Thursday, 6 November 2014

Kampala and home November 5th-6th

November 5th

The final day in Kampala was sunny but hazy and hot, while stories of cold and mist delaying flights at Heathrow were on line. For Frank and Jill there were a series of meetings through the day.

First, with Dorothy Kisaka. She is a Kampala lawyer with a passion for leadership in the Christian community. She is the Haggai Institute representative in Uganda. She has provided useful cultural advice to Love Africa as we have thought about changes in leadership and personnel in the projects we support, how the projects develop their strategy and other people related matters. We had a very useful discussion. She is visiting the UK later this month to graduate with a masters degree at York Minster and visit her brother in law in Aberdeen (will it be cold?) We hope she will be able to visit St James and meet at least some of the members of the steering group

Bishop Simon Peter and Bishop Franco (the General Secretary of PAG) stepped out of the multi faith meeting on HIV to have lunch. Simon Peter was keen to hear about our experiences at PAG Soroti and the other parts of the trip. PAG is completing its strategy review for where they will place their outreach emphasis after 2015 when the Millennium Goals will end and the emphasis on HIV will decrease. He expressed concern that the Church will have an increasing role in HIV/AIDS relief as aid organisations move on.

PAG is keen to welcome the planned St James Resonate youth trip to Uganda in August next year and he wants the trip to visit at least 1 PAG centre where the young people from St James and a PAG community can interact.

Simon Peter is visiting St James in March next year as part of the preparations for the Love Africa gift day. He is a very gracious man and a good speaker with great perspective on the Church, aid and the relationships between the West and Africa. He stressed that he is very keen to be involved with St James on the next stage of Love Africa.

Just after Simon Peter left for the conference the travellers from Apac returned with Jane and Michael. They were grubby and weary but full of their experiences, the welcome they had received and the outreach work of the churches. There was the chance for Andrew, Chris, Heather and Brian to repack, refresh and enjoy the Sheraton for a few hours.

Frank's final meeting was at 6pm with the Board of ACET. Paul arrived about 6.30pm and David Kabiswa (Paul's predecessor and now a Board member) arrived about 7.30pm.  It was unfortunate that the other Board members were unavailable but we had a very full discussion about ACET following on from the previous day with Paul, and how St James and ACET Uganda can work together in the future.

By the time we finished it was 9pm and Ken had arrived with the ACET van to take us to Entebbe for the flight. It was a hectic drive back though the late night Kampala traffic and a last chance for the group to enjoy the Uganda experience. Security was as usual intimidating but cursory. The airport was quiet despite 3 flights to Europe leaving within an hour of each other. Our flight was delayed by about 90 mins ("late incoming aircraft due to mist at Heathrow") but we were promised a fast flight time.

Andrew, Chris, Heather, Brian Jill and Frank boarded BA62 to Heathrow after a great 9 days in Uganda. We have been extravagantly welcomed and seen firsthand the value of visiting to encourage the people in the churches, marvelled at the effectiveness of God's church reaching out in love to communities and individuals and heard many moving testimonies of people without hope being transformed by God's love. We have seen and heard successes and failures, heard about the struggle for financing and wondered at the sense of reducing government commitment to HIV when the prevalence is rising. We met many inspiring Godly people in our projects who give their lives to God’s service and to the service of people in Uganda. So, a pretty typical exposure visit.

Many thanks to the 10 travellers and their families for supporting them on the trip. We have some ideas about sharing experiences from the exposure visit for people who are interested. Thank you for your interest in Love Africa, for following the trip and most of all for your prayers for the group.

Please join us in prayer:

To give thanks for the vision and work of Love Africa and all the supporters at St James and elsewhere.
Give thanks for the thousands of people touched by God's love through Love Africa.
Give thanks for the work of our partners ACET, Tumaini, Rahab, UWCM, CFE, PAG Soroti and PAG Apac .

6th November

Arrived back to a misty and frosty Heathrow, so cold compared to Kampala. That should be everyone safely back home after the various travel adventures. Time for everyone to reflect on what they experienced and how this may shape their future service.

End of the Love Africa Exposure Visit 2014. Let me know if you would like to go yourself in the future.


You may be aware that we have an email list of Love Africa prayer supporters.  If you are not already on the list and would like to be, please let me know.  At present we do not send regular prayer letters but respond to specific prayer requests from our LA partners as they make them known.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Kampala & ACET

4th November

The Kampala group was now down to Frank and Jill, a big change. The morning was spent preparing for meetings with ACET. There is a meeting of the Friends of ACET Uganda on the 11th November. Frank has been asked to speak and report on discussions with the ACET team. All the interested groups, ACET UK, TearFund, Friends of ACET and Patrick Dixon the founder of ACET had sent through questions and in addition to the Love Africa questions it was quite an agenda to prepare.

Paul, Emma and Amos the new accountant met Frank at the Sheraton. We reviewed the trip and each site with Paul as a de-brief. He was very interested in the PAG Soroti projects and said that the government is also strongly backing local savings and loan schemes and the entire area is very political. He had heard about our visit to ACET Mbale (Naomi has still not had her baby) and how well the visits to the mountain communities had been received. We reported on the discussions with Pastor Nicholas. Paul felt that the Kakira community was putting pressure on PN, as one of the main sources of funding, to take a group of orphans into the home.

We then got into the agenda. Amos the new accountant introduced himself. He comes from the Church of Uganda in Soroti and seems to be a qualified accountant who understands charity governance. Paul says he has had an immediate impact at ACET and Emma commented to me what a good start he had made. He seems like a really good recruit. The 3 of us met for 2-3 hours to review all sorts of stuff on ACET and Love Africa/ACET. Emma and Amos left us and then Paul and Frank had another hour into the evening talking about the leadership of ACET. I won’t bore you with all the details. Paul is a very gracious and Godly man who is quite isolated in his leadership of ACET so he does genuinely welcome people spending time with him.

