Saturday, 10 September 2011

A trip to Uganda Wonen's Concern and the Rahab project

In August a team of six people went to Uganda to visit two projects.

Asantha Wijetunge describes his experiences...

For me this was my first trip to Africa, as was the case for many of our team of six, and although I had some idea of what to expect in terms of land/cityscape and culture, I was simply not prepared for the tremendous welcome we received wherever we went. To be honest, being greeted with shouts of joy, singing, clapping and dancing was a rather foreign experience, and certainly not something we would ever experience back in England!

Building work at UWCM
The first week was spent in the company of UWCM (Ugandan Women Concern’s Ministry), with the aim of better understanding how they go about supporting vulnerable people within local communities who are often affected by HIV/Aids, and thereby act as ambassadors of the project on our return. It became quickly apparent that Edith Wakimure, Annette Sobbi and the rest of the team are doing an incredible job of equipping the people they come into contact with, with the skills, resources, knowledge and confidence to make a real difference to their lives. Whether this be through setting up a centre for teenage mothers and teaching them new and self-sustaining life skills, mobilising communities to build shelters, educating people about HIV/Aids or running a prayer and porridge centre for orphans, it is obvious why Edith was presented with an award by Kofi Annan in 1998 for her work in helping to eradicate poverty in local communities. UWCM now finds itself in a transitional leadership phase and so our prayers and thoughts go out especially to them, though we are confident that God will continue His great work and His light will shine through all the team there.

After having thought that our first week couldn’t have gone any better, we were then bowled over by the experience of our holiday club and the incredible nature of the girls at Rahab. This is an organisation which houses young girls, who have previously been forced into a life of prostitution and have lived out on the street. It provides them with emotional and physical support, structure in their lives, education by raising fees to send them to boarding school, and of course most important of all spiritual nourishment. Although naturally many of the girls were somewhat shy and reserved to begin with, they gradually began to open up and share their thoughts, hopes and concerns with us – what a privilege!
Annette and Andrew

Our week was spent doing a variety of activities, in accordance to our theme “A great youth with a special calling”, which had been picked in advance by the girls. These included discussing a Bible verse each day, chosen to enhance the girls’ confidence and for them to realise the special nature of what it means to be part of God’s Royal Family, as well as various arts and crafts, sport, singing and prayer time.

Unfortunately our time in Uganda had to come to an end, and so on saying goodbye to both organisations a few tears were shed, mainly in recognition of the relationships which had been built and strengthened, as well as for the amazing work accomplished by all involved. It was an amazing privilege to represent St James and go out and witness the work being done to share the love and good news of Jesus.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Sam Ivin writes about his recent visit to Uganda

Sam is completing a foundation art course at Bucks University before moving on to a three year documentary photography course in September of this year. He has attended Saint James for the last nine years.

His story...

Firstly I'm so grateful for the opportunity to go on this trip, it's not every day you get to go to Africa! It was a hectic week but definitely worth it

I was blown away by the welcome we got at each of the communities. Nearly all of the places we visited were singing, dancing and wailing, constantly saying “Most Welcome”. This is testament to how much they appreciated us visiting, not just the financial help Love Africa gives.

It was also good to see how all the organisations carried out their work and seeing how happy people were with what little they had. Even in churches which were made out of mud and sticks, they were so grateful to God for what they had.

I found the work of Rahab shocking, the centre where girls who have been in the prostitution business are rescued and rehabilitated. Knowing how old these girls were, just young teenagers I was disgusted at the thought of them being prostitutes. When we were told that the younger ones were at school, (the youngest being seven!) I was completely shocked. I couldn't get my head around the idea of a seven year old girl being forced into prostitution.

A fond memory was one of a school, where we were sat down in front of hundreds of kids and had songs, poems and gifts given to us. They were all remarkably well behaved and disciplined-which surprised me.

When we saw the PEP projects it was clear how grateful people were for not being given immediate aid but knowledge. I also remember the first village we visited with Pastor Paul (Centre for Evangelism) where as usual we were welcomed spectacularly and then told how Martin had said how giving fish to a man will feed him for a day or give a man a hook and he'll be fed for life. I felt this was a good summary of all the projects. The projects were all about providing sustainable solutions, rather than just donating gifts.

I was also shown in this visit that we need compassion when helping people, not pity. A real love for the people we're helping, not just feeling sorry for them. Seeing people on the other side of world who have such a strong faith in God and love for people was amazing.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Suzanne Walker reflects on her recent visit to Uganda

I was excited and apprehensive about going to Uganda with Love Africa, unsure about what I would find – both physically and spiritually within myself. Now I am home with my comfortable bed and working sanitary-ware I can reflect on th e nine days spent in this amazing country with more than amazing people.

