Seven of my team members flew into Ethiopia from DC, while the other three of us flew into Ethiopia from Frankfurt. We all met for the first time before heading onto Uganda. The weather was already looking brighter for us coming from Germany! As we landed in Uganda, we were greeted by a familiar face to me. Charles had a huge grin when he realized it was my team he was picking up. He remembered me from my last team. We all piled into the bus with our piles of luggage and started the 3 hour journey to Kampala. It was around 2pm. The team, all but two of us, had never been to Africa. They were staring at the sights and absorbing the culture. While most were jet lagged, they had yet to realize it. When we arrived to the Return Ministries Guesthouse, we all got settled in and were able to access the internet. We were later greeted by Pastor Samuel and his family.
The next morning we woke up early. The roosters were crowing and the fog was settling over the landscape. Our team worshipped together for the first time. We prayed over our day. As we headed down the bumpy red dirt road, I watched my team experience Africa. The children were much lower in number than we had anticipated because many were at school still. The hundred that were there greeted us just as I had expected. With warm smiles and huge grins, the children ran up to us and squeezed our hands and fought for our affection. Thankfully, the smaller number of children made the photo booth project more manageable. It still was chaotic. Trying to line up 100-200 children for an opportunity to dress up in silly costumes and take a picture is crazy alone. But to line up 200 African children that are desperate for the opportunity to take a photo that they get to keep is on a whole other level of crazy! We organized the children into age groups and then called them up one group at a time. We had team members helping dress the children, team members taking photos and team members taking off the costumes. My job was to keep the line in order. Uh, I am passing that job on to someone else next time! Whew, I had a workout trying to keep children from toppling me to get to the costumes. I honestly was getting a little frustrated with how slow the process was taking. I kept it to myself. Later that night, our team was debriefing. One of the girls who was taking photos said, with tears in her eyes, that that moment was one of the happiest she has ever been! What I saw as a slow chaotic photo booth line, she saw joy!
We woke early the next day to begin preparing the feast. We anticipated about 500 children. Our team of ten dwindled down to eight, as two were back at the guest house not feeling well. The eight of us cut up meat, sliced vegetables and cooked stew and rice over a fire. We bartered with the neighbors to borrow their extra cooking pots in exchange for some rice. Surprisingly, our feast was served on time and we didn't run out of food! The children were all well fed and enjoyed their treat of meat, fruit and a soda! So many were coming up to me thanking me! I am so thankful for the generosity of others that made this feast possible!
My Father's House and Royal Hope Academy is one of my favorite ministries to visit. Rebecca, the founder and director, has a true gift and is full of the Spirit! She had just landed back in Uganda hours before our arrival and still joined us for worship! The children preformed for about 2 hours. They danced and sang. With their hands in the air tears streaming down their faces, they prayed. My team, all experiencing this for the first time, was blown away. Watching a child of any age worship with all of their might is moving, but seeing a girl of about five worship with full surrender was breathtaking!
As is customary in the middle of my short term mission trip, we take a day of rest. After about 5-7 days of some of the most challenging physical, emotional and spiritual work many have ever experienced, the team begins to wear down. Tempers can start showing, some start showing signs of exhaustion. Our respite day is always just what we need when we need it.
We arrived at The Haven, a small bungalow community on the Nile River rapids around 3:00pm. The Haven is my paradise! All the bungalows face the river and are complete with hammocks. The food is prepared by a chef who puts decorative garnishes on each plate. No detail is overlooked. Every bed is complete with fresh flowers wrapped in an origami like hand towel. We figured out room arrangements and everyone scattered to relax in their own way. Some booked a boat trip, some rested in hammocks. I cooled off in the pool. We weren't even there for 18 hours, but all left rested and rejuvenated!
Our next stop was shopping in downtown Jinja. The team scooped up souvenirs for their family and friends. Two of my Ugandan girls met me and ate lunch with us at Ling Ling Chinese restaurant. Yes, Chinese food in Uganda. It was so amazing seeing them. I have been loving on these girls for three years now. They call me Mom, and I love them dearly! I watched them as they ate from the table with us. They were shy asking for food or soda, and they gratefully accepted the tables leftovers to take home.
