Saturday, July 30, 2011
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.
-- Amy Covington
Friday, July 29, 2011
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.
Forever blessed and forever changed,
Thursday, July 28, 2011
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
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.
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
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.
God is working here in
Monday, July 25, 2011
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 them...as 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 all....to 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
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
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)
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 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.
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