Jan., 28th, 2010
Vanessa and I just spent a week in Uganda, Africa with World Vision.
The purpose of the trip was to see, firsthand, the work that World
Vision is doing in Uganda. We met with staff, community volunteers,
families, sponsored children– we visited Medical Clinics
and schools provided by World Vision, pumped water from new bore
holes, visited lush farms and proud farmers trained and supported
by World Vision. We saw desperate need and we saw transformation.
We saw that child sponsorship works. It really does. That’s
why we sponsor five kids. The people we met were proud, grateful
and filled with hope. They asked us to share their stories, to
tell the people in America not to forget them, to help in any
way they can. Here are a few of their stories. It is my prayer
that their stories won’t fall on deaf ears, hard hearts,
or tight purses. Mine included.
I met Dennis in a hotel in Gulu, Uganda. He worked at the hotel
and helped me bring my bags to my room. He showed me how to turn
on the TV and access the two channels available. Football/Soccer
was on. We started chatting about football and other lighter fare.
He had a strong accent, but his English was pretty good. Much
better than my Acholi. He started sharing a bit more about his
life. He was going to graduate from Secondary School next week.
He seemed a bit old to be graduating from high school, but there
was a reason. Both of his parents had died and he was left to
be the head of the household. He had become parent to his four
younger siblings. He worked the hotel job during the week to provide
for his family, and went to school on his off hours, mostly on
the weekends. His smile seemed incongruous with his life story,
but it was a large, genuine smile. I came to Uganda expecting
to encounter orphans and lives touched by tragedy, but I wasn’t
expecting to in my hotel room. In Gulu, you don’t need to
travel far to meet those in need. Everyone is touched by tragedy.
Every family. Every child. Even Dennis.
The Waiting List
We met a family that broke my heart. Their three huts were bordered
by graves. A constant reminder of a lost mother, siblings and
other family members. A frail grandmother was head of this household.
The father was mentally ill and unable to care for his four boys.
Grandma was not much better off. She was nearly blind and had
a prominent wound on her right hand (I touched it inadvertently
when I took her hand). The four boys introduced themselves. The
oldest was eighteen and was attending primary school. He was in
7th grade. Physically, he looked to be around fourteen. His younger
brothers were equally behind in physical development and schooling.
They ate one meal a day. They spent much of their day fetching
water and trying to coax crops from the dry ground. School was
a luxury, survival came first. Their eyes, their whole demeanor
was cast down. There was a heaviness in that home. I could feel
it. They lived it. The youngest boy was on the waiting list to
be sponsored through World Vision. On the waiting list. If only
somebody knew... surely they would respond. Surely we would respond.
These are the kinds of families World Vision seeks to help first,
but they need sponsors like you and me to join them. They specifically
find and reach out to the poorest of the poor, the marginalized,
those who are easiest for the world to forget, but whom Jesus
leaves the other ninety-nine to find. Oh Jesus, please find them.
Help your Body to find them.
We walked a red-dirt path to meet Gloria, a sponsored child, and
her family. We were instantly greeted by music, whoops and clapping.
Gloria, and her younger sisters were flowers- wearing colorful
dresses for the special occasion. This was a ceremony, a celebration,
a party. It can be all too easy for us to see sponsorship as writing
a $35 monthly check, but to Gloria and her family it meant hope,
joy, peace, life– something worth celebrating. Her
father stood, beaming. Gloria and her sisters sang a song for
us. We were invited to sit in the shade of the mango tree (while
the family sat in the hot sun). They served us bottled soda (which
cost them about ten-days wages). There was only enough for the
guests. Many of these kids have never even tasted soda and here
we were about to drink our 2nd or 3rd of the day. But they insisted.
It was a gift and we weren’t about to refuse. We gave Gloria
and her family gifts on behalf of her sponsor, Mark, who wasn’t
able to join us on the trip. The family was so grateful. They
gave us another gift. A rooster. Another gift we couldn’t
refuse. This was a prize animal and a big sacrifice for this family
(worth nearly a week’s wages). How much does sponsorship
mean to this family? If you spent about 2/3 rds of your monthly
income to say thank you to someone I suspect that would be quite
a statement. Gloria and her family, in their poverty, gave their
first fruits. What might happen if we give ours?
