Uganda Day 1
As the Fields of Dreams Uganda team arrived to the first orphanage, we soon found out how quickly personal space was lost. When our van pulled up on New Kabaale Busega’s campus we saw the children lined up singing their welcome song & clapping on beat with giant smiles on their faces. We got out of the van & felt very welcomed! The students sang a welcome song as we paraded through the line of children which lead us to their Sunday morning chapel. After listening to their pastor preach we had the opportunity to sit & watch the students dance traditional dances, sing & entertain us. Every student was filled with joy that we had come & were there to help make their dreams a reality. Before FoDU handed out the football (soccer) equipment we brought them, the choir performed their rendition of my single Morning Light. I had asked each partner school to learn my song for the live EP we’re going to release in the Spring. As the students began to sing, I was overwhelmed with excitement & astonished at the outcome! These students had put their own spin on my song & included dance moves! The performers had made my song their own & with great pride! How honored I felt & humbled that they had taken time to invest into my ministry. One of my favorite parts of the trip was hearing the children, even the 3 year olds (!) sing Morning Light all over the campuses throughout the entire day. Never got old.
As Mike Warneke (FoDU Founder & Executive Director) & Jonathan Ssebambulide (FoDU National Director in Uganda) brought in the bags & boxes of football equipment to hand out to the teams, the students roared with screams & hand claps to show their appreciation. We had helped their dream become reality by just giving them used cleats & jerseys.
Though we had only spent 6 hours with these children, it had seemed like 2 days. Having children follow you around, making you sing, holding their hands, letting them touch your white skin, explaining what freckles were, playing volleyball, wore our whole team out. However, experiencing the joy on day one that had simply come by showing up, was phenomenal & in a word, priceless.
This is Eddy. He wants to become a doctor.
Uganda Day 2
Waking up at 5:50 am today in the states, one thing I miss most about Africa is the sunshine beaming through my window. I slept most of the day yesterday, & knowing I’ll have to put a coat on before leaving the house this afternoon makes me cringe. Other than the sun, I miss the people I’ve been traveling with for the last 10 days & the new faces & hearts I met along my journeys. Looking through pictures yesterday & hearing people talk about the orphans or ask me questions about them made me tear up & get emotional. I praise God for allowing me to remember Uganda, I ask that he would continue to do so day after day!
Day 2 : Blessed Hope Champions Academy
Once again our van pulled up to the second orphanage & was swarmed by the children at Blessed Hope Champions Academy. Their smiles, laughter & screams of excitement had our team smiling as we parked our van under a tree to stay cool in the African sun. We hopped out one by one & a child latched onto us as we walked around getting acquainted with the place. This orphanage had more land than New Kabaale Busega which in turn had more room for more children, livestock & gardens to provide for their living. Pastor Joel was the man in charge of the facilities & gave us a tour of the campus which included a chicken coop & pig pen.
We were welcomed by songs & yet again another Morning Light performance. This group of students struggled with the bridge of my song, but was still adorable that they tried & continued to sing what they knew of my song throughout the day. One shocker of the trip was that a lot of the students knew pop songs such as Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen & (less of a shocker) Waive Your Flag by K’Naan.
After we handed out the football equipment, Pastor Joel spoke & said we were helping this children become the champions that they are.
Imagine that for a moment. 1. We came to this academy our broken American selves who did nothing but show up, hold the hand of a child & sing songs all day. By showing up, hope was there. 2. By giving them something as simple as donated soccer equipment, the children had hope to become champions! Whoa. Not just your average footballers, but champions. How cool is that?
A couple things stuck out to me during this day. The Lord was providing, at Blessed Hope & for our team. I remember hearing Shane mention his camera battery lasted until his very last shot of the day, when the children were thirsty Pastor Joel surrendered his own bottle of water to the kids while we were at the football field. Another reminder of that day was that God’s grace is enough. His grace meets us everyday. Pastor Joel’s laugh was another thing that stuck out to me at Blessed Hope. He’d laugh so hard it was contagious. It was so very nice not to have to instagram or tweet, or text people, even get online. Actually talking to people & investing in people’s lives was important to do & something I miss greatly.
