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.
My name is Grant Ehlmann. My wife Tonya Ehlmann, son Dane Ehlmann and I sponsor two children through the Hearts & Hope program. Tonya has been to Uganda once and this was my third trip.
Due to prior trips, I had a pretty decent idea of what to expect and sort of the controlled chaos that plays out during package distribution and playing in the villages. That all happened, and as expected, went smooth as it always does-thank you Julie. We all had a lot of opportunity to play with kids in the various villages and in my case, see familiar faces and re-unite and catch up.
A welcome sight was the improvement in both surroundings and the children themselves. They appeared to be even happier and healthier than my previous visits. The sponsorship program was truly making a marked difference in their lives and well-beings. This was amazing to see.
Without wanting to sound too greedy, a HUGE reason I go to Uganda is to see my sponsored child, Betty. As many know, I first met Betty in 2013. She had a noticeable disability (cerebral palsy) and I would eventually be linked up and able to sponsor her in a school that catered to disabled children.
Fast forward to June, 2017.
About two days into the trip I overheard Julie (Stroder) discussing plans not only to visit Betty at her school, but to actually pick her up from school and bring her along to her home village of Mbulamuti where she would spend the entire day with us and then be dropped off back at school at the end of the day. Needless-to-say, this piqued my attention and I anxiously looked forward to the visit over the next few days.
Day of the visit:
What a mixed bag of emotions swirled around in my head. How would she look? What would I say? How would I react? How would she react? Would she even want to be around me for that long?!? Those were just a few things I was wondering.
We pull up and of course Julie allowed me to be seated at the front of the bus. I exited the bus and looked towards the entrance where I thought she would be coming from only to be flanked from the rear as she had snuck around the back of the bus and met me with a huge hug!!! Betty and I hugged for a good long while and she was grinning ear to ear as I remembered so vividly from the last time. In short order, all of my concerns subsided and she was greeting all of the team members as they exited the bus. Betty was so happy to see everyone and her face made this obvious.
After a very warm greeting, we were able to tour the school and see her classrooms and meet the teachers. All I can say is, wow! The subjects being taught were way over my head and this was not something that was staged. These kids were learning advanced mathematics, etc. Very impressive to say the least. I also had a chance to meet the head teacher and director of the school who would allow me a selfie to compare from two years ago. It was a moment to remember.
What came next was also a moment to remember. The director referred to me as "Betty's father!" As if all of the commotion and introductions weren't enough to have me buzzing, to hear those words just hit home! It was then I knew how important it was to have been able to be a part of Betty's life and being able to sponsor her. For the remainder of the tour and prior to heading out with Betty to the village all those I came in contact actually referred to me as "Betty's father" as well. I felt a sense of worth and realized encounter with Betty back in 2013 was all a part of a bigger plan I was not in control of.
As we proceeded to board the bus with our newest occupant, we quickly got into Betty's packet I had purchased. It was, of course, over stuffed with as much stuff as Tonya and I could fit in it. Julie knows what I am talking about! 😉
Betty loved every minute of it and before long we were at her village of Mbulamuti. She was greeted by the villagers with open arms and almost treated like royalty which I absolutely loved. There too, I was approached by elders and many others as called "Betty's father." This was an amazing experience and continued to get better throughout the day. She hung by me most of the time except when we were handing out things. During lunch I was privileged to make her a plate of food with Violet interpreting quantity for her. Boy did she load up her plate for such a small girl. I would later see her calling a not-so fortunate (un-sponsored child) to her side and sharing most of her food with him. This was heart-warming. I was so happy happy to see her treating someone less fortunate with compassion. Not something we see back home too often.
As mentioned, the day progressed and it was amazing. Before we boarded the bus for home, we made a pit stop where Betty had been staying with a person (not family) when not on break. I was able to see the living quarters and also see a small piece of land that we may be purchasing to build her a small home on. It was neat to think that all of her hard work and struggles would pay off in the form of her own home.---Details on this will come in the future so stay tuned.
The trip home seemed short and before I knew it, it was time to say good bye to Betty. Up to this point I had really held it together. I chalked that up to the notion that because I had all day to process everything, I wouldn't become a blubbering mess of emotions. Well, that changed when I say my final farewell to her in the director's office. All of what I had been thinking I was in control of came rushing to the surface. I was struggling to hold back tears but it was futile. All of the day's events and memories leading up to this point came rushing at me like a freight train. It was hard to process but I had to say good bye and she did the same. It was a bittersweet moment. I was happy she was happy but I was sad to say bye.
