Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Changing Lives Through Our Partners in Gulu, Uganda

Over the past few months, one word has come to mind: Impact. Everywhere I look I see the impact of the work God is doing through Sweet Sleep, the impact Sweet Sleep is able to make, thanks to you. The love, hope and beds we’re providing are making a life-changing physical, spiritual, emotional and eternal impact!

One specific example of our impact was shared with me in Uganda by the field manager of World Vision’s “Uganda Children of War Programme.” She had visited a teenage boy who had been rescued from Joseph Kony’s LRA army and was receiving treatment in the hospital. She saw a Sweet Sleep Bible in English next to the boy’s head near his pillow. Generally, we give Bibles to the children in their language however, there were not enough Bibles in print in this region and so we have had to place an order which will be filled this month. World Vision chose to go ahead and give our English Bibles to those who would be learning English.

While all of the children we meet, and all of the projects Sweet Sleep is a part of, truly move me and touch my heart, there is something incredibly special about the children in northern Uganda. These boys and girls have seen and witnessed such atrocities, being forced to kill their parents, being left alone, abandoned – orphaned. Their need is great and urgent because the government is closing the IDP camps that 1 million people call home, 750,000 of those children in child-headed households. The simple huts they’ve called home for many years in the camps are now being bulldozed and it’s time for these sweet children to finally find their new life in their, now safe, home villages.

Sweet Sleep is partnering with World Vision, the American Refugee Committee (ARC) and Uganda’s Child Probation Office (the governmental office in charge of overseeing the care of all the children in the North) to provide beds, bedding, mosquito nets and Bibles to these children to help them settle into their new homes. If their homes were destroyed in the war, our partners are rebuilding their huts. If they have a home and some family left in their old village, our partners ensure that their re-entry is safe and healthy.

During my latest trip to Gulu I was able to be a part of one of our bedding distributions. Children walked miles and miles and waited up to 8 eight hours to receive their beds. The director of ARC shared with us that they were having a hard time getting the children to move from their shelters in the camps. However, once they heard and are now seeing that they will be receiving a Sweet Sleep bed, the number of families they’ve been able to reintegrate has risen dramatically. The reason? The children say they could have never imagined owning their very own bed, mosquito net or Bible. Can you imagine? Sleeping on the ground every night – not having a place to pray, to dream or sleep sweetly – not being able to fathom having your own healthy, comfortable place to sleep…

At the Child Probation Office we were told that the impact our ministry is making there is truly holistic. According to the Probation Office, “Many organizations have come here to help meet physical and psychological needs of the children but no one is meeting the spiritual needs by giving them Bibles. If you don’t heal the spiritual part, you do not heal the whole person.” With your help, Sweet Sleep can continue to meet these needs and help resettle 700 more children this November. Wouldn’t it be great for 700 children to be in their new homes with their healthy, comfortable new Sweet Sleep beds, reading their Bibles under their life-saving mosquito nets just in time for Christmas?

Thanks to those Sweet Sleep works with to provide beds and bedding in northern Uganda, right now we’re able to provide a Sweet Sleep bed, net and Bible to help resettle one of these children for just $50!

To make your gift, click here and put “Gulu” in the comments box. You can also fill out the enclosed card and mail it back to us.

Thank you for your continued faithfulness and support of our work to provide beds to the world’s orphaned and abandoned children. We simply could not do what we do without you.



P.S. If you are in the Nashville area and would like to volunteer at our Sweet Sleep booth at the World Vision AIDS Experience at Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood this week, please e-mail Jon Merryman at jon@sweetsleep.org. And if you haven't seen the exhibit, you should! It's an excellent depiction of life for children in Uganda. Information and FREE tickets available at http://www.worldvisionexperience.org/visit_ticket_details.aspx?venueid=222.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Today's a Big Day....

Today’s a big day at Sweet Sleep. Or was it yesterday? Or the day before? Well, it could have easily been the day before that. But wait, there was also the day before that or the day before the day before that.

