I know I have left you all hanging on by just a thread and so I will do my best to update you on what has been happening the last couple of days.
It would be an understatement to say that it has been a long and exhausting week but the blessings we have received undoubtedly out weighs the troubles we have endured. Yesterday was our project day at UG511. It was nice to have a day of unplanned activities which gave us time to interact in the way that they presented themselves to us. When we arrived, we were met at the gates with lots of smiling children. We exited the bus and immediately got pulled to different places within the project. After about 15 min we decided it was time to bring out the kites. UG511 is right next to Lake Victoria. The breeze from the lake made it the perfect place to fly a kite. I wish you could have seen the kind of excitement these bestowed in the children. It was like they were seeing Superman soar through the skies. My sister Carley’s sponsor child who almost never smiles, was giggling and grinning from ear to ear. Moments later we were called in the church as the children had prepared a song and dance for us. Following their dance, a boy about 10-12 years old, gave us a sermon. Future preacher of Uganda I tell you because we were all very impressed. We had a little bit longer to play before it was time for lunch. I know most of us praise God we had time to refuel before what was to come. The project had planned what they called, “The Uganda Olympics,” a series of games that we were going to compete in. It was going to be three Ugandans against, 3 Mzungus. We only ended up competing in one game but we can all agree that it was more than enough. The games was to carry water in our hands from one side of the yard to the other and pour it into as glass bottle. Cj, my mom Joanne and I were the first to compete. My mom won but only because when the bottles were moved closer her got confused with mine. I let her have her glory in that victory but that is the truth I swear. To close the day we gave all the children their sponsor gifts and those that did not get a gift from their sponsor received a gift bag that we had prepared for them. Next was home visits, something I know we had all been waiting for.
About 20 of us loaded the bus to make our way around the village, anxiously waiting to see our second families. My brother CJ and I made two stops. The first stop was to my sister’s sponsor child’s, Elijah’s home. We were welcomed by his mother, his siblings, neighboring children and adults. She welcomed us into her home and expressed how happy she was to have us there. Elijah showed us his school work and we were able to show him a video my sister had recorded for him, while having the translator translate. Compassion children cherish their sponsors and any communication they are able to have with them. That is why it is important to write. We prayed over their family and then it was time to say our goodbyes, (actually our see you soons). Next stop was my little Adam’s house and I couldn’t be more excited to hug his mother. I met her outside the home with a big warm hug. After entering the house we began catching up on what I had missed out on for the last year. Last year they had asked that I would pray her husband would get a job close to home. I was so incredibly happy to hear that he had gotten a job selling fish but it it very far away from home. I will continue to pray he finds one close to home as I know how much he loves his family. Adam’s mother was able to start a business with some of the money I had sent Adam as a family gift. Their eldest daughter recently had a baby so Adam’s parents are now grandparents. I was able to meet 4 out of 6 of Adam’s siblings and I also got to check out Adam’s progress in school. I am a very proud sponsor, his grades were all A’s and B’s Saying, “see you soon,” is always the hardest part but I know I will be back to see them again. We were headed back to the hotel to have dinner with some graduate’s from Compassion’s LDP, Leadership Development Program
A very groggy, ill and exhausted team of 17 shuffled our way into the dining room. We love our Ugandan children but boy did they know how to drain us of our energy. Still while trying to remain enthusiastic, we greeted our LDP guests. We had no idea of the kind of blessing they were going to be to us. Pastor Amis opened the dinner with a speech. He announced his retirement, something he described in one of the most amusing ways, he said, ” I’m not retiring, I’m refireing.” He continued, “There is no unemployment in the kingdom of God.” Each shared with us an individually emotional and inspiring testimony. Each an incredible success story. None of these kids had an easy childhood growing up in poverty. Some having a father they never knew, parents who passed away early, and families who just didn’t have the means to care for them properly. When they entered into the Compassion program and were sponsored, they described it as one of the greatest miracles that a person in their community could ask for. Each one of them has been reborn and the passion they have for Christ was almost tangible. When the time came, they applied to the LDP program which is a program that has about 600-1000 applicants but only 100 are accepted. The accepted applicants have tuition, board and the leadership program’s expenses paid for by their LDP sponsor’s. Pauline is actually sponsored by Hazel Dell Christian and she will be graduating from the university in January. It was amazing to hear them say they were going to be the change their nation’s needs, the generation that’s going to make a difference. I know we could all see that was fact. These leaders are going to change the world.
After hearing something like that,
you no longer have to pretend to be enthusiastic.