After saying our goodbyes I had a lot of time to think about everything over the next few days ahead and remainder of the trip. Each time I would think about that day I found myself smiling. I'm sure people who saw me smiling out of the blue thought I was nuts but I didn't care. I was genuinely happy and not about to let go of that day and those memories.
As I sit here now and type this up I find myself smiling while at the same time choked up because I did have to say goodbye. Uganda has a special place in my heart. They say that Uganda is the Pearl of Africa. To that I say Betty is the Pearl of Uganda. There are thousands of Betty's in Uganda but there is only one Betty. Until next time, I will hold on to the memories and experiences I had that one day in June 2017 in the middle of Uganda with my sweet little girl, Betty...
Betty and Grant walking back from the land where they hope to
build her a small home to live in during breaks.
Betty made this necklace for Grant - what a treasure!
Our time in the villages came to an end on Thursday. We made one quick visit to Kainagoga - just to be with some kids one last time before we made the journey to Kampala. We delivered t-shirts to the staff at the school; it was a new way to hand things out - we laid all the shirts out on desks in the main hall and let the teachers come in and "shop". They loved it and SO much less stress on the team!
We played a few games, blew some bubbles, passed out sweeties one last time and then rode our bus back to Jinja. It was time to shop! Friends and family - a LOT of thought has gone into the small gifts being brought home to you. I can vouch for the shoppers! It truly is always a fun time and most items got checked off the list.
We met Mark and Megan Manley, the LCMS missionaries to Uganda, at The Deli for a quick lunch. It's a newer restaurant and serves mostly sandwiches and paninis - something Ugandans aren't terribly familiar with. Violet is not a big sandwich fan - too much bread, she says.
The 2-hour drive to Kampala was fairly uneventful. We hit a bit of a "jam" on the outskirts of Kapala, but nothing too bad. We checked into the Hotel Africana and had some time to rest before we went to the Rock Garden for dinner. It's a really nice restaurant and we had a great evening sitting under the huge umbrellas.
On Friday morning, we left promptly at 7:45 (way to go, team!) heading to Murchison Falls National Park. We arrived at the ferry almost exactly 6 hours later. It's a long drive, but the roads inside the national park were much better than ever before. We crossed the river and went straight to lunch at Paraa Safari Lodge. Afterwards we checked in, and at 4:00, we were ready for our evening game drive. The pictures tell the story! We had another game drive this morning and now have some time to relax before the 2:00 boat ride. All are feeling blessed to be able to share this new view of God's creation with the team.
No blog posts for two days - my apologies! There was simply no access to our blog software but looks like it is going to cooperate this morning.
There is so much to capture from the past 48 hours! This team has been able to successfully cram a LOT into a day. Very grateful for their flexibility and willingness to try anything I ask.
On Tuesday, we traveled east on Iganga Road. Our first stop was the new Lutheran seminary. We toured the campus and met briefly with the 23 seminary students. We delivered 4 boxes of books sent with us by Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookfield Wisconsin and were on our way again.
We had the privilege of visiting a village where Hearts & Hope has never been before. Itakaibolu is a small congregation where around 70 people attend worship on Sundays. We also passed by Nakavule Lutheran Church on the way; it is the larger Lutheran church in the area. We met with them in a small mud structure - similar to the structures where we have always met congregations for the first time. It was obvious that some of the younger ones don't see a lot of Mzungus! The road was rough; there was rock along the way, similar to that you see at Elephant Rock State Park in Missouri.
We delivered t-shirts to around 120 people and played a lot of games. It was a great visit and a wonderful way for the team to see how the villages that Hearts & Hope partners with all began.
Our last stop of the day was a bit unusual. I will outline the entire project in a future blog post but the highlights are that two girls were removed from the grandmother's home in Nakabango and no longer attended school. I knew these girls and they are bright little half-sisters. The thought of them never getting an education and working as house maids at the age of 10 was more than I could handle. We have made arrangements for them to attend boarding school in Kawete, where Violet works much of the time. We had purchased some items for them that morning and decided to deliver them to the step mother's home, where they were staying. Seeing their precious faces was a magical moment for me! The team dug some balls and games out of the bus and entertained 30-40 onlookers while we visited with Mirabu and Racheal. Truly one of my favorite hours of the trip and another awesome way for the team to see a little behind the scenes work.
