Saturday, July 30, 2011

It is all for His glory

What an amazing journey. We started the week with delayed flights, missed flights, little sleep, no sleep….but, in the end, it was all so worth it. The children of Uganda have made it so worth it. They have so much need, but yet so much love to give. My first day started with the realization that I left my belt back home in Nashville. Mike was kind enough to let me borrow his to get me through the day. Within the first hour of our visit at the orphanage, a young boy came up to me and offered me his belt. We had just met and he had no idea I needed a belt. It was just one of the very few things considered his and he wanted to give it to me as a gift. There is just no way I could accept a gift from an orphan who has very few possessions, right? After seeing the rejection slowly cover his face after I declined the gift, I retreated quickly and accepted the belt. Ten seconds passed and I was overwhelmed with a rush of emotions recognizing that my Almighty Father was reminding me that He is my provider. If He chooses to bless me through an orphan, then that is His choosing. I was so overwhelmed with joy. I went into this journey thinking I was surrendering my time and my resources in an act of obedience to God’s calling. I went into this journey thinking that I was in Uganda to help satisfy the needs of the children at the orphanage, but little did I know that one young boy helped satisfy mine as well. I say the young boy helped me because he did not have to say yes. God prompted him to give up one of the very few things he had. It was up to the young boy to say yes. I am reminded of God’s word in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:19)…”And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus”. Our God is the beautiful grandweaver, weaving lives together one story at a time…and I love Him for that.

There are several things I will take away from Uganda. A nation that is very broken, but yet very hungry for the word of God. The children….they just want to be held, touched and smiled at. At times, there were no words that needed to be said, just a hand held. There are so many children that are deprived of a simple night’s sleep. Providing beds and mosquito nets go a very long way to a child’s health. It cuts down on the risk of malaria and allows the children to be focused the following day on their education.

The need is great. I pray the response is as well. In John 14:12 Jesus says “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father”. If we, as the body of Christ, say yes (like the young boy said yes), then these needs will be met. It is all for His glory.

Jake Embry

First trip to Africa

This has been the best trip of my life. I would have never imagined making this many new friends in such a short time period. Not just in the orphanages we went to visit but also within the team and getting to know everyone who is on our team. I feel that my relationship with God has grown throughout this journey and will still grow when I get back home. I have also learned a lot about myself. I always knew that I was very fortunate to have what I have and live were I live but it never hit me until I came here. I realized I shouldn’t take for granted what I do take for granted. And that I shouldn’t be so carless with the things I have. I have everything I would ever need and more. I am very thankful for that. Overall I am so blessed that I got to experience this trip with the team and go to the orphanages and get to know many of them and about them.

-- Amy Covington

Friday, July 29, 2011

Forever Changed and Forever Blessed

Well another week is in the books with the beautiful children of Uganda. I consider it such a blessing to have been a part of this Sweet Sleep team and our partnership with the New Kabaale Busenga Orphanage. We were able to have a special last day with the children while enjoying the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays. We had the priviladge of speaking God's blessing over thier lives, as we reminded these beautiful children that they are beautifully and wonderfully made. It was such an honor to share with these sweet children one last time that God has a special plan and purpose for their lives.

With part of our team arriving late due to travel difficulties, myself included, and a special afternoon spent at Blessed Hope, I felt like I finally had a chance to really connect with some of the kids today. There was James, who was so excited for his Bible so he could read from the book of James, and little Kevin who was always happy to be by my side. It has also been a blessing getting to know the staff at this wonderful school. The teachers seem to truly care for these children and they have been just as grateful for our presence as the children have been. It continues to amaze me all that they are teaching these students with such limited resources. It has been a blessing getting to know the likes of Ivan, Joel and Benson as they are so excited about the subjects that they teach, and the gift of a simple paper map of the world or a children's book on animals can brighten their day, because they know it will bless their students.

One of the greatest joys for me today and during this entire journey has been the extra blessing of sharing this experience with my father. Although this is my third journey with Sweet Sleep to Uganda, it is my father's first, and I wouldn't trade this time together for anything in the world. To see these children latch on to my dad, to pray over his life, and to simply find comfort in his touch has been a great boost to my spirit and to our relationship. It also makes me look forward to the day when I can share these types of expereinces with Gideon and Abel.