Paul is also very well regarded in the faith community in Uganda. He mentioned that he is facilitating a meeting of church leaders tomorrow on the church's response to HIV. These leaders include the Church of Uganda Archbishop, Archbishop Simon Peter (who is stopping at lunch time to meet me!), and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda among others. Love Africa is very fortunate to have Paul as a partner.

We heard from the party in Apac by text and look forward to seeing them tomorrow

Please remember in your prayers;

Safe travel for the group in Apac and that they will be a huge encouragement for the people they meet in PAG and in the communities
For the work of ACET Uganda, their role and influence politically among the leadership of the Church in Uganda

For Paul, Emma and Amos as they serve God at ACET

The wild bunch in Apac!

To Apac

We separated at Jinja and Ken drove the team heading for Apac (Brian, Heather, Chris and Andrew ) to PAG (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) office in Kampala. At first nobody seemed to be expecting us - perhaps because we were EARLY; that must be a first!  Pastor Timothy welcomed us, made a couple of phone calls and established that everything was in order and a driver was on his way. We set off in the capable hands of Michael at 11.20. Michael had travelled all the way from Soroti yesterday to collect us.
We passed some dismal looking slums, on the way out of Kampala, but then we were on a good clear road north.  Just one set of  roadworks then we turned off to the Masindi ferry. We won't see any more tarmac roads for a while. We saw the ferry leaving just as we arrived, so we had to wait an hour for the next one. A sign proclaimed that "it is illegal to pay for crossing" but we did have to register, including providing a phone number for next of kin!
It was another 2 hours on red African dirt roads to Apac and we arrived at 6.30, ten hours after leaving Jinja. The hotel is clean but basic (cold water only.  Our rooms are individual round lodges.
We had an enthusiastic, warm welcome from Bishop Richard, Pastor Geoffrey and Jane (national director for PEP).  They greeted us as friends, and send warm wishes to all at St James. Richard and his family welcomed us into their home for dinner. Andrew was touched to see a framed picture of his family proudly on display!

Tuesday morning started with breakfast at Bishop Richard's house - chicken, beef, rice, potatoes, bananas and oranges from the garden.  We heard from Geoffrey and Richard about the progress of the PEP project that we support. (PEP - Participatory Evaluation Process - is the programme, based on bible studies, of mobilising the churches to use the resources they have available and reach out to the community.)  The project, in 6 assemblies (groups of a few churches), is making good progress, and they are looking to "disciples" in the current churches to disseminate the training to further churches.

Killon, Richard's eldest son, described how, inspired by PEP, he has established Mara High  School in Apac.  It is a Christian school offering holistic education. Fees are reduced for pastor's children and orphans and vulnerable children. We were inspired by the story.  He told enthusiastically of the use the school has made of the 2 footballs given by "Pastor Martin" and his friend Paul when they visited by motor bike.
On the way from the Bishop's, we saw the offices that are being built for the church - they have raised money and done much of the work themselves, but still need to raise more for the roof. Then we stopped at Pastor Geoffrey's new house; he is now full-time PEP Coordinator and no longer pastors the church in Apac, so has moved out of the Pastor's house in the Church grounds.  Some of you will remember that on our first visit to Apac in 2012, Pastor Geoffrey gave Martin and Andrew two chickens, which they named Eve and Catherine, but left with Geoffrey to look after.  We saw Eve (2); Catherine was hiding, but we saw her children!  Next we visited Mara school and received the usual warm welcome with singing, poetry and dancing.
We set off for the church at Loro at 12.30, feeling bad that they were expecting us at midday, and we had a 90 min drive to reach them. I don't think we have arrived anywhere at the planned time - that is African time.  We stopped on the way to meet Pastor Geoffrey (another one) who described how his life and livelihood had been transformed by PEP. He is planning to retire soon, but for a retirement that is productive and continues to serve God and the community faithfully.  He has plans to plant, among other things, 10,000 pine trees, 5,000 eucalyptus, mangos, bananas… and the list went on!
Apac district is the mosquito and malaria hotspot of the world.  On our journey we passed some of the swamps that are the reason for that.  In some places the swamp merged with the road - we were very grateful for the 4wd land cruisers and our expert drivers.  In one particularly deep and slippery pothole Chris was frightened that he was about to get wet feet.
We finally reached Loro church at 2.30. The people were faithfully waiting for us, and Pastor Bonny and his congregation greeted us as friends.  We noticed from an "agenda" on the wall that their Sunday service starts at 6.30 am and runs for 4 hours. They too send their greetings to St James.  We heard beautiful African singing, and several testimonies from church members.  One told us how they used to expect handouts from the government, but that PEP has taught them to use their own resources.  Also that the church, which used to focus only on preaching, has prospered and grown now that it also gives priority practical service to members and non-members alike.  Two people living positively (i.e. with HIV/AIDS) told how groups of people with HIV support each other and that they are also accepted and supported by the rest of the church.  We also heard of growing improved crops, animal rearing, small businesses, enlightened minds, new, permanent church buildings (we were sitting in one) and much more.  This was a joyful church, aiming to be salt and light in the community.    Andrew shared briefly from Romans 12:3  about transformed lives.  The transformation comes from inside, and is a result of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
I need to mention Jane Achaloi; she is the national PEP director for PAG.  She is an awesome, godly and lovely lady and she has accompanied us on our trip to Apac.  Pastor Geoffrey described her as "President PEP - she lives and breathes PEP". Jane herself said she has received several offers of other jobs, but that she "can't imagine doing anything else. I enjoy it so much. When people do PEP they become free and they glorify God."

We were served "lunch" at about 4.30. After saying our goodbyes Bishop Richard, Pastor Geoffrey and Killon set of for home, choosing a longer route that avoided the worst of the swamp, the rest of us travelled to Loro and are staying at the Gracious Palace hotel before returning to Kampala tomorrow.