It was a long Tuesday but one that touched a lot of lives - on the team and among those we saw.
On Wednesday we were heading to Mbulamuti to deliver packets to 80+ sponsored students. We first stopped in Jinja to pick up Betty, another special case handled by Hearts & Hope. Betty is from the Mbulamuti area. She has cerebral palsy and had been left to mostly fend for herself a few years back. Grant and Tonya Ehlmann felt lead to do something for her and for the past three years she has attended a boarding school in Jinja that is set up to offer physical therapy and job training in addition to traditional academics. It's always a thrill to be greeted by Betty!
We arrived in Mbulamuti and enjoyed being part of a parade to the school structure lead by the local Boy Scout troop. We enjoyed some entertainment and then delivered packets to the sponsored kids. Some of the older girls went for Days for Girls training while the younger ones made a craft for their sponsors.
Afterwards we had the chance to enjoy the massive playing field behind the school. After lunch it was time to head back to Jinja, but first, we stopped by where Betty stays during her breaks from school. The small structure she had been living in had completely collapsed. The decision was made that we will work to construct a new structure for her on the same spot and give her the opportunity to use the independence she has gained! Thank you, Grant and Tonya!
When we arrived back at the Sunset, it was time to pack up some bags. We will check out of the hotel later this morning and travel to Kampala. It has been a fantastic week on the mission field!
Our Monday began like every other day; we ate breakfast and then gathered for a morning devotion. Many thanks to Pastor Jason Auringer for leading these each day. It also gives us time to reflect on the previous day and make our plan for the day ahead.
After purchasing more bottled water for the team in Jinja, we headed straight north towards Kamuli. Along the way, we packed 200 bracelet kits to pass out to the kids.
We enjoyed a beautiful welcome and some entertainment by the kids. For the third day in a row, the team got to join the celebration by dancing along. Watch for YouTube posts very soon! :)
We delivered packets and loved seeing some more of our sponsors meet their sponsored student. MIchelle, Julie Ake, and Lauren delivered Days for Girls kits and conducted another training session. If you don't know about Days for Girls, check out their website: www.daysforgirls.com
Lunch was next and then some time to spend playing games with the kids. Lots of activity on the playing field outside the school.
We were lucky to have three of our good friends join us for the day - Abraham, Ashfar, and Daniel. These boys used to live on the streets of Jinja; their stories are heart wrenching. Messiah Lutheran Church has done a lot for them over the years and it is a joy to see how they are growing up.
The boys joined us as we boarded the bus and headed towards Namwendwa. This village has no partner but proceeds from Party With a Purpose were used to install a borehole well earlier this year. We are used to seeing aroun 60-70 people when we visit; yesterday there were easily 400 faces waiting to greet us when we arrived! We loved our time with these joyful people! Some team members had the chance to purchase beads, purses, and hats made by women in the community. We passed out the bracelet kits and played a lot of games with the kids before we got back on the bus for the trip home.
Along the way, Abraham asked if we could stop at the place where his father used to own land. After his father passed away when Abraham was very young, a family friend was supposed to take care of Abraham and his brothers and sisters. (His mother died the day after his father passed.) Instead, the so-called friend ran them off, even threatening to kill them. He sold a large portion of the land, and has enjoyed the proceeds ever since. This is one of the reasons Abraham lived on the streets for so long. The pride in his voice about the land was evident; he was even able to show us where his father is buried. I encouraged Abraham to take the time to write his story some time. It needs to be told.
We had time to shower when we got back and then boarded the bus for a quick ride to the All Friends Restaurant. We were fortunate to have much of the Hearts & Hope staff join us, as well as the new LCMS missionaries, Mark and Megan Manley and the Bishop-elect of the Lutheran Church in Uganda, Pastor Charles Bameka. There was much conversation and many laughs during the evening!
When we returned to the Sunset, the 3 boys asked if they could sing and dance for us; we never turn down that opportunity so there was a bit of a party near the restaurant last night! It was so fun to watch them and see the pride on their faces. I am hoping these 3 are a success story! I think they already are.
Today is a visit to a new village. Looking forward to learning more about the community and meeting the people there!
