Why Uganda?

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Recently I was asked what my ultimate goal was in traveling to Uganda, what I hoped to accomplish while I was honest. And to be honest it’s really quite simple. But before I tell you let me tell you a little about Uganda.

Uganda is home to 2.7 million orphans – more than anywhere else in the entire world. The reason there are so many isn’t entirely because they have no parents. The reason there are so many orphans is mostly due to the fact that 85% of women in Uganda are abandoned. They’re abandoned by their husbands which is “shameful” to their families. In turn this leads their families to abandon them. On top of that most businesses will not hire women with children because they are considered unreliable. There are no babysitters or childcare here and if you have no family there is nowhere to watch your kids. The result: no income. With nowhere to turn, after having been abandoned by everyone they love, the widows then abandon their children.

When the director of missions for HEAL ministries came here in 2012 she thought she was coming to start an orphanage. But during that first year she realized that it wasn’t an orphanage that Uganda needed. Uganda needed something that was going to help the abandoned women – help them find a job or start a sustainable business. She wanted to empower the women, she wanted to give them hope, she wanted to help them. So she started going into the slum and teaching a bible study twice a week under a big tree. She taught the women about Jesus Christ and his redeeming love. She listened to their troubles and shed light into their life.

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Before long she opened the James Place which was founded on James 1:27 “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the widows and orphans in distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by this world.” Which now has developed into the most beautiful place. When you walk through the gates the first thing you will notice is all the children running around. Currently, the James Place provides free childcare to 50 children. But it’s more than just childcare. Did you know about 40% of children in Uganda are malnourished? HEAL combats that by feeding the children 2 healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. They give them a bath everyday to not only keep them clean but also HEALTHY! And if a woman has her child in childcare she has to have a full time job. On top of all that all the childcare workers are abandoned women themselves who HEAL has cared for.

If you walk to the back of the property you’ll find the women. HEAL offers both English and Business classes free of charge. English is the official language for Uganda and in order to find a good sustainable job you must be able to speak it. The Business Class teaches women how to run a successful business. The first Business Class that graduated came up with the business plan for making rugs. Rug making is another program that HEAL sponsors. HEAL provides the ladies with all the material they need and then helps them sell their rugs! Did you know 1 rug sold can pay rent for a whole month, a semester of school fees, or a month of groceries? These rugs are providing for them. They’re keeping their family together. Jewelry, pottery, sewing, and farming classes are also taught at the James Place. And Friday all they Ladies come together to have a bible study.

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So now to the question, what is my ultimate goal? Really, it’s quite simple: to love and help wherever I see the need. If I’m being honest there’s not a ton I can do in just 2 months. I’m not going to change the world. These ladies have faced years of brokenness and I cant come over here and just fix everything. But fixing was never my intention or goal – which I’m thankful for because these ladies here don’t need me to fix them. They just want and need what every human desires: acceptance and love. Here, love can take on many different forms. “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. The feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That’s what love looks like” according to St. Augustine. And ultimately that is my goal, to love as unconditionally as humanly possible.

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Jealous of Joy

IMG_8047We come from a place of luxury. We have a roof over our head, a dry ground to stand on, and comfortable places to relax and sleep.  We have endless medical care at our fingertips. We can eat anything we want at any hour of the day, order our coffee exactly how we would like it, and drink water out of the tap.  We have more clothes than we could ever need yet we are free to buy more if we so desire.  There are cars a plenty, which allows us to go and do as we please when we please.  We have cell phones to call family and friends at the drop of a dime.  We have everything we need and oftentimes most everything we want.

We come to a place of poverty.  If they have a makeshift mud hut, they are considered well off.  Sleeping seven to a room that’s approximately 7 feet by 7 feet is considered normal.  When it rains they sleep on mud and if someone is sick, it passes like wildfire. Both children and adults alike die from illnesses that could be cured with an over the counter drug found at a local pharmacy in the U.S.  If the people here are lucky they will get one meal a day but sometimes mothers have to go digging for food for their children once the sun goes down.  Showers are unheard of and clothes are worn for days on end unwashed. Not only are they unwashed, but they are also tattered and torn, barely covering the essential parts.  If you want to go somewhere, you walk barefoot, sometimes on the gravel road filled with potholes, sometimes in tall thick grass. Children are forced into prostitution by family members and once pregnant are kicked out of the village. Mothers are abandoned which in turn results in them abandoning their child, killing their child, or best case scenario keeping their child but raising him/her all alone.  There is not a good sense of family and many are left to fend for themselves.

Tire Play

On paper it would seem as though Americans have everything and Ugandans have very little. It may seem like these people have nothing, but if you were to ask them if they felt like they lived a life of poverty the majority of them would probably answer “no.”   These people do not know the difference. They do not want our pity simply because they do not view themselves as poor. This is their life. This is all they have ever known. They have struggles and pain but they also have joys and triumphs just like everyone else in the world.  Of course, there are social classes. There are some who have nice homes and cars according to the Ugandan standard and there are some who have absolutely nothing, not even a crumb to eat. But how is this different from America?