I want to share a few stories before I end this post so please bear with me. One of them took place on Wednesday night at Blessed Hope Champions Academy. This is the orphanage where our team served last year, and I was excited for the opportunity to return, and to see the children once again. I was disappointed to learn that my dear friend Dallen was no longer at Blessed Hope, but my spirits were lifted by my friend Jonathan instead. Out of all of the wonderful kids that I had made connections with last year, Jonathan was one that specifically wrote many letters to my son Gideon during our stay, and his first words to me were, "How is Gideon." Without a prompt he not only remembered Uncle Mike, but my child as well. He gave me a note as we left the orphanage grounds on Wednesday night and it was once again addressed to Gideon, saying that he will continue praying for him everyday.

We often say that we will pray for someone in passing, but rarely do we see it through with much consistency in our busy lives in America. What peace, hope and humility it gives me to know that an orphaned child on the otherside of the world is bathing the life of my son Gideon in his prayers dailly. We are certianly called to be a blessing on these trips, but the blessing has been all mine. Just as these trips do not end when we board our plane for home, it was confirmation that the impression that we make on these kids lives will live on for far to come as well.

Another aspect of these trips that I want to highlight as things come to a close is the often overlooked blessing of serving alongside some incredible men and women of faith. The team that God has assembled on this trip has been a truly remarkable one. Each member of our team has brought their unique talents, abilities, and even past hurts to be able to minister to these children, staff members, and one another in such a beautiful way. It is Christian community at its finest, and I can honestly say that I have been blessed by every member of our team this year in very unique ways. Thank you all for answering God's calling on your life and loving the "greatest of these" during this remarkable journey.

Forever blessed and forever changed,
Michael Warneke

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Recreation Day in Jinga!

At about 7:30 this morning, half of our team left to go rafting on the Nile river! With all the horror stories I have heard, I hope they stay safe. We have all kept them in our prayers today and they are well in God's hands! The other half of our team left around 9:30 to travel to Jinga and took a safer ride on the source of the Nile and fed some very precarious monkeys.

Our trip to Jinga was suppose to take about an hour... but with the trip to exchange our money and heavy traffic, our trip was a little bit longer than expected. When we finally pulled up to the source of the Nile, it was so cool to finally see where the world's longest river began! We met our tour guide, Brian, and we were on the boat in no time. The water was so calm and all the birds we saw were so beautiful! We were even fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of some monkeys! We stopped at a little island and looked around to take in the beauty of the surrounding villages and Lake Victoria which feeds into the Nile. It was so incredible to be standing at the beginning of a river that provides for so many people along the course of 4,000 miles. As we continued our tour, we saw local fishermen catching fish with just a thin wire and locals using the river to clean their clothes. This was an experience I will always keep with me.

After the boat ride, we walked up a pretty steep hill and went to feed the monkeys. One of the men working there did a call to get the monkeys to emerge. As soon as we had the bananas in our hands, the monkeys carefully walked over to us to check us out. We held out little bits of bananas and they quickly snatched them from our hands. At first, the monkeys were thrilled to eat the bananas, but after a while, the boss took over and only he was allowed to eat the bananas, so the others stayed back. I loved being able to interact with monkeys! They are so fun!

Once we finished feeding the monkeys, we drove to Main St. in Jinga and ate at a little cafe. It was so delicious! I had an all 'American' cheeseburger and some chips (fries). I was so excited to finally have some American food again! Although, the food we have here is excellent! We started our journey back home after we ate and it started pouring which of course made the roads a little worse to drive on. So unfourtunatley, due to our delays, we weren't able to visit the children at the Orphanage today. Even though they aren't right in front of me today, they are still very much alive in my heart and I cannot wait to have their big birthday party tomorrow! As I'm sitting here writing this, some of our team is organizing the birthday items downstairs and getting everything ready for tomorrow. We had planned for about 250 children, but we are now expecting 400+ to be there tomorrow. However, God always provides and I have faith that each and every child will walk away with wonderful new things!

