah Lutheran Church sponsors. We were invited to play against the team with some help from Hearts & Hope staff and a few other locals. When you see many children playing with balled up plastic bags for balls (those are the lucky ones), it’s amazing what a soccer ball, some cleats, and uniforms will do. The Nakabango team played with intensity and enjoyed beating the Hearts & Hope team, but fun was had by all, including a good turnout of supporting fans to watch the big event.
I played goalie, or (keeper as it’s called), and therefore got to cross that one off my bucket list. Never would I have dreamed I would be doing that in Uganda. Fun was had by all, especially the Nakabango team as they put on a demonstration of their impressive skills.
We also took soccer balls (even used ones), beach balls and rubber balls to the schools and villages. I had no idea the small hand air pumps we brought would become such a valuable asset, as we blew up dozens of balls, over the several days in the villages. Immediately children would start smiling, kicking, running, and playing when we’d through them out. Yes, water and schools transform lives in a more dramatic way, but I’ll never look at a soccer ball the same way again. I’ll want to collapse it and give it the next team that goes over to put in their supply bag to bring some smiles somewhere half way across the world.
Julie asked us all to write a post for the Hearts & Hope blog to kind of lay out our experience in Uganda. Well let me tell you, much easier said than done.
From the time we landed in Entebbe to our arrival back in the states my mind did not stop thinking of how different our lives are compared to the Ugandan way of life. At first it's a bit of shock and awe; sensory overload. As soon as you're off the plane you notice the smell in the air - everyone cooks with wood or charcoal and in a congested city that's a lot of cooking going on. The visuals of the city, the crazy driving, this was not going to be a relaxing trip.
On day three I stopped being a tourist. I put my camera down and I started to really take in what was going on around me. This was also the day that I was going to meet my sponsored child Veronica and our visit was more than I had hoped for. She's a beautiful and smart girl that has a very bright future, and a love for her picture being taken as do all of the kids in the village. As I write this post looking back on the trip, this was the day it all started to sink in. I realized how privileged I am.
As defined in the dictionary: Privileged - having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure. I am more privileged than most because I've had the opportunity to be with the people of Uganda. It's as simple as that, in a nut shell that's my take away. Their physical beauty is only over shadowed by their unfiltered graciousness and hospitality.
Thank you to the Ugandan team who took care of us every step of the way. Violet, Mariah, Nicholas, Justus, David, Richard and many more, my life is richer having the privilege to meet and spend time with you, memories that will last a life time. To the actual village people (not the 70's music group), you inspire me to work harder and shed my 1st world complaints and I did feel "Most Welcome" into your hearts and homes. You humbled me into a better way of life.
To my wonderful Veronica, you rock my world, kid. Keep your head down, do well in school and don't lose that magnetic smile. I promise that we'll be corresponding well into the future!
I’ve spent the last several days trying to come up with those one or two impactful moments that I had in Uganda that I can share with you and hopefully inspire you. That one story that will completely break your heart or so clearly illustrate God at work in one concise moment. But try as I might I haven’t been able to come up with that one “Aha!” moment.
It’s not that there weren’t amazing moments during our visits; there certainly were. We heard stories of children in unthinkable situations, we saw sickness and we saw unimaginable poverty. There was at least one moment of unthinkable heartbreak. Conversely, we experienced incredible joy, sponsors meeting kids for the first time, Grant and Betty, the wonder of Gods creation. But not a single one of those moments set itself apart for me personally. Not one of them moved me enough to put together a blog post to share.
But today it hit me, this trip isn’t about those individual moments. It isn’t about me being able to bring you to tears with stories of sorrow or joy. It is about what made every single one of those moments possible. It is about how each moment, good or bad, came to be and how God's people responded to His call.
It starts with the wonderful Hearts & Hope staff in Missouri. Their vision, leadership and commitment make this all possible. They have given us the opportunity to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
And there are the mission teams that go, and share love and time and occasionally money to help the people we meet. And there are of course all of you reading this, that are invested in Hearts and Hope in one way or another. Prayer warriors, sponsors, donors, family members that hold down the fort while teams are away . None of what is done in Uganda is possible without any of you.
And then there’s the group I am really grateful for. There is a team of people on the ground in Uganda that was there before I arrived and is still there now that I have left, and those people are absolute miracles. These people put their personal lives on hold for a several weeks every year to make sure we have what we need when we come and visit. They drop everything to spend day and night with us. They answer our stupid questions, probably the same ones they answer every few months when a new team comes. And I think they genuinely love it.
Nothing we experience in Uganda happens without them. Grant and Betty's story would never have unfolded without that hard work of the Hearts and Hope staff in Uganda working behind the scenes to figure out how they could meet the needs of this one special girl. I would never have had the opportunity to meet the kids my family sponsors if not for the efforts of all the staff in Uganda to first identify the children that need sponsorship but then to make sure that we are all in the same place at the same time during a visit and help me communicate who I am.
