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Mission to Uganda

By Rev. Nancy Bacon, Tehachapi Community Congregational Church and a Member of the SCNC/PSWR Global Missions Committee

Uganda groupSo, you’re resting in the hot, dusty, worn van with no seat belts, when and an overly-friendly baboon decides to jump in and join you.  Wait a minute, buddy, this van is already overcrowded and that’s my seat!  And that’s someone else’s backpack you’re grabbing!  Get back outside with those warthogs sniffing around our tires and stop showing off your opposable thumbs!

Welcome to Africa.

Going on mission to Uganda was a trip of a lifetime for me and our church’s moderator, Jan Roberts.  Seven years ago, before Aid Africa was incorporated, I met their current executive director, Peter Keller, and a member of the Pasadena UCC.  He told me about this project that had begun in Uganda, to help internally displaced persons return to their homes and to help them obtain safer and more efficient cook stoves.  Over the years, I witnessed Peter and his family traveling back and forth to Uganda many times to help the poorest of the poor.  There are always inherent risks in travel, especially to developing countries, but over time Peter convinced me that it was safe enough.Uganda giraffe

Uganda has had more than its share of dangers.  Idi Amin and Joseph Kony were brutal murderous thugs.  Both created enormous havoc.  Many people in northern Uganda have horrific memories of violence they witnessed or personal stories of abduction.  There are many orphans.  However, things are improving, and there is a new generation of bright, young, inspiring Ugandans coming of age.  Some of them now own a piece of my heart.

Peter’s heart is there all the time and he is optimistic, having seen societal improvements in recent years.  Seven years ago, Peter cautioned me that I would certainly witness children dying.  At that time, Aid Africa provided transportation when possible to hospitals and clinics for those they could help.  All of this has changed.  During my three week stay, I did not witness anyone dying and Aid Africa no longer transports people to clinics.  Over the years, Aid Africa alone, has helped tens of thousands of villagers obtain healthier living with fuel efficient cook stoves.  People who were once refugees now live in their homes with fresh water and fruit trees provided through AidAfrica.net.

Uganda baboonThere are MANY aid organizations in Africa and especially many Christian missionary aid groups.  Aid Africa is different, it is secular, operated by Ugandans of different faiths, and it promotes developmental, sustainable aid in partnership with the villages.  Many villagers in northern Uganda know of Aid Africa and its local manager, George Ovola, a man who helped organize meals and safe housing nightly in Gulu for thousands of children while Joseph Kony’s army was abducting village children.  With a meager salary, George, adopted and has raised some of those children.  He is quite popular in Gulu and as the children have grown, he is invited to many local weddings.

I thought that I would go on this trip to learn and serve others, but in actuality, they served me – at times feeding me meals that they themselves were not eating, due to limited resources.  I expected to encounter many people begging, but that was not the case.  On more than one occasion I found myself, the rich American, sitting in huts being served by extremely poor, but gracious Ugandans.  This hospitality overwhelmed me.

Because there are so many orphans, Peter also funds an amazing orphanage of 25 children.  This financial arrangement is not sustainable.  The orphanage needs other donors.  Many bright young people have no financial assistance of any kind and all children must pay to go to school.  Their education would be a great investment for our world’s future.Uganda hands

Helping the poor and orphans is not only a biblical plea; it helps stabilize countries, preventing wars and conflicts that impact children around the world.  Sadly, the United States takes in more money from Uganda, through declined visa fees, than it gives back in aid.

While in Uganda, I was delighted to read Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter for 2014.  This optimistic letter demonstrates that the world is getting better in terms of more people living longer, healthier lives.  Extreme poverty is decreasing, but foreign aid makes a difference.  The Gates’ challenge us to climb on board and help accelerate success against poverty and disease.  When we hold on to false information, the process is tragically slowed down.  Three deadly myths that get in the way are:  “the poor will always remain poor”; “efforts to help them are wasted”; and “saving lives will only make things worse.”  You can read Bill and Melinda’s responses to these myths online at http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org.

uganda childrenAid Africa and the orphanage Peter Keller supports are excellent avenues for making a difference.  Who knows, someday you may find yourself learning about how God is calling you to Uganda, while defending your seat from a welcoming baboon…

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