Our situation definitely reminds me of the story of where Jesus feeds 5,000. In Mark 6:39-44, it reads: And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass-And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties- And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all- And they did all eat, and were filled. I love this story because it really shows how God provides for us. I fully believe God will be there with us tomorrow, providing items to the children.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Now I See

While the Kampala team of Sweet Sleep's mission trip to Uganda is in full swing this week, half of the Gulu team that did not stay for that portion, has made the long journey back home to the States. I have personally been welcomed back home by my loved ones, the conveniences of my everyday life (such as air conditioning and hot water), and much to my surprise, a very torn heart. If you knew me before my journey to Gulu with Sweet Sleep, you would know that I had a list of fears a mile long prior to leaving. I was afraid of being so far away from my family, afraid of illness or injury, afraid for safety, and afraid of what I would see and learn in Gulu. I did my homework, and therefore, I knew the brutal history of Northern Uganda; I knew I would see things I had never seen before. And thank God, I did.

I saw the most beautiful faces of children who were fighting for their lives. I saw people, who by this world's standards had so very little, but were rich in love and kindness and gratitude. I saw a team of strangers who traveled across the globe together become brothers and sisters. I saw God's hand in both the greatest and smallest details—like the fact that we had literally to the ounce, enough people on our team to check the exact number of Bibles on our airlines so each child would receive one. I saw poverty and brokenness. I saw joy and hope restored. I saw the fatherless seeking their eternal Father. I saw prayers for more life-saving mosquito nets answered generously by Sweet Sleep's supporters at home. I saw God at work in mighty and awesome ways.

I had the privilege of being responsible for photographing our trip to Northern Uganda. While at times the task seemed daunting, it allowed me to really focus on what was happening around me; it allowed me to see. It is my hope that these images will allow you also, to see what I saw. I pray that you see how important the mission of Sweet Sleep is, and how their work is changing and saving the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable children. It's my prayer that you will see and be moved to action. That you may be called to give in prayer, to give financially, or to give through service by volunteering for a Sweet Sleep mission trip; and becoming the hands and feet of God; seeing these moments for yourself.

Every Kid Desires a Bible & a Trip to Blessed Hope

Every Kid Desires a Bible & a Trip to Blessed Hope

Today was an amazing day! To see all the little faces peering in the chapel eagerly awaiting their very own Bible. I have seen kids line up for many things, but this was the first I ever saw a line of children ready to burst into a chapel to get their Bibles. That is only the beginning. The children were divided into groups so we could work with them in small groups showing them how to be able to use their Bibles successfully. The first group was the boarders of the Molly & Paul School, New Kabaale Busega.

The children were all so excited to receive their Bibles and to learn how to work their way through them. They did not just want to show me they could find the verses in the Bible, but could not wait to read the verses. Showing one group how to use the index on how to find the book that had the story of the “Last Supper” the boys in my group were excited to see the story was in more than 1 book of the bible and they proceeded to look all the referenced verses up and read them aloud.

The most amazing thing today for me was when Matthew, a primary 2 class student told me he did not get “one”. I told him that I saw he had several stickers and that we needed to save them for the next class so they could have some too. He kept telling me he did not get “one”. I finally asked Matthew “what did you not get?” and he proceeded to tell me he did not get a Bible. He was not worried about a sticker, but he wanted to make sure he got his Bible. The situation touches me in so many different levels. It is hard for me to think that a child so young would so eagerly wait for a Bible and think of nothing else, but getting that Bible.

The children at the orphanage loved their Bibles and showed great joy for receiving them. Their faces tell the whole story especially for those who speak little English. It has been an amazing experience for them, but especially for our team.

After we distributed Bibles to New Kabaale Busega today we headed to Blessed Hope, the orphanage that Sweet Sleep distributed beds to last summer. 3 of our team were of the team that brought beds to the orphanage last year. Our team went to see what the children had to say about their beds, to see how the children were doing and to have dinner with them.

The children were shouting the names of the team members that had gone on the trip-“Auntie Amanda, Auntie Peggy, & Uncle Mike”. It was great to see how the children remembered their names and the excitement in their voices were surreal. The children greeted us all with open arms.

Two of the girls I met, Cathy and Maria were so excited to show me their beds. We took off running for their dormitory and their beds were so neatly made and they have taken care of their mosquito net. It is great to hear how they have had “sweet sleep” since they received their beds.  5 different people gave their testimony after dinner of how having the beds had made a difference in their sleep and their lives. It is great to see and hear the stories of how God provided for their needs through Sweet Sleep. It is one thing to think you are making a difference, but to actually see and hear it makes all the difference in the world.
Please continue to be praying for the kids of Uganda-their health and that all their needs will be met. They have great faith and joy that amazes me. Really wish that everyone had the chance to see what Sweet Sleep team and I  have seen in these 2 orphanages. 