And through the sad moments it was a Hearts and Hope staff member that spent countless hours trying to help a family, going far beyond what anyone could have reasonably asked to assist the family. And when things didn’t go the way we all had hoped and prayed, it was the Hearts & Hope team that grieved with the family, not out of obligation, but because they are 100% all in for Christ and for the people they serve.
There are so many stories in Uganda, big and little, that can only be told because God's people answered His call. Your role may seem insignificant to you, but I assure you that it is not. God can and is using whatever you bring to do great things in Uganda and I am eternally grateful to have had a chance to see it and to know
My Uganda mission trip-
I am not sure how to even start this. Everything is still swirling around in my head. So much love, so much happiness, so many tears, so many experiences that will for ever be embedded in my mind and my heart.
I will start off by saying this was a mission trip that has been on my heart for as long as I can remember. I have followed Julie Stroder's blog posts on these trips every time she went to Uganda and just knew this was a place that God had put in my heart to go. Julie always said that when it was time, God would get me there. In a very naive way I felt with all the pictures that Julie has posted over the years and hearing all the stories from people who had experienced this life changing journey that I was prepared for anything and everything about Uganda and this mission. Man was I so very wrong! I wasn't prepared for the love I felt for this country the minute we landed in Entebbe. I wasn't prepared for the love I have for the people, for the sounds, for the smells and everything about this amazing country called Uganda. I wasn't prepared to see first hand the shacks and huts that so many live in that don't even have windows. I wasn't prepared for their unbelievable contentment with what they have or more to point what they don't have. So many things that we take for granted both big and small.
I still can't put into words all of my feelings I have because I have never experienced anything like this before and I pray to God that He will always keep these feelings, many great and some hard , always embedded in my heart and my mind. Through all of my processing of this trip the one thing that is first and for most on my heart is the way God has blessed me through this trip. I see and feel His hands on every part of my journey on this mission trip. All glory goes to Him! Secondly I can't put into words that would express what Julie Stroder means to me and all who have been blessed to know her, work with her and most of all call her friend! Her passion to this mission and to the people there is one of the big reasons that my heart was drawn to Uganda. Tears come to my eyes every time I think of what an impact Julie , Pastor Chuck, and Hearts and Hope have made in the lives of these beautiful people as well as my own! My thanks and love to all of them. God has used them to bring not only a better life into the lives of these children and their villages but have done so without changing their culture and everything that is so beautiful about their lives. My thanks and love to all of them. I will be forever grateful and in awe of each one of you.
To pick just one or two things that really stuck with me on this trip is something I am having such a hard time doing. I still go to bed every night and wake up every morning with thoughts of the children, the families, the villages and everything else that has become such a part of me from all my experiences on this trip! Every thing that I saw and experienced was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Each one played a huge part in what made up this life changing journey! The blog posts by Grant, Jeremy, and Michelle are so on target with what I felt and experienced. Our journey's are different in some ways but exactly the same in so many ways that it is hard to not express the same feelings.
As I am sitting here writing this I keep going back through each day. Remembering the first crazy bus rides through the streets of Kampala and Jinja and those rough rides that followed on dirt roads filled with potholes that took us to our visits in the villages. Seeing the children, teachers and other villagers lining the road up to the schools waving, smiling and singing "we welcome you". Meeting my sponsor child for the first time and then the added blessing of meeting her father as well. The home visits that showed what there living conditions were truly like outside of school . Sleeping on mats laid across dirt floors with inside walls divided by tattered fabric or even clothes hanging from strings stretched from one wall to other allowing at least a small amount of privacy. The heart tugging stories we heard about of Rachael, Mirabu and Abraham along with the equally heart wrenching loss of sweet Juliet, the sponsor child that became ill and passed away while we were there. These are just a few of the incredibly sad, painful, beautiful, life changing experiences that made this first mission trip definitely not my last mission trip to Uganda with Hearts and Hope.
Being able to do Days for Girls at several villages was one of those experiences that was close to my heart. I was able to see first hand the faces of those girls when they were educated on feminine hygiene and the sustainable feminine hygiene kits that we brought with us. My Days for Girls co-leader, Michelle Arnold is a registered nurse and did a fantastic job of educating these girls (via the equally amazing Maria who works for Hearts and Hope and was able to translate) about what a period is and how it affects your body and emotions. It was amazing to watch as they heard that what they go through is what all healthy girls and women from all over the world go through and that they did not need to be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it. At the end of the session we had several questions brought up that I'm sure would never have been discussed or addressed prior to the Days for Girls program being offered to these girls. Another high light of this experience for me was to be able to actually give these girls kits that the Rolla Days for Girls and Weldon Springs Days for Girls teams put together with so much love and compassion! Many hours of hard work and prayers went into making them and as for me, to be able to see first hand the smiles and excitement that these made in the lives of these girls was worth more than anything I could imagine! We were able to hand out around 75 kits to girls in several villages! Every girl was told how much love and care went into their kits by these amazing teams back in America and that each one came with prayers and hope that these would change their lives.
