Exciting NEW Vocational Training Program!

A few months ago i shared the story of Mercy, a young mother who found herself in a complex and abusive situation. In addition to enduring the traumas resulting from war and abuse, her family was going through complex financial hardship. There had not been food for several weeks. As a result, her young child contracted a severe viral infection and protein deficiency, simply from not eating. 

I will never forget the shock on Mercy’s face when the doctor shared with her that her child did not have a disease, but simply needed to eat. No mother should ever have to see their children starving in front of them. Mercy felt helpless and hopeless in this situation. She did not have the language or vocational training skills to be able to support herself and small children. 

Mercy is not alone as there are several women, many of them mothers in this situation currently. In response to this need, we recently began a new vocational training program. In the cooking program, these women will have the opportunity to receive business and cooking training neccessary in order to find a job or start their own business in Kampala. The top students will be invited to continue in the program to be cooks at Refuge and Hope and also provide training to future cooking students. Most importantly, all of these ladies will have the opportunity to receive group counseling and learn about God’s hope through Bible studies.

There are currently 15 refugee women enrolled in the program. All of these women are amongst the most marginalized and neglected within our community. 

We are very grateful for your support and prayers which have helped to make this vitally needed program possible!!

Food For Life

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         Anna came to my office in tears. Her eyes were welled up from crying for several hours. She walked two hours to our office, desperate to find help. She explained to me that she had arrived in Uganda six months before after the soldiers came to her village on evening. They killed her husband and raped her for several days in front of her two children and then burned their family’s home down. As a result, she had contracted HIV. Anna explained that she came to Uganda in search of peace. Unfortunately, she continued to experience hardship and suffering in Uganda as she did not have the vocational or language skills to get a job.

       Anna had been through in one year what no one should experience in a lifetime. Her needs were overwhelming and complex. As I listened, I prayed for Anna and for God’s provision of wisdom of what to do next. I felt led to give Anna and her family an emergency food bag and invite her to apply for our new vocational training program. I explained to her that although we could not give her money to help with rent and food, this training would provide her with the skills needed to support herself and her family. I then felt led to give Anna a Bible. I shared that God is with her and loves her. We care about her and she is welcome here. Tears came to her eyes and a big smile came across her face. She explained that she did not have a Bible anymore since their family’s Bible was destroyed after the soldiers burned their family home down. She said “ THANK YOU!! Thank you. The food is good but it will only feed me for days. This Bible is the word of God that will feed me for life. Thank you.”

               Anna retuned to my office one week later to turn in her application for the new training program. She was proud and excited. This time she had a big smile on her face. She said “ my kids wanted me to tell you God bless you. God has now come back into our home. We read the Bible every day, pray and sing together.” Anna then shared with me a beautiful worship song in her language. Tears came to my eyes as I reflected on the profound work that God was already doing in Anna’s life to restore hope and create in her something new.

               Your support has not only provided Anna with these immediate needs, but has also given her the opportunity to enroll in the cooking and sewing vocational training program. She is now a part of a community of women who pray, encourage and support her.  Thank you for enabling and empowering us to minister to women like Anna, women who at once time lost hope due to overwhelming circumstances and abuse they have endured, but who now have restored hope in the God who created them, loves them and is with them.

A Mother’s Dream

War and genocide came to Eve’s village when she was just a teenager. Her world as she knew it was turned upside down. Eve and her family were forced to flee. Like so many women in our world (Women make up 2/3 of the population of illiterate people in our world according to the UN), Eve never had the opportunity to attend school. Eve married at a young age and had two beautiful daughters named Lily and Jenny. She dreamed that one day her daughters would have the opportunity to attend school.

Eve moved to Uganda three years ago as a refugee and enrolled in English classes at our refugee community center. Unfortunately, Eve was continually verbally and physically abused by her husband. In the spring of 2013, Eve’s husband called her to inform her that he was divorcing her and no longer supporting her, Lilly or Jenny. Dismayed and desperate, Eve made a 24 hour bus ride to attempt to reconcile with her husband. For the next eight months, her husband continually abused her. In the last month, war started again in her area. Eve described hearing gunshots for several days. Some of these shots were right outside of her door. During this time, she was afraid for the her life and the life of her daughters. She would lay on top of them to protect them and pray to Jesus who she had learned was the prince of peace and a God who loved and gave grace.