Parting of the ways and RAHAB

3rd November

The group gathered for the last time as 10 people at the 2 ACET vans with Emma and Ken for a "word" and a prayer led by Heather and Beccy.  Ken was taking the Apac people,  Andrew, Chris, Heather and Brian to the PAG offices in Kampala for the trip to Apac. There had  been a change of plan (!) to take the group to Apac on Monday afternoon and spend 2 nights with Bishop Richard. Andrew will provide updates by text. We heard that when Ken arrived at the PAG offices no one knew that the group were to be picked up and it was a surprise to everyone that they were there! Welcome to Uganda!

The others, Beccy, Judi, Mandy, Nigel, Jill and Frank set off with Emma down the Jinja road to Kampala. There was lots of lively conversation, the trip flew by and the world was a much better place when we arrived at the Rahab refuge.  Sophie, one of the older girls ran along the road to meet us as even Emma couldn't find the new house.  Annette is in the US speaking about human trafficking so we were greeted by Alin (Spelling?) who is her deputy and Mummy Maureen who many visitors will remember.  She did a wonderful job of hosting us and showed herself to be an excellent deputy to Annette. We sat round with the girls in the home, introduced ourselves and then Alin briefed us on the history of Rahab (about 300 girls have been through the home) and the current residents. There are 17 girls, 6 in primary school, 7 in secondary school (including Sophie and Faith who many visitors will remember) and 4 girls in rehabilitation as Alin termed it. This means the girls stay in the home, away from their former lives, learn crafts, play games, have their health checked, take part in the Bible studies and life of the home, in preparation for going to school. This can take 6 months or more and the girls are free to leave if they wish.  Alin explained the re-settlement process of girls who graduate from the Rahab home. They go back to their homes to visit with Alin or Annette and possibly a social worker to make an assessment if the girls will be able to continue their new life away from prostitution. If not, Rahab works to re-settle the girls independently with their new skills.

We had some unstructured time when the girl talked in small groups with the visitors and looked at pictures from home, pictures of family and snow were particularly appreciated. The girls really opened up especially to the ladies and new bonds were formed. Judi, Beccy, Mandy and Jill agreed to be letter writers for the new girls. Leaving was difficult. Jill gave us a "word". She told the girls how the first time she visited Rahab Faith and Sophie hid, the second time they jumped into the van before it stopped and hugged and kissed everyone, this time they greeted the group like mature young ladies. Jill told them how they were represented in Philippians 1, 3-6 about he who began a good work. It was interesting that Alin challenged Sophie and Faith to respond to the other girls about what they had learned from what Jill said, and the Bible verse.

Just as we left Fiona arrived (the Scottish girl!) who many people will know. She is a very composed young lady who has just graduated with a BA in Business Administration and is looking for a job, what a triumphant transformation in her life!

On the way to the drop in centre we visited the hairdressing salon that a St James family funded Rahab to develop. It is a well fitted out shop staffed by Pauline and Zam the day we visited. The shop is a way of employing the girls with the hairdressing skill they have learned at the home or drop in centre. We also stopped at a market to buy Christoph 3 rolls of typical Ugandan material for the Christmas services.

The drop in centre was BUZZING when we arrived. 28 girls plus small children and babies, staff and volunteers, all actively involved in basket making, candle making and hairdressing. Our group was ushered into the office for introductions and a briefing by Alin and Chida (the accountant) before we met the girls. These girls are much more fragile in their relationship with Rahab. They come 2-3 times a week to learn income crafts and skills, discipleship, life skills training and counselling from the staff and volunteers. The drop in centre is still principally supported by St James with some personal supporters and support from local Kamapla charities. They seem to be making the St James money go further by using some partner American charities ("Arise")and volunteers to deliver programmes, e.g. life skills for free rather than being paid as in the proposal.

We moved in to the main room to be introduced.  Alin asked all the girls to introduce themselves and say what activities they did, mostly basket making and hairdressing (closely linked in the African culture - think about it for a moment) Even the girl who was in the centre for the 1st time with her sister was encouraged to say her name in public by Alin, real tough love. I think only Mandy and Judy had introduced themselves and said they loved the babies and would love to hold one when all the mothers rose up in a single coordinated move and gave each one of us a baby to hold, and they got on with their work. So, our group learned about the activities of the centre while holding a baby (note -  nappies are optional in Uganda culture) The introductions dissolved but the atmosphere was tremendous as our ladies learned to make baskets and braid hair and make candles, Nigel and Frank were a bit sidelined but still kept the babies.

It was so difficult to leave, but after a group photograph and emotional farewells we were back in the ACET van on the way to the hotel. It was just Frank and Jill who were booked in to the Sheraton but with some negotiation we were able to get towels for the room and passes for the pool changing rooms so the travellers, Beccy, Judi, Mandy and Nigel could get cleaned up for the flight back home. We had a final meal together under the stars, again lots of lively discussion and reflection on a wonderful trip, concluding with a true Ugandan pantomime as we tried to split the bill among everyone! Emma, God bless him, took the group to the airport for the trip home. On Tuesday Frank and Jill have meetings with ACET while the other group are in Apac.

By the time this email arrives the travellers will be home, we trust fit and well and excited by Love Africa!

Please pray for

The work of Rahab in reaching out to girls caught in the sex trade and transforming their lives one at a time.
Give thanks for the girls who have been transformed in faith, lifestyle, education
For Annette and Alin as they lead Rahab, that they are well funded and supported to develop this ministry
For the group in Apac for safe travel and that they may be an encouragement to the PAG staff, volunteers and beneficiaries

For the discussions with ACET staff, Paul, Emma and Amos the new accountant

Tumaine & Apac

November 3rd

For our Sunday in Uganda we had a slightly later and more leisurely start to the day with breakfast and prayers and a rehearsal (we didn't want to over practise) for a song at Tumaini. Emma and Ken collected us for the short trip to Tumaini through the Mhadvani compound.