Day 3 Africa Greater Life
Before we headed to our third orphanage [Africa Greater Life] we had been informed that the children at this orphanage had a darkness in their eyes – that they had been through a lot & that more of the older students had been captured by rebels during the war. As we unloaded out of the van, an excitement of our arrival still filled the air but I could sense a standoffish vibe from many of the older students. On the way to the orphanage I made a mental note that I wanted to make a point to connect with the teenagers today, not because of what I had heard about them, but because they are the age range of people I minister to back home. I typically lead worship to Jr High & HS Students at weekend retreats & many youth events. I really enjoyed playing with the little kids & holding their hands all day, but I was lacking communication with the people I minister to most back home. As I got out of the van I noticed that these students seemed a bit filthier than the other orphanages we went to. One of the first students I saw was about 2 years old who made me feel this way. As we walked to where the students were performing a traditional dance for us, I noticed a large phrase painted on the side of the building saying : Abstinence is for for both Boys & Girls. I had seen signs like this at other orphanages, but realizing the size of this one in a central location of the campus made me aware of the past & pain that was at this campus. I wish the US had these signs posted everywhere.
After the FoDU team handed out the new soccer & net ball equipment I found myself under a tree surrounded by children to watch the teams train with Coach Peter (FoDU’s Ugandan Training Coach). Remembering what I mentioned about the dirty kids in the paragraph above, that girl whom I did not want to hold in fear she’d pee all over me, came & sat in my lap. The dirtiest, sweatiest, most precious little baby girl named Queen ended up crawling into my lap & falling asleep. Though there was chaos & singing & laughing happening all around her, she found trust & comfort in my lap. Talk about guilt. From that moment on, I didn’t care about personal space, dirt, how greasy my hair felt, it was an honor to be in the presence of God’s children & to be one myself.
The day was almost done & I still hadn’t found myself chatting with the older students. I had the opportunity to play football with 12 year olds & I attempted to chat with a few of the older girls earlier in the day, but failed at conversation quickly. With about an hour left of our day, I saw a group of about 6 guys sitting under some shade so I went over to talk with them. They were very welcoming & told me how proud & excited they were for the football tournament on Saturday. Finding common ground allowed them to open up to talk about movies & their past. It was encouraging to know that these students wanted to learn more about me as much as I did about them.
People are the same everywhere – there’s always the smart kid, funny kid, bully, athlete, shy guy, leader, follower, the one who makes your heart melt (aka for me, anyone under 2) etc… but there’s truly something special in the hearts & minds of the Ugandans I met in the past 8 days. Seeing a spark of joy in the midst of pain, hunger & hurt of where they’ve come from is truly a blessing that I wish for all of you to see!
The dusty bumpy road to Gulu
By day 4 of our journey I had been craving Mexican. Eating white rice & beans every day with occasional chicken was fulfilling, but missing the food I eat most in the states was weighing on my mind. ☺ Day 4 was the first day of our trip where we were not visiting a local orphanage. Instead we took a 5 hour road trip to Gulu which is in Northern Uganda that had been effected greatly by the war that recently ended 5 years ago. We took time to visit 3 locations in Gulu to seek potential partnerships with two schools & a sports ‘complex’. The first school we went to we spoke with a teenager named Nancy who loved the sport of javelin. She was confident that by the 2016 Olympics she’d be on TV for us all to see. When we asked her what would hold her back from becoming an Olympian in 2016, she said proper training & the equipment to do so. She was confident that her ability to throw a javelin was mastered with what she had been given, the only thing lacking was a coach & proper tools. THE ONLY THING HOLDING HER BACK was something FoDU could easily help her obtain.
The second school we went to during the late afternoon, the children did not know we were coming. This meeting was more so for Mike & the board members to meet with the school leaders to talk about potential partnerships. Shane, Austin & I didn’t feel like sitting in a hot room listening to adults speak, so we did what we had grown accustomed to do – play with the children, make them laugh, sing, dance & play football! When we pulled in we noticed the students were playing with a homemade soccer ball. We had the opportunity to kick it around a bit! ..and see how easily it could fall apart.