Through God’s provision, Eve found a way back to Uganda in January of this year. She was severely traumatized and discouraged. We met regularly to pray together and talk about things. In May, Eve was invited to participate in our women’s empowerment  program. She had the opportunity to receive individual and group counseling, discipleship through nightly Bible study, English, life skills, vocational and business training. Eve went through a significant period of healing and transformation. She loved learning about the Bible and excelled in her business and vocational training classes. Still, she continued to struggle with not being able to fully afford paying for her daughter’s school fees. She shared with a women’s ministry staff  “ I regret not being with my husband. I wish I endured the beatings. Atleast my girls would be able to be in school. I cannot support them.” Eve sold all of the jewelry that she had in order to enroll her girls in school. She is a mother who is determined to give her girls the opportunity for an education that she never had.

In the last month and a half after transitioning from the program, Eve has successfully gotten a job and is now in safe housing. Still, her monthly wages are only enough to be able to afford transport, food and rent for her family. At the end of July, a group of children from a partnering church in Gainesville, GA did a fundraiser during their VBS to raise the money for Lily and Jenny’s school fees. Thanks to their hard work and generosity, Lily and Jenny will be able attend school during the upcoming term. I had the privilege of sharing this news with Eve one day last week. As I shared, tears came to my eyes as I saw this heavy burden being lifted off of Eve’s shoulders. A huge smile came across her face. She immediately wrapped her arms around me and said “oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!! I am so happy!!!! 

I am deeply grateful to ministry partners who have made it possible for Eve to attend the Women’s Empowerment program where she gained a deeper understanding of God’s love, hope, grace and purpose for her life. I am also deeply grateful for the group of children from across the world who have now made it possible for Lily and Jenny to attend school, an opportunity not afforded to so many girls in our world.

 God has provided through my ministry partners and this group of children. Thanks to God’s provision, Eve’s dreams for her daughters has now come true. She thanks God for all of you. 

Mwala Wange

         One of my favorite ways to end the day is through going to the local market. No matter how difficult a day has been, I enjoy greeting the individual merchants ( I buy the same things from the same people each time) and seeing refugees from our community. I have been going to this market since I first arrived as an intern in Uganda four years ago. Over the last four years, the merchants have not really changed. Mary is still selling fish. Jeanine is still selling tomatoes, sikimiwiki ( a local green) and carrots. Josephine is still selling passion fruits, mangoes and onions.

               Sylvia is the name of the woman who sells plantains and avocadoes. I remember meeting her four years ago. She is much older than most of the others at the market. A short woman in her early fifties, with short hair and a round face. She has set up her small stove to roast plantains in the same place for the last four years. When I first arrived in Uganda as an intern in 2010, I started buying my plantains from her. As I would come up and say hi, she would look up, squint and not respond to my greetings. She would simply wrap the bananas in newspaper and take the money. As I have traveled back and forth to Uganda, I have continued to buy from her. Over time, she started saying hello and thank you. Shortly after I arrived last year, she began smiling and responding to my broken Luganda ( the local language spoken in the central region of Uganda). Towards the end of last year, she began calling me “ mukwano” every time I saw her.

                On Tuesday, I stopped to buy plantains and an avocado from her. After I thanked her, she looked up at me and with a big smile on her face and holding her hand out, said “ mwala wange” ( my daughter). This was a very simple but profound gesture. Four years ago, Sylvia would not smile or respond to me. Perhaps it was because I was a foreigner. Perhaps it was because she was used to being ignored by other customers passing by. Perhaps it was because she was shy. Whatever barrier was there before was not there. She not only embraced me as a customer and friend, but as a family member.

          Even though I arrived as a stranger, I have been embraced and as a neighbor. I am grateful to God for providing bridges of understanding and love with refugees, Ugandans and so many others within my neighborhood here in Kampala. 

Walking Alongside, Even in the Most Difficult Circumstances.

       

       Leila is a 22 year old East African refugee who fled her country after a group of rebel soldiers invaded her village. Leila, along with her mother and six other siblings made the very difficult passage to Uganda. Their family greatly struggled after arriving in Uganda as they stayed in a slum and lived on less than a dollar a day. Due to their unsafe housing conditions, Leila was attacked and raped. She became pregnant as a result of the rape. Seven months later, Leila’s mother, Jenny, began to be threatened by a neighbor. Jenny reported these threats to a local refugee agency and was laughed at and turned away. One week later, Jenny was attacked and set on fire. She was hospitalized as a result of these burns. Two weeks later, Jenny died, leaving Leila to take care of her six siblings and baby. In one year, Leila’s life had been completely turned upside down.

