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 refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Leila 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!!!

Introducing the NEW Girls Empowerment Program

image       I have learned so much over the last 11 months of serving and ministering in Uganda. God called me here with a vision to help women and girls in violent and vulnerable situations. Since this vision involved beginning a program that did not previously exist in Uganda, I knew that there would be a lot to learn and a lot of changes to be made. The shelter became open and operational a little over 4 months ago. The first residents were young female refugees with between the ages of 15-24 who were orphaned at a young age and subjected to abuse and exploitation. In working with them, I learned so much about the nature of what they had been through and the challenges that their circumstances presented in being able to minister to them. Some of these challenges came with affects of trauma on issues of  building and sustaining the trust, addressing conflict and with being empowered. 

          Despite the need to work through these complicated challenges, there was great progress and and changes made. Both residents came out of the shelter having undergone a great amount of healing and transformation. Both residents became closer to God, closer to staff and closer to each other during their time at the shelter. Both left with strong feelings of hope and excitement about their lives ahead. 

         LIke these ladies, there are a number of girls who have experienced profound trauma and abuse within the refugee community that I work among. Additionally, some of these girls are currently living with relatives/family friends who are abusing them. In recognition of this need, I am beginning a new girls empowerment program for young women between the ages of 15-23 who are in at risk and in vulnerable situations. This is a seven week boarding program  that will offer these young women discipleship through daily bible studies and prayers, intensive group and individual counseling, education, vocational training, leadership and life skills training and mentoring from East African women’s ministry staff. The purpose of the program is for the girls to understand God’s love, hope and grace and experience healing, transformation and empowerment. The program is designed in a way so that when the girls leave the program they would be empowered spiritually, physically and emotionally and have gone through a significant period of healing and rehabilitation. An additional goal is for the girls to have a group of peers (other residents who go through the program with them) who would support them after they transition out of the house and go back to living with their families.

          Additionally,we will work with to strengthen the families or home situations from which the girls are coming from through counseling, education and possibly outside referrals ( for legal assistance, income generating assistance, etc). Thus, when the young women return to their homes after the program is finished, they would return more empowered and to hopefully to more stable and safer home situations. 

Please pray for our new residents who will begin the program at the beginning of next week. PLease pray that God would open doors to share God’s hope, love and grace to these girls and their families. Please pray for healing and transformation to take place so that they would be empowered to live out God’s purpose and calling in their lives. Please also pray for the women’s ministry staff and I as we minister and serve among these girls, their families and other women and girls in difficult situations within our community. 

Thank you for your ministry partnership which makes this program possible.

"I will never Cry again…"

In late January we had a going away celebration for the shelter residents. Staff shared with the residents words of encouragement and affirmation. Residents shared with staff about ways in which they grew closer to God, how excited they were to learn more about the Bible, healing they had gone through and the ways in which the shelter community impacted them. 

I was struck most profoundly by one of the residents who shared ” I will never cry again because I don’t have a family ( her parents were killed in front of her at an early age when rebel soldiers bombarded their family home. She was the only survivor).  I know now that I have family here ( at the shelter). I thank God for all of you and I will keep you in my heart as I leave.”

She is no longer alone. She will continue to be surrounded by a community that will support her, encourage her and remind her that she is loved by us and by God, who created her. 

I praise God that she will never cry again because she knows that she now has a family who cares about her and loves her. I praise God for God’s faithfulness in for working so profoundly in their lives through bringing healing and transformation. I praise God for the opportunity to live and serve in Uganda and to be a small instrument in God’s redemption and transformation here. I praise God for a community of supporters who have faithfully given, prayed and encouraged me along this journey. Their partnership enables and empowers me to be the hands and feet of Christ to these women and girls who are deeply hurting. 

I praise God.

Beloved Community

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        Before coming to Uganda, a friend asked me “ Don’t you worry about standing out in Uganda? Don’t you worry about being different?” I thought about it for a minute and I replied “ Not at all.” Of course I stand out walking daily on the roads in Kamapala. I am a foreigner and am obviously not East African and this is something that I have grown in getting used to. But things are different at our community center. It is a place where literally everyone and anyone can and does belong. A place where community is not defined by a particular skin color, gender, nationality or economic status-but defined by being created in the image of God. A place where the seeds of God’s works of reconciliation, peace and hope are planted daily. A place where everyone does belong.

            This community is a reminder of God’s work and hope in a world where chaos and violence seems to be everywhere. Shortly after the attacks on West Gate in Nairobi, I, along with several other people were invited to participate in a holiday celebration. This family of 20 people invited an additional 15 people to share with them on this special day. On a very limited income, they saved for several weeks to be able to host this special day.

            The visitors were from throughout East Africa and the US. People of different nationalities, religions, genders and economic status- all invited, embraced and shown love and hospitality. After eating, all of the women attendees were invited to get a henna design, a tradition in their culture and community on holidays and special celebrations. Together, we shared, laughed and loved. This is my beloved community that I have the blessing of being apart 

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