At the end of the day we had the opportunity to have dinner with a woman named Jennifer who works with an organization called Sweet Sleeps that ensures every child has a bed to sleep on. She is 28 years old & recently got married in December. As she began telling us her story I couldn’t believe that someone my age had been through so much. Throughout her entire life she had lived through a war zone. At the age of 5 she had been abducted by the LRA rebels & had to cook meals for them. By the grace of God she had escaped within time, but was recaptured later on in her teenage years. She spared us stories & details from those years, but I cannot fathom having to bury both of my parents, & having to bury my father in pieces. Despite the pain, sorrow & captivity this young women had been through, she found joy in conquering the past & desires to put hope in those who lost it during the war. The war ended 5 years ago. FIVE YEARS AGO. I cannot fathom entire generations knowing nothing but war & terrifying conditions day after day. Jennifer told us she would sleep in the bush on one side in fear that if she moved she would be caught by the rebels, even though her clothing was being eaten by termites.
While in Gulu, Denis a 19 year old man was our guide for the day. He was an encouraging man to meet who has a huge heart for the youth of Uganda. He has leadership skills as well as football skills that impressed our entire team. We made sure he was able to attend the football tournament on Saturday & he hopes FoDU can make their way to Gulu to make a tournament happen there as well. The entire country of Uganda was effected by the war, but Gulu was greatly impacted & hope is a basic need that FoDU can provide in a place longing for it. Denis is also a song writer & I cannot wait to hear the songs he’s written!
Waking up in Gulu felt like I had been in Uganda for several weeks. Which is what I wanted. I hoped our trip could be extended so we could go back to the partnering schools we had visited days before & so we could make a bigger impact in Gulu while in the area. One thing that continued to tug on my heart while at each orphanage was the endearing question of, ‘When will you come back?’ Mike Warneke told us that when we make promises to these children or tell them that we’ll be praying for them, we better be sincere & actually follow through. He said a couple years ago he had told one of the students about his little boy Gideon & the first thing the boy asked about when seeing him a year later was how Gideon was. Amazing. Throughout that entire year he had been praying for Mike & his family. How often I forget to pray for someone I saw the same day. Knowing how quickly these children must grow up due to their circumstances in the land was mind blowing. Knowing that when in Gulu we were only 3 hours from Sudan was intriguing & crossing over the Nile River (the same river mentioned in the bible, quote unquote by Austin Hill☺) was astonishing.
Day 5 was a day of togetherness. Our team (including our driver Frank & FoDU National Director, Jonathan) got up at 5 am to head to Murchinson Falls & venture on a safari! On our way to the park we had seen 3 giraffes, a beautiful sunrise & monkeys on the side of the road. It was incredible to see such gorgeous creatures in their natural environment. As we entered the park we were blown away by the animals we saw. It was humorous how quickly we had adapted to seeing the animals, even elephants & were as excited as we were when first seeing them. Oh how easily the spark wears off! This day was greatly needed, a day of peace, laughter & joy before our big day of the football tournament!
The Widows Market
The day had finally come when we were going to the widows market in Kampala!! This day was very important to me because it’s essential to my partnership with Fields of Dreams Uganda. Though FoDU is soccer oriented, the way I help raise funds for the organization is by selling handmade products from the widows in Kampala. FoDU consistently purchases products from two ladies named Rose & Hannifah. As we approached the widows market I was excited to spend my shillings on amazing handcrafted products to support families in need. Our team pushed our way through the crowd & hecklers to Hannifah’s small shop that was overflowing with colorful fabrics. She had over a hundred purses for us to look at, coin purses, scarves & many other products to sort through to take home with us. It was incredible to finally meet the women who has been making all the products I sell at my shows & to hear her story. It was also amazing to find out that these products were authentic & that I was actually purchasing items from Uganda. Not going to lie, when I first saw all the Ugandan products in Mike’s office back in the Spring of last year, I thought to myself, Are these real? ☺ Hannifah has been working in the market for 6 years. She told us how she lost her husband from AIDs many years ago & wants to put the best products out to sell so she can support her family. She travels very far to get the fabrics she most desires. We spent hours with Hannifah & was able to watch her & her sister & cousin finish making a couple purses.