What a joy to worship with Butangala Lutheran Church yesterday! Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville, Missouri partners with Butangala and we had the pleasure of Pastor Jason getting to preach at the service. Also, the team had "rehearsed" (i.e. sang it twice on the drive), "Here I am to Worship" and sang it as the anthem as well. Violet insists we "nailed it". At any rate, our hearts were in the right places. It was a beautiful service.
Afterwards, we moved to the new latrine and had the official ribbon cutting. The five members of Immanuel ceremoniously cut the ribbon and viewed the new structure. Truly, these latrines are a huge step towards better hygiene in the villages and schools.
Entertainment was next. These kids can sing and dance! Part of the Christmas gift from Immanuel was new costumes for the dancers. These will be used in the competitions they participate in. We received a great explanation of the various instruments the kids play; they blew us away with this newly acquired skill.
Packets for all the sponsored students came next. This team was SO ORGANIZED! They were running on all cylinders yesterday and the process went smoothly. We are letting the kids use some photo booth props for their photos this time; you will LOVE the result, sponsors!
At the same time, MIchelle, Lauren, and Julie A. went with Mariah to meet with 25 girls who were receiving their Days for GIrls kits. These kits provide girls with feminine hygiene items that allow them to attend school all month. This is another means of improving both educational performance and health and wellness in the schools. The ladies did an awesome job during the training and the girls were all smiles afterwards.
Distribution of bedding kits to the 25 most-recently sponsored students came next. These include a mattress, mosquito net, and a blanket. Donations were again from Christmas at Immanuel. After seeing where some children sleep the day before, this gift meant even more to the team as they each presented the kit to the child and their guardian.
Lunch was next; it was hot by this time. We crowded into the small school office and felt a bit like a pizza in an oven! Our team pic was last - bad team leader for that scheduling! :(
We got back to the hotel around 5:00 and showered in time to catch the boat for a ride on the Nile by 5:30. After a brief erroneous walk to the railway bridge, we found our driver and had a lovely evening cruising the Nile. And we saw monkeys; that's always a good day.
Wow, it was a jam-packed day. Kudos to this team for their energy and passion for what we are trying to accomplish. They are rock stars in my mind and quite willing servants.
Thank you for the continued prayers for safety, good health, and productivity!
Yesterday was Nakabango Day! If you've been on a mission trip to Uganda with Hearts & Hope, you know that this day can be chaos! Saturday was no exception, but it was a glorious chaos! Messiah Lutheran in Weldon Spring, Missouri and Nakabango Lutheran Church have been partners since 2006. There is a familiarity that breeds all kinds of connections and a level of comfort that makes you feel a bit like you've just arrived home.
The school put on a magnificent program that included songs, dancing, and poetry. It was apparent the staff had been working hard during the second term!
We met with almost 150 sponsored students and spent time handing out packets, making crafts for their sponsors, and putting together bracelets. Next the men moved to the church building, constructed with help from Messiah in 2010, to paint. They spent a lot of time in the hot sun putting on a fresh coat of paint that changed the entire look of the church.
We delivered more books to the library. This project is something new for Hearts & Hope and it seems to be working. We met with 25 students who each snagged a new book. What a thrill to watch the team sit and listen to them read!! Messiah's VBS kids will be collecting books next week for this library; we can't wait to make another delivery in the fall!
We also had the privilege of delivering a new altar cloth to the church. Many thanks to Barb Wehmeyer for taking Pastor Chuck's measurements of the altar and sewing a cover that fit PERFECTLY! The vice chairman of the congregation was thrilled and recorded a short video to show his appreciation.
After we left the village, we were able to make visits to three homes. This is a time when the reality of poverty in Uganda hits many of the team members. Seeing where the kids eat and sleep can be difficult to accept; it always seems to rekindle that fire that makes us want to help.
We arrived home around 6:30 (how quickly the Sunset Hotel becomes "home"!). Dinner was a festive affair as three of our staff members joined us. Pastor Nicholas from St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Nalwire also joined us as we were able to announce the official partnership between St. Matthew and Redeemer Lutheran in Redwood City, California! What a blessing this will be to both congregations. Hearts & Hope is thrilled about the possibilities.
It was a later night last night but we will be ready to worship in Butangala today!
Whoa - it was a long, amazing day in Uganda for the Hearts & Hope mission team! Which equated to an early night; I think most folks were in their rooms by 10:00pm. I'm hoping everyone comes to breakfast having had a great night of sleep.