We were told to be there at 1000 but the service at the Kakira Christian Centre starts with a rolling worship session so was already well under way when we arrived. Pastor Nicholas (PN) greeted us individually with real warmth and appreciation and took us to our seats at the front of the church. Judi and Frank had a brief "planning session" with PN for the St James contributions to the service. The surprises were restricted only to the need for translation of every word and that we were expected to lead 90 minutes of the service. So, we got down to the serious business of uninhibited (the group understood now the need for the zip lock bags to leave their inhibitions behind) Ugandan worship led by the Praise Group, dancing, singing, ululating and praying. After about an hour PN drew the session to a close with prayer which we thought signalled the hand over to the St James group, but as "Pastor Phil" may remember from last year, we had a couple of false starts as PN welcomed the "dear visitors", but as we got ready to introduce ourselves he slipped in another item. One of these was the Tumaini children singing which included "all around the world" which they had learned from Christoph's CD in 4 days!

By about 1200 they were ready for us. Our groups responded brilliantly to the atmosphere and had the congregation responding to "Praise the Lords" and "Hallelujahs" as they introduced themselves. We offered our greetings from St James to the people of Kakira, from Pastor Martin (huge cheer) and Pastor Phil (huge cheer). The biggest cheer was for "Goliath" (Chris) who was returning to Tumaini 6 years after his last visit. Bravely, after the extravagant worship, our group led the congregation in (a version of) Jesus be my centre with Judi leading the actions. The congregation responded magnificently to the mood of the piece and followed the actions with a grace and engagement with the words and music that was moving.

Frank had been elected to offer the "message" He hadn't expected to have to speak through an interpreter, so there was some last minute pruning of the talk on the theme of "daring to be different" as Christians in Gerrards Cross and Kakira. We can’t be certain what PN actually translated but the congregation seemed engaged. (only 1 person from our group dropped off apparently...) though they may have been disappointed that the message was only 30 minutes. PN told me that the church had decided to explore the themes raised at the Bible study on Tuesday night and the next 2 Sundays, obviously to round things off, and Richard (the 20 year old secondary student who is going to Bible school) told me his debut sermon lasted just under 3 hours!

Preach it Pastor Frank!

PN had the group serve communion to the congregation which was a moving experience that was appreciated. Judi danced to the Lord's Prayer to finish the service which was a very moving experience. PN was delighted with the contributions from the group and it was a very special experience for us.

Our Father

We had arranged a special lunch for the children, so while they were served we were taken to the Mhadvani guest house for the Sunday lunchtime curry buffet, wonderful. The clouds gathered over lunch time so when we arrived back at Tumaini it was rather gloomy. We divided the team up when we arrived, one group unpacked the huge amount of clothes, (the developed world's supply of jeans), scholastic materials and toiletries, while the other group led by Judi and Andrew started rehearsing the children for videoing "all around the world" and the Christmas messages. Then the rain started, a true African down pour that drowned out all singing as it beat on the corrugated iron roof and turned the red earth to claggy red mud. We persuaded the kids to model some of the uniforms provided by St Marys and Caldicott Schools and took some photos and videos when the rain lessened to show the schools how their donations were being used.

The children took a break for Beccy to lead the group in a dramatised version of the story of Esther which enthralled them. Eventually the sun came out; Judi and Andrew were ready for a final rehearsal and the final shoot. Satisfied with the filming the group were able to have some down time with the children in small groups, playing on the parachute, loom bands, jig saws and of course iPad pictures of families and home.

Frank had a discussion with Mercy and PN to update on the state of Tumaini. There are currently 54 children in the home. 12 have left since March to their own homes or college or work. PN plans to take in 30 (yes thirty) new children aged 4-6 years from the waiting list in December. He says this is a step of faith as he has no consistent funding strategy or staffing, but he believes under God he should do this. PN is very grateful for the St James Christmas gift for food security and the first crops of cabbages have reached the school. He aims to have 25% of the food needs by April 2015 and 33% of the food needs by the end of 2015, which would be a wonderful achievement. Another donor has provided a family of goats, who unfortunately have eaten the banana trees which the children had planted in the Tumaini compound. PN has decided that the school will educate children to O level in future and then move the children into  training to be able to earn money and then potentially support themselves for further education A levels and University. 

PN was absolutely delighted with the visit, he said the jeans were a "miracle" and the loom bands were a "celebration"

As always it was difficult to leave but we prized ourselves away with regrets and singing from the children. We wanted to see the building work at PN's house which people from St James have supported. The fire damage is extensive. PN and Maria have moved into a small restored out building. An outline structure has been built and the yard was full of building materials paid for by PN's supporters. The main building work is scheduled to start next week (?) We left PN and drove in the dark through Jinja centre to the hotel, tired, grubby and worn out.

The day wasn't done though. Sunday night was the final evening when the whole team was together. The hotel had laid on a buffet dinner for us in a private room for our de-brief. We had a very constructive time discussing the visit, the ups and downs and how we could improve the experience which we will feedback to the steering group.

Tomorrow the group splits. Beccy, Judi, Mandy and Nigel who are flying to the UK go with Frank and Jill to Rahab and Chris, Andrew, Heather and Brian to Apac

I have been reminded to tell you about another incident at Mawagala. When we introduced ourselves with Nehemiah Jill said she was related to these 2 people pointing at Chris and me, Nehemiah who was sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, "she is your daughter, yes?"

Please remember in your prayers:
The heart Pastor Nicholas has for the children of Kakira, his willingness to be faithful and trust in God
The continued development of the children, spiritually, educationally and that they remain healthy
The warm links between St James and Kakira that has blessed both church communities
The partners the individual group members have left behind in the UK and who have coped with families and the extended families (of parents etc) who have been recruited  to help while particularly Mums serve here.

Andrew has sent a brief update from Apac:

A brief update from the group in Apac (Brian, Heather, Chris, Andrew). Sent by text, will send more when I have Internet.

