Reflections on Uganda

It has been about a month since we returned from Uganda, and I had asked some of the ladies that joined us on the December trip to put their thoughts on paper so that I could share some of their perspectives and experiences with you. 

So, below are some thoughts from Tyra, Ally, Jen and Jessica on their trips to Ogoloi and Bukedea. 
 
A large part of our strategic partnership with Childrens Hope Chest was knowing that they facilitate and encourage sponsors to travel to meet the kids in the CarePoints, and it is my personal belief that if more people were to travel and see the reality of these peoples lives….but more importantly to get to know them as people… that more people would actually step up to care for them. 
 
We are planning two more trips to Ogoloi and Bukedea this year…one will likely be in early May, and the other in early August (to coincide with the school holidays in Uganda). If you have interest in joining us on any of these trips please let us know. 

We would be thrilled to have you join us.Here are some thoughts from: 


Tyra Swenson
So we are home and I am struggling to find the right words or to wrap my brain around everything we saw and felt while we were gone. I don’t think I realized how hard it would be to come home. Of course, I was so excited to see my kiddos and get to spend time with them and just love them but I feel like I left a large part of my heart in Uganda.
I left for this trip thinking that we are going to go and get to change these kid’s lives and make them better but instead they changed my life. These kids are a true gift from God and they live in these horrible conditions but they know what true joy is even though they don’t get to experience it often. Don’t get me wrong these kids suffer every day, some are beaten by their care taker because they are looked on as a burden, most have lost at least one parent a lot have lost both, most have one pair of clothes and had never owned a pair of shoes, they eat the same thing every meal, they live in tiny huts where if they are lucky they have a mattress if not they sleep on the cold dirt floor, and almost all are neglected and unloved.

The thing that they taught me is what true joy is, they didn’t need us to bring them anything or to make them any promises they were just happy we were there to spend time with them and show them love. I had this image of going and these children were going to ask us to give them things and begs us for more money but this was not the case instead they thanked us for everything they have gotten, they didn’t ask us for anything . When we gave them an assortment of used clothes, a pair shoes, mosquito nets and pictures from their sponsors it sadden us as a group to think of our homes filled with so many unnecessary items. I can not even count how many pairs of shoes or articles of clothing I have and most kids got their first pair of shoes and a “new” article of clothing and were so grateful that we would care enough to give them these things.

Their eyes light up when we held their hands, smiled at them, chose them for a game, let them sit with us, pick them up or anything that involved showing them even an ounce of love. This is what we are called to do show them the love of Christ through us. These things made these children have joy. I don’t even know if it is something that anyone can understand without experiencing it. These kids have nothing and have no choice but to depend on God while we get to live in our nice warm homes, with three plus meals a day, drive nice vehicles and have all the opportunity in the world but yet complain about the pile of laundry needing to be done, the steak not being cooked to perfection, our parents driving us crazy or whatever else it is we can complain about. I envy their simple lives; I envy their closeness to God, but most of all I envy their true joy. We aren’t meant to go and make these villages and children live like we do and have what we have we are meant to love them because this is what God calls us to do. We are meant to live how Jesus lived, forgive how he forgave, care how he cared, and most of all love how he loved.

When I close my eyes I can see their smiles. I grew very close to a multiple kids and my heart broke to leave them. Last night I laid in bed and sobbed thinking of how they might be going to sleep alone, feeling scared, hurt, neglected or unloved. I pray that they feel God holding them close, I pray that they feel safe and most of all I pray that they remember we love them.

I think about all the responses I have gotten when looking for sponsors for these kids and the frustration and excuses I know are to come but here is what I realize. The $34 a month gives them one meal a day, a glimmer of hope to make something of themselves by being provided with school supplies, medical care if needed and although these are necessary to survive more than anything the $34 a month shows them the love of Christ. These kids know that we give to them because we love them and we love them because this is what God calls us to do. I am not saying everyone should sponsor a child but it saddens me that we live day to day and do not show the love of Christ in our actions. We are called to love everyone, even those who sometimes make it very hard to love them, those who we want to hate, those who don’t love God, those who are selfish, those who are cruel and those who don’t love us back. We are called to live our lives so that everyone we come in contact with knows we have Christ living in our hearts.
I am very thankful that I could go and meet these amazing children and we could show them that they do have someone who loves them but most of all teach them that we are just doing what God calls us to do and that loving God brought us there so that they may understand that we don’t need thanks or appreciation from them but all the thanks and glory goes to God.