We left our hotel in Kampala promptly at 9:00 (yay team!) and made the 2-hour drive to Jinja. We checked into the Sunset Hotel and dropped our bags in our room before heading out to Kainagoga.
We delivered packets to the 80 sponsored students and made some, dare I say, darling crafts for their sponsors! The team was awesome. It's a little overwhelming when all 16 of us are crammed in a small classroom and are trying to make a lot of things happen at once, but they did it with poise and grace! Even Wally... :)
We had some time to spend with the kids and shared our first village lunch together. Afterwards, there were photos and then it was off to the friendly soccer match with the Hearts & Hope team. Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Spring has supported this team for years and they do us proud! The mission team stepped up to the challenge and it was a great game. I'm just hoping sore muscles don't hold us back from painting in Nakabango today!
We had dinner at the Sunset hotel; whole tilapia seemed to be the common theme on the menu. It was a beautiful evening.
A big day is planned in Nakabango. Thank you for the prayers for continued safety and a great day for this mission team!
We have arrived! After a long layover at O'Hare in Chicago, and a unusually short layover in Brussels, we landed in Entebbe around 8:00pm. I was hoping for the sun to still be around, but that was not the case. It was nice to get to the hotel in Kampala around 10:00 instead of 12:30am!
After a smooth check-in, everyone's luggage got delivered to their rooms and we met downstairs. Violet had called in our pre-order of 10 plates of fish fingers & chips, and 8 plates of chicken and chips, so the food was ready soon after we sat down outside. Some members of our staff (Nicholas, Mariah, and Justus) were there with us. It's early now (around 7:00am); I love watching team members come down to the restaurant for breakfast on the first morning. The women are feeling awkward in their skirts and the men just want coffee!
We are heading to JInja at 9:00am and then we will be in Kainagoga all afternoon. Also on the docket - a friendly football (soccer) match with the Nakabango boys team! Stay tuned for those photos!
We are grateful for our families and friends who have kept us in their prayers during our travel - thank you!
Another Hearts & Hope mission team will be heading to Uganda on Wednesday. Sixteen strong, they finished packing supply bags on Thursday and are (hopefully) wrapping up packing their personal bags very soon!
Those 19 suitcases dedicated to supplies include hundreds of packets assembled and sent with love from sponsors all over the US. A large amount of our time in the Hearts & Hope partner villages will be spent delivering those packets and enjoying watching the kids sort through the contents. The letters and photos inside are treasured and help grow the relationship between the student and their sponsors.
We will also be making a delivery of seeds from Hope Seeds and carrying four boxes of books from Pastor Dan Schneider for the seminary in Uganda.
We have plans to paint the church in Nakabango, spend time doing crafts and playing games with the kids, and bring some hope and encouragement to our friends in Uganda. Word has it that we will get to watch/participate in a "friendly match" with the Nakabango soccer team. We will also be visiting a village where none of us have ever been before!
We appreciate prayers for safety and a productive two weeks on the mission field!
Hearts & Hope spends a lot of time sharing our successes on social media. We want our sponsors, donors and friends to know they are making a difference in Uganda and we want them to be a part of celebrating some of the good work being done.
Sometimes, though, there are sad stories. Information that hurts. Reports we receive that shake us to our core. We hear things that make us question "why?" But always, there are answers that come, even if they aren't always they answers we want. The following is my personal account of such a story:
During our most recent trip to Uganda, we were privileged to be a part of a huge celebration - the school dedication in Ishongororo. The day was full of joy, celebration, and the promise of a brighter future for so many families. A school where kids can receive a quality education is a life-changing addition to a community. This school is going to give that opportunity to kids who might not otherwise be able to go to ANY school. At Ishongororo Lutheran Primary School, they will receive an education where they will also hear about Jesus. It is a beautiful gift to the area!
During the celebratory speeches and entertainment, I was pulled away by Violet, our good friend and associate in Uganda. She explained that a woman had shown up with a very sick child and was asking if she could meet with me so that I could pray for her son who was ill. We went to an area outside the crowd to learn more about this family.
Violet did her best to translate (there is a different dialect in this area that she was not as familiar with) and explained that the boy was HIV-positive and was having complications. It was clear to see he was in trouble; his ankles and chest were swollen and his breathing was shallow and rapid. His gaze was cloudy and the whites of his eyes were yellowed. The mother had no money to go to a clinic and most likely, the boy would not receive treatment there, even if they could afford transport.