The truth is that each day of the last week marks an important milestone in my own life, and now in the life of a ministry we call Sweet Sleep. Seven years ago today I had just returned home from my first mission trip to Moldova and received our first donation for a bed. I didn’t know what to expect before I left home for the tiny little country I knew nothing about. I don’t usually tell people this, but I almost didn’t go on that trip. My life was so busy then and my commitments at home were demanding and I thought it might be better if I canceled the trip. I’ll spare you the story, but clearly I didn’t get in God’s way.

Going on that mission trip meant leaving my comfort zones--and I have a lot of zones I like comfort in. I don’t eat anything weird. That includes most vegetables, fruits not easily found at the grocery store and anything that wasn’t previously a clucking or mooing. I don’t do bugs. Or reptiles. In fact, if it’s smaller than a sunglass case, people around me are probably going to need earplugs and ice for their bruises. Most importantly, I don’t fly. Flying terrifies me—even now. Remember the show “Fear Factor”? I can tell you that my personal Fear Factor would be a plane full of bugs and doctors. If you’ve ever flown with me you know I don’t unbuckle, regardless of how many hours we have until we reach our destination. God has given me a bladder of steel.

My first trip to Moldova was full of sensory overloads. Everywhere I looked I saw something that needed to be cared for…glass instead of grass and children with bare feet. Everywhere I sat children wanted to play with my hair or sit in my lap or hold my hand or my arm. They just wanted to feel my loving touch. They wanted to be hugged. They wanted you to smile at them. And, after you shared your love with them they would laugh. Their little voices would practically sing out to each other in joy…and in Romanian. I wasn’t sure what they were saying, but their faces told the stories even when my ears couldn’t comprehend what their words were.

I’ve said before that I think my sense of smell called me into ministry. You see, my group for the week was a cabin full of boys ranging from 9-16. Each time our groups were supposed to have Bible study or prayer time or down time all of my friend’s groups would sit under a tree or on a hillside. Not my group. My boys wanted to go back to their dark musty cabin. They wanted me to sit on their bed while they sat next to me, as close as possible. They wanted to me to be in their home because then it would be filled with happy memories instead of just broken metal beds with filthy urine stained mattresses.

God changed my life forever that week, as we know. And over the last seven years I’ve had the enormous blessing to watch God change the lives of countless others. Naturally that’s been in the lives of the children and caregivers we serve, but also in the lives of team members who’ve said “Yes” to God. I’ve been blessed to watch team members come into new relationships with Christ, get baptized in frozen lakes and pools and minister in endless ways alongside fellow believers in distant lands. My world has been blown wide open by hearing Moldovans, Haitians and Ugandans sing songs of praise and worship to God in their own language, while I sang the same song in mine, and suddenly realize just how big our God is that He can understand each of His children all over the world. I’ve watched as team members eventually become adoptive parents. I’ve watched as my peers found direction for their lives in their time of serving the “least of these.” And before every trip I have prayed for those who God would call out to go and for how He would use their life to change another. And I’ve prayed for how their own life would be changed as well.

Know that if you’re reading this, you are the one I’m praying for now. Sure, you have a lot of questions about life and about what it would mean to go on a mission trip. I have a lot of answers. Jesus has even more. Say “Yes” to the opportunity He’s given you to serve and watch Him reveal the answers, and Himself, to you.

It’s been two years since I’ve been to Moldova. That’s hard to imagine, but God has taken Sweet Sleep to other countries and my time has been needed there. I’m so looking forward to returning to this sweet place this October. I’m personally inviting you to join me on this adventure. Come and see for yourself what it feels like to wrap your hands around the face of a child and realize you’re looking into the eyes of Jesus. Come and see what love in the form of beds looks, feels and smells like. Whatever you do, just come. The children are waiting.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Sleep. And, Jesus, thank you for the rich blessings you’ve filled my life with over the last seven years of ministry and for my friends who have walked this journey with me.

Love to you,