Sangalo Baby Home kept us busy for the afternoon. We heard about Damalie and her ministry. She currently has 21 babies. She told me that baby Brandon, the baby I named after my husband Brandon, was not doing well and was in the hospital. Damalie told me that Baby Brandon was having seizures and high fever and that they feared for his life. My heart sunk for this little baby that I held at just one week old. His tiny body that needed the warmth of body heat to keep him warm. The baby that the doctors said wouldn't live. Just six months ago, I prayed over him. I prayed that God would take this tiny baby and grow him into the big strong man that my husband is. I prayed for protection, health and for family. I cried knowing that this tiny baby was ill. I recognized many of the other from my previous trips. They were no longer small, sick looking babies. They were fattening up, and that made me smile. These babies are loved!
We settled down for the night at the newly built Capstone House run by Healing Faith, a ministry serving the villages with a malaria education, prevention and treatment. And they are Aggies! Jason and Kari, the ministry directors, gave us a warm American welcome. Kari must be related to Martha Stewart. Her decorative touches she added to the home we adorable!
The following morning, we headed back to Sangaalo Baby Home. Damalie took us out to the land they are building on. They had chickens, pigs and were expecting a pregnant cow soon. It was a plush land that was already growing crops. She told us how she hopes to build a baby home and foster home there. When we arrived back at the baby home, my little guy Taylor lit up with excitement. He would not let me put hi down. He desperately wanted someone all to himself, just as many of the babies. We cuddled, played peekaboo and gave raspberry kisses. He would tighten up with pure joy wen I kissed on his neck! I loved every minute of it!
When Damalie told me Brandon was very sick, it hurt. While I only held this child for one day, we have a bond. God brought I'm into my life with purpose. We pulled into the children's hospital compound and saw children and parents laying on the grass, due to overcrowding in the wards. We walked down a hallway lined with rusty hospital cribs and torn mattresses. We passed a room full of sick children. Their families huddled over the children laying on torn blankets with desperation. It was intense. There were no ivs, no monitors, no nurses or antibacterial dispensers. Just sick kids laying on raggedy beds with desperate families looking for hope.
As I walked up to baby Brandon's bed, I felt tears well up. He laid there sleeping. I slowly started to pick him up. He started to cry and I whispered to him. As him calmed down, his eyes opened and he melted into my chest. This little boy, that carried my husbands name, was mine for that moment. I talked to him as I swayed back and forth. I kissed all over him. As our time at the hospital drew to an end, I laid him back down and prayed over him again. I have no doubt that God has purpose for him! I prayed for healing and for his doctor and caregivers. I tickled him, he laughed with a raspy voice. He beamed as I told him how much I loved him and that I would be back. I passed him back over to his caregiver. By no coincidence, her name was Janet. Big Brandon's mother is also Janet!
The doctor came back to the baby home with us to check on the babies. He told me that when Brandon was first brought to Sangaalo, that he didn't expect him to survive. He also said that he was surprised that Brandon had never been to the hospital. I told him I was not surprised, and that prayer saved him. By all means, I am not his healer, but God brought us together and knew that he would need extra loving!
Our team helped the doctor with his monthly check ups. We weighed babies, took temperatures and helped with keeping the records in order. Several of my team members had formed special bonds with the children. They prayed over them and said their final goodbyes before we left for the day.
On our last day in Jinja we served with Healing Faith. They took us into the village of Wakissi. We played with the children for awhile before beginning to pass out deworming medications, multivitamins and then to do the medical checks. Our Luganda translators lined up children and adults who were sick. In Uganda, everyone thinks they have malaria. The Segner family focuses their ministry on Malaria education, prevention and treatment. We took temperatures and listened to the symptoms of those with ailments. We tested about 15 for malaria, of those, three tested positive. We gave them the malaria treatment medication. I followed Jason and our teams nurses' lead. With a pair of gloves, I suctioned up a drop of blood to place on the malaria test strip. It's amazing how simple it is to test and treat malaria. Malaria kills, and treatment needs to be accessible! I look forward to working with Healing Faith again!
As with all of my teams, the last night together we process. We talk about our most memorable moments and what we have learned from our experiences. My soul is on fire knowing that I am in God's plan for my life. Watching others begin to find their way, and grow spiritually fills me. I have no idea what the future holds for me and my family. I do know that at 37, I am EXACTLY where He wants me now, leading teams to Africa to GO. BE. LOVE!