Jason and Cornelius
Let me start by saying that this was my first trip to Uganda. In my mind, I knew my reasons for going were to spread God's Word, to show His Love, and hopefully touch a person or two. But I was not entirely sure how I was going to accomplish this. I thought I was fairly well informed about what to expect during our trip there. I had many discussions with those who have had the privilege of going previously... my wife, various friends, pastors and took every opportunity to read numerous blog postings about past trips. But none of that actually can prepare you for the experience of being there. I feel like now I truly get it!! From the first few moments upon arrival there I noticed the very different and unique smells, sounds, and visuals. None of these can be explained or even translate without really actually having the experience. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to experience this wonderful trip and visit a beautiful place and meet extraordinary people.
Every day of the trip was different and remarkable, each village was unique and special in its own way. But the experience that I want to personally share was from the day we spent in Butangala. This was the day that I was most excited about and eagerly waiting forward to experience. Butangala is the village my congregation from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wentzville sponsors. And I was very anxious to meet in person the two boys our family sponsors, Martin and Sanon.
Our arrival into the village was absolutely incredible!! As our bus drove down the narrow road to pull into the village, before anyone was visible, you could hear children joyously singing "You are most welcome!" You could feel the excitement in the air. As we got closer, we were greeted by the children cheerfully waving Eucalyptus branches, delightfully smiling, all while continuing to sing. It was an amazing scene. As we departed the bus, we were greeted by children and adults alike, with warm embraces and smiling faces. After our friendly hellos, we were invited by the village leaders to tour the perimeter of their land. It is beautiful village surrounded by breath taking views of green hills, their various crops and Eucalyptus trees. I immediately noticed the difference from past pictures I had viewed of the village, the new structures that had been erected, the grass that had been planted, and the vast amount of hand crafted musical instruments.
The people of Butangala are very proud and have achieved lots of growth and prosperity in a short amount of time with their extreme hard work. After the tour, we sat down with the village leaders and members for an opening ceremony and an incredible concert of sorts. This is where Butangala genuinely stands out. Their dedication to the arts is astonishing. It's hard to put into words, but we observed a wide array for the senses. We witnessed magnificent singing, graceful and rhythmic dancing, and outstanding musical instrumentation. I could not help but to feel proud of their accomplishments. Shortly after a few more speeches, another moment stands out for me....we were actually gifted a goat!! How often can you actually say you were given a goat?!!
As the day progressed, it was everyone's favorite part of the day, the chance to spend time with the children. In Butangala, I was able to help with the opening of the sponsored kids packets. After some time distributing packets, I located my family's sponsored kids, Sanon and Martin. Their English is limited, so with Nicholas and Maj's help, we made our introductions. The immediate smiles that came across both of their faces when they realized who I was is something that will stick with me forever. Sanon is very shy, and it took him a few minutes to warm up. Martin, on the other hand, is extremely outgoing and was taking my hand and putting it around himself instantly.
They were both so grateful for every little thing we were able to give them. The next hour or so, just hanging out with them, playing and showing them love is something I will forever cherish. I'm getting emotional just thinking and writing about that experience. They loved playing catch with a Frisbee, were fascinated with taking pictures and selfies on my phone, and had a blast with their new Cardinals hats (even though they had no idea how wrong it was to take a picture with Pastor Chuck and his dreaded Cubs hat, lol).
I also met a few more very special kids that day. Cornelius was a special needs boy with an absolutely tattered shirt on, held up by just a few strings. He had the biggest smile when I was able to give him a brand new, bright orange shirt to wear.
And then there was Moses, who was forced to drop out of school because of the pain caused by a growth on his neck. Moses also received a new, bright orange shirt, but even better and more importantly he is now sponsored and will hopefully get treatment soon!! Later that day, Violet and Mariah helped me find Brenda, and amazing girl who is sponsored by my wife's parents....she has an infectious smile and a kind soul.
Every single day in Uganda was unique and special. God is evident everywhere you look. Not enough can be said about the Hearts and Hope staff, from the wonderful team in the US to the inspiring team in Uganda. Every single person has been a true gift!! I sincerely thank all the staff of Hearts and Hope for their dedication to spreading God's love. I look forward to returning to Uganda , and I look forward witnessing the growth and prosperity of the villages, especially Butangala! If you are interested in going, do not hesitate, this is a life changing, inspiring, heart breaking and hear warming trip!!
Hearts & Hope is a nonprofit organization focused on unlocking the potential of people in Uganda through relationships with people in the US.