The difference lies in the value American’s place on material goods. When you are able to buy everything and provide yourself with your newest desire, you lack a sense of faith.  Many of these girls become lost to sin but then are found again in Christ.  When they are struggling they can’t pick up their phones and call their friends to talk through their latest problems. They can’t go shopping and indulge in retail therapy. They can’t drive to a cool delicious ice cream store and get some ice cream that has “never tasted so good.” No, they can’t do any of these things but rather drop to their knees, pray to God, and have faith that He will help them through it.  And when God does finally help them through it all glory goes to Him simply because they have nothing else.  They can’t buy themselves out of their problems.

This is evident every Friday at the James place when women come from near and far to gather under the great African tree and listen to the words of the Lord. For years now HEAL Ministries has been adamant about their Friday morning bible studies for the women. They want to make sure these women are fed – both spiritually and physically. And although Americans teach the Bible study there isn’t much American influence present.

Worship

The women gather on the mats chatting amongst themselves just like any American woman would do before church. I can’t understand them but it’s obvious that some of these women have known each other for a long time.  I wonder what they talk about. Could it be their children? Maybe they are just catching up from last week. Only God (and people who speak Luganda) knows. But as I listen to their banter it makes me smile a little bit because I realize that they are not much different than we are.  But the time as come to sing praise and worship.

The all rise to their feet and start to sing – or chant, I’m not sure which would be more accurate. They dance and dance, all of them fully dressed with smiles. I have never seen such dancing while worshipping to God.  But let me just say this, we must have learned how to shake our hips from these Ugandan women at some point in history because they can move! What’s most amazing is the way they move their hips while their whole upper body remains completely still.   They take every bit of Psalm 149:3 literally “let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre” (The Holy Bible). The feelings that come over you as you see these women rejoicing are indescribable, unexplainable.  The words they sing make no sense to an American but the joy of the Lord still rushes over. The women, now filled with more joy than before, sit down to hear the message.  Today the message is about jealousy.

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Attentively they listen to the story of Rachel, Jacob, and Leah from Genesis 30.  Rachel could not bear children and became jealous of Leah who bore children for her husband. This was a popular topic because in Uganda it is not out of the ordinary for a man to have two wives and many women were curious as to why it was that way in the bible. At the end, Tina, the missions director, asked to women to open up and talk about some of the things they were jealous about. Many of them stated the responses that one would expect. They are jealous of nice clothes, friends who get to go to school or get good jobs. They are jealous of women who have happy families and more money than they have. They are jealous of others beauty. They are women just like the rest of us. Tina then turned to one of my teammates and asked her, “Lisa, what are you jealous of?” Lisa responded by saying that she was jealous of something far greater than material things. After seeing them women’s homes and hearing their stories, after walking a day in their shoes and living their life, after listening to them sing and dance with more energy than any American she had every witnessed she was jealous of their joy.

I sat and contemplated that statement for a moment. Jealous of joy. Essentially, that’s what we’re all jealous of. However, most Americans seek joy in materialistic things while in the heart of Africa joy is found in the love of the Lord. We come from a place of abundance, they come from a place of poverty but here you will find yourself jealous of joy.

Joyous

Simplicity

The Great Terrain

It’s a new morning. I sit on my front balcony overlooking all of Gods creation. It’s right about now that the lions are hunting for their breakfast. The sun is rising to my right and I take a deep breathe in.

I’m still in Uganda, but a few days ago we traveled westward to go on an African Safari. We’re now just a short 20 minutes from the border of Congo. It’s hard to imagine people hunting people just like a lion hunts its prey in the Congo. And for what reason? I really couldn’t tell you. All I know is that just a few short months ago no one would dare enter the Congo unless they had a death wish.

The lion crouches in the grass

The lion crouches in the grass

But as I sit here this morning soaking in Gods word and admiring His wonderful creation I find it hard to believe that turmoil could be going on not so far away. It’s quiet and peaceful. So quiet that I can hear the flap of birds wings as they soar through the air. I hear birds for miles and miles chirping away. They’re all singing different songs, but together it makes a serene noise. It’s honestly like something you would hear on a sleep machine and this is what I got to experience in real time for the last two nights. I wish we didn’t have to go. I wish we didn’t have to leave this place. It’s like something from a movie.