Think Psalms 1:1-3 sums it all up-Oh, the joy of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God: but they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him closely. They are like trees along a river bank, bearing luscious fruit each season without fail. Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper.

Love ya all,

Bibles @ Blessed Hope Academy

Today was are bible hand out day. It was suppose to be yesterday but we ran out of time. As always as soon as the children hear and see the bus they start screaming and yelling. No matter where they. Most we're in their classrooms.
We had 4 sets of kids meet in their chapel in shifts. They formed a circle and we presented them with their bibles. We gave a short orientation to thier bibles as best we could. They also were to decorate a book mark. Some we're more creative than others. Most used stickers and a few used crayons. We passed out 300 bibles. Rose, the head teacher said she saw many of the children reading them after the class. We didn't know because we were with the next class.
One of my goals today was to spend time with a young 14 year old boy named Baker. He was the first child I met on Monday and he gave me a personnel tour of the orphange. He was very proud to show me the chapel, the dorms and classrooms. I did get his autograph but was expecting to learn more about him today. But we ran out of time and I was disappointed it didn't happen.
About 2 pm we left the orphange to go to Blessed Hope Champion Academy. It was an hour drive. Three members of the team went there last year. It is a much differnt setting. It is in the country with rolling hills and grass for the children to play on. I thought the children we're dressed better and more mature. They probably have more older kids. It was great for Sleep Sweet to follow up on last years great trip.
Again as we entered the school the children ran to greet us with such excitement. As soon as I got off the bus a youg girl named Sarah greeted me. My wife knows how many Sarah's I have dealt with in the past, and many have had very negative effects. This Sarah is 13 and she was with 2 girl friends ( Kevin and Rachael).
I had brought along some pictures of my grandchildren. I had 3 differnt pictures. The girls saw them and asked if they could have them. Then they wanted to take me to their dorm room to see where they slept. All of their beds we're made very neatly and the sheets and blankets they had received last year looked like new. Then Sarah wanted me to have a picture of her. I don't know how long she has had this picture but these kids have very few possessions and she surely gave it from her heart.
Then she wanted to write a letter to my daughter who was in the picture with her children. The letter is short but it also has 8 stickers on it. Again stickers are so very popular with these children.
After that we sat and talked and her desire is to become a doctor to help her people. She said her fathers is a doctor but didn't say anything else about him. She did ask me if I could help her get in touch with her mother. It broke my heart to have to say no. Sometimes it is frustrating trying to communicate with the children but they are always so eager to answer your questions.
Both schools fed us today. They are so happy that we are here with them. Two of the staff members have made comments about how healthy it is for the children to get a good night's sleep. If the children sleep well they are doing other things well. Sweet Sleep is an important part of their lives.
After supper 5 kids gave their testimony
Last night I had trouble sleeping because our room was warm because the fan wasn't working to a power outage. Then I started thinking about the beds we had just put up yesterday. Thirty eight kids sleeping in 1 room (25 x 35) and no fan. They have no running water and have to carry all their water from the pump. I shouldn't have any complaints.
Before I got on the bus to leave Sarah asked if she could pray for me. She prayed for at least 3 minutes. She spoke in her dialect so I don't what she said or prayed for. I have never had a 13 year old pray for me before.
I have no idea why God placed me in Africa at this time but I know He has a much bigger plan than I can imagine. John

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bed Day!!

Let me just say how truly thankful I am that our team FINALLY made it to Kampala after four days of traveling and some major obstacles. And I honestly think it was a miracle that our luggage made it here; not a bag was lost, even after all of our transfers. It was well worth it, though, the minute we stepped off the bus and saw the beautiful, smiling faces of the children at the orphanage who greeted us with "You are most welcome here" from the bottom of their hearts. That did it for me. I would have gladly endured the seemingly endless plane rides and spending the night in the Nairobi airport all over again. A line from the book called The Kite Runner explains it so well: "For you a thousand times over!"

Yesterday, we spent time with the kids and got acquainted with them (as much as you can with a hundred kids at a time!) by playing games and talking to them. Have you ever tried to learn dozens of names in one day? It's pretty difficult! They each go by a Christian (English) name, although they also have a family name, so it was pretty easy to remember the names. We also got a chance to talk with the teachers and administrators about their passion for these kids.