The only way I can finish this is to say that if I take away only one thing from my trip with Hearts and Hope it is that every life matters. I am signed up with a blog that delivers a bible verse each day to my email and today's was from Matthew 25:37-40 that says "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" 'The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' I pray and hope that I helped at least one child there but I know for a fact that they all helped me to see life in a completely different way and that Uganda will forever more be a huge part of my life! Thank you to Julie Stroder, all the Hearts and Hope staff and to the most amazing team of friends that anyone could ask for in taking this journey with me! Love you all!
Going back to Uganda was wonderful in many ways. It was inspiring to see the new structures in the villages, from school buildings to latrines. I definitely could see progress made.
When our group went to a home visit in Nakabango I realized our mission is not yet complete. Though some of the children have the opportunity to attend school, many still do not. The small mud huts had no electricity and no plumbing or water. What do they do at night I wondered? No real bed either, lying on the hard ground, some with small pieces of foam as a bed. The reality of their home life hit me hard and made me more resolved than ever to stay involved with the Hearts and Hopes mission to serve these people.
Meeting my sponsored child was also inspiring. We had only sponsored Mary a short time as our previous sponsored child graduated from the program but I felt a connection to her instantly. When her blind Mother came over to thank me for sponsoring her daughter I was humbled as she knelt at my feet. I felt so unworthy but also grateful that my family could help sweet Mary in some way. I will never forget that experience.
I had the opportunity to do health education with some of the girls in the villages through a organization called Days for Girls. Julie Ake, Lauren Arnold and I distributed sustainable feminine hygiene kits to the girls that were made with love from the ladies at Messiah and Days for Girls Rolla. These young ladies were so grateful to have these kits and our hope is that they will no longer have to miss school when they have their periods. It felt wonderful to help these young ladies in this way and I am so thankful for all the women that took the time and talent to help make the kits. They were so appreciated!!
I was moved by our team. Each person brought a special gift to the table. Everyone was patient, loving and thoughtful. Our leader Julie is an inspiration; she has touched so many lives in the villages and she works so hard making everything on the trip go smoothly. She takes away much anxiety because she takes care of all the details that could overwhelm the team otherwise. Hats off to all the members of the Hearts and Hope team in Uganda. What a wonderful team of caring individuals! I also have to mention, we had a group of young people on our team that brought much energy and laughter to the team. It was great seeing them in action with the kids, and they tackled every task without complaints. Jane, Lauren, Jacob, Landon, and Brandon---you guys were great!!
My Uganda experience
This was my first trip to Uganda. My wife Anne had been twice previously and she was eager for me to have the same experience that affected her so much. Before the trip I felt that through her stories I pretty much knew what to expect. WRONG. As I write this it is difficult to put into words what it was like to visit Uganda. I don't think any vocal or written words could ever replicate or convey my experience. The smells, both good and bad intertwined, aromas of food and burning piles of garbage. The immense beauty, palm trees and lush green lands shadowed by the obvious lack of infrastructure. The traffic, oh my the traffic. The "rules of the road", buses and trucks lane splitting other buses and trucks while boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) get passed on the side of the road trying to dodge people and animals. The buildings, houses made of clay and thatch and beautiful homes built of brick and plaster, almost always right next to each other. And of course Uganda’s people, business men in suits and ties, women in beautifully colored dresses amidst men, women and children in rags of what used to be a $50 Polo shirt and some children with no clothes at all.
The starfish story – Pastor Jason Auringer implemented this story in one of our morning devotions and it really resonated with me because some of my personal questions were what kind of difference are we really making? Can the money we invested in making the trip be used in a better way?
Early one morning a man was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
The answers to these questions for me are, YES, we are indeed making a difference for these people. And, MAYBE we could use the money to help in a different way but for the children having us there is invaluable. The children, the reason we all make the long journey to get there. Pure uninhibited joy and love that just wants to hold your hand walk with you and look up at you with the biggest of smiles. So playful and happy, to have an adult male acknowledge them was an obvious treat. These kids have literally nothing, sleeping every night on mats in a tiny structure with the other members of their family. In some cases with people who are not their family and in other cases they are ALONE. A chance at school being their only refuge and the days when "Mzungus" come to visit is literally Christmas. Julie Stroder, Miss Violet, all of the other Hearts and Hope staff and all of its partners are doing amazing things in Uganda. You are all truly God's hands and feet for these villages and making tangible changes for these children and their families.
Uganda to me is a place of life at its purest and its people are the most happy and kind people I have ever met or seen, "you are most welcome dear visitors". I am hard pressed to think of any person at home, including myself, with all the worldly possessions we have that are as genuine as Uganda’s people.
You and your people, especially your children, will forever be in Anne and my hearts. Until we meet again my friends.
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.