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Our time together has been so wonderful– your prayers could not be more felt.

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We bumped into Mama Grace in Kampala recently and she gave us this note that she had written some time back. A tribute to the teams and the work that they had done at Agape Children’s Village. This is what she wrote.

A Story About Embrace Uganda

By “Mama Grace”

Dawn, 19th June 2009: D-Day. Agape Children’s Village is “on fire.”  Everyone was up by 6:00 am cleaning up everywhere (i.e. around the houses, and also cleaning and organizing the rooms and beds for the Embrace Uganda visitors). It was a busy day because from cleaning, we started preparing the visitors’ dinner. We were really excited because we were going to receive visitors who were even going to stay with us. Because not all visitors sleep in ACV, they would be one of a kind. We waited for them anxiously; since they were arriving in the evening, the hours seemed to be years.

At last, evening came and they here were our visitors. Thanks to God they arrived safely. We had a brief talk and introduction with them telling them about the Children’s Village and were divided into four different groups according to the houses. Personally I was happy and my mouth was agape. We received 28 visitors, and my house, that is “Sharon’s House” or “House 2,” received 8 of them (Harold and Martha, AJ2, Quindell, Evan, Katie, and Katlyn).

Guess what?? All the visitors were so friendly and happy to be with us. “Thumbs up for Embrace Uganda,” I said to myself. It was so amazing to see [people] of different age groups working and cooperating together. I was so much humbled to see such people committed to serve God’s people. More special [was] the elder couple Harold and Martha. I was impressed and amazed by them, how sweet they were to me. Always organized and committed to serve the Lord. I am humbled by their sacrificial love for other people. I am reminded by Psalm 71. Please, please, read it.  It was really great seeing and meeting people who serve God together regardless of their age differences. It was really a great pleasure for us to host the EU team in ACV.

The team did really a great job towards Agape Nursery and Primary School. The cementing, plastering, and painting of the school they did were a great contribution towards the development of the school. The classrooms are no longer dusty, no jiggers and cold; hence the children no longer go back home with dirty uniforms and dusty shoes. Oh my!! What about bags, books, pencils, erasers, and pens. Our children were very happy with those things. They no longer lose books because they have bags!!!!

Back to Agape Children’s Village, the children up to date talk about Embrace Uganda. They enjoyed your stay with us. They say they will never forget you for the fun, nice meals, friendship, sleeping in their bedrooms, sharing together, etc!!!!! Some of them remember and cry.

A very big thank you to Embrace Uganda. You really embraced us with love as God embraces us with His loving arms. Your name “Embrace Uganda” is REAL. May God truly bless the Embrace Uganda team. We really had a good time with them during their stay with us.

And oh!! My God… the sad moment came when they were leaving. I even don’t want to remember it. And as it is said, all good things come to an end, so sadly we had to say good bye to the EU team on the 25th June 2009 as they left Agape Children’s Village territory.

However, what keeps us strong are the precious memories we have about Embrace Uganda. The proof is this short account because you will all know what they say “of good things we don’t say much, they speak for themselves in the impact they have.”

Lastly, I am reminded of Hebrews 6:10, that God is not unfair. He will not forget the work you did or love you showed for Him in the help you gave and are still giving to your fellow Christians.

Yours, Love
Mama Grace Kajoina
Agape Children’s Village
P.O. Box 7611
Kampala, Uganda

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The book “Ministering Cross-Culturally” talks about the two types of cultures: those that are time-oriented and those that are event-oriented. The Ugandan concept of time stands in stark contrast to the fast-paced, time-oriented western cultures. In the event-oriented Ugandan culture, what matter is not the time at which an event takes place, but rather that the event takes place at all. Now, of course there are exceptions to this rule, allowing room for timely Ugandans; who often admit that this time issue hinders productivity in the work place. However, the vast majority of people here just go with the flow and it seems that the “art of waiting” is innate in every Ugandan. Being deeply immersed in this event-oriented culture, we have learned to be content after having accomplished only a single event in one day. So any day that we complete two events on the same day, we praise the Lord; and when it is three or more events, well, we begin to question whether Jesus’ second coming is near. 🙂

Waiting at the Taxi Stage in Kaihura

Waiting at the Taxi Stage in Kaihura

To give you an example, traveling from Kaihura to the nearest city of Fort Portal (40 Km away) for a certain purpose (like grocery shopping, banking, paying our internet bill, going to church, etc) and coming back to Kaihura, could easily qualify as an event. By the time you wait from 5 minutes to an hour for a taxi, get on it, wait for it to stop between 5 & 10 times, run your errands in Fort Portal, do the taxi thing again, and make it home, a significant portion of the day has gone.