Ally Maloney
Having traveled overseas a few times, I can honestly say this was the greatest trip yet. This one made so much sense. It’s as if it really clicked for me this time. There are so many great memories and so many things I learned, but the most significant was the day I met Alex.
Alex is twelve and and I can honestly say he broke my heart. He lives right near the Bukudea Carepoint and goes there daily to eat. Alex doesn’t go to school though because he isn’t allowed to. He has a health condition that causes him to have no bladder control. Because of this he has been sent home and told not to return to school because he “smells”.

Alex

At the Carepoint, however, he is shown love for what may be the first time in his life. Alex doesn’t have a mom, she left and died of AIDS and he now lives with his negligent father and stepmother. I saw the shack where he sleeps on a pile of rags, right next to the farm equipment and the plow.

The funny thing about kids in Africa is that despite the fact that they live every day in the most grueling of circumstances and disgusting poverty, they are so filled with joy and so alive. Alex was different. You could see in his eyes the shame of rejection and the longing for love and security. While other kids may have a life that is broken in the physical/material sense, Alex had a broken spirit. As I sat there listening to the care givers, our team, and the family interview him and his father I saw in him, my little brother who is the same age.

I think it was at this point that it hit me. Sometimes I really struggle to relate with these people, and that simply because I have NEVER been in their worn out, dusty shoes. I’ve never been without a home, parents, food, or faced a life long disease that may kill my whole family. I have, however, felt the sting of rejection and feelings of inadequacy in my own life, as everyone can testify to at some point. I think it was at that moment that I finally understood the suffering that he faces. Not only does he get rejected, laughed at, hurt, made fun of, but that’s on top of his daily struggle to stay alive. This just overwhelmed me.

Our team decided to help Alex. As we sat there discussing his needs, he listened to us and I couldn’t help notice his toes sticking out past the worn out fronts of his tennis shoes by about an inch. We found out that the tests, surgery, and medication to help with his condition would come to a mere 300 dollars. Pocket change.
It’s really quite simple. There was a need. We had the ability to meet it. An insignificant amount, to most Americans, will literally change this boy’s life forever. This was so awesome to see. It clicked. HOW could we NOT help?

This trip made sense because we were able to fully immerse ourselves into the lives of these people, learn their names, and love them. We weren’t just there with an agenda to complete tasks but we were there to love people that may have never known love before.  We literally got to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I read a statistic the other day about orphaned and at risk kids in the world, and it stated that if only 8% of the population that calls themselves Christian would DO something about it, that category would no longer exist.It’s not that complicated.  The Church is all about this. We were called and commanded to love sacrificially and the truth is, when we actually do that it feels so good.It’s totally worth it. It’s real.


Jennifer de Bruin

One thing I loved about our trip to Uganda was learning about how Children’s Hope Chest works and falling in love with this organization and its workers.  This organization really exceeded my expectations.  We had a personal tour guide with us at all times- Joseph.  He is the national director of Uganda for CHC and oversees all of the CarePoints.  He planned the entire trip for us but not only that he looked after us and truly cared for each one of us.  He made sure we drank enough water, ate enough food, and didn’t over do ourselves by making us leave the care points even when we didn’t want to.  Each night after dinner he sat us down in our living room and MADE each of us share what we learned or most enjoyed about the day and also what we wish we would have done differently.

Then at the end of the trip, over a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, he had each person say something encouraging about each person on the team.  He told us about this “circle” as he called it and we all dreaded it but it was one of the most beautiful and uplifting times of the trip.  It blew my mind how much he cared about us learning and growing on this trip- not just about us coming and serving the needy children there.

 On our last day in Ogoloi we had a meeting with a few of the men of the church and community and gave them the floor to voice any concerns they had about the program and give their input.  They only had encouraging things to say.  One of the elders got up and said they were so thankful that HopeChest included them in their work.  They really do feel like they get a voice and can take ownership of the work being done there.  They have had neighboring friends who are being helped by other organizations like World Vision and Compassion International tell them they are jealous of how included they get to be in what is happening in their village.  I knew this was one of HopeChest’s core beliefs, to include the locals and let them feel ownership of the project, but to hear a man in the village voice his appreciation gave me a whole new love for HopeChest and the beauty of the program.

It was beautiful seeing the church in Ogoloi truly acting like the body of Christ and following scripture.   I think I unknowingly exempted the people who are “the least of these” from following the scriptures of loving the least of these because they ARE the “least of these”.   But I saw in these Christ followers how they were challenging themselves to follow these scriptures.  They said since these children have been in the sponsorship program they have been seeing them meet needs around the community without being asked.  If they see a widow who needs help with something, they go do it for her because they love Jesus and have seen and experienced his love for them.  They truly love each other and they want to help and serve each other.