We separated in Jinja-drove to Kampala. Transferred to PAG vehicle for travel to Apac via Nile ferry and dirt road. Long day, but lovely welcome from Bishop Richard, Pastor Geoffrey and Jane (PEP Coordinator). Apac is remote. Hotel clean but basic. Visiting projects tomorrow. Please continue to pray for safety & health and that we will be a real encouragement.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

ACET Mbale October 31st

31st October

A bible an ipad and the GROW Vision Booklet?!!

It was a hot night at the Mt Elgon hotel especially for the people with no fans or air-conditioning! The group enjoyed a Mt Elgon breakfast so were in good spirits as we gathered for prayers with Heather and Brian before we set off to the ACET offices

At the ACET Mbale offices we were greeted by Naomi and Janet and the rest of the staff, many are new or interns. Naomi is due any day now, she has an impressive bump which is obviously not getting in the way of anything! Naomi and Janet sat us down and gave a clear and inspiring presentation on the work of ACET Mbale and the areas Love Africa supports.

ACET Mbale excels at delivering lifeskills programmes to teenagers, training teachers in life skills education for teenagers, HIV education and counselling and community mobilisation programmes in local churches through Community Action Groups. Many of the programmes ACET develops and then trains other organisations on, are piloted in Mbale, e.g. the work with men’s drinking clubs.  They always seem to be developing practical new ideas. The trainers recognised that girls were missing education when they had their period as they were unable to buy sanitary towels. ACET have developed a reusable sanitary pad that has been trialled and allowed girls to be educated consistently.

Naomi reviewed for us the programmes supported by Love Africa and consistent with our vision. These focus mainly on HIV education, HIV testing and counselling in Churches, counselling young people in life skills and training for teachers and peer educators.

One of the children whose life Love Africa is seeking to improve

There was a lot of interest and questioning from the group to Naomi and Janet around the delivery of the programmes, how the faith aspect is delivered integral to the programmes and the overall ACET organisation and strategy. As always people were hugely impressed with Naomi and Janet and Emma provided some great perspectives from the ACET policy point of view

As the concession to her pregnancy Naomi didn't come into the field with us (thank goodness) for the visits to two Church Community action groups The Churches were in quite distant communities in the hills above Mbale The group had a wonderful trip along terrible roads high into the hills in the most spectacular countryside covered with dense green vegetation and banana plants. On the way up it started to rain, drops at first then a tropical storm as we approached the church, so loud when we entered the church building from the rain on the corrugated iron roof that we couldn't hear ourselves speak

The first stop was at St James Church (!) in Busambatsa where we were greeted by Rev Ezra (dressed in a clerical collar and blazer) and the chair of the Community Action Group (CAG). Jacqueline introduced the CAG by saying "we help each other in troubled times" They work by Rev Ezra identifying people in need in the community, and he asks people in church to offer support (money in a basket or in kind) Members of the CAG visit the needy, offer prayer and words of encouragement and the gifts collected and practical support.

Several people offered testimonies of how the CAG from St James had reached out to them clearly in God's love, which covered assisting a handicapped member of the community, through encouraging and counselling people living with HIV and support for scholastic materials for orphans.

There were several examples of how ACET has supported the community with the hand of love. The CAG was trained in how to assist people living with HIV as previously there had been a high suicide rate of people who were diagnosed positive. ACET had also stimulated piggery projects. A beneficiary is given 2 piglets to raise by ACET. When the pigs breed 2 pigs are given back to the community for someone else and the rest kept by the beneficiary who can then sell them, breed again and gain some income usually to buy a cow, which is highly prized in the community. The cows will provide milk which is distributed in the community especially to the HIV positive people to improve their diet, or sold to help fund school fees and scholastic materials. It is a multiplier system where the initial gift of 2 pigs and the hard work of the individual or family generates income and improves their diet.

Rev Ezra then spoke (at some length) He has been vicar of 4 churches since 2007 (this is the Church of Uganda) He has been involved in raising up the lay leadership to supplement the small number of clergy in the deanery (41 people currently in training) to support the growth of the church.  His story seemed typical of large church leadership and he described a range of programmes the CAG led, the challenges of planting new churches (4 since 2007) and our group felt the similarities even on the top of a mountain in Mbale with Gerrards Cross!

The visitors were invited to offer a word of encouragement (Hebrews 4,12) and pray over the gathering

Frank Gives a word as the pastor translates using Frank's specs!

Rev Ezra was keen to show us his church extension project for St James and elicit our support. The foundations have been dug and they are ready to proceed. The church has raised UG800,000 towards rebuilding. Rev Ezra told me he needed UGS500 million (£136K) to complete the project, which seems a questionable use of resources.

On the way to the next church we were invited to the home of one of the CAG members to see his cows and pigs unfortunately again in torrential rain, apparently banana leaves make great temporary umbrellas

We drove on, now over cut up and muddy roads to Murumba Church This was a beautiful new building with a well built roof and marvellous windows and doors made by a local carpenter, big enough for the congregation of 300. (the Church leader told me it cost UGS5 million to build – that’s about £1100 - which seemed more reasonable)

Chairman Fred of the CAG welcomed us on behalf of the 30 members of the CAG (mostly female) and explained their work, programmes with orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) a new savings and loan scheme, support for all aspects of HIV in the community, from encouragement for testing, to counselling and practical support. Several people gave testimonies of how the CAG had helped them or their relatives and they all praised ACET for how they had understood the need to help themselves. Currently the church supports 32 orphans, 8 widows and for the first time we heard they supported widowers (4)

This is a very remote, isolated and poor community. Several people said how unusual it was so see any white visitors, let alone 10, and how encouraged they were that we should be so concerned about them to visit (a real endorsement of the value of an exposure visit) Janet spoke to the Church and commended them on how well they had responded to the ACET training and how enthusiastically they had begun the programmes. There is still some resistance to testing for HIV in this area, an indicator of how early in the CAG process this church is compared to some of the communities we saw in Soroti

Jill offered the Church a word of encouragement from Galatians 6,2 in English and the local language which was much appreciated.
We were asked to visit the house of a sick lady and pray over her. Janet ascertained that this was "close near" not "near, near" The lady was very sick and Mandy offered some gracious words of prayer.