Today was...Bed Day! The main reason we're here is to distribute beds to the children, who were sleeping on very dirty mattresses with little or no covers, and definitely no mosquito nets, which protect against the deadly disease of malaria. Each child received their own bed, bedding, mattress, pillow cases and will get a mosquito net and a Bible tomorrow. Let me just tell you, most of them are more excited about getting the Bibles!

I can't describe the pure joy the kids had when they saw the truck pull up with their beds; they rushed toward them screaming with the largest smiles I have ever seen. They helped carry the frames to their dorms, lifting them like they were nothing. We helped them put the bedding on, but they were very eager to do it themselves. We are hoping they will have very Sweet Sleep tonight.

This journey has been amazing. I have never encountered such thankful, loving children who truly value their education and are grateful to have visitors who care about them. Some at the school are boarders, which mean they live there, and there are a few who are refugees from Sudan. The other children come to school during the day, then go home to their parents or caregivers. I had a chance to talk and play with some of these children today and they had questions about everything. The thing that most hit me was when they asked me if we had war in America. For as long as these kids have been alive, their country has been at war, and they are afraid. I hope that they see us and understand that they are loved and have so many people across the world who care for them and pray for their safety.

Please continue to pray for these children and their teachers, families, and supporters.


Beds that are making a difference

God is working here in Uganda!! I am overwhelmed by the joy and the love of these sweet children. Today before the new Sweet Sleep beds arrived I went into the children room and talked with them about how they felt about the old beds.Most of the children slept two children to a bed on thin pieces of foam on beds who were in pretty bad shape. The children all told me straight up that they did not sleep well at all, constantly had malaria because they had no mosquito nets, and were constantly attacked by beds bugs. Today when the truck with the mattresses and beds pulled up children came running from everywhere with smiles that were a mile wide and the orphanage was filled with pure joy. The children were so excited to make their beds and roll around in them and begged us to take videos and pictures of them with their new beds. The sweet children told me to tell YOU thank you for giving them this “miracle from God.” One little girl ho received a bed told me this “ Tory I am a orphan and I am have no family Sweet Sleep has given me back the hope that I had lost.” Sweet Sleep is the only organization in all of Uganda who focuses on improving the sleeping conditions of children. Tonight I ask you to pray for these orphans and also pray for the millions of orphans world wide who have no safe place to ay their head at night.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Team's Strengths Shine Brightly! To God Be The Glory :)

When you look up the word Africa in the dictionary, the first definition should be "all who come visit should be very laid back". This is not necessarily a good definition for my personality but the Lord is teaching me this currently :) With lots of prayers from many people in many countries, the Indiana team arrived this morning at 9 am! Yay! They came to meet us at the orphanage this afternoon.

Although this morning we awoke with an unsure plan and pretty much no recreation equipment or craft supplies, we had a great morning prayer time. As a team, we shared some great things we had seen the day before...the children's love for the Lord as well as the true joy on their faces from just being around us. So we a prayed for strength and the "loaves and fish" prayer for entertainment ideas and headed out this morning.

It was SUCH a wonderful experience!! The children were so receptive to anything and everything. We told the story of Peter and walking on the water. The children of all ages are so excited to hear the Word. It is such a humbling experience to see a child with scripture burned into their heart... How they hold on to it and truly make it their life. They shared recreational games that are common to them, it was a great learning exprience. They find such entertainment in the simplest games. I LOVE it!

Tomorrow is our big day...we will have the bed distributions. The dormority rooms are approximately 20 by 25 feet and 36 children are sleeping in them sharing worn and very soiled mattresses. Tomorrow we get the unbelievable privilege of getting to give them new beds and deliver an awesome message. Sweet Sleep's beds represent God's love for they pull up the blanket each night so are God's arms wrapping around them. We are able to also give them a Bible which represents spiritual rest. Some of these children come from broken homes or from no parents at be able to reassure them that God has not forgotten them and will always protect them is huge!

Finally, we pick our last two team members tonight at midnight. Please pray for rejuvenated spirits and lots of energy!! We can't wait to spend time with the children :) God is so good!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Plan B...we've reached G!

