Coming back from my second trip to Uganda and beginning to re-acclimatize has given me a chance to pause and think about how I ended up on this trip and why I believe so strongly in the organization that I traveled with, Global Support Mission.
To understand how I ended up traveling to Uganda you have to go back quite a few years. Almost five years ago I saw a movie created by three guys from San Diego called “Invisible Children.” I was moved to tears hearing and seeing how the children of Uganda were living. After I saw the movie I looked up the organization and gave the standard donation, but felt like I wanted to do more. I believe that God often emotionally moves us in order that we will act, and I knew somehow this country Uganda would come up again. I just didn’t realize how Uganda would change my life and faith.
I am the Associate Pastor of a church in a fairly affluent area of Southern California. I am blessed to have the opportunity to connect the youth of southern California with the world. I had spent some time while in seminary studying the connection between our own personal piety and our call to social justice, and I have always felt that service was a huge part of my faith. One of the ways that I helped our youth group to connect faith to action was to commit our group to sponsoring a child through World Vision following our participation in a 30 Hour Famine. Low and behold when we hit the button to allow World Vision to select us a child it selected a little girl named Prisca from Northern Uganda.
A couple of years after we began to sponsor Prisca an opportunity to travel to Uganda came through another church. My biggest fear was raising money but as my friend John said “Your right to worry God doesn’t have enough money to send you where he wants you.” Point taken, I raised all the money and more in less than a week! Through God’s grace the area of Uganda that we traveled to was the very town that Prisca was from. I had no idea before I interviewed to be on the mission team that I would be traveling and staying anywhere near where she lived. The excitement and nerves I felt meeting this child was more than I have felt for any other event in my life. Forget first dates, I was so nervous and happy just to get to see the girl we had been writing to and praying for! It was an amazing trip but it left a hole in me that wanted to do more. I was really wanting to help establish something that was sustainable and community driven, run by locals. That desire continued to grow in my heart for awhile.
I still had Africa on the brain almost two years after this trip when, through a former grad school classmate, I met Travis Gravette. He was traveling through California and my friend got us to connect and grab coffee together. Travis shared with me about Global Support and the heart of its mission and passion; Transforming the lives of east Africans through mobilizing and enabling local affiliates. Affiliates are on the ground already engaged in change and justice. As a youth pastor I was excited to hear about Know.Think.Act, a website that works like a social network site connecting people together around a cause and need. As Travis and I talked I began to want to get involved in what Global Support was doing. A couple of months later I felt led to call Travis and ask if I could join him and a team in traveling to Uganda. This is the way that I got on the team that traveled to Uganda March 10th.
The trip itself was amazing. I want to write it all down but room won’t allow it so please accept these few details and stories. I worked with an organization and affiliate of Global Support called Bringing Hope to the Family in Kaihura, a village 5 hours from Kampala. Bringing Hope is run by an amazing women named Faith. They serve 3,000 people through various means including an orphanage and a medical clinic. I met the Sasser family, who are the International Coordinators for Global Support. I got the job of helping to build a metal playground for the orphans. At first I thought it meant assemble a playground. Nope. It meant build, welding and all, a metal playground. I worked alongside a team member, Jeremy Stanley, and occasionally another team member named Josh Bronleewe, but mostly along side a man named Phil who is from Australia. Phil is teaching locals how to weld, fix cars, do carpentry and all sorts of other crafts. He is hoping to help people create their own means of creating sustainable businesses. Seeing his teaching effect the day to day lives of locals was inspiring.
I also got to travel to villages where Bringing Hope has educated locals about malaria and the use of bed nets. Following the education Bringing Hope has handed out many bed nets. It was amazing to speak with one of the women and find out that she had malaria 5 times last year but since getting the net and education she has been healthy and able to work her farm. I also got to see the type of well the rest of our team had been working on. After seeing the original water source compared to the well water I knew that building wells will forever be a passion of mine. It makes the difference between health and vitality, infirmity and even death for many of these local people. I love Global Support because they don’t just go in and build a well. Community members are involved and employed to create the well so that it becomes a community investment.
Perhaps the biggest thing I will carry with me through out my life is the images that I saw while back in Uganda. The people I believe are some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. I am always blown away by the beauty of their smiles. Since returning I have treasured my photos and the stories of the people these pictures represent. One such story is the story of Moses, this tiny boy I met the first day. He has HIV and was malnourished.
Had you asked me that first day if he would make it, I would have said not likely. He broke my heart. He barely looked at people and was tiny. They told us they thought he was around four but he looked about a year old, due to his malnourishment. The next time I saw him was at church three days later. The orphanage had him a couple of days and had gotten some food and medicine in him. As our team member Josh led worship I looked over and saw Moses clapping along. Not strongly but very gently keeping the beat.
I was brought to tears. At that moment, I believed that Moses would make it. I saw him the day before I left. I went over to the orphanage for dinner and there he was, sitting up on his own and eating. I was helping them clean up the plate after dinner and little Moses had a tight grip on his. There was no way I was getting it away from him. My heart was beaming. He was well enough to feed himself and wanted to keep going. There are many Moses stories that I will carry with me and be processing for a long time. I left Uganda and once again left a little piece of me there.
So the standard question is what now? How will I respond? For me the answer is fairly simple I will stay a supporter and ally with Global Support. I will raise awareness and give a voice for those who live in extreme poverty. I have begun by creating a Know.Think.Act Action Group called “Agape Alliance” and hope to raise funds for specific needs through that. More than that I have committed myself to trying to connect folks to one of the major needs and that is building a larger medical clinic in Kaihura. I hope to connect my physician friends to this great need and see the completion of the communities dream of being able to get medical care within their community. They now travel great distances for emergency care, which often means it is too late. I also promise to not forget Uganda or the lessons it has taught me. I know I will go back to Uganda, I have to, I left part of my heart there. In some ways traveling to Uganda is always a bit like going home.