The journey back down the hill was interesting with the mud on the roads. At one point one of the ACET vans went down a hill slightly sideways and we had some deep mud holes to navigate but the drivers got us safely back down to the Mt Elgon Hotel after 6pm. We had some time to unwind before dinner with Emma and Ken at the hotel.

Edith and Nasta from UWCM arrived unexpectedly. The group were able to meet Nasta and and Frank spent some time in discussions on UWCM with Edith and Nasta

So, another fantastic day for the group. We saw the work of ACET Mbale at its very best. The communities we visited showed how transformation, through the church based CAG, motivated by God's love can occur. This fits so well with the Love Africa vision of church mobilisation as a vehicle for addressing matters of HIV/AIDS relief and caring for the poor.

After today’s experiences please pray with us:

  • Give thanks for the work of ACET Mbale, for Naomi and Janet and their leadership and passion
  • For the communities of Busambatsa and Murumba who are living out God's love in action to address the needs of people in their communities 
  • For Naomi especially as she waits for her baby to arrive
  • Give thanks for the drivers who have transported us safely through variable conditions
  • For energy for our group as we travel on to Iganga to meet CFE (Centre for Evangelism) and Compassion

Beccy's Report from her Mbale group

Frank & Jill chuckled as the "newbies" to Uganda headed off to Khamoto with Edith.  Khamoto is a typical Ugandan village on swampy land where rice is grown, malaria is a particular health issue for this community.

On arrival at the church we received a wonderful Ugandan welcome from the women.  We however were slightly distracted by the reminder from Frank that a "word" may be expected.  Having located our "words" we relaxed and let the Ugandan beat get into our feet!  Inhibitions were let go to varying degrees by members of the team, first prize to Judi who danced amongst the women.

Charles who was the Community Chair person led the meeting.  Charles was developed by ACET training from within this community and he does an incredible job as a volunteer chairing the SAG group and is about to start his training to become a pastor.

Testimonies were given, all were fascinating but two particularly stood out.  Firstly, a group of testimonies from the teenage mums.  As a teenage mum in Uganda your life is over, disgrace & shame is bought upon your family, with no future marriage prospects.  These girls all spoke about how Charles had sought them out, gone to their homes, persuaded the families that a different future could be given to their daughters.  These girls were then trained by ACET in a vocational skill, in life skills and taught about the love of God.   This is offered to all teenage girls regardless of religion.  The girls testified of how their lives had been mentally, spiritually and financially changed, and presented their beautiful children to us.   Annulan, a Muslim girl had learnt tailoring and was now an impressive business lady.  She made clothes, sold doughnuts, grew crops and had earned enough money to buy a bike to take her goods to the nearby market and part build a hut by hand.  Not only did theses girls talk of the personal benefits, they talked of the charitable work their group did, we were shown a shelter the group had built for a sick widow in the community - a true demonstration of love in action! 

The remote village we visited yesterday to learn about their social action groups and self financing groups.  Touched by the ability of those with so little to share and provide for those worse off then them.

Secondly, an elderly gentleman witnessed how the love of Christ had changed him.  He described himself as a "bad man" but through knowing the Lord, and being part of the group he was physically strong, emphasised with a little jig!  And felt joyful and younger!

We then had the privilege to watch Edith in action.  A magnetic lady with a big heart, generous hands and a smile that brings joy and peace - "an African Mother Teresa" was whispered around our group.  Edith spoke with such love, warmth and simplicity on many complex issues gently educating and empowering the men, women and the throngs of village children whom had come to see the "visitors"!

October 30th - Mbale

Visting Mbale and UWCM

Thursday was a wonderful day No less intense, packed with Love Africa content, and a bit shorter
 Bishop Sam was refreshingly honest about the challenges of PAG and the projects we visited, especially the landing stage community, but he is impressed that he now has a competent team he can trust. He graciously prayed over us before we left and gave thanks for the work of St James. Jill managed to persuade Pastor Patrick to provide copies of the PEP Bible studies which we have asked for years.

The drive from Soroti to Mbale was a beautiful start to the day We saw the countryside which was dark on the way up. There were fisherman in the shallow lakes and small road side markets selling produce. Nigel leapt into the lead in the "sleeping in the van" challenge, he is in a different league from Chris. The group arrived at the Mount Elgon and were immediately impressed with the location and atmosphere. After dropping off the bags (and laundry) we headed to UWCM. Edith and the UWCM team were, as always, delighted to see us and greeted us warmly. Edith in particular looked well and was optimistic. Jessica stood in to introduce the team members, now stable after losses earlier in the year, and still enthusiastic and joyful in their work with "Mai Edith"

After a round of hilarious introductions (they are looking forward to seeing the video from March of the greetings Gary and Tom filmed and the "dancing pastor") Edith was persuaded to tell us the story of UWCM which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016. She spoke movingly of how Matthew 25, v30 onwards inspired her to set up UWCM as a Christian response to the needs she saw in her community. She spoke clearly about the CMT or PEP process as a way of multiplying efforts and engaging people to help their own communities. It was a most inspiring session. She is a very gracious woman who breaks me up ever time I meet her.

UWCM split the group into 2. Edith insisted on taking the people who had never been to Uganda before, thats Judi, Beccy, Mandy, Heather and Brian for a crash course in community mobilisation and Pauline took Jill, Chris, Nigel Andrew and Frank. Both groups went to local CMTs where UWCM has worked for 10-12 years which are within the local area.