Sweet sleep is currently in Kampala Uganda!  Our team will be working at an orphanage within the program to distribute beds, bibles and mosquito nets to the housed 127 orphans. An additional 300 children attend school and church service on the grounds. This morning we gathered at Sonship Ministries Busega (the church on the grounds of the orphanage) to celebrate the Lord on a beautiful Sunday morning. We were welcomed with flowers and enthusiastic smiles. The worship service was provided by CHILDREN! Five different choral groups gave praise with signing and dancing. Two young girls, aged 13 and 14, preached Gods word with eloquence and grace. Together, they presented a sermon of scripture they held dear to their lives and hearts. The church had no electricity, was covered in red dirt and filled with plastic chairs and fading paper flowers; yet the faces of the crowd worshiping were of sincerity and peace. Has coming to Uganda made me realize that to truly love the Lord and His word all one really needs is an open and willing heart to seek Him? I believe my answer is yes. We later spoke with Paul, the founder of the MollyandPaul schools in Uganda. He was an orphan himself who was raised by an American from Boston, MA. After the air force, Paul came back to Uganda and decided he would educate orphans to give them the opportunity he was given. Over the next week we will be removing the soiled, torn, and mildewed mats that the children currently sleep on and replace them with bunk bed frames, ( hoping the room that held 36 children when probably only 15 sleep comfortably will be more spacious) mattresses, mosquito nets to discourage a PREVENTABLE disease and a bible of their own! Today we painted the orphanages sleeping quarters. We choose to paint Proverbs 3:24 on each rooms' wall as a reminder of the spiritual and physical rest we are hoping Sweet Sleep provides for the orphans.  Within minutes the children were painting the verse themselves and joyous for the upcoming days ahead! We are so excited to be here and provide for these children! Our team looks forward  to continue blogging our  journey. I would like to ask each of you to keep our team in your prayers. The Indiana team along with Jake and Natalie Embry have had multiple flight delays and will not be reaching Uganda until Monday evening around 2300, 48 hours later than originally planned. Our team is not complete nor do we have all supplies needed without our missing members. We are praying for their safe arrivals and mission to serve the Lord here in Kampala! Continue to share Sweet Sleeps inspiring  mission as the weary are seeking Gods rest and comfort. God Bless you all!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


"Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness. Kindness in your eyes and kindness in your smile." This is the quote that I have been living by this week. I have been completely humbled by this trip. God has brought so many hurting people into my life this week. All you have to do is look into the eyes of these precious people to see that they have stories to tell. I want to share with you the story of Franka. I was blessed to meet her when I came to Gulu in November to relocate children who were displaced by the war. We had dinner with some of the children who received beds in November and asked them to share their stories and update on how they were doing. Franka is about 15 years and her story broke me down. She began by telling us that the bed, the bible and the mosquito net she was constantly bitten by mosquitoes. She constantly had malaria and was often very sick. She often had no money to go to the hospital. She said that since she got her net she no longer gets bitten at night and she doesn't suffer from malaria. She said her Bible gives her direction and hope. As she continued she began to cry. She told us when she was on the way to see us she found out that her mother had died. Franka, at the age of 15, would now have to take on the role as mother to her three siblings. She told me that the only thing she has to go home to is her mother's body. Franka was in tears and the last thing she said before she couldn't say another word was, "I know God will never leave me." She then wrapped her beautiful little arms around me and cried as I prayed for her. I am still processing all of my emotions but my heart broke for this sweet child of God. In her deepest moment of sadness and despair she was able to find hope in God. God is the only one she has to turn to now. After we prayed and she was leaving I could not help but break down and get on my knees and pray for her. Will you pray for this sweet girl? Pray that she is comforted in her time of grief and that God will be near to her. Sweet Sleep is making a difference here. The work must continue so that we can continue to serve the children like Franka.

*posted by Tory Wolf

Final Distribtion Day and trip to Hospital

I'm typing this blog from my camping hammock that I've managed to suspend to a alley gate and hotel window here on the streets of Gulu. It's around 5pm here and many students are walking home from school. The typical response I get from most kids is a stare, point, laugh, and the word "mzungo", which describes a person of foreign descent in Africa. I can't speak any of the tribal languages here, but I'm sure they are saying, ''Look at that crazy white guy hanging in the sack''. But that wouldn't be the first time I've been called a crazy mzungo on this trip. And most of that is from our team. Kidding. Sort of.