You watch the sunrise over the great terrain from your princess beds and watch the sunset at a fireside dinner with close friends as you recount the day seeing the jungle creatures… “If only that lion had attacked the antelope.” It’s fun to think about it but the fact of the matter is that lions only attack in the early early morning as the sun comes up.  The most surreal moment was when I realized that the hundreds of animals we saw weren’t in a zoo but rather in a jungle. There I stood a football field away from a wild lion. And here I am, unharmed. It’s pretty cool if you think about it. And no, I’m not saying that I’m invincible. It’s just cool to admire nature. As long as the lion didn’t feel threatened she wasn’t going to attack. Humans aren’t that much different.

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I sit in awe of the metaphors nature gives us. If you only just sit and be still you can learn so much from your surroundings. In this moment as I take everything in I admire the simplicity and contentment of the animals. The birds are happy just simply soaring through the air and the lion is contempt with just soaking up the sun – even though there are plenty of antelope to prey on. In the moment she’s not going to take what she doesn’t need. Simplicity. That seems to be the key to happiness on this new day.

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No Midnight Snack Allowed

A few of the kids waiting to come in for kids camp!

A few of the kids waiting to come in for kids camp!

I tucked myself into bed last night and my first thought was “Gosh, I’m hungry.” Normally, if I were home right now I’d hop out of bed, waltz down to the kitchen and pick one of hundreds of snacks. It’d probably be goldfish, let’s be honest, but I might have chocolate ice cream instead depending on the mood I was in. I remembered that I had dried mangos and granola bars in my suitcase but I really just wanted some goldfish. Why didn’t I remember to pack goldfish?

Just as I was getting a little frustrated that I didn’t pack goldfish I stopped myself. Here I was a little bit hungry and I was complaining that I didn’t have goldfish. I had about 60 granola bars and 2 large bags of dried fruit but not goldfish. I wanted to slap myself upside the head and shake myself “Sarah Kate, you are in AFRICA, there are over 66 million kids who will go to bed hungry tonight and every 4 seconds a child will die from it.” It broke my heart. How could I be so selfish? And to add insult to injury I had just eaten 4 hours ago, not 12 hours or even a countless number of days.

The little boy in the red had only a large shirt to wear - nothing else. Yet they're still happy!

The little boy in the red had only a large shirt to wear – nothing else. Yet he’s still happy!

Instantly I started thinking of the kids I had met earlier that day. They came rushing in the gates with tattered clothes and smiling faces.  Full of energy they ran around the James Place so happy to be able to jump rope and play soccer.  Later we sat them down to teach them a message and gave them a hard boiled egg and glass of water. As we passed the food and water out one of my team members leaned over and told me “for some of them this will be the only thing they put in their mouth all day.” ONE HARD BOILED EGG. That was it. All of the sudden I wasn’t hungry anymore.

I rolled over to my other side listening to the rain again. Not only did I have food but I had a roof over my head and a dry bed to sleep in – more than many people around me. I closed my eyes and counted my blessing just like I would count sheep until I fell asleep.

The Blue Necklace

 

Lisa and I drinking coffee on the tire hill

Lisa and I drinking coffee on the tire hill

“Cockadoodle doo!” the roosters crowed back and forth. Roosters are known for being competitive (naturally, since they’re boys) and this morning they seemed to be in the longest battle. Last night, I was fortunate enough to go to bed at 9:30. God gave me a little blessing, but I’m sure it’s because he knew the roosters would be having a crowing match of a lifetime at 6 in the morning. I rolled out of bed, thankful for my 8+ hours of sleep, and got ready for the day.
As I stepped down on the cold tile floor and grabbed my skirt, I wondered if our bags would get here today. First off, this was the last clean pair of clothes I had. secondly, today was a shopping day and I needed a place to store my Ugandan goods.  Friday’s at the James Place are for bible study and selling goods. Many women come to hear God’s word and sing songs of praise. Every few weeks (it’s on a rotation), they are able to bring their jewelry to sell to the mzungus (aka white people).

Beads
The morning sun felt nice as I walked back to the crafts shed to see what jewelry there was to buy.  Thoughts of my mom and my sister went through my mind; obviously, I was going to get something for them. As I walked up, I saw a blue three-string necklace and a green one that matched. If you knew me and Betsy, then you’d know that these necklaces were meant for us. I snatched them up, exchanged money with the smiling lady sitting behind her mat and carried on to see the other beautiful jewelry. About 20 minutes later, I walked out of the shed as a happy lady with a full bag of goods. I promptly pulled out my sisters necklace and wrapped it around my neck. I knew it wasn’t hers yet, but it still made me happy to know that at some point it would be.

We came down the hill to find a few ladies gathered on mats getting ready to sing a joyful song. There was a little baby who was only a week old and a little girl standing close. The baby was cute, and I wanted to play with the little one. I walked over to the cutie in a green dress and stretched out my arms to see if she wanted to come play. A little half-smile came across her face and she walked over into my arms. I picked her right up and popped her on my hip. We twirled around and she laughed and laughed, but more ladies had gathered and the singing was about to begin so we had to calm down a little bit.  The music brought joy to my soul. As my new little friend and I danced around, she grabbed ahold of Betsy’s necklace and let out a contagious laugh. It brought happy tears to my eyes listening to the child laugh, the ladies sing, and the thought of Betsy. We settled down to hear the message. Today was going to be a good day.

