Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Supportin' Sudan!!

Our landlord’s son is an athlete. He had hoped to one day qualify for the Olympics in running. He ran with some of the best Kenyan runners and worked with Right To Play, an NGO here in Uganda. Although his dreams of making it to the Olympics were not fulfilled, he continues to pursue his passion, athletics. When he was working with RTP, he traveled into the refugee camps in Sudan to bring “the right to play” to the refugee kids. Some of those boys caught his eye with their talent for soccer and so Chris took it upon himself to find a way to get these boys to Uganda. He managed to get them a sponsorship to come receive education in Uganda; that was several years ago. The boys are grown now and still schooling here in Uganda while their family remains in Sudan. Last year Chris and a few of the older Sudanese boys formed the first official Sudanese soccer team in Uganda! The team is called Gatong, which means “hero” or "stay and fight". They are registered as an official team here in the Arua, Uganda district and have been playing matches for many months. They will continue to compete in hopes of winning placement in the upper division called the Super League. My hope is that this Sudan team wins every match all the way to the national championship which would qualify them to play in World Cup qualifiers. The vision and plan for this team is that once Sudan becomes a safer place, the Gatong team will in fact go back to Sudan and merge with the other Sudanese guys that are playing soccer in Sudan. Chris feels that the Sudanese should be able to compete in soccer just like the rest of the African countries regardless of instability. They should have a chance! Even if it means playing in Uganda until Sudan is at peace.
Chris has become one of our friends and we have begun to pray for him and his heart for the Sudan boys. He longs for kids to channel their time and extra energy in healthy ways like getting involved in sports. We support him in this as we know and see how quickly teens can get swept away into drinking, drugs, and laziness. We helped pay for some of the fees that were required to register them as an official team here in Uganda. You would be surprised at how expensive things can get especially when none of these boys have a means to support themselves, let alone pay for soccer fees. Soccer teams are required to have 2 sets of uniforms - one color for home games and one for away. They managed to gather enough support to purchase one set of uniforms but have not been able to get the 2nd set. They are the only team that does not currently have a 2nd set. Luckily, the other teams have always been gracious and changed their colors when needed. Now I get to do some bragging about our wonderful small group back home in Fort Collins Colorado, called Bridestone!! I shared with them about the Sudan soccer team we were getting to know and about their need for uniforms. For $100 bucks we could supply the team with a set of brand new uniforms!! Every week Bridestone gathers their extra bucks and collects it for the simple purpose of giving it away as God leads. After sharing about the team they all decided they wanted to buy them their uniforms!! What a fun thing to be a part of eh? Most of the Sudan boys have lived through fighting, have lost their homes and have scars on their legs to prove it. Now, they are receiving an education in Uganda and are an official soccer team doing what they love,… to play soccer!!


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Abandoned but not forgotten

(Our little foam nativity set, Joseph & Mary !! Tks mom!!)
It's true. George was right. EVERYONE eats meat on Christmas, I witnessed it on Christmas day. Our Christmas was unusual, but not in a negative way. The air wasn't filled with carols on the radio, snow wasn't falling, decorations were lacking, no candy cane fences and if you didn't remind yourself that it was Christmas, one could easily look around and think it was just another day in Africa. People selling their goods on the streets. Boda boda drivers zipping by trying to earn a little extra cash. There wasn't any traffic ,which is definitely a sure sign that it was a holiday. I guess I never realized how much all the 'fluff' of Christmas could almost become Christmas. When you strip it all away, what you have left is Jesus. This year we found our Christmas to be one of fellowship within our little family and our Savior. Simply that. No Honey Baked ham, no blinking lights (I did miss the glow of white lights & Starbucks eggnog lattes) , no gifts (except our handmade ones), and no Christmas tree. And although our hearts ached from missing the ones we love SO MUCH back home...It was still a memorable day!!