Today was our final distribution day and we wrapped up out work by heading to a local village and providing 100 more beds, nets, and bibles. As we drove to the village, our driver, Jackson, remarked that the army barracks we were passing were built by former brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. It was another reminder of the horrific past that griped this region for so many years. It is also a testament to how amazing the human spirit is in this part of the world and how they have not let their past dictate their future. We were met again when we arrived by smiling faces and enthusiastic singing. The people of Gulu have not let their circumstances dictate their joy. It has been humbling to say the least.

With that being said, we knew we were going to a place today after distribution where joy may not have been as evident. We have received a good amount of press in Gulu over the last week about our work in the villages. Because of this, the local Gulu hospital reached out to us and asked if we could provide nets for the beds in their children's ward, many of which are afflicted with HIV and struggling to fight of malaria attacks like the children in the villages. After hearing about this request and seeing the recent outpouring of support from folks we have received over the last weeks from people in America, we committed to provided 50 malaria nets for the hospital and asked if we could come and make sure they were distributed. The experience was once again unlike any other we could imagine in the United States. Most of us imagine a hospital as a place that is clean, sterile, and where people are being healed. However, the hospital in Gulu and all over Africa, are much different. We arrived to find babies with HIV and malaria sitting on the floor, dehydrated, hungry, and in conditions that most of us would find deplorable. However, in Gulu, this is the only place they have to go for help. We kept remarking that they needed new beds, and new floors, and new oxygen tanks, and on and on. After awhile, we said they just needed a new hospital. The needs were too numerous to mention. Despite the overwhelming need, we knew that we could help in one way today and that was to provide nets for children in the hospital to keep them safe at night when they are sleeping. It is almost incomprehensible to think that a hospital would not have these already, but the situation is just so dire that it is all they can do to buy medicines for these children. It was an emotionally exhausting experience for everyone on our team, but one that helped to paint the picture even more about what those in Gulu facing.

Leaving the hospital, I was reminded just how much different this project has been than any of us expected when we left last Friday. I know even for me, a Sweet Sleep employee, this journey has shown me that the work we are doing is much, much bigger than providing beds. God has called us to a special project in this region to help His children in a way that they have not been helped before. What we are providing now is hope to a region that has been marked by hopelessness. Even today, as we were leaving, there were children lined up to receive new beds. HIV positive children that our partner, Health Alert, would have never known about if not for these beds and nets. Children that will be registered and hopefully helped with life saving antibiotics. Children that God not only asks us to care for, but commands us to do so. Thank you for what you have done for these children and will do in the future. There is more work to be done and we can't wait for you to join us on the next trip. (subtle hint)

God bless!

It's hard to keep up with these kids!

Today we spent the day at the Health Alert offices, distributing beds to 160 children with HIV/AIDS.  Distributions were finished early in the day, leaving us free time to play with dozens of children who had come hoping for a bed, but who were not on the recipient list.  I can't remember a day that I have had more fun.  We played kickball, volleyball, frisby, and duck duck goose with abandon for hour upon hour.  I was exhausted, dizzy, had a headache, and was drenched in sweat.  And I am a healthy, fit, well-fed adult.

I had forgotten that the kids with whom I was playing were all HIV positive.  They laughed, chased, danced, and spiked volleyballs.  They were strong and athletic.  These children are also all clients of Health Alert.  They are all receiving antiretroviral drugs.  They all have a good chance to stay healthy for a long time because of their enrollment in the HIV/AIDS program at Health Alert.

Something we have come to learn, and have later seen first hand, is that once word gets out that Health Alert clients were receiving beds, bibles, and a mosquito net from Sweet Sleep, hundreds would come out from hiding with HIV.  They would come to Health Alert for a bed and would thus be enrolled in the Health Alert program, and so would receive the life-saving ARV drugs.  Not only that, but through HIV education and awareness, community prevention of the spread of the virus would would increase, preventable opportunistic diseases like malaria and pneumonia would be decreased, and those affected by HIV would be empowered and would be seen in a different way by their community.  

Less than 24 hours after our first distribution, more than 65 new clients enrolled with Health Alert.  A day after that, that number had risen to over 100.  Those children will be receiving antiretroviral drugs and hopefully, soon they will receive the protection and comfort  of a bed, blanket, bible, and mosquito net from Sweet Sleep. 