Bumbobi CMT was set up in 2002 We gathered in their church building with the CMT leaders and members and a sub county chairman (politician) joined us. We were welcomed by David the chairman of the CMT who had prepared an extensive (written ) report on the history achievements and challenges of the CMT over the last 12 years. UWCM has worked consistently to build up the leaders and people in this community and to reach out in God's love to the needs of the people. Over the years they have set up community projects to support people living with HIV/AIDS teenage mothers, orphans and vulnerable people, health and sanitation and constructed shelters for homeless or needy people.

Some of the achievements David presented were very impressive, such as the community now provides financial support to the CMT for their programmes, individuals from the community have been developed to serve in public office, overall living conditions and household income have improved and the church has started a new school. The CMT has a number of income generating activities including a fascinating plastic chair hire business The community owns 100 plastic chairs which they rent out for meetings and events in the local community! I have always felt there was a great business opportunity with the ubiquitous plastic chairs in Uganda.

The CMT then brought forward 2 women who gave testimonies of their lives and how UWCM and the CMT process had turned them around

Olive was married in 1992, had 2 children and her husband died in 1995 and she subsequently found she was HIV positive. She had to return to live with her parents where she was introduced to UWCM. She described how practically UWCM helped her set up a home, assisted with the children's education and provided counselling for living positive with HIV and managing her antiretrovirals. She was able to get a job and to devote time back to support UWCM's activities She has worked on programmes for vulnerable children teenage mothers with UWCM, putting back into the community after she had received.

Sarah was widowed in 2000 with several children , the youngest 1 month. UWCM provided practical to establish herself in the community and build a home and smallholding (more later) She too is HIV positive and on ARVs. She too has been able to give back to her community in a way that multiplies the work of UWCM

Daniel is the sub county chairman. he spoke movingly of how his family was supported by UWCM when his father died leaving his mother with 10 children. He seems to be a big supporter of UWCM publicly though Emma advised us later that politicians see a block vote from communities supported by UWCM and there has been some courting of Edith and her team to try to deliver votes in local elections

Our group were invited to comment on the work of the CMT and provide some words of encouragement Everyone contributed and spoke freely of their emotions and reactions to what we saw and heard.

The church had maybe the best sign on the wall I have seen for some time, "Switch off your phone and listen to God's voice"

12 of us then loaded into Emma's van (made for 8) and drove to visit some of the activities in the field. We parked in a small community and walked for some distance along a disused railway to Sarah's home This has been constructed by the CMT for her. It is a solid mud structure with 3 bedrooms, a sitting room and an outside kitchen All kept scrupulously clean and tidy with good practical furniture and even battery operated LEDs. She was so proud of her home and what the CMT had done for her It was avery ovine experience It was interesting to walk through the community and stop and greeting people who were all friendly All the children know to say "I am fine" to any question.

As we walked back the ACET van we noticed a large group of boys and found men with branches parading to a drum beat through the town I boy was dressed in skins and painted and covered in millet The group quickly surrounded Chris and the big danced energetically in front of him. Chris stood his ground and they moved on. Quite  assay moment. It tuned out this was a circumcision ceremony for the dancing boy, a tradition in this region. One of the village elders approached Chris and asked if he would like to join in but he said he had a prior engagement (a late lunch with Edith) which seemed like a good reason to refuse!

We moved on to another village to visit Robina's house She had not been able to attend the meeting She too was a widow who has been provided with a house by the community. Again her home was clean and well organised Her sitting room was papered with news paper pages from the past 10 years or so, fascinating! She showed us round her small holding and introduced us to her daughter Mary She too now contributes back to CMT initiatives in the community

And so back to UWCM for a late lunch

The UWCM cook had prepared lunch for us which we enjoyed together. Edith then finished our time together asking the group for their impressions of the projects and talking about the difficulties of funding and administration costs and her plans and aspirations for the 25th anniversary. We finished with a "word" and prayers led by the "dear visitors"

The group were back at the Mount Elgon just in time to see the pool being closed for the evening, however we had some down time and a late dinner where we were able to unwind and reflect on what we had seen and heard. People are really getting in to Love Africa and the projects

It was great to see these mature CMTs in the 2 communities close to UWCM Particularly that people are giving back having been beneficiaries and making the CMT model sustainable and able to adapt to the changes in the communities. This is really delivering on Edith's vision in a wonderful way

We spoke to Edith and she asked us as a church and Love Africa community to support her and UWCM in our prayers as follows:

  • for the continued need for donors and supporters so UWCM can continue its work
  • for the staff to be motivated an encouraged in their work, UWCM cannot afford to pay competitive wages and Edith remains concerned about this for guidance on the plans for the 25th anniversary celebrations, what they should be to honour God in UWCM and how they can be used to give new profile and impetus to UWCM and I would ask that we give thanks for Edith and he vision for UWCM, for the great work that has been done over the years and the transformation in people's lives

Thursday, 30 October 2014

October 29th Soroti

 Wednesday 29th October

The day started with a serious mismatch between the breakfast available and the number of guests at the Akello Hotel, Ugandan chaos you can only experience and not tell. Fortunately everyone had slept well so managed to retain a sense of humour on a limited breakfast for the day ahead

Sam the PEP leader from PAG Sororti came to meet us at the hotel and took us the the new-ish regional HQ for PAG for a briefing in the day ahead. We were welcomed and prayed over by Bishop Sam who has been in place for 6 months and seems to have established himself well. There is a large and varied team at PAG of staff and volunteers who enthusiastically introduced themselves as did the St James group. Sam explained the work of PAG Soroti and Pastor Patrick outlined the PEP process in a very informative session. Of note PAG supports 460 community projects in the region and the PEP process in the region has led to the set up of about 60 new schools.

Sam explained that the central and local government of Teso region are pulling back from HIV/AIDS support consistent with the Millennium goals and the priorities for health in Uganda and we would start to observe the consequences with the projects. With that we set off to make 3 site visits all 2-3 hours distant from Soroti.

