Father of Many
One of the major problems facing sub-Saharan Africa, as a direct result of the AIDS pandemic, is the growing number of orphans. Over 70% of the world's AIDS cases are in this part of the world, and the growing devastation is almost unbelievable. In Uganda alone, a small country, about the size of Oregon state, there are about 2 million orphans, and the number is growing rapidly.
Traditionally, when a child is orphaned, someone in the extended family will take that child and raise him. It seems the societal structure is already prepared for that, because children call their aunts and uncles mother and father, and their cousins are called brothers and sisters. And the clan is more important to an African than about anything else.
However, there is a drastic breakdown of this system taking place. Entire families are being wiped out, to the point that grandparents are raising grand- and even great-grandchildren. Traditionally, it would be the adult children taking care of their elderly parents, but now the elderly are forced back into the role of parenting the orphaned grandchildren. And the worst case scenario is when even the grandparents are gone, and children are left with no adult caretakers. There is no hope for education, and life becomes a matter of barest survival. This is where charity organizations have stepped in, in part. There is no way there can be enough orphanages built, so care is being taken to try to provide education, housing, and income-generating skills to these orphan families.
It has been my privilege to be part of a blossoming indigenous work in the Luweero area, undoubtedly the only one of its kind. Pastor David Kasule is a man with a big heart for kids. From the time I met him nearly 5 years ago now, when he became my interpreter for my own village work, I saw that heart. He would always try to squeeze out a shilling here or there to help some child stay in school who was having trouble paying school fees, even when I knew he barely had food on his own table.
A couple of years ago, I watched David's passion to see children educated grow into something bigger. He began to hold meetings on Saturdays at his church for orphans who were living with extended families. He eventually named it New Life Kids Club-- his church is called New Life Centre. He got some teachers to work with him, and they began feeding the kids lunch, teaching some academics, but also basic things many were not being taught in schools or in homes, such as hygiene and manners. The kids began taking pride in their class and in their appearance, wearing their nice clothes to New Life Kids Club meetings and bathing. If a child came dirty, the others would strip him down and bathe him on the spot -- so kids only came dirty once! For Christmas 2002 a donor sent a gift that bought matching T-shirts for the kids, which they were very proud of wearing, even on other days of the week. David started a small medical clinic in the church, offering free medical care to the orphans, and low cost care to the local community.
The Kids Club grew and grew. From 100 it grew to 250, then to 300, on to 500 children. Initially, David was using an old pickup, given to him by his father, and a chain saw, to log and sell lumber, to finance school fees for these kids. The community also rallied behind him, donating food, and occasionally small amounts of money. The food was collected at a Muslim man's house, and then delivered to the church on Saturdays. There was also doubt and criticism by many, and opposing forces, such as one man who tried to get involved, who had a history of embezzling other orphan works. David and his wife took in several orphans themselves, who stole from them. Several orphans were kidnapped by other relatives (they are often used to do the menial work, or for prostitution), two other children have died, and one small girl was brutally raped. And David's heart was growing…
Then in June 2003 things seemed to nosedive. David was arrested for driving an unlicensed truck and put in jail. He was fined 800,000 shillings, or about $400, the equivalent of a year's wages for many in Uganda, and if he couldn't pay that day, he would be sent to prison at hard labor for 8 months. Two of his friends and I worked all day, talking to the prosecutor, the district police commander, and ultimately the magistrate. God intervened and we got him out of jail, but the truck remained impounded.
Then, because David could not cut and haul lumber without a truck, he rented out his chainsaw. It was destroyed by a renter, who refused to repair it. So now David had no means to make money for his orphans. Being a man of faith, he had always sought God on behalf of the kids, but now he had to reach out for Him in a new desperation.
The Bible says that the poor are being blessed by being rich in faith. (James 2:5) When there is no money, a person must cry out to God. I think of my own life in the USA and how we don't attempt to start a business without money. We just go to the bank and get a small business loan or such. We don't cry out to God, we just go get money. (Thus our faith tends to be small!) I heard a radio pastor say one time about the verse where Jesus says to ask anything in His name and He will answer, that our joy might be full. (John 16:24) I was greatly challenged when he described the type of completely fulfilling joy that Jesus was talking about. We don't often experience that kind of joy because we don't ask God for big enough things! Our faith is small, we ask for small things, and we get small answers… therefore our joy, if any, is very small. We need to ask BIG, so big in fact, that the only way our prayers will be answered is if God Himself intervenes. Then we have that kind of joy, knowing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God heard and answered!
After 7 months, David was finally able to get his truck back. Now it's getting some repairs, but it will soon be useable again. Meantime, during these past months, I watched David's orphan work being purged. He sought God for school fees, for his teachers' salaries, for his nurse's salary, for food for the kids on Saturdays. These things were not always available. He struggled. He fasted much. Sometimes he had to send the kids home. Some got kicked out of school for lack of school fees. Some school headmasters were very abusive to David. Some schools were very willing to work with him, appreciating what he was trying to do. One school was even willing to take bricks that he was making in exchange for school fees, to help their own building project.
Eventually, David learned which of his Kids Club teachers were loyal to his vision and the ones with ulterior motives went on their way. He learned who his true friends were. He saw which people in the community believed in what he was doing and which ones fought him, criticized him, or tried to take advantage of him. He made acquaintances with other orphan ministries in the Kampala area by learning to use the internet. Now a Dutch pastor often comes out from Kampala to minister in David's church. Trust was built with his various helpers as they saw that even at times he couldn't pay them, but when he was able, he did; sooner or later, he always caught up their wages. He learned which schools to work with, and which ones not to. He also learned that about half of his orphans were not really orphans. Their parents had taken advantage of the Kids Club to get their kids' school fees paid so they wouldn't have to pay them. So before the new school term, David eliminated the "fake orphans" from the program, bringing the numbers down to about 250.
In February the new school term started. The New Life Kids Club is still struggling. But it has been purged and we feel good about it. A small, but regular, amount of financial support is now starting to come in. It is a new day dawning. We don't know what the future holds as far as how God will continue this work. But we know He will. David is now being encouraged to share with other pastors what he is doing in his neighborhood. Jesus said the 2 greatest commandments were to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31) By reaching out to our neighbors, whatever their need may be, we are showing God's love and doing His work.