We talked with Justus, the Hearts & Hope Project Coordinator in the southwest region, about finding someone to take the boy and his mother to a hospital. I found Pastor Dan, from Immanuel Lutheran in Brookfield, to share the story with him, since they partner with the congregation connected to this school. We agreed that the worship leader in the congregation would take funds donated by Hearts & Hope and Immanuel to get the boy to the hospital.
I held the boy's hand and prayed for him and his family. I struggled with what exactly to pray for. Healing? Comfort? Good doctors? A smooth ride to the hospital? Food for the family? I almost didn't know where to start. So many needs for one small boy. But I trusted God knew the needs and so I prayed for all those thing, plus comfort for the mother as she worried about her son, much like any mother would.
We gave some funds to Justus to provide for transport and one night in the local clinic for diagnosis. We promised to follow up in the coming days.
He later confirmed that the boy was admitted and tests were run. Fluid had built up on the boy's lungs and he was given medication; we were never told what type. Pastor Dan provided some more funds before he left to continue treatment for the boy.
We heard nothing more until two weeks after our return. Justus had gone to visit the family and found the worst news - the boy had passed away.
My heart was broken. That's not the way this story was supposed to end. He needed help and we thought we had given it. But he was simply too weak to defeat all the horrific things that were ravaging his little body.
I thought about his mother - how devastated she must be. As much as my heart hurt, how much more pain was she feeling? Not only was she living in extreme poverty where she couldn't provide any basic necessities for her family, but now she must deal with all the agony and heartache of losing a child.
Late last week, I received some more news from Justus. The family had contacted him and asked to meet with Benson, the local Lutheran pastor. Pastor Benson made several visits to the family and they asked to join the Lutheran church. Today, they were all baptized. A happy ending? Not entirely but there is much rejoicing knowing that this family knows more about how much Jesus loves them and that He will never leave them - even in the darkest times.
And so, it's another story from Hearts & Hope. Not the one I expected to share, but it IS the story. I am thankful that God's kingdom grew by 5 today. Please join me in continuing to pray for the family as they mourn the loss of a child and grow in their faith. And thanks for listening to the Hearts & Hope stories - all of them.
Hearts & Hope for Uganda
There is no doubt that sponsoring a child through Hearts & Hope is a wonderful thing. Giving a child the opportunity to attend school – a child who otherwise might not ever have that chance. Developing a relationship with a child on the other side of the world. Letting them know you care for them and pray for them. Sending them small gifts in a sponsorship packet to show you are thinking about them. It’s all wonderful use of resources – your time, your money, and your love.
Our goal is for a sponsored student to move through primary and secondary or vocational school, maybe even university, and be able to support themselves and their family. To have a better life than the world has planned for them. And when that happens, it is glorious! We have seen it. Students who are now teaching in our Hearts & Hope schools or working on the Hearts & Hope staff. Students who are about to graduate and enter the medical field or the world of finance in Uganda. So much promise, because someone cared enough to be their sponsor.
But a program such as this isn’t without its painful moments. And our family recently experienced just that.
We have sponsored Matia in the village of Kamuli for almost 5 years. Last year, he was in P6 – the equivalent of 6th grade in the US. He had dreams of becoming a pilot someday and Mark and I were excited to be a part of helping him achieve that goal!
The Primary Sponsorship Coordinator sends updates on students to the US staff each month. Last month, we were saddened to hear that Matia had left the Hearts & Hope school in Kamuli. It happens sometimes – families move and kids either have to leave school completely or attend a different school. Or sometimes parents need students to remain at home – to help provide for the family or to care for younger siblings while the parents work. What a difficult decision for a parent to make! But our sponsorship of Matia ended.
Over the past 5 years, I have spent hours with him. I’ve met his family. I even received a live chicken as a gift from his mother! His pictures litter the side of our refrigerator and his most recent photo is in a frame in our family room. It’s hard to believe there won’t be any more photos; no more signs of him growing up.
We are sad but will always pray for Matia and his family. We pray that he does become a pilot and marries a sweet young lady someday and has a family of his own. We pray that he knows he is loved and that he always has food when he is hungry.
We will be assigned a new child to sponsor in Kamuli. There are always kids who need sponsorship and we are happy someone else will be given the opportunity to get a quality education at a Hearts & Hope school. We will love this child and support them, just like we did Matia. Their picture will be added to the refrigerator and we will gather items for their packet. But there will always be room in our hearts for both.