The first visit was to Pingire where many people have been before. It was for half the group their first experience of an uninhibited Ugandan welcome with singing, dancing, ululating and unrestrained joy at the "dear visitors" presence. The church in Pingire has been completed (same as all the projects we visited) with a brand new roof and there was a big gathering of people to meet us. Following prayers and greetings the community leader explained the background of the PEP process since 2000 in Pingire with the priorities they set for health, education and roads and the environment. We heard several testimonies from members of the PEP groups on how lives had been changed through community action. Particularly moving was the testimony from Christine who is HIV positive being treated with antiretrovirals and she gave thanks to God for PEP which had kept her alive She is a testimony of  alive changed through PEP and the work of PAG supported by Love Africa.

This community has moved into a having a savings and loan scheme which allows members to save, make small loans for their needs and business activities and then at the end of a year share in the interest (and fines ) paid. We saw a lady who had taken a loan to buy a cow form and heard from a woman who took a loan to buy cassava from the market which she roasted and sold to the local schoolchildren. We were shown a Love Africa money box where the savings are kept. Each box has 3 locks and is kept by a 4th person to ensure security.

In discussion it was clear that the government support was being reduced. Several local clinics where people would go for blood tests or drug supplies are being closed but the progress in this community since we first visited is immense. The community's ability to understand and live with HIV and work together is impressive.

On to Kadungulu and another extravagant greeting and a community meeting in another completed church. PEP started here in 2008. The Church leaders and community initially concentrated on resource mobilisation from the community to address local needs such as house construction (with bricks made from ant hills) new wells to provide fresh water and then starting small businesses to provide money for school fees etc . The community leader concentrated on the work of 7 community and church based groups who have developed savings and loan schemes but also have been trained in how to work as a group and to manage their funds. It turned out some of these groups were actually new PEP based groups who had moved very quickly to having savings and loan schemes (some within 6 months of forming and starting Bible studies) Each has an inspirational name chosen by their members, e.g. "talk and work group" "the narrow place that unites people"

Interestingly a couple of HIV negative people gave testimonies about wanting to join "positive" groups as they worked so well together! One man described his wife's concern at him joining a "positive" group and suspected he was secretly positive!

(In discussion Sam expressed his concern at the speed at which these groups were moving to form savings and loan schemes without going through the longer process of setting community priorities based on the PEP Bible studies and working in the community, but this is the priority being set by the new groups and in fact many seem to be influenced by the success of the initial PEP groups who act as facilitators and multipliers of PEP.)

There were several testimonies from group members about the transformational impact of PEP on their lives and communities. "Boniface Ross" a PEP group leader, dressed in a suit and tie (!) said there is now no difference between me and the President after PEP. He summarised his experience of the group as;

a common benefit of the savings and loan schemes
a spirit of working hard (not usual)
having money to have children educated privately
develop fellowship and support across a diverse group
abolished religious divisions

There was a representative of the local government present and she spoke to the meeting and later showed us the way she dispensed medication each month and took blood samples every 2 months for CD4 counts Again, we heard about withdrawal of local HIV support by the local government.

The Chairman of a PEP group summarised the ethos of all the groups as "work hard, working together, working across the religions and working under God" This really caught the attention of our group.

The meeting concluded with prayers and long farewells. Sam hoped to head back to Soroti at this stage as we were running very late but the 3rd community had been waiting for our visit all day and insisted we drive another 30 minutes to a landing stage community on the lake at Kabwara where we saw a very different type of community. Four communities had joined together for the meeting. This is an isolated  fishing community with a lot of crime (a man had been murdered the night before), a site for illegal immigrants to enter Uganda across the lake and high incidence of HIV in the community from casual sexual relationships as many people do not live in family units. The leaders complained of the withdrawal of HIV testing and a long trip to the health facility in Serere. The feeling in the community that the incidence of HIV is rising in this high risk community.

The community has 3 or 4 PEP groups, which again have progressed with savings and loan schemes and were quite reluctant to speak about the community successes from PEP. We were every short of time and some people had already left as we were so late so we offered a word of encouragement that focussed on how on re-enganging with the PEP process and expecting God to create a new vision for them (Is 43, 18 and 19)

It was now very late and we were more than 3 hours from Soroti. We had an uncomfortable trip back on poor roads in the dark for the last 2 hours. Thanks to Emma and Ken for safe driving. Despite the late return the group were in good spirits, even more so when we found the hotel had kept dinner for us! The conversation at dinner was intense around the PEP process and trying to understand why the emphasis on HIV is being reduced by the government

As dinner was finishing Matthew Omgar and his wife arrived to meet with us. He sent his greetings to everyone at St James and we spent some time listening to his plans and struggles since stepping down as the Bishop 2 years ago

For the 1st day in the field this was pretty extreme in terms of travel, length of the day and the issues exposed. The first 2 communities are mature in the PEP process that St James has supported in the last 6-7 years. Compared to where they started they have made huge progress in their faith and community journeys and are now facing a more uncertain future as they need to learn to be more independent. The savings and loan schemes are clearly considered vital to their future.

It is important that an exposure visit also sees communities that are struggling and all credit to PAG for taking us to Kabwara and exposing us to the concerns of this dysfunctional community where HIV is increasing. This is exactly the sort of community where the vision of Love Africa "to mobilise the Church to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and to care for the poor" can be made to live as we look at possibilities for future projects.

Thursday in Mbale with UWCM to look forward to, after an early start.

Please remember in your prayers:

The leadership of PAG Soroti under Bishop Sam as they discern their future in the changing environment for HIV/AIDS relief
The communities of Pingire, Kadungulu and Kabwara, the faithful pastors and PEP leaders
Give thanks to God for lives transformed and lives saved through the work of PAG Soroti and the Love Africa partnership
The group as we travel and engage with our partners