The Uganda Enthusiasts
The Uganda Survivalists
The Uganda Warriors
The Uganda Addicts
It’s safe to say you are eager to begin your day when you wake up before your alarm even sounds. My subconscious was even aware that today was the day I would be seeing my sponsor child. With 2 hours to spare before breakfast, I decided it was as good a day as any to explore the hotel grounds. I watched a breathtaking sunrise overlooking beautiful Lake Victoria. As I returned to the hotel for breakfast a hotel employee stopped to chat with me. He shared that he himself used to be a Compassion child and when the time came he aged out. How amazing it was to hear that he still visits the projects to this day. “When the Christmas colors are out,” is how he explained. He returns to preach, mentor and play with the children. This just goes to show one of the many ways Compassion is making an impact in the lives of the people. At breakfast Mark Taylor announced that today was the day most of us would be seeing our sponsor children. “Big deal,” Jenny White scoffed, causing one of the biggest uproars of laughter. It took every ounce of her to keep a straight face, knowing that seeing your sponsor child for the first time after a long absence is the equivalent to being 5 years old on Christmas day and your parents telling you to wait to come downstairs. Outright torture. Considering the whole team was bubbling at breakfast like a squad of preschoolers. It was by far the most lively breakfast I have experienced yet. We know what Kigungu means to us, Kigungu means we get to go home.
Entering the village brought tears, excitement, and if I’m honest, impatience. Upon arriving at the gates of Deliverance Church I think God truly helped us refrain from pushing each other off the bus. We couldn’t spare one more minute for the chance to hug our brothers and sisters from across the sea. As I made my way towards the back of the church, a little one caught my eye. If only I could put into words what it feels like to hug your sponsor child for the first time when you have waited so long to see them. You get a piece of yourself back, you are whole. And yes, for someone who hates to cry… I sobbed. Worship was as powerful as ever. The people of Uganda don’t have flashy lights or expensive sound equipment. They have what God has equipped them with. Their voice, their dance, their passion. It’s intoxicating. Every part of it is a celebration of our all magnificent God. I know we will crave their type of worship when we return to the states, it is something that is hard to forget. I will admit that we dodged the embarrassment of trying to mimic their rhythm and movement on stage this year. We weren’t so lucky the previous year. Our team was invited up on stage to give our introductions. The church was so welcoming and warm, cheering and clapping for us. I know even the newbies felt right at home and this meant Kigungu has done what it always does, gotten them hooked.
Bob Rennier and Alan Dyck gave the sermon today at the service. They shared with us a beautiful sermon about God’s promises. How having the faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Today was a day of blessing because we were able to gather together with our brothers and sisters of Christ. Following the church service the congregation was encouraged to talk to us and get to know us. We met so many wonderful people and it was such an honor that God gave this opportunity to us to greet, hug and love them. Shortly after, it was time for lunch with Pastor Fred and the elders. Adam, my sponsor child, went to town on his food. After enjoying another delicious lunch it was time to gather in fellowship of Hazel Dell and Deliverance Church. Pastor Fred shared the history behind Deliverance, as well as his personal history with the church. Mark and Judy shared their history of discovering the ministry and their partnership with Deliverance. Through these stories we realized that Deliverance Church and Hazel Dell Church weren’t just sister churches, they were twins! Incredible how much they have in common. It was amazing to see how God has revealed his plan for our churches but this story is still being written. We know there is much more to come. We have become such a close knit family that we discussed it no longer feels like a mission trip, it feels like… “a family reunion,” my little brother CJ added. Jackie and Derrick of Compassion helped to explain how important our visits are to the children. When he asks the children if their sponsor has visited them, nearly all of them raise their hand. They think that we are all their sponsors. Some people ask why we don’t just send the money we use for our trips to Uganda. I think Derrick worded it beautifully when he said that a check cannot express the love and compassion that we have for these children. It cannot embrace them or tell them “I love you,” or “You are beautiful.” A check doesn’t build a relationship, fellowship does. This is why we go and this is why we keep coming back. Not without “our sponsors,” we explained to the staff. We are supported by our friends, family, churches, co-workers. It takes a village to get us back to Uganda and we are eternally grateful. Not only do we love our brothers and sisters across the sea, but so does each and every person that supports us from home.
When we returned to our hotel we had our debrief session. It is a discussion our team has about our day. What brought us joy, what breaks our heart. A time to unwind and unload. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of the day. We get to sit and listen to how the Holy Spirit has made His appearance for the day and moved through each of the team members. Jenny White shared how a young Muslim girl she had been praying for over the years has been born again. Praise God!! When she explained how she is a “worrier”, the Holy Spirit made it so that we all heard “warrior”. Jenny White is a warrior. A warrior of prayer, a warrior of the gospel, an active warrior in God’s holy war. I guess you could say we all are.
And it’s always empowering to know,
we are fighting for the winning side.
The Uganda Warriors
The Uganda Addicts
I apologize for the late blog post. We had a very long day yesterday as well as a very long day today. I have been excused from a group meeting tonight so that I can fill you in.