This past week, we stood at the “taxi stage” waiting for a taxi bound for Fort Portal. As the taxi rounded the bend at the east end of Kaihura town, we flagged it hoping not to receive the flickering lights indicating that the van is full. Now, we usually have a different definition of “full” from that of the Ugandan taxi driver and conductor. That is because these taxis are either 14-passenger vans that usually travel with 20 to 26 passengers or 4 passenger, 4-door sedan cars that may fit up to 8 passengers.

Inside the Crowded Taxi

Inside the Crowded Taxi

We have discovered that it is true what we read once about Ugandans having little sense of “personal space” as compared to a westerner. This can be observed in that the locals are not all that bothered by having to almost sit on top of a stranger in a taxi. Also, when waiting in line for anything you better get close to the person in front of you or someone will fill the gap for you by cutting in line.
Back at the taxi stage – we received the unwelcome flickering lights. What are the odds? (the taxi van must have had 27 people in it). After another 20 minutes, a second taxi rounded the corner, except this time it was a 4-passenger, 4-door sedan. AJ climbed in the back with the already seated 3 adult passengers, and Ana joined a lady in the passenger seat for the 45-minute ride to Fort Portal. Just when we thought that it would not be possible to fit another adult in the vehicle, the car pulled over just a few kilometers from Kaihura. A man needed a ride and the only spot where he would fit was in the driver’s seat… yes, with the driver!!! Did we mention that the man was very tall? No problem though, the driver shifted gears, reaching over the man’s legs that were stuck right there along with the driver’s, somewhere between the clutch and the break. When we arrived in Fort Portal, AJ stumbled out of the car with his right leg completely num. It was an entertaining sight.

Coming back from Fort Portal that same day, we waited inside a taxi van for about 45 minutes for the van to fill up in Fort Portal; 20 minutes of which were spent waiting for the last passenger: Passenger #25. Now, we westerners may think: “Well, aren’t they losing money by waiting so long for only one passenger’s 50-cent fare?” …Yeah, we think so too… and we thought about it as we waited in the hot, crowded taxi. The interesting thing, though, is that not one single passenger would say anything to the conductor and driver until the very last minute. We are all too familiar with the Rutooro phrase: “Tu genda” (for “let’s go”), but no one was saying these magic words! Now, if none of the other passengers felt like saying it, what would give us, “muzungu” (white people), the right to say it? We must also point out that the conductors are so incredibly rude, and in need of a physics lesson. They often insist a passenger to “extend;” which is an ironic way to ask a person to compress into a non-existent space to let one more person squeeze in next to them. We can’t help but wonder if the passengers don’t feel like it is a bit unjust for them to have to delay so much to ride in a very crowded vehicle, when they have paid full price for a seat that they may be sharing with one or two people… One of these days Ana may just start a riot in one of these taxis, when she gets people to yell at the conductor: “No, we cannot ‘extend’ anymore, TU GENDA!”

View of Kampala Chaos from the Bus

View of Kampala Chaos from the Bus

In Kampala, things are different. It is common for taxi’s to move about with the intended 14-15 passengers. Faith (our host and the executive director of our partnering organization Bringing Hope to the Family) explained to us that the truth is that people in Kampala just do not put up with the conductors that want you to “extend,” but that passengers may very well toss the conductor guy out of the taxi if he starts insisting. Over here, in the more rural Uganda, Faith explains that there is no need for complaining, because the passenger may just be the one kicked out of the taxi… Perhaps transport is one more thing that is bound to the rules of supply and demand, and the people running the taxis can abuse the fact that there are more passengers than there are taxis in the rural areas. Perhaps it may be fueled by police often receiving bribes when they stop a vehicle that carries more passengers than it is suppose to fit, as opposed to fining the taxi. Faith says that things in the rural areas may change as people get exposed to other things, as more jobs become available, and as people become more educated. She says that as these things change, people will learn to “put up” with less, because there will be a larger need to be timely, and because they may simply know better. We really don’t know what governs the rules of transportation, but we are left to ponder on these during our “downtime” waiting for taxis and buses to take us to our destination.

By now, you may be feeling sorry for us, but the truth is that the hours spent waiting by the taxi stage have been a blessing. Numerous times, for example, Bringing Hope to the Family staff members have come out to the taxi stage to ask where we are headed, to keep us company, and they have often flagged down strangers for us to jump into their cars and give us a ride (something safe and acceptable here). We have also enjoyed establishing and furthering countless relationships while waiting and moving by public means. We have met doctors, nurses, other missionaries, and many, many Ugandans – and they all have a story to tell. We have grown accustomed to the public means of transport, and although they can be hot and cramped at times, God is continuing to teach us the “art of waiting” as a means to help us slow down and value the more important things in life, like relationships.
We hope that all of you back home know how much we love and value our relationships with each of you.
Until next time . . . much love and many blessings . . . AJ & Ana