The next amazing women I met at the market was a widow named Rose. Rose was tall like me, she was a very soft spoken women with a lot to say. There was a beauty, a peace & a kindness about Rose that was lovely to see. Rose is from Northern Uganda & traveled south to Kampala when the war began. She made her journey south with a group of about 10 other widows & their children to make a living in the widow’s market. They moved to ensure a safe environment for their families to live. During Rose’s interview she told us how she lost her husband & how difficult it has been to support her family. She has two boys & makes it a priority to get them through school. While talking to Rose, I felt her pain of the past, having to flee from Northern Uganda. With our recent visit to Gulu, it made me realize the reality of what Rose escaped from. We had the opportunity to see Rose spin a few pieces of paper into rolls for beads with a small needle which is amazing to know a simple product like paper can create such a beautiful product. Rose didn’t have a shop in the widow’s market like Hannifah, she could only sell her products in the square on Friday’s & she sold her products under a tent with her beads set out on tarp on the ground.
One of the challenges the widows face in the market is getting their fabrics, papers & supplies to their homes & to the market without a vehicle. They stack papers & fabrics on their head & walk miles to their homes, then have to transport products to their shop or tent for the day. It was amazing to see the incredible quality the products Rose & Hannifah were putting out for people to sell. Another challenge the women face are the amount of products being sold at the market. Something has to set these items apart since everyone can’t get to know their personalities, their products much be great. Despite the trials these women face, they have so much pride in their work & products. These women have hope knowing that we believe in them & that people like YOU are purchasing their products in America. They were extremely grateful & it overwhelmed me with joy to meet & be welcomed by these women who have such a presence at my shows. I cannot wait to show you the new products! You can see some of the examples of products at jenniewellsand.com/Uganda
James 1:27 NLT Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
The day had finally come when we were going to see the orphans play football!! The Fields of Dreams team arrived to a sea of children lined up ready to march through the town in a parade to the Vision for Africa campus where the tournament was taking place. Each school made signs with their name on it & the brass band began warming up their instruments. The music started & the teams marched with pride to the field. It was an incredible, joyful experience. As I watched the teams enter the field, they did not look like orphans. They looked like champions. These champions had hope that casted out worry & anything they lacked was not on their minds as they entered the field. The uniforms helped these students look the part but their pride for the game & natural skill for the game of soccer increased the reality of who God has called these young people to be. Impressed by the maturity of these players & seeing the joy that the game brought into their lives assured a need for Fields of Dreams to be a part of the young players lives in Uganda.
As the games went on, a little boy named Abraham attached himself to my side for the rest of the day. He was 5 years old, from Sudan & had the kindest eyes & cutest smile. Everywhere I went, Abraham went holding my hand.
At the end of the tournament every child received a medal, every team received a trophy & players who impressed Coach Peter with their talent received gifts like their very own pair of cleats, a soccer ball or other sporting items of that nature. Being able to hand out these awards was an incredible experience. When a team or name was announced a roar of excitement filled the air. The joy of being part of an event like this gave the orphans hope – we knew that they would wake up the next morning with that medal around their neck with a smile & heart with gratitude. It was a day they’d never forget.
It was also a day I’d never forget. At the end of the tournament & prize giveaways it was time for the orphans that lived at Vision for Africa to go to back to their rooms & get ready for bed. It was dark by now & there wasn’t any light other than a few of our flashlights on the field. Abraham was still holding my hand when all of a sudden a teenager came up to him & shoved him away from me. My heart dropped as I felt this little persons hand pull away from mine. It was like he was being ripped away from me. I didn’t realize how attached I had grown to Abraham throughout the day. I only knew 3 things about him. He was 5 years old, from Sudan & loved the game of football. Knowing how much comfort & trust he had in me, then being forced away from my hand caused me so much hurt when his hand was separated from mine. Within the 3 seconds our hands were apart, I looked at him & he looked at me & said, “NO! NO! NO!” & ran back to me & jumped in my arms. I grabbed him in the chaos & held him in a hug & said how nice it was to meet him & that I hope he had a good night sleep … & let him go.
Looking back at the situation, I wish I would’ve walked him back to his room or walked with a group of kids to wherever they were going. In the midst of the chaos I didn’t have time to think about it. It’s insane to think I may NEVER see Abraham again.
Through this experience I know this, God is in control. The comfort & trust Abraham found in me was not me, it was God working through me to love on this child & the thousand other orphans we had come in contact with during the week. Our team was sent to Uganda to empower these children through the vehicle of soccer & education – but more so through the Holy Spirit. Knowing that God is in control of the every situation helps me find comfort in leaving Uganda – leaving Abraham -- knowing that (hopefully) soon I will be back & see many of these students again to continue showing God’s mercy, grace & love.