Suzanne in Uganda

In the projects it was easy to see that when invited in, Jesus is a powerful healer, a wise teacher and a warm and comforting friend.

At Rahab the girls who had lost their childhood to exploitation found Love and acceptance with Jesus and those followers with a mission to rescue and give them new life.

In the Soroti communities where the PEP process aimed to ‘build self-reliant God-fearing communities’, the love from Jesus gave those without a future a reason to live and build lives which not only gave them sense of purpose but impacted on the community around them. By coming together as children of God these villagers are working together for all of their futures and those of their children.

In Mbale the men who used to drink from 8am, when enlightened by the Gospel, used more of their time to effect change and help those around them. So much so that the drinking men had to be brought in especially for us to meet with them as they would have been busy in the fields!

In Bulaago, a remote mountain community, previously hopeless  Ugandan ladieswomen infected with HIV, inspired by Jesus’ example, are now Samaritans in their area, helping others where they can and shining Christ’s light into dark lives.

In Iganga the inspirational leadership of Pastor Paul touches the heart of the most remote and needy communities. Through belief in Christ the Holy Spirit effects change and gives hope – they want to do it themselves and they want to effect a sustainable change. Those we met here were our Pastor ‘Martini’ (Martin) fans and they raved about a talk he gave about how it’s better to receive a hook than a fish! Evidence of how a few God given words can inspire and transform us.

Team at Tumaini In Kakira the Tumaini children were eager to listen to God’s word and familiar with worship songs and praise. Through education these children now have a future and, with a real love of the Lord, are preparing to help and impact on the next generation of Ugandans.

All the ACET team members were true people of God – passionate about changing lives and making Uganda a place of Hope where communities can build futures illuminated by the Light of the World. They are fun to be around, hardworking and servant-hearted. Daudi is also especially gifted at driving through storms, mountainous terrain and unpredictable erratic traffic!

Suzanne handing out wash bags to childrenI was fortunate to travel with marvellous companions – no lack of humour or patience marred our trip. It was hot, incredibly dusty, arduous and tiring but those around me were like emotional scaffold – helping me to stay in the right place. I laughed till I cried and cried till I laughed - a part of me is still crying now - a friend of mine said to me just before I left “you’ll never be the same again – Africa changes you” – she was definitely right.

This trip gave me a visual and tangible picture of how the Holy Spirit, the ‘enabler’ can work it’s power in people’s lives.
On reflection, Love Africa is not about ‘aid’ but about empowerment.

The work of Love Africa is God at work and we should give thanks and praise for it.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Uganda April 2011 – Jill Armstrong reflects on her recent experience

No one was more surprised than me to find myself on the flight to Uganda two weeks ago. I had been solidly in the camp who believed that the cost of my ticket was better deployed in a practical way where it was most needed. Unwisely I put this point of view to Pastor Paul on his last visit to the UK! He explained the concept of "money with faces". Money is essential but St James money comes with faces – of love, relationships, skill sharing, encouragement, support…the list goes on. The faces are those able to make the journey who represent the whole church family and the whole of God's family. "Come to Uganda and find out how wrong you are" he challenged. So I did and I was.

My "big picture" reflections are of a country that really is turning the tide on HIV/AIDS, of a people who are welcoming, who are proud of their achievements, who love to talk and sing and dance, who love God and who never once asked us for anything other than prayers and friendship.

Specific memories include visiting Kiswa school in a slum area of Kampala, being showered with gifts, hugs, singing, dancing and their sheer joy of entertaining the "dear visitors". I will remember thinking the girls rescued from working the streets of Kampala by the Rahab ministry were so young, then being told the "little ones" were not there that day. I will remember the look of pride as a lady presented me with her first "good" baby. I thought she was talking about behaviour – she meant HIV negative. I will remember the ladies of Bulago who stood together and declared they were HIV positive but were turning their lives and their community around and asked if they could pray for new Christians at St James. I will remember the privilege of being asked to pray for a whole village. I will remember having one of Martin's sermons told back to us and yes we'd heard it too! I will remember the tiny school with no blackboards or chalk but who had been given a huge toilet block by a large aid agency (and who now have blackboard and chalk). I will remember travelling with great companions whose capacity for humour was endless. I will remember so much more.

"Money with faces" matters hugely to the people we met. Representing Love Africa at St James and sharing God's love with our brother and sisters in Christ in Uganda was a huge privilege.