Moses welcomed us to his farm. He introduced his family and pointed
out, with pride, that two of his children were attending boarding
school, an expensive and rare honor in rural Uganda. How could
Moses afford such a future for his children? World Vision offered
training to local farmers, showing them improved farming methods
and sustainable techniques. Moses was inspired by what he learned.
He said that through the training he got a “vision”
for his farm. World Vision encouraged him to submit a proposal.
He did. They were impressed by Moses’ vision and came alongside
him to make that vision a reality. We got a tour of the farm:
chickens for eggs, a cow for milk, leafy banana trees shading
the coffee trees, cassava, pumpkins, mangoes... tree after tree...
bounty upon bounty. I asked him how many people he had to hire
to help him work such a sizable farm. “None,” he said.
He couldn’t afford to. He needed all the money so that two
children could go to boarding school and prepare for University.
Wow. That’s sacrifice. Yes, his vision was for his land,
but ultimately it was a vision for his children’s future.
World Vision helped him discover that vision and came alongside
him to see that vision become a reality. For him, and his children.
The first thing I noticed about Grace was her smile. It was buoyant,
hard to suppress. It seemed, when she talked, she tried to keep
the corners of her mouth from curling up, but they always did,
that smile always appeared. She was kidnapped at the age of thirteen.
She was given away to be “the wife” of the 2nd in
command of the L.R.A (a rebel army that terrorized Northern Uganda
during the 20 Years War). The L.R.A grew their army by abducting
children and forcing them to commit atrocious violence, often
against their own villages and families. At the age of eighteen
Grace decided to flee. She felt compelled to invite another abducted
girl to join her in the escape. An especially risky prospect because
the other girl had a young child. Escaping alone would have been
much easier. They fled during the night, running, running, running.
They made it safely to a city and were eventually brought to the
World Vision Children of War Center in Gulu, Uganda. Through counseling,
prayer and art therapy Grace began to be rehabilitated. She also
received medical care because of a bullet wound in her chest– she
began to heal, physically, emotionally, spiritually. She returned
to school. She was determined to catch up so she did double time– attending
both Primary and Secondary Classes simultaneously. Against the
odds, she graduated from University and now works with World Vision
in peace-building and advocacy for women. She was awarded “Woman
Achiever of the Year” in Uganda last year for the work she
is doing with World Vision. She’s articulate, strong, passionate,
and overflowing with life. Grace is astounding.
A word I kept hearing over and over again in Uganda was “struggle.”
When I think of struggle, I think of the overwhelming odds they
face: war, famine, disease, lack of water, hunger. But they used
the word in almost a positive sense. They saw struggle as a necessary
means to hope, to life, to change. The World Vision staff (all
of whom were local Ugandans) shared that people seldom change
if they are just given a handout. World Vision comes alongside
to provide training and resources, but the people are encouraged
to invest their time, energy and resources to make lasting change
happen in their own lives and communities. And that model works.
We saw it. People need a sense of ownership and accomplishment.
World Vision provides the catalyst for change, for sustainable
change. The people of Uganda struggle, but it is a struggle filled
with hope, vision and purpose.
Florence stood out in a crowded room. Her face was well-wrinkled,
but the wrinkles were upturned in a nearly-permanent smile. She
was one of over twenty Caregivers who volunteered with World Vision
to care for the vulnerable in her community. She worked with her
church to minister to those who were HIV positive. World Vision
trained her to engage and counsel people who were shunned by the
rest of the community. She took them to be tested and treated.
She helped them live “positively,” with HIV. She radiated
life and joy as she spoke. Her speech was peppered with “Amens”.
Finally she shared that she, herself, was HIV positive! Even though
death (HIV) was in her body, life radiated out of her. I would
have never suspected that she was battling the illness. I thought
of the verse, “Where O Death is your victory, where O Death
is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory!”
HIV was not getting the last word in Florence’s life. Nor
in the lives of those she ministered to. Victory. Sweet, improbable