On Thursday morning, we left the Hotel Africana around 9:00am in our "Super Custom" - which is basically a small van, but I'm opting to be like my local friends and only refer to in by its proper name! We hit no "jams" coming out of Kampala and made good time to Jinja. We stopped first at the Hearts & Hope office to pick up some supplies they had brought with them from Ibanda for me and then went to the Sunset Hotel to check in.
We headed to Kainagoga, one of the Hearts & Hope partner villages. Over 80 students are sponsored there and we saw all of them but 2! They provided some entertainment and then we gave them time to paint pictures that we plan on sharing with their sponsors digitally! They had some relay games set up that we got to enjoy as well - so cute. One involved someone being blindfolded and attempting to walk to a soccer ball in the middle of a field and kick it. The success rate was not good! Nicholas, the Hearts & Hope Financial Administrator was the only one able to make contact and I'm not so sure he couldn't see through the blindfold!
Passing out "sweeties" was the last activity of the day and always a favorite. We came back to the hotel and had dinner listening to the rain on the metal roof of the hotel. We are excited about going to Nakabango today!
Wow - time DOES fly when you are having fun - and accomplishing a lot! What a great few days it was in Ishongororo with the mission team from Immanuel Lutheran in Brookfield and Alleluia Lutheran in Wrightstown. Thirteen members strong, they have planned well for their time in the southwest region of Uganda, where they have previously built 5 church buildings and now the first block of Ishongororo Lutheran Primary School!
Sunday was the day of dedication at the school. The day began with a marching band procession where we were invited to join the children and musicians in the walk from the main road to the school grounds. And what beautiful grounds they were! Tents and chairs had been set up overnight, with colorful bunting along the edges of the tent. The purple ribbon awaiting the official opening ceremony stretched from one end of the school to the other
Worship was lead by Pastor Benson; the message was delivered by Pastor Dan Schneider. Pastor Aaron Hutton and BIshop-Elect Charles Bameka rounded out the seating on the left of the altar. The sound system, purchased by Immanuel in the past two years, blared both hymns and contemporary Christian music across the valley below the school. The worship service concluded with the commissioning of the teaching staff and the board of the southwest deanery.
We toured the school as a group after the ribbon cutting and then returned to our seats. The rest of the day was intermingled with songs and dances from the school kids, speeches from church, school, and local officials, including the Directory of Education in the southwest region. Lunch was an amazing feast of local favorites.
On Monday, the seventy sponsored students received their first packets from their Hearts & Hope sponsors. It was Christmas morning! Thank you to those who put your packet together and especially those who included a letter from you and a photo. The students truly love to see the faces of their sponsors. A few team members were able to meet their sponsored student - always one of my favorite moments.
After the kids completed some crafts, the rest of the days was spent on various activities, including making paper flowers with some of the women. Two murals were painted on classroom walls, soccer and netball goals were painted, balloons were blown up, and footballs were thrown. The men managed to hold their own in a soccer game with the boys.
What a joy to watch a team engage with this school! Many times an attitude of "whatever it takes" is necessary and this team rose to that occasion. Many thanks to them for their great spirit and cheerful demeanor! :).
The team will travel most of the next week with members of the Lutheran Church of Uganda Board and staff members. I am going to Jinja today, along with Crystal Vaughn to visit the other Hearts & Hope partner schools and meet with the sponsored students and leaders in the communities. Thank you for your continued prayers for all of us!
Hearts & Hope for Uganda
It is Thursday morning, April 20th and 15 excited mission team members will soon come together at the Detroit airport! Teams from Immanuel Lutheran in Brookfield, Wisconsin and Alleluia Lutheran in Wrightstown, Wisconsin have been preparing for this trip for months; today is the day! I am traveling from St. Louis. Crystal Vaughn, a regular Hearts & Hope team member, will be joining us from Kansas City.
This trip is the culmination of much planning, preparation and prayer. For first-time goers, it can be an emotionally overwhelming day! We thank the "senders" - our families, friends, and fellow church members. Without you, these trips aren't possible!
Thank you for your continued prayers for safety and a productive trip! We look forward to collecting ALL of our bags and meeting the Hearts & Hope Uganda staff around 3:00pm tomorrow afternoon!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.