One of the elders stood up and talked to the other elders in the meeting and challenged them to  personally  be the ones caring for the orphans and widows.  It is not only the job of the people in America to care for their kids – Jesus is calling them to take these kids in and make sure they are being treated right by their care takers and making sure the elderly and sick people in the village are taken care of and loved.  This particular man had 6 orphans living with his family.It was SO beautiful seeing the church in Ogoloi come together and be a picture of the body of Christ.  Yes they still need funds from us through our sponsorships because these people can’t afford to feed the extra kids or send them to school but they can love them and show Christ to them and make sure they have a dry roof over their heads.
These people never asked us for anything- rather they gave sacrificially to us because of their gratitude for what the sponsorship program through Children’s Hope Chest has done in their community.  They KNEW that is was because of Jesus that we were there helping.  Us helping them was helping them fall more in love with Jesus.  When we offered them something they said thank you Jesus.They showered us with gifts- chickens, eggs, fruit, nuts, crafts, etc.  Such a different picture of Africa than I think most people expect to see and often times do see.

Most of the day we spent playing with, singing with and being serenaded by the children- but a couple times we got to leave the care point and go visit a child’s home and meet their parents.  This was my favorite part of the trip I think.  The homes were far away so we took the child in the car with us and took them to their home.  Two of these times we gave the child an extra special treat like a granola bar or cookies or a children’s chewable vitamin.  In one case the child kept eating and eating (we thought) so we kept giving him more cookies.  As soon as we got to his hut he pulled all the cookies out of his pocket and split them up between all of his siblings and took his vitamin and stuck it in his little sisters hand.

This picture will never leave me.

These kids had probably never had something so yummy and they really did love their siblings as themselves so they also wanted their siblings to taste this yummy treat.  The other time we gave a little boy a granola bar and he started eating it but then we saw some of his friends and siblings on the side of the road so we picked them up and put them in the car and without a thought- he broke his small granola bar into 4 or 5 pieces and gave it out to all his friends.  What a great picture of loving your neighbor as yourself.


Jessica Hanson

I could go on forever about the things I loved about our trip to Uganda and about the people that I met and now they love so much, but I’ll try to focus in on some things that I learned. As a nurse I grew in confidence and got to see and learn a lot. Also I was challenged with the tension between the spiritual and the physical. It was almost instinctual for me to look for some empirically proven way to treat an ailment rather than to pray.
Epilepsy was something we heard about and saw a lot of while we were in Uganda. One specific time Ally came running over to get me saying that a girl was having a seizure. When I got to the girl, the social worker, Bernie, was praying over her. I have not seen very many live seizures, but of the ones I’ve seen I had never seen one like this. She was moaning and humming and was limp, but refused to sit down. Two girls were holding her up on either side.
Bernie told me that when she started praying over the girl at first, she bolted for the edges of the room trying to get away from Bernie and the power of Christ. We placed our hands on her and prayed while Bernie prayed aloud that Jesus would be her King and Master. We prayed that Satan would have no power over her. Finally, the girl sat and looked us in the eyes. I asked the girl if she ever heard voices when she had these seizures. She said that she did and that once she saw a vision of evil men beating Jesus and saying that they were going to kill her next. She had that particular episode while she was in church. Bernie prayed that what we saw would be the last episode the girl would have to endure and that she would be freed from this bondage. I haven’t heard yet if the girl has remained free.
I really do believe that there was some spiritual element to this girl’s episodes. I also believe that more of the cases of ‘Epilepsy’ may actually be of a spiritual nature. We heard some talk of witch doctors and voo-doo type practices and even saw a man driven crazy by ‘bees’ because of a curse he received after stealing. I do not wish that spiritual warfare was as evident in my everyday life, but I do wish that my first instinct would be to pray over someone in need, rather than to try to think of a solution first on my own. I pray that God continues to grow me in this and to give me more wisdom and discernment.
The last thing of a million other things that I want to share is something that the Pediatrician’s Assistant said to me during the Mango Tree Medical Clinic.
The conversation went like this:
 
Me: so, is church over yet?
Joseph (the assistant): I hope not!
Me: (in my head I thought…well, man, it’s been like 3 hours…I HOPE it’s over by now!)…uuuh…
Joseph: The word ‘church’ directly translated into our language basically means ‘the body of believers’…So you just asked me if the Body of God’s believers is over…I hope it isn’t over!
I thought that was the sweetest thing to take home with me! Here I am struggling over what church is supposed to look like, getting so wrapped up in the logistics, the budget, the building…etc. I never want to forget that conversation and I never want ‘Church’ to be over.

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