As I am sitting here trying to find words to write about what Family Spirit means to me or how much the Ugandans that we serve with mean to me, I’m honestly at a loss. How in the world do you describe life changing trips and life-long connections to someone and do it justice? I’m not sure I can, but I’m going to do my best!
This summer was my third time returning to Uganda and serving Family Spirit and the community of Masindi. As always, I am filled with so many emotions: excitement, nervousness, fear, anxiety, gratefulness…the list can go on and on. I knew that the children were going to be just as excited to see us as we were them. I had experienced the love and joy from them twice before. But this time was slightly different. This was my second returning summer—the time before was in January with our leader Janie. When we went in January, the children were on holiday break, so not all of them were there. In fact, only about 40 of the nearly 300 children were actually at the school when I had last seen them. Each time, there are a few children that become “yours”. Let me explain. We love ALL of the children and try to love each of them with all of our hearts the best we can. However, each person seems to bond with about 5 or 6 children more so than others. These few that we share that bond with feel as if they are our own and we tend to spend every waking moment at Family Spirit with them. Obviously this leaves a lasting impression on us that we take back to the States with us. I was SO nervous that “my” kids were not going to remember me. Yes, I know as I am writing this that this sounds so silly and insignificant to the greater purpose that I feel called to in Uganda, but it’s the real emotions that I was feeling leading up to this trip.
After over 24 hours of travel time, we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda. We were feeling tired but oh so excited to hit the ground running. We arrived around 3 AM and the plan was to meet our Ugandan friends that were picking us up, load the vans, drive the nearly 5 hours to get to Masindi, and head straight to Family Spirit. At this point, as a whole, our travels had run pretty smooth. Aside from having to run to make our connection in the States, we were counting ourselves very lucky that everything had gone off without a hitch, until now. Only 12 of our 42 total bags actually made it to Uganda. That’s right, we were missing 30 bags. They were stuck until further notice in Istanbul, which is where our most recent connection had been. So what was only supposed to be about a 30-45 minute “get our visas, grab our bags, and go” scenario, ended up being an almost 2 hour process of filling out baggage claim forms and trying to describe both our personal bags and humanitarian bags to the Ugandan airport customer service representatives. We were told we could hope for them to be on the same flight the next day, but we needed to get on the road, so off we went with what we had on our backs and our spirits.
My good Ugandan friend, Ronald, was one of the friends to pick us up from the airport. He and his wife, Immy, are instrumental in most of the day in and day out running of the food that is provided to Family Spirit. I have worked with them in the past two visits to Uganda and was so excited to see them and their two sons Randy and Russell. Ronald was supposed to drive the luggage van, but since there was only a handful of bags to load, his van was empty, so I rode with him and a teammate Elizabeth. I was so excited to see him and now even more excited to spend some time catching up with him and spending quality time with this great friend of mine.
We made it safely to Masindi and spent the next few days loving on these children, serving them lunch, playing any and all games they wanted to with them. By the way, “my kids” did in fact remember me and remember all the great times we shared last summer. I was very sad to learn that one of “my” kids Enock, who I was the closest to, had transferred schools in Masindi and would not be returning. This can happen from time to time. Although I am sad that I may never see him again, I have faith that the Lord is providing for him and that he is being loved on by his peers and teachers at his new school.
The children of Family Spirit are in school when we visit in the summer. When they are in class, it allows us to be able to help with maintenance projects in and around the school while hopefully not distracting them from their school work. This year the team had two major projects to complete: sand and repaint all of the playground equipment and re-gravel the front parking lot/driveway and in the back of the school by the boy’s washroom. Let me tell you, that gravel was HEAVY. It was made with larger rocks than what we use in the States. We were able to work alongside hired Ugandans to move this gravel and by the end of the project it truly was the difference between night and day with how great it looked! It’s such a rewarding feeling to see how your hard labor can not only be aesthetically pleasing, but will make a difference to the quality of the school. The playground equipment was able to be painted a bright red and blue. Let me tell you, it looked so good after two coats of fresh paint!
When the kids get out of school we typically do one of two things: either do a VBS (they call it bible study) with them or we play for a while, leave for dinner, and come back to have a movie night. I absolutely love getting to sing praise and worship with these children. To hear their sweet voices and in their accent sing praises to the same God that I know and love….its a sound that I cherish. If we are doing VBS then after praise and worship, we have a lesson that is typically taught by Janie and then we split into their respective classes and have either a craft or game that accompanies the lesson. I have been with the same class each summer: P2 last summer and P3 this summer. This is the largest class in the school (46 kids this year) and boy let me tell you-there is a reason that I was never called to be a teacher. Thank goodness one of my teammates, Miss Anne, was a leader of this class with me. She is a retired teacher and was great at keeping the children in order and getting the rules and instructions across to them.