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Little Girl hold on tight to Betsy’s necklace

 

A Different Aroma

As I walked into the bunk room I found this laying on my bed. It was the warmest welcome and such a comfort to read as the rain came down.

As I walked into the bunk room I found this laying on my bed. It was the warmest welcome and such a comfort to read as the rain came down.

We are here! Our team has finally arrived in Uganda a mere 28 hours after we left Nashville. There were quite a few delays along the way but we have made it. It is about 11:30 pm Ugandan time but I’m not too tired. I’m excited and full of life. Yes, I’ll admit I’m a little exhausted but being on African soil sparks a fire in my veins. I am ready!

Unfortunately, our bags were not as ready as we were when we left. We just found out that 13 of our 22 bags had not made it the airport in Africa; and, 11 of them are still chilling on the tarmac in Nashville, including both of mine. I’m not really upset, but more puzzled that 11 bags were sitting on the tarmac in Nashville for 28 hours and no one bothered to check them through or try to get them to their destination. Did people just walk past them and disregard them? I can’t think of a reasonable explanation for it, but it’s already becoming a distant (no pun intended) thought. I don’t have any time to think about that, just time to rejoice that I’m in Uganda!

It’s about 1:30am and we finally board our bus to head to Jinja. Entebbe, the city we just flew into is about 3 hours away from Jinja so we still have quite a long road ahead of us. I decide to sit in the back with the 3 fresh high school graduates. We chit chat about life things, like getting pregnant and giving birth – I mean naturally, what else would we talk about? However, I’m starting to get tired so I nestle in my window seat and stare out the window.

It’s dark out, so I can’t see too much, but what I notice are all the different smells. As we leave the airport the smell of sulfur fills my nostrils. If you’re not sure what sulfur smells like, it’s similar to the stingiest fart smell in the world. But it’s not too long until the smell of fresh clean air takes over. The fresh air is followed by smells of gasoline, burning rubber, campfire, cinnamon, bar-b-que, gunpowder (you know, the way it smells after fireworks), cotton candy, bamboo and alas the jungle, the sweet sweet jungle. I am intrigued by all the different scents; all the different smells of Africa. An hour has passed since we left the airport, and it just began to pour down rain so we shut the windows. I rest my head against the cool glass and listen to the pitter patter of rain.

We arrive at the James Place a few hours later. Fortunately, the rain let up just long enough to get our bags inside and then it came pouring down again. The rain is a nice little blessing because it provides a light cool breeze through the windows in our room. There’s something about the sound of rain that’s so relaxing. It’s like “real life spa” music. The lightening provides a flash, which illuminates the room and is followed by the low growl of thunder a few seconds later. The heart of the storm must not be too close. It’s 5 minutes after 5am. I close my eyes to doze off to sleep. As I lay down I think about my sister. We’ve never been away from each other for more than a month and the thought of being away from her for two months makes me already miss her. But these next couple of months are going to change our lives and (hopefully) only for the good. I thank God for my many blessings and let the sound of the rain drift me to my dreams.

 

* To learn about more about HEAL Ministries visit http://www.HEAL-ministries.org or follow them on Instagram or Twitter (@HEALministries).

 

Know Your Values

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Last week, World Vision decided to open their doors and make a public announcement that they will now be hiring people who are in a same sex marriage. This decision was widely welcomed at large because it showed their support in the movement toward equality. However, just 2 days later the organization announced that they would be reversing their original decision which caused an uproar and many questions.

After the reversal people have started to say that World Vision doesn’t have values and if they do they don’t know what they are. Their values state,

“We act in ways that respect the dignity, uniqueness, and intrinsic worth of every person—the poor, the donors, our staff and their families, boards, and volunteers. We celebrate the richness of diversity in human personality, culture, and contribution.”

The reversal was a contradiction to their values but another problem lies in their value system. The organization has not established clear values for its people to believe in and live out every day. Without a strong value system you don’t know what to stand for and when a controversial decision is made it is bound to crumble under pressure. This is what happened to world vision.

After World Vision reversed their decision they sent out a press release that stated:

“ We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends…”

This sort of communication suggests that World Vision’s priorities lie with their large, influential donors. In their mission statement they state that they are trying to tackle poverty and injustice but by reversing their decision they’ve only caused a greater injustice.

World Vision could have been a leader in the fight for equality for gays but instead they have not only inflicted injustice among the gays but have also hurt themselves tremendously in the process. World Vision was unprepared for the inevitable backlash they were going to get from making this decision and instead of forging forward they waved their white flag and surrendered to the Christian criticism.