        I met Leila and her siblings shortly after their mother died. They all were severely traumatized and scared. Since this time, they have moved into a small one room home close to our refugee community center. The children have begun attending ESL and computer classes. One of the siblings has begun working in a home where she earns $20 a month. Their family is still struggling, as their 8 person family lives on less than a dollar a day.

            Their situation is seemingly overwhelming. What their family has been through in one year, no one should experience in a lifetime. Still, God is with them and working in the midst of their tragedy and despair. Thanks to God’s provision through your generous support, Leila has a place to go to heal from her trauma and to receive the skills that she needs in order to re-build her life and adequately provide for her siblings.

            Yesterday, Leila was among the group of residents who moved into the women’s shelter. She, along with 4 other young women, has begun our young women’s empowerment program. Over the next three months, they will make the journey together towards healing, transformation and empowerment. In the program, Leila will have the opportunity to learn about God’s love through daily bible studies, learn English, business training, sewing, receive counseling, etc.

               Please pray for Leila and our four other residents as they go through the program in the next three months. Please pray that they will experience God’s hope, love and grace. Please pray also for our staff who is working with them and their families.

Your support makes this ministry program possible! You can make a one time or recurring gift online or through mailing a check to the following address: P O Box 102972, Atlanta, GA 30368-2972. Please make the check payable to The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Please write Missy Ward in the memo line.

The Journey of Healing as a TEAM.

       In May, we welcomed four women and two children into our shelter program. Over the last three months, these ladies have been on a journey as they heave learned about God’s hope and love found in Jesus through nightly Bible studies and discussion, received counseling, business and vocational training and ESL training. 

        Over the last three months, I have seen the lives of these women transformed. This is the final week in the shelter for our current residents. They transition out of the house knowing that there is a team of people who are behind them to love and support them. Even today, one of our residents came to me in tears. She went to make a downpayment on her new house and was turned away because of the country that she comes from. I looked into her eyes, held her in my arms and we prayed together to God for provision and peace. 

     The upcoming journey that our residents face is not easy. There are many challenges that our ladies continue to face in Uganda including discrimination, starting a life from scratch without formal education, worrying about the safety and well being of their children, hearing of ongoing atrocities and war in their home country,etc. The road ahead is marked with challenges. These ladies, however, leave empowered with the experience and knowledge that they are loved, supported and cared for both by the God who created them and our community who is walking alongside of them.

I thank God that these ladies are no longer alone. I thank God for the ways that God has moved in their lives and will continue to transform, heal and empower them. I thank God that in the most challenging, broken and hurt places, there is a God who is FAITHFUL and ABLE to move, heal, transform and replenish. I thank God.

A Mother’s Heart

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        I entered a small room to see a once healthy four-year-old boy lying on the bed. He laid motionless with his eyes closed. I could immediately tell that he had lost a significant amount of weight. I became even more concerned than before. I found out from his mom that it had been 3 days since he ate. He received medicine for malaria but it was not helping. I asked to look at the medicine he was taking and noticed immediately something was not right. The dosage for the additional medication given was for an adult and 100 times the dosage for a 4-year-old boy.

          Deeply concerned for Godfrey’s health, I immediately asked Mercy, Godfrey’s mother if we could go to the clinic together. She immediately burst out into tears and wrapped her hands around me. She had lost her 3-month-old son just 4 months before and feared that her 4-year-old son would also not make it.

            Together we went to the clinic. The doctor examined Godfrey and took a blood sample. I waited with Godfrey, his smaller brother and mother for the results. Soon. His 2-year-old brother jumped and played in the doctor’s office, while Godfrey was too weak to even stand for very long. He sat on the chair and looked out on the world around him.

            We then heard Godfrey’s name as the doctor motioned for us to have a seat. He then proceeded to share with Mercy and her son  “Godfrey does not have malaria, typhoid or HIV. He is severely malnourished. He just needs to eat. For breakfast you should feed him an egg and bread. For lunch you should feed him…” As the doctor went on, I saw the look of shock and horror come over Mercy’s face. There was no food at home. There had not been food for several weeks. This family of 15 was getting by on drinking porridge and whatever little else was available. Food had not been available for months because their husband who was working in their country was no longer able to send money because war had began in his area. Like so many in his area, he had to flee and hide. His family was left alone in Kampala, without money and a place to go.

