Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Gillespie family’s Uganda trip report

Gordon Gillespie describes the family’s recent trip to Uganda…

Why did we go?

“An immensely humbling and challenging experience”

“hugely inspiring people”

“incredible welcomes and hospitality”

“amazing Christian faith and love in action”

“loving and reaching the poorest of the poor”

“hope and joy amidst huge desperation”

…just a few quotes from Sue Gillespie’s previous trips to Rwanda and Uganda.

It sounded like an adventure of a lifetime and the Gillespie boys (all three) did not want to miss out.

We had a lot of prayer and debate about whether spending money on such a journey was appropriate. It sounds trite but we wanted to make a difference in some way and not just be tourists or get in the way. We remembered how Patrick Dixon, the head of ACET, had spoken so clearly to St James about weighing up the cost of flights versus the amount of direct aid that could be bought with that same money.

Sue and I went along to a meeting back in February with other St James families who were contemplating a trip. We thought we might join a group going out and suddenly found we were the only ones going. We later found out that our good friends, the Allens, were planning to go and were persuaded that visiting and supporting some of the projects would be an encouragement to those projects. So, in February, we took the plunge and booked the flights while we prayed that other arrangements would fall into place.

What did we do?

Our trip started in Kiswa School, which has a link with the Church primary school in Gerrards Cross. Kiswa is in a very run down area of Kampala,

At Kiswa School We had an amazingly warm welcome. The whole school stopped for our visit. They sang and danced for us and gave us Coca Cola and samosas that they could barely afford. I embarrassed my sons by demonstrating a lack of keepy upy football skills in front of the whole school. We danced and played with the children all afternoon. A truly unforgettable experience. The picture shows us bringing T-shirts from our CofE school and footballs from St James FC to the teachers.

We then went on to Iganga, one of the poorest areas in Uganda, to visit some children we sponsor, who are also part of the Love Africa Centre for Evangelism (CFE) project. The CFE project is headed by Pastor Paul, who works with a number of different partners to show Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor through the 72 churches he leads in the area. Pastor Paul kindly, and unexpectedly, joined us in visiting the homes of a number of sponsored children that he and his team care for. It was wonderful to see our sons, Ewan and Rhys, playing with the children and making friendships and experiencing at first hand the great work that Pastor Paul and his team do in supporting a very poor and vulnerable community.

Our next visit was to meet the legendary Edith Wakumire. Uganda Women Concern Ministry This lovely lady runs another Love Africa supported project – Uganda Women’s Concern Ministry. She has developed a network of churches and volunteers who go out and help the most needy and vulnerable.

One of the people that UWCM helps is Aida. Her husband died of AIDS and she too is infected. Aida lives in a tiny fragile mud hut with her five children. She has a small area of scorched earth, about the same area as the St James crèche, where she has to grow crops to Aida and her family feed her family. As this is nowhere near sufficient, she works as a labourer for others when she is well enough. Aida rarely has enough food and relies on the Edith’s volunteers for help. Apart from meeting Aida, one other lasting memory of this visit was when Gordon was asked to address the Ugandan Women's Concern conference, despite admitting to a very poor understanding of women let alone their concerns, they seemed to gain immense encouragement from the thought that other people many miles away were praying for and supporting the hard work of these amazingly loving volunteers. They thanked St James so much for their support.

Our final visit was to the Tumaini Orphanage. On a dark clammy night on a red dirt track through the middle of the workers’ shanty town inside several fences and traffic barriers to mark the boundary of the sprawling Kakira sugar plantation, we suddenly Games at Tumainisaw the welcome beaming smile of Tim Allen looking out of another dusty Toyota minibus! That was the start of a memorable three days with Pastor Nicholas and his dedicated team who are running a church and  orphanage in very challenging conditions. We had a great time leading some PromiseLand and other children's activities with children from the orphanage, the local church and the surrounding area. Our most memorable moment was probably when we were surprisingly introduced as children's work experts to a group of 80 very expectant children. With all our props and ideas already used up that morning or packed away in our guest house ready for the following day, we had four hours of improvised fun and games!

What did we take away?     

Here are just some of the many things we took away from the experience:

  • New friendships and relationships that we hope to build and grow over many years
  • Huge admiration for the dedication and faithfulness of the Ugandan churches and volunteers who work so tirelessly and cheerfully with so little
  • Realisation that our support and prayers are just as valuable to the projects and children we support as any money
  • Lessons on hospitality!
  • A personal challenge to think how we could re-apply what we had seen to be Christ’s hands and feet to the most needy and vulnerable around us.
  • A resolution never again follow in the footsteps of the Drewetts – who had done a brilliant job and set a very high standard of PromiseLand leading the year before!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A St James Family reflect on their recent trip to Uganda

Family photo As 2009 was Janet’s 50th birthday we wanted to do something special as a family to mark the year. We’d been fascinated by the stories brought back from previous Love Africa trips. In particular the idea that the visits were very much a two-way exchange was intriguing. The chance to come alongside fellow Christians in the Love Africa projects putting their faith into action seemed too good an opportunity to miss. When we heard about the Drewett family going to Uganda we were particularly inspired to give our children the opportunity to see life from a different perspective; outside of the cosy Gerrards Cross bubble.

The plan for our trip involved visiting the Tumaine orphanage at Children at TumaineKakira; Mubarak (our sponsored child in Mawagala); Kiswa school in Kampala which is twinned with the Gerrards Cross CE School; and a number of ACET/Tearfund/Love Africa projects in the North of Uganda. We also participated in a build project with the Watoto church. In all, a very full, exhausting but fantastic three week schedule.

Family with Ugandan children The highlights of the trip were undoubtedly the children we met; they were so full of life, joy, fun and music. The whole family was captivated. Spending a few days with the Gillespie family at Tumaine running a PromiseLand style activity day was just wonderful. All of our family have been involved in PromiseLand in various ways, so for us to come together as a family to share that experience with the children at Tumaine was deeply satisfying and moving.

We also felt very moved and privileged to experience the love and affection that is felt towards the whole of the St James congregation for the support that the Love Africa mission has given and the difference it has made. To witness first hand the encouragement this gives to the community at Tumaine was a real blessing. The welcome that the children sang for us on our arrival was so beautiful it took our breath away.

We were amazed by Watoto and the scale of their work in Uganda.At Watoto With a congregation of more than 20,000, their mission to look after widows and orphans is on an unprecedented scale. It is incredible to see what God can do if we will only trust in Him. For us and our children to come alongside Christians making this sort of a difference in their community was awe inspiring. So too though were the ACET projects in war torn Gulu, where small communities are

Gulu, Uganda
putting lives back together. These projects are at the other end of the scale from Watoto; a few small, poor churches working together for the first time to look after the poorest of the poor in their own community. A real inspiration again for making Christianity relevant to our own community.

Prior to the trip our teenage daughters frequently asked, “Why don’t we just send the money, do we really have to go to Africa?” (In truth a couple of weeks in a nice villa with a pool would have been more their idea of a good holiday!)

Before we went that was a difficult question to answer convincingly. After our return, it was no longer an issue. To connect face to face was encouraging for the people we met and a privilege for us. A step that allowed God to work deeper in the hearts of both sides. To steal a lovely phrase from Sue Gillespie: “we came back with empty suitcases but very full hearts”. All in all it was a wonderful way to mark Janet’s birthday.