After some thought and discussion, we decided we would cruise over to Mulago Hospital and see if we could visit the kids ward. In 2005, Jeff and I were in Uganda and hooked up with an old vineyard pastor who pastored a international church in Kampala. We just happened to visit the church a few days before Christmas and their outreach team was planning a visit to Mulago childrens ward to pass out gifts donated by Samaritan's Purse. We were invited to come along and it was a life changing experience! It was on this trip that Jeff and I met a little baby named Stella who had been abandoned and left to die in the hospital suffering from AIDS. We spent a good hour with this little girl, who was nothing but skin and bones. She reached out and wrapped her hand around my finger and we fell in love. The nurses told us she wouldn't live as she had stopped eating. Our hearts broke and in that moment God watered the seed of adoption that was planted in our hearts. At that time Jeff and I had looked into adoptionn in Uganda and met with a social worker who told us we would have to live in Uganda for 3 years and foster a child before we could officially adopt. Still to this day we talk about Stella and how she impacted our lives. So, we thought what better way to spend this Christmas than with the kiddos in the same ward of the hospital. Osobie and Fatu picked out some toys they brought from Arua to give to the kids and we bought a couple bags of sweets. We didn't have much but with what we had we thought we could brighten someones day. We got to Mulago and had to do a little maneuvering to be able to get in to see the kids but once we got the O.K. we were in! We prayed and asked God to show O and F which child they should give their toys to. Osobie found this little guy curled up in the small crib and handed him one of his matchbox cars. The boy beamed a glorious smile! Soon enough, Osobie and his friend were racing their cars down the ramp into the childrens ward. What a precious moment!!

I could tell Fatu was feeling a little uncomfortable because of all the crying kids, but she was brave and gave her Polly pocket to a little girl that was in pain in hopes she'd stop crying, she didn't as you can see by the photo.

As we shuffled through the ward, we made our way to the exact area where we had found Stella, 4 years ago. There in a crib sat a little boy, skinny, dirty, sitting in his own excrement. I turned to the nurses to ask his condition, and with a solemn face, she answered "he's abandoned". I guess I should have known that we'd once again find a lost and forgotten child and of course the heartbreak that comes with this. There he sat, alone, scared, confused, and sad. We prayed over him and held back tears. Then, more piercing words fell on our ears, "there are more". Sure enough, 2 more kids were abandoned by their moms that month. One was a baby named Joshua who was being cared for by another mom who was getting treatment for her son. All of these abandoned children will have to go through the system of the hospital and then be transferred to any baby home that would take them. Fortunately in Kampala, there is a baby home called Watoto Bilrushes baby home where a precious American woman works and cares for many of these little ones. We met her while we were in Kampala and plan to visit the home next time we are in Kampala. There are 2-3 other baby homes in Kampala where the children can be taken. Some of the homes try to get the kids fostered by Ugandans and foreigners, but many kids grow up never knowing the love of a mama or papa. They are raised by older girls and boys, street kids, or overlooked and ignored at orphanages.

As we held babies, and played with the kids the nurse aids came in with lunch. The little boy, Uwalu (oowalu) dug his little fingers in his food and tasted all the options that were on his plate. He grabbed a brown heap of mushy stuff, tasted it and put it back on his plate. I was shocked that he wouldn't eat everything on his plate even if it was mushy beans, seeing as he was severely malnourished. But, to my surprise, the bit of brown stuff was actually chicken!! It wasn't that he didn't like it, he tasted it, realized it was chicken and saved it on his plate to be eaten last! Sure enough, EVERYONE, the least of these, the poorest, the forgotten, and abandoned eat meat on Christmas. Thank you Jesus that you care for us!! "Though my Father and mother forsake me, the Lord will recieve me" ps 27:10 YOU NEVER FORSAKE US!! "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" Heb. 13:5 He does not leave us as orphans. He loves us and watches over us, sometimes through strangers, neighbors, and hospital workers. He's inviting us all to be His love, his care, his touch to the lost and lonely of the world. Every day, He's inviting you and inviting me into this extravagant display of love. Every day we have a choice to make. We have to choose how we'll live our lives, how we'll spend our time, what we'll invest in, what we'll care about, and how we'll act if we act. I don't know about you, but I've already wasted many years worrying about things that are worthless, unimportant and self serving. I don't want to waste another day!!

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:1-2

We visited Uwalu the next day. I held him in my arms as he laid as still as a doll and I wondered how long it had been since he felt the warm embrace of mama's arms. We brought him some clothes, toys, and more candy. In the grand scheme it wasn't much and even offering it felt so shallow, so meaningless..., but we had hoped he'd at least feel he was loved that day by His heavenly Father. He desires every child to know His love and be loved, and the truth is, there are too many who have experienced neither. But we can change that...we can...because the One who is inviting us is more than able.