            As a result, children that were once healthy and nourished, children who were once in school, were suffering. Their moms were also suffering, feeling helpless as refugees in a country where they did not speak English, married to a husband that was controlling and abusive, never having received an education or vocational training and unable to support their children. Mercy, Godfrey and their family is in a situation that a lot of our families are currently in due to the outbreak of violence in South Sudan.  Their circumstances are made more complicated because their ethnicity is one that is targeted by the rebel group. They cannot go home. They are not safe in refugee camps. They are not surviving in Kampala.

 They were left helpless and waiting. Waiting for HOPE. Waiting for God. Waiting.

            I, along with the women’s staff who I work alongside, are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this situation. Together, we will begin women’s community groups next month that will include group counseling, Bible studies and business training. At these groups, these women will learn that they are created by God with a purpose and hear about God’s grace, hope and love found in Jesus. The women in these groups will form an additional family and community of support for one another. Additionally, through the women’s ministry, we will assist these women in applying for income generating stipends or other jobs in our area. The goal is that they would experience spiritual and emotional healing and training so that they will be empowered to support themselves and their families.

            Please pray for our families today. Please pray for these mothers who are so deeply hurting and are not able to feed their children. Please pray for the countries that surround us that are at war that result in families being forced to flee their homes.

Your financial support helps to make this program possible. Please click here If you would like to make a donation or become a financial partner today. 

Empowered with the HOPE and LOVE of GOD

       In February, we launched the Young Women’s Empowerment program at our shelter. Our first group of young women to enter the program were three refugee teenagers who came from very difficult or traumatic situations. In the program they received discipleship through nightly Bible study, individual and group counseling, ESL, life skill training and business skills training and mentoring. 

       In April, we hosted a graduation ceremony for these residents. Their families were invited to join and participate as they received their very own Bibles and certificates. The staff shared with each of the girls how much they have seen them grow and change. One of our youth worker staff commented ” I cannot believe these are the same girls. Knowing their situations, I had almost lost hope. I did not think this kind of change was possible. I have seen God work in their lives. I now have a greater hope.” 

We, as a women’s ministry staff, also celebrate and praise God for the work that God has done in their lives. They are no longer the same. Their lives have been changed and healed through coming to have a deeper relationship with God and a community that loves them and is with them. They left the program and the shelter empowered with God’s HOPE and LOVE. Their lives are one of the many testimonies within our community of a God who CAN and IS doing infinitely more- to bring healing, hope and restoration to women and girls who are so broken and hurt. 

International Women’s Day 2014 

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On March 7th, the Center of Hope ( our refugee community center) hosted its fourth annual International Women’s Day Celebration. Over 250 mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers and friends women gathered to dance, eat, fellowship, and celebrate the unique and beautiful ways that God created women! 
        This was the most diverse group of people ever!  Women came from all over East Africa, including countries that we had not represented in previous years. Women shared their testimonies of challenges faced in their country and in Uganda. They also shared about what the Center of Hope community meant to them. Youth shared how women within their community had become their mothers and women shared of how other people within the community helped them and were there for them during very difficult times in their lives. 
   
Here are some photos from this wonderful day!

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Mothers and daughters came together dressed in clothes from their culture

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Our sewing teachers and students displayed the items they have been working on in class. 

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The ladies assembled to hear testimonies and stories from female leaders in our community. 

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It was a special blessing to hear one of our former residents share about renewed HOPE through God’s working in her life. 

After we ate, there was LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of dancing!

     Thank you for your prayers and financial support that helped to make this amazing women’s day celebration possible!! It was an incredible day in which God moved powerfully through this beautiful community of women and girls!

Empowering Girls to Be Leaders of Change in Their Community

In the Girls Empowerment Program, there is an emphasis placed on serving others through the example of Christ. Our residents had the opportunity to plan and conduct two service projects within our community. One of the service projects was to a nursery school in Kampala where 97% of the children are Ugandan and are coming from difficult economic circumstances. It was a really beautiful opportunity for our residents to serve these young Ugandan children by preparing food from their cultures for the kids to try, teaching them about their countries and leading them in praise and worship songs that they learned in the program. 

The girls did an amazing job and we were all very proud of them! Here are some photos from this great day!

The girls sharing cakes from their countries with the children 

One of the residents teaching the kids her favorite song about Jesus’ love

One of our residents sharing about her country to the 6 year old class

Amal helping the kids line up for music circle. The girls taught the kids the song “Mwari waka naka” which means ” God is good!”

IT WAS A WONDERFUL DAY!!!