I love sharing the Word of God with the kids and singing praise and worship with them, but I also absolutely LOVE movie night at Family Spirit. This year, we brought Sing and The Greatest Showman. Our bags finally made it on day 3 of being in Masindi, so we could have a movie night! (the movies were in one of the bags that hadn’t made it). We brought sodas and popcorn from a local vendor to the school and the kids literally pile on top of us as we watched Sing. We project the movie on the wall of the assembly and dining hall and sit on the concrete floor. Again, these kids pile on top of us as we watch. Even though by minute 20 of this, my bottom is asleep and my back is on fire, I wouldn’t trade it for the world and would give anything to be doing that right now. It’s the best time and I love every minute of it. Below is a picture of me and all the kids that watched Sing with and ON me.
One of the main projects that we helped with this year is building a second chicken coop for our good friend Lawrence. Lawrence is a Ugandan friend that drives one of the vans that takes us to the various locations we go to while in Masindi. He also has hundreds of chickens at his house and sells their eggs to Family Spirit at a discounted rate so that the children can eat eggs on a regular basis. He is growing his business and needs a second coop and we spent one of our days moving bricks and laying them to help. We were able to see the building a day or so after we left and it was nearly completed! We are so excited for him and his business as it grows and continues to serve the children at Family Spirit.
About mid trip, we took a 1 ½ day break from serving to go to Murchison Falls National Park. During this trip we got to see Murchison Falls, which is a massive waterfall that feeds into the Nile River. The sheer power of this waterfall is breathtaking. We were able to go right next to the mouth of the waterfall and then also go to an overview ledge for a panoramic view of the waterfall. It was truly awe inspiring and majestic.
After the waterfall, we made it to the Para Lodge—our hotel for the night. This resort style hotel, is truly amazing. There is a great pool, wonderful buffet, and did I mention it overlooks the Nile River? We had about an hour or so to relax before getting ready for our safari. Some people took naps, others visited the gift shop, and some swam in the pool. We then went on about a 3 hour safari led by a trained guide of 17 years. We saw elephants, monkeys, giraffes, hippos, birds, warthogs and countless others. We even saw a leopard coming out of the park, which the guide said he had only seen three times in his career! It was spectacular! It really is one of the coolest experiences I have been apart of and I am so grateful for it. The Lord created a wonderful planet for us to exist on with these animals and to be able to see these creatures live in these grass plains without cages and walls surrounding them is an amazing thing to experience.
We left Murchison Falls National Park with renewed spirits and anxiously wanting to return to the children at Family Spirit. We knew we only had a few more days with them and wanted to spend as much quality time as possible. One of the things we couldn’t wait to get back for, was handing out all of the things we had brought for the children. We brought toiletry bags for every child that included: a toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap, deodorant, Vaseline, and a washcloth. We actually brought more than we anticipated and were able to leave extra bags for when the children ran out of items. We also had donated “pillow case” dresses. Every girl was able to receive two new dresses. Meanwhile, every boy was able to choose between a new shirt or new basketball shorts. Every child was also able to get new pens and pencils for school. Even though to us these seem like such small and insignificant items, it’s so awesome to see how excited and happy they are to receive these gifts from us. It really puts into perspective how much we take for granted in our every day life. They don’t even realize how many valuable lessons they taught me in just a few days of being there.
I failed to mention earlier that I am a nurse. Even though this isn’t considered a medical mission trip, I try my best to offer my services in any way possible. One of the ways that I try to help Family Spirit is by bringing a humanitarian bag filled with donated medical supplies from local hospitals and pharmacies. There is a room at Family Spirit that medications and medical supplies are kept. I was able to restock the shelves of the cabinets with antibiotic ointment, band-aids, bandages, tweezers and bandage scissors, a pediatric ambu-bag (with a lesson on how to use it if a child stops breathing), betadine and iodine to clean wounds, gloves, gauze, and tape. Even though 50 pounds of this is heavy, the shelves always seem so bare even after restocking and organizing. I know that every little thing helps, but I always leave wishing I could have brought so much more.
We finished our time with the kids at Family Spirit by loving on them as best we could and spending as much quality time with them as possible. We had a dance party with them on the 4th of July, which is always more fun than any dance party I’ve ever been to in the States! We did more VBS lessons and had another movie night and watched The Greatest Showman. Every day always seems to move faster than the last, but that’s how we know that we are truly invested and having the time of our lives. Every trip is better than the last and Family Spirit, our Ugandan friends, these kids, and this little town of Masindi has made more of an impact on my life than I could ever describe. I love this place and these people with all of my heart and I cannot wait for my next trip to serve.