Yesterday a very groggy group rose for breakfast. When we finished we loaded the bus for another long drive to UG459. It was the day we would be hosting a VBS day for all of the children. Because it was a work day the bus ride took about 3 hours instead of 2. When we arrived we received the same overwhelmingly exciting welcome as we had the day before. After the greeting the day gets a little chaotic so I hope you can keep up, I know we struggled to. We first performed some worship songs for the children. Some, they didn’t quite grasp and others they seemed to enjoy. Following we played around and then it was time for lunch. Members of the team had the opportunity of serving the meal to the children. When everyone finished eating. We made a trek up to the church for the puppet show which was an absolute hit. I couldn’t help but smile every time the children screamed and cheered every time a new character appeared above the black curtain. Following the puppet show it was an absolute free for all. Children chasing you around, children grabbing you and pulling you from place to place. We intended on having crafts and games, none of which got accomplished. A game of volleyball quickly became a mosh pit. We shut that down as soon as we realized there would be more injuries than children actually having a good time. When the time came to distribute gifts… well, we were 41 gifts short. Jenny made a quick decision to dip into the games bag and 41 gifts were created. We like to think is was God’s reenactment of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Mostly because at the same time the chaos was occurring, he bestowed the blessing of a double rainbow outside. By the end of the day the team was frazzled, stressed and exhausted. All before we entered the bus for a ride nearly 4 hours long. What we learned was that no matter how hard we try we are never in control, God is. No part of that day discouraged us from wanting to return to our lovely friends in Mityana. In the end…
In complete disregard to yesterday, the majority of our team had a good nights rest. We know God loves our team because we were able to rise a little later this morning. We met for breakfast and it was time to discuss how the day was going to go. We were learning the newest plan, Plan C but its Uganda which means we knew to be flexible. We would be hosting VBS for the young ones in the morning and a Teen Conference in the afternoon. But first, we got to go shopping for our families and soon enough we were entering the gates to home once again UG511. The women of the project had prepared a traditional dance for us. They performed as we all sat under a tent looking out across the beautiful lake Victoria with the most refreshing breeze blowing across the project grounds. UG511 can truly feel like a paradise. The women invited us to join us in there traditional dance and I can definitely tell you that I didn’t get my moves from my mother and most certainly not from my brother. Even my little boy Adam knew how to shake it. After the dance it was time for tea. I finished early and decided to join the young girls jump roping outside. Soon enough it was time for the puppet show. In the least boastful way possible I think I make a pretty good puppeteer. Although the children didn’t share as much enthusiasm as UG459 they seemed to truly love the show. we sang a closing song and then passed out Burger King crowns to all of the children to show them that they are God’s princes and princesses. Having the opportunity to crown God’s very own royalty doesn’t come around very often. It will be impossible to wipe their cheesy smiles from our memory. When the crowning ceremony finally ended it was time to refuel and have some lunch. When I finished, I looked for ways I could help in order to keep the program moving. Also because my Mom was Facilitator of the day and I didn’t want to receive a lecture later that day if i wasn’t helping as much as possible. I walked up to the top of the hill and into Deliverance Church. I found all teens of the project helping to gather the materials needed for craft, also while making ones of their own. Minutes later felt a tug on my skirt. Little Adam had followed me up the hill with his lunch and I couldn’t have been more honored he took his lunch to-go for me. “Nange,” the children called out meaning “even me,” in order to solicit help or show off their new ribbon wand. We were able this time to organize somewhat of a rotation. Once the children finished their craft they were instructed to exit the church for games. The sight I saw exiting the church was one of the best ones I have seen yet. 100’s of crowned little ones chasing 1 wild one, CJ. Games closed out our day with the little children and the rest of the day was planned to be devoted to the teens. In previous years they had felt excluded from our interest and our love and we wanted to show them that this was truly not the case.
The teen conference opened up with a skit performed by my Dad, Chuck, and my brother, CJ. I sat in the front conversing with the teens, some shy and I was able to convince I wasn’t going to bite. It was the fist time in the trip someone guessed at least in the ball park of my age and they were spot on. “22, I can see it,” they explained. I have to admit, it was a real confidence booster since I had been getting age 10 throughout the trip. One of the boys sitting next to me explained how difficult it was to understand us sometimes although they speak very good English. It’s the equivalent to what we hear when they speak to us in English, a very thick accent. The translator took away a little bit of the humor from the skit but they were still able to make them laugh a few times. The skit was about how God knows us.He knew us before we were conceived, before we were born, what is in our minds, everything. We never have to be ashamed because God loves us unconditionally. Sharon helped to reiterate the skit and then we split into small groups.