Dozens of children have been turned away, crying, because they were not on the list this time.  Without fail, the community leaders and members have pled with us to return.  Their prayers would be with us and with our friends  in America, that we would send more support soon.  By the end of this week, 472 beds, bibles, and mosquito nets will have been distributed, out of the 2510 currently enrolled Health Alert clients in this small area in Gulu.  That number is rising rapidly, which is a blessing, but the need is not soon to be satisfied.  

Sweet Sleep is literally saving lives but we need immediate and continual support from you.  Your prayers, financial gifts, and service of your time and talents are critical to providing each child living with HIV/AIDS with a bed, bible, and mosquito net.  Prayerfully consider how you will be lead serve.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today is day 5 of our Sweet Sleep mission to Gulu, Uganda, and for me personally, the most physically and emotionally charged day so far. I know full well that it will take quite some time for me to process what I have seen here: the extreme poverty, the disease ridden bodies of the sweet and helpless children, the faces of grandmothers and elder care takers with deep lines of their hard life etched into their faces. Toddlers left alone to beg for money on the street. The red dirt roads. The defiance of this wonderful country. The beautiful faces. The smiles and laughter of precious AIDS/HIV children receiving the first real bed they've ever owned. The hope. I have been so very moved. What an honor it has been to listen to their stories, to see their scars, to love on them and tell them that God loves them more than they could ever imagine. 

Today we distributed 90 beds to children affected with AIDS/HIV. Their faces painted the  picture of how incredibly difficult their lives have been. And yet, they are thankful for what we are providing and glorify God for his grace and mercy.

It is easy to be complacent from far away, but as a dear friend said to me in a letter I received today, being here and seeing what Ive seen now makes me responsible to tell you the truth of the need here. The truth is not pretty. It is uncomfortable and heartbreaking. The truth is that the need is so great. Greater, in fact, than I had ever imagined. This is a country where Malaria, a disease that is both preventable and curable, is more prevalent than HIV and AIDS and is killing these precious people. These people desperately need your help. Only $8 provides a mosquito net and we still need over 300 of them. Our team is earnestly praying that God will provide. I wish you were here with me to see the faces of these vulnerable children. I wish you could see them light up when receiving their beds and listen to the beautiful songs they sing in praise to God. Surely if you could see and hear, you would gladly give. I pray that you will listen to the Lord and that if he puts it on your heart, you will make a small sacrifice to literally save the life of another. 

Sweet Sleep and Health Alert

Our time in Uganda has been both amazing and heart-breaking at the same time. There is so much to tell and share, but I wanted to share about one experience that was particularly eye-opening. Yesterday, we arrived at a distribution site to cheers and smiles as our van pulled in. There was a large crowd and many children sat waiting for beds. I noticed that as our Health Alert Uganda partners lined the children up to receive their beds there were still many sitting on the ground. I thought that perhaps they weren’t finished or that they were there with their siblings. As we finished distributing the beds, I looked over to see the remaining people crowded around the Health Alert Uganda staff. Seeing so many that didn’t have beds, nets and bibles concerned me. I was nervous that a mistake had been made and that they were supposed to get beds but were being turned away because we didn’t have any more beds to give them.

As we began to load the van to leave, I learned that all of these children and their caretakers had come there to sign the children up for the Health Alert Uganda program so they could receive a resettlement kit. The HAU staff explained that many of these children and caretakers live with HIV/AIDS in secret because of the stigma and shame associated with the disease. Living in secret means that these children live without the anti-viral medications that they desperately need. Organizations like HAU have programs to provide healthcare and help to these affected children, but, of course, they cannot help them unless the children or their caretakers will come forward and share that they are HIV/AIDS positive.

Because of the work of Sweet Sleep to provide beds, mosquito nets, and bibles to these children, many children have been enrolled in the HAU program and will receive the much needed health care. We pray along with HAU that many children and their caretakers will come forward as a result of Sweet Sleep’s work in Gulu.
There are no words to describe how I felt when I saw so many children infected with HIV/AIDS. Sweet Sleep is making a difference here. The work must continue so that we can continue to serve the children who wait for beds and care. As you read this, know that your support through prayer and giving is literally changing and saving lives in Uganda.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” - James 1: 27

*posted by Lauren Farmer