Let's go fishing!
Pastor Ezira Matua, my good friend and night guard for my property, came to work one night recently, and told me a story. There is a man in his small church whose wife died a few years ago, probably of AIDS. This left Tomas with 4 children and ongoing dire poverty. The children were farmed out and Tomas went off the deep end for awhile, even selling his home and land to get money. He was in prison for awhile for not paying for support for his children. His major source of income has been cutting trees and making charcoal, very grueling, low-paying work.
In Uganda, a child who has lost one parent is also considered an orphan. The reason is that most parents have died of AIDS, so the remaining parent, if not already sick, will most likely soon become sick and will die too. Tomas is showing signs of AIDS. If the remaining parent is the mother, the situation is even more desperate, as she will have little or no way of supporting her children. We call these kids "half-orphans," and the ones who've lost both parents are "full orphans." Many of our kids in New Life Kids Club are half-orphans. We also have kids with congenital HIV.
Pastor Ezira is raising one of Tomas's daughters, a sweet little girl, Katie, who's probably about 10 or so. Ezira has 3 small children of his own, and a pregnant wife. They live in a mud and thatch house. His only transportation is a bicycle. Uganda and all of East Africa have suffered from drought these past months, but Kabanyi, Ezira's village area, has suffered from poor rainfalls for the past 2 years. So their gardens have failed and food has been very scarce. The rains have come now, but relief is only possible after the harvest in December or January.
Even so, Ezira has looked forward, has started slowly building a temporary structure that will eventually lead into building a permanent, larger church, to accommodate his growing congregation. He plans that eventually, this temporary building will become a primary school after they build the permanent church, and he will start a third branch of New Life Kids Club for local orphans.
The day Ezira told his story to me, Tomas's oldest daughter, Nakamuwagi, had unexpectedly showed up in Kabanyi, coming from relatives in a far off village, looking for her father. She's 17 but looks much younger, being small from malnutrition. She ran away from her relatives because she was being so badly abused, beaten and starved. Tomas cried when he saw her and heard her story. But with his own life continuing to be shaky, and him being in the process of building himself a small mud house in which to live on land owned by Ezira's family, he has no way of caring for his little daughters.
Ezira took the girl and told her she can live with his family. His words stirred my heart, as he told me the story. He and his family have so little, but he opened his heart and his doors to this battered child, and said, "Come and live with me, and I will be your father." The girl wept, and I nearly wept as I listened to the story. I told Ezira, "I think your orphan work is already starting!" He laughed with joy, and said, "Yes, it has!" Such a picture of our Heavenly Father's love for us. We come to Him battered and broken, with nothing whatsoever to offer Him, and He opens His arms and heart and says, "Just let me be your Father!"
This is what I love about New Life Kids Club. It is based on "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus never told us to love or to give based upon how much money we have! He just said to love and to give. He promised us many blessings as we do. But how often are we hindered from loving and giving by our own lack?
I am so inspired by these wonderful Ugandan pastors, David, Ezira and Ronald, who have reached deep and given and loved, when it seemed they had nothing to do it with. Yes, they struggle. But they've been willing to step out and test God's willingness to help the widows and the orphans, learning in the process the joys of sacrificial giving! I have watched how their lives continually revolve around their care and concern for these kids, who without education, don't have a chance. I can be riding with David in the pickup he bought a few months ago, and he'll stop along the road and pick up a load some people are trying to transport somewhere, and he'll deliver them some miles away. As he pockets their money, he'll often say, "This is school fees for ____" a child who's maybe been kicked out of school for need of fees.
David plans to start a primary school in February (which is when our school year starts here) for orphans and paying students. It will be less expensive to pay the teachers than to pay school fees to other schools, plus there is government assistance for primary schools. Ronald also plans to start a school in February. He has looked and seen that most of his orphans cannot speak English, even by 7th grade, which guarantees they cannot get a higher education. So he will have them tested and put them back to lower grades, ensuring that they will learn English. Then, by faith, these kids will be able to go on to high school, trade schools, and even university (we currently have one NLKC orphan at University!).
Later on, we'll see Ezira starting his branch. I expect we'll see many other pastors starting such programs, once they learn that the only requirement is faith. The problem with a poor nation which receives much foreign aid is that people stop looking to their own resources. They look for all their answers in the foreign aid, and any incentive that may have been there dies. Yes, money is necessary, but as Christians, foreign aid, or government programs, or even missionaries, cannot be our source. God Himself must be our Source. He provides money is the way He chooses. These other resources are limited because they are of man. But our Source that comes of God is unlimited. When God provides, He does it in an unmistakable way, so that He gets the credit.
A common proverb that has taken on fuller meaning to me in my years in Uganda is, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach that man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." In our orphan work, we don't want to hand out fish. But sometimes help is needed to get a fishing pole, or a net. Knowledge of fishing may be present, but useless because poverty prevents acquiring the fishing equipment.
Funds that have come to support New Life Kids' Club have helped Pastor David pay for a used pickup truck, which, as mentioned above, is being used to pay orphans' school fees and other expenses. This money also recently helped him re-license the truck and put new tires on it, making it legal and safe. About 95% of the pickup trucks locally are illegal and unsafe, so he gets more business hauling things than he can handle!
Orphan funds have been used to buy the 3 acres where our first orphan school will be built. Already, our oldest orphan who's about to finish at the University, is offering to become a teacher for this school. It seems God is bringing other qualified teachers our way as well.
These are the beginnings of fulfillment of a vision a friend of mine had some years back. She saw an orphan project in which the older orphans taught the younger ones skills, such as basket weaving, pottery, etc., creating a market for traditional products to be sold. The money then went to support the orphan work. As the children aged, the older ones again taught the younger ones these skills, continuing the cycle, making the orphan work self-supporting. My friend shared this vision with several missionaries who laughed at her, saying it was not possible. Orphan projects are never self supporting! So she stopped sharing it -- until she shared it with me!
This is how your contributions are being usedů to buy fishing poles, to buy hooks, to make fishing nets, to teach the unlearned how to fish. As our pastors and our orphans learn how to fish, it is my vision that they in turn will reach out and help other pastors learn how to fish as well. Pastor David will help Ezira get into the "fishing business," and one day Ezira will help someone else.
Thank you for your ongoing prayers and your fishing money!