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Hannington, our driver, embodies so much that is good about the Ugandan people. He is resourceful, hard working, unfailingly polite (“yes, please), and of good humor — all characteristics that generally apply to the people we encountered on our trip. And yet as humbled as I was once again by the generosity and hospitality of the people we met in Uganda, this was a sobering trip for me as I became aware of their failings, individually and socially.
In the village of Koreng, what began as a fairly orderly distribution of school supplies and shoes ended in a lot of pushing, shoving, and grabbing as needy kids and parents realized that there would not be enough for everyone. In Kampala my wife and I witnessed the pride of two African men — both concerned with position and status and self. And while most people are kind, sometimes I do not know whether the kindness extended is fully genuine or whether we muzungus (foreigners) are viewed as a means to an end — gifts, sponsorship, or monetary support. On a larger scale, the system of government and of justice in Uganda is thoroughly corrupt, from side of the road bribe solicitations for traffic fines to payoffs to legislators and judges to double invoicing and other unethical practices by private contractors. As one man told me, the roads in Kampala remain pothole-ridden not because there is no money to fix them but because two-thirds of the money “stays on the table,” that is, lines the pockets of government bureaucrats and contractors. Christian law students I spoke with at Kampala International University struggle to understand how they are to survive with faith intact in such a corrupt system. And if you turn the clock back a bit, these are the same people who produced killers like Idi Amin and Milton Obote. You only have to go next door to Rwanda to discover what evil neighbors are capable of.
The Ugandans are, after all, human. Surprise! It was a healthy disappointment to learn that in many ways they are just like me, just like us all, a mix of good and bad motives, subject to the same temptations and failings. I say a disappointment because we tend to idealize a place and people when we first encounter it, because in its newness we are overwhelmed by its contrast to the familiar world we know with all its failings. I say healthy because when you can see a place and people more realistically you are better able to know how to assist them and encourage them in the good without, hopefully, serious and ill unintended consequences.
Yet my disappointment is no deeper than my hope. Our house mother at Agape Children’s Village, Mama Christine, served us with, it seems, no concern as to what she might secure from the relationship. They were many children who seemed simply to enjoy our friendship while expecting nothing in return — no gift, no money, no sponsorship — though they have great needs. It’s encouraging to go to a law school where I can speak about my faith openly and be warmly received by students, faculty, and administration in a way that would not happen in most law schools here. It is a blessing to worship in a church where no one (including me) is watching a clock, where a three-hour service is not only normal but relished. While traffic in Kampala is as bad as that of Los Angeles, drivers are much better mannered and accidents fewer. Headmasters take on the jobs of running schools where there are little to no facilities, no books, and intermittent pay with a dedication that they often describe (as one did to me) as “a calling from Almighty God.” And while structural problems like corruption and government ineptitude do not lend themselves to easy solutions, I am thankful that electricity has come to Kaihura, somehow, that there are some good roads on which to drive, and that in a city as large as Kampala anything at all works.
Last but not least, there are people here who love God, serve others, and seek the good of their communities. Faith Kunihura saw the “image of God” in the orphans of Kaihura and, with little resources of her own to begin with, has done a great deal to help them. Pastor Michael Okwakol and the people of Agape Baptist Church are serving the orphans of Agape Children’s Village and even reaching out to the remote community of Koreng. Thus, my disappointment with the Ugandans is no deeper than my disappointment with myself, my neighbors, and my own country. We are all thoroughly tainted by sin and yet, knowing Christ, are being renewed every day in His image. There is hope for Uganda just as there is hope for the United States.
We tried to teach Hannington a good Southern expression like “ya’ll come on,” maybe as a help to getting people back in the van so we could travel on. After a few minutes, he mastered the expression, albeit a very British-sounding version of it, but he would not use it. He said it wouldn’t be polite. He gives me hope.

Steve West

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Welcome…home? [post-Africa reactions]

Saturday, May 30th, 2009 – Monday, June 29th, 2009 I spent a month in Uganda, Africa working with Embrace Uganda to participate in various forms of orphan, and rural village outreach. Over the 4 weeks the team i worked with visited 4 villages [though spending more time in some than others] bringing suitcases of supplies and overall willingness to learn. The stories* i bring back are far too numerous to share on a simple facebook note or blog entry [whichever it is that you are currently reading] but i was encouraged to give a post-trip entry on how i feel once coming back…

Monday, July 6th, 2009
It has been officially one week since i have been back in the United States. Our team was greeted in the Dulles International Airport with excitement, energy, and various calls of “Welcome Home!” by various family members or friends. All this to say, i was still one of the ones who cried as our plane landed in D.C. mid-afternoon. What Embrace Uganda does differently than many missions organizations is that while staying in the country, the team lives among the people they are serving. I woke up to orphans singing at 5am and fell asleep to them talking quickly in their native language [whether Rutooro or Luganda] or playing cards in my room. Our team spent every free moment we could with these children, or other individuals, talking with them or playing with them until we truly KNEW them not just by the outfit they wore every day, but by name, personality, favorite school subject, and “best food”. I guess its safe for me to say for our team that we all became attached to the people we had to leave behind.