Sue Cheung and I were partnered together and I think we made a great team. The girls were handed a piece of card stock and asked to write their name and decorate it in a way that described who they were. Sue shared some of the her commitments that she had written on hers. When I shared how a project used each letter of my name to describe me, the girls wanted us to do the same for each of them. They exclaimed, “wow,” every time Sue and I used words like amazing, wonderful, and incredible to describe them. These children don’t know how special and beautiful they are. We discussed things like they’re future professions: Journalist, Doctor, Lawyer, Nurse, Hostess, Teacher. Their chores: mopping, washing dishes, carrying water, washing their brothers and sisters. The most disturbing thing to hear was that their biggest fear was of the “night dancers” in their village, warlocks to enter or surround their house at night to cast spells on them. Not only this but we learned yesterday that UG 459 has a problem with child disappearances. The witchcraft worshipers sometime use children as human sacrifices. Some of the children, boys and girls, had pierced ears as a way of preventing this because it makes them no longer “pure.” Some babies would disappear from the hospital when the mother’s are asleep from giving birth.We ask for your prayers for these people’s safety and security.
As we closed out the session with the girls we asked if they had any questions they could write them on a note card and give them to us when we see them today. We handed out gift bag that contained a notebook, a headband and . Sometimes the girls will have to miss school because they don’t have the proper products for their cycle. They were very grateful and said they would have questions about them today. It was so amazing to see these girls open up.
Although these past few days were long, they have been nothing but rewarding.
Not only did we conquer these last two days, we survived!
The Uganda Survivalists
The Uganda Warriors
The Uganda Addicts
After three flights, 19 hours in the air, and 2 hours spent in baggage claim the Hazel Dell team of 16 has finally made it back to Uganda! Our only complication was that Brandy, our team member from NC made it to Uganda but her bags did not, along with one of my second bags. We expect that the bags will arrive at the hotel tomorrow. Praise God !! If we have been taught anything about Uganda, it’s to be flexible and trust that God will always provide. Following arriving at the hotel a little after 1am there was only 1 thing left for the team to do, jump right into bed! And that’s exactly what we did, (maybe after a few of us ordered room service). A few short hours later it was time for breakfast and climb aboard the bus to make the drive to our newest project UG459. None of us could have anticipated the greeting that we had waiting for us.
Not long before we reach the project entrance we hear the sound of drums, laughter chanting and singing. We climb off the bus to see 100’s of faces smiling back at us. While some children danced, others held the signs they created to welcome us. Each team member walked down an aisle lined with children on either side, stopping to hug and high-five as many children that were in our reach. Some of us couldn’t help but get teary eyed, meanwhile smiling so hard I know our cheeks were sore after. I imagine it’s how a home team feels when they enter their stadium before a big game but being welcomed back to Uganda is 100x better. We were directed to sit in front as the children performed and danced to a few more songs. It was breathtaking watching them sing a song of worship in their own language with closed eyes lifted to the sky. They truly love praising their Lord and Savior. After introductions were made, Seraphine, the project director, showed us around the project. She takes pride in what she does and truly cares about the progress they are making. Following our tour, it was time for the wonderful lunch the women had prepared for us.
Playtime is the best time. Each of us most likely had 5 children on each arm. Bob Rennier played soccer, Cj Streeter got dragged from place to place by the children, some of us spent the time just hugging and loving on the children. I’d say that Chuck Fannin was the most popular attraction considering he had about 10 children gathered around petting his hair. When it was time for home visits we received a number of disappointed faces, but we assured the children we would be returning on Monday. My family had the pleasure of joining Melanie Lynch on her home visit to her sponsor child, Favor’s, home. His family, as well as his neighbors gave us a very warm welcome and invited us into their home. They expressed that they were very happy to have us and that they had been waiting for us since Friday. Favor has one brother and one sister. To our surprise his sister and her friends had prepared a dance and song for us. The video we will have to share later so that you may get the full affect of how incredibly adorable and well performed it was. We exchanged some questions and then we prayed over their home and their family. As we waited for the bus we played with bubbles, experimented with the filters on snapchat and my mom Joanne Streeter shared pictures and videos of her dog Shockley and the comfort dog ministry she is involved in back home. We’ll never get used to watching the children run behind the bus waving us goodbye.
On the ride back from UG459 our team shared stories from our day, (some of us slept). We ate dinner at what I would like to think is our favorite restaurant in all of Entebbe, Cafe Java. We then returned to the hotel. We await church at project UG511 tomorrow, where most of us sponsor our children. We will having trouble sleeping tonight knowing we will get to see the faces we have waited a year to see or maybe much longer. Lifting up our thanks and praises to God every chance we get for this amazing opportunity to return to our home or visit for the first time.
Yes, we are addicted to Uganda.
At least we admit it.
The Uganda Addicts