America…what a completely blessed, and yet cursed country that it is we live in! Its hard for me to fully encompass the extreme culture shock one goes through after spending a month in a third world country in words. I come back to the states and i see fully paved roads, shopping centers galore, lottery billboards for $25 million, and so many cars…not decaying 15 passenger vans. Walking down my driveway i think about how my house alone is bigger than Upper Home Again [Kaihura Orphanage Dormitory]. Looking into my room i count how many small pillows line my beds for decoration: 14 – that’s exactly how many children don’t have a single one to rest their head on at night in House 8 of the Agape Children Village [Bukerere Orphanage]. I open the door to my closet and realize that the backpack of clothes i left for Stella in Koreng was a tiny percentage of how much i could have actually helped her and still had enough to keep me going for the rest of my life.

Within a week of my coming back to North Carolina, i guess i have become hyper-sensitive to how wealthy, ignorant, and significantly shallow the American culture has become and how most people living in said environment embrace it as acceptable. I listened to a 23-24 year old girl tell me that “Africa is her last continent she needs to get to” besides Antarctica, heard HIV/AIDS jokes come as reactions to stories i told about inner-city child prostitution, and watched facebook display ADs for the closest abortion clinics near me. I was shocked, mortified, repulsed, and thoroughly confused by most of the people i came into contact with the first week i had back in America, and even more upset that these people were those i have spent a good deal of my life knowing.

Saturday i was comforted by a friend who, through her own mission experiences, truly understood how i felt and listened to me rant about how i don’t understand how anyone “could possibly throw in a joke there” or “have that much money only use it for themselves”. But the shock i have been going through only continues and i am ceaselessly overwhelmed by the surroundings i live in. Every night, i find myself looking through our team’s facebook albums of various africa pictures, reading letters written by children as i left, or researching the cost of living for a small team that wishes to stay for three months next summer.

My reaction coming home? I am now completely torn by two extremely different, yet extremely needy mission fields: Africa and the United States. Most of the need i witnessed in Uganda was material: school clothes, a school in general, books, medical facilities, medicines, beds, mosquito nets…the list goes on. In the US? Our culture is in desperate need of saving. When did we become so self absorbed that we didn’t realize how many people die daily of what we simply get a shot for as a baby? When did the glorification of self worth become the main goal for many individuals as they pursued their career of choice? I could continue, however i don’t find a need to stress this point. The need in America is cultural, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and ten times harder to remedy than what i have been able to offer the people of Uganda.

In essence, i’m overwhelmed. I’ve turned my back on children that have looked for help most of their lives and stepped into a world that needs help but refuses to recognize its current status. As a single person, there is only so much that i can do…

…but where do i begin?

Emma Holland

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DSC08943If in this country, in our Western World, we knew of 400+ children who didn’t have a meal this morning, had no shoes, couldn’t get to clean water in the middle of the heat, wore the only outfit they had, tried to learn in a school that meets under some trees, shared a blanket two to a bed (there really is not a bed, it’s a hard place on the mud floor), what would we do? Would we try to help, would we call the authorities, would we get them a medical check-up, would we remove them from their situation, would we take them in? If they lived here, we would mobilize every resource we knew to try to fix it, I suspect.

These children are only two plane rides removed from us. They live in Koreng, in Eastern Uganda. They have names like Jonathan, Abraham, Josephine. They are physically beautiful. We have met them. We have held them. We have played games with them. They are real.

We shared some things with them. We gave them shoes and school uniforms. Everyone received a bag with notebooks and pencils. At the end of the day, we got back on our bus, we waved, we cried tears. Three days later, we are back in the United States. How are you? How was your trip? … it was great!… everything went well.…that’s the short answer… on the inside, we are torn apart.

Is there a way to tell the stories of the children of Uganda that will shake the rest of our world into reality? How long will it take before the business of our lives here numbs the pain? How do I sleep?

God, please, keep watch over my friends in Koreng tonight. Show me how to be a good story teller to draw attention to these children who are no less my neighbors than the children here at home. Grant me the grace and the patience for those won’t understand because they haven’t had the chance to see for themselves. Guide me to those who will help to build the well and the latrine that are so desperately needed at first. Show us the next steps. Bless the partnership that we have begun with the village of Koreng. Show us how to be good neighbors.

Dirk Hamp

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