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Review for Children of Grace, Danville, CA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

I have been on the Uganda Camp All-Stars team twice and wrote the following about my experiences there. To say the least, I believe that this is an incredible organization that has bettered the lives and hearts of countless people.

Camp All Stars: On the morning the campers were going to arrive I was walking with Teo to breakfast. My family is currently sponsoring her through University. Although Teo is my age, I completely look up to her. She has a heart that knows Jesus and is passionately in love with Him. This is evident through her worship and testimonies, her heart for the children and them knowing their Savior, and her devotion to serving others. While we were walking she told me about the dream she had just had the night before. In the dream, my mom, dad, and brother were walking down the road. My brother cried out, “TEO!” and she didn’t recognize them because they were far off. She asked, “How do you know me?” Luke put his hand over his heart and said, “I know you.” Then, she recognized them and was so excited that they had come to surprise us at camp. It was an incredible way to start the week, but left me doubting whether God really wanted me there, and not my dad and brother who hadn’t yet had this experience.

Camp was much more difficult for me than it was two years ago. I realized that I expected the camp I had previously experienced, where I had made incredible relationships with the campers, had the energy to dance every night, and every experience was new and thrilling. It wasn’t until the end of the week that I realized I was really guarding my heart from developing deep relationships with the campers. I was constantly reminded of Martin and Isaac, two of the campers that myself, Nicole, and my mom became very close too. This year I found myself gravitating only towards the girls, and even then not letting them get too deeply rooted in my heart. I now knew how hard it was to leave the country, not knowing when you would return to see children you had fallen in love with.

However, God was really working to break down the walls I hadn’t even realized were up. Throughout the week I was reflecting on Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” I realized that I hadn’t been living with a heart, soul, and mind that was completely in love with God. I wanted more of my thoughts to be about God’s work. I wanted my heart to desire God alone and be passionate about my relationship with Him.

That week I became closest with two young girls named Mariam and Hasifa. Both still in the innocent and younger side of Jr. High, I was able to sit next to them at most meals and times of worship. I hope that I was able to speak Truth into their lives and let them know that they are incredibly loved.
Mariam’s mother was at the Children of Grace office after camp selling jewelry to support her family. She asked for me specifically and told me that Mariam had cried all night because she was so sad it was over and missed me so much. I don’t know when, but I’m so excited to see that little girl again and write to her in the meantime.

Sponsor Day

The second main experience was sponsor day, where I was reunited with Julius, the ten year-old boy my family sponsors. Two years ago Julius was incredibly shy, didn’t speak a word of English, and was hard to get to know. This year, he ran straight up to Nicole and I and gave us a big hug. Once given our camera, he truly came to life, mostly enjoying taking pictures of his face or the waiter serving the sodas at lunch.

I also met Beckline, the ten year-old girl my family sponsors, for the first time. She was much stronger than Julius at English and was easier to get to know. She sat very close and after about five minutes and offering her a stick of gum, she was brave enough to reach out at touch my hair. She must have been curious, as it looks and feels quite different from hers. Immediately after she flashed me a huge smile and melted into me. This little moment shattered any and every wall that was guarding my heart from falling in love with her. I knew my heart would be broken to leave her, but I was also so excited to share her joy with my family.

We spent the day going to church, lunch, and then a boat ride on Lake Victoria to see the source of the Nile river. This attraction was literally in their backyard and yet most of them had never been on a boat. It was a wonderful and peaceful experience to share with them. I had the privellege of driving Beckline back to her village. On the way, I learned that she lived in one of the poorest parts of Jinja, which is already incredibly poor. I wasn’t able to see her house as we just dropped her close by, but Teo told me that she stays in a tiny wooden shack with her mother and six siblings. To try to gage the size and type of home, I pointed out a small shack that I thought would be much smaller than what Beckline would live it. Teo said, “No. Much smaller than that.” My heart was broken. Luckily, Children of Grace provides her school fees where during the school year she stays at Glory, a primary school where she has a meal everyday and a bed to sleep in at night.

I’m still processing this lesson, but it goes along with the first. I learned that I need to allow God to break my heart for what breaks His and trust Him. I need to trust that He loves Beckline and Julius more than I ever could and that He will protect them in a situation that I find overwhelming and devastating.

Free Day

Finally, I spent my last full day in Jinja with my brothers Martin and Isaac, the boys that I had fallen in love with from camp two years before. They were sitting down beside the COG office when I walked up engaged in conversation with one of the American team members. I casually glanced over and said “Hi”, then did a double take and am pretty sure I squealed when I realized it was them. They were in my arms before they could even fully stand.

We spent the day, along with Nicole and Erik, walking around town. We took them out to lunch and Isaac got a cheeseburger that rivaled In n’ Out. Then they took us into the old and new market. After just a few blocks there were no more mizungos (foreigners or white people), only Ugandans. The path was narrow and there were wooden shops on both sides of us for miles. There were rows and rows of these shops. It was an incredible experience.

Then we took the taxi to their village and a boda (motorcycle taxi) to Isaac’s home. Isaac lived more in the country, away from the highway. He had a front lawn and a small banana farm behind his home. His home is a small brick building with two bedrooms, a small living room, and an entryway. His room has two twin beds and he shares one with his younger brother, Edgar.

Martin lived closer to the main road and his place was behind a line of shops. We first entered into a type of courtyard where there were about fifteen kids, some naked or half naked, playing while their moms or aunties did washing. Martin’s home was behind a blue curtain. It was two small bedrooms, one with two twin beds where him and his auntie sleeps, and the back room where his grandmother (jaja) sleeps.

Martin showed me his greatest treasure, his two small plastic photo albums. He had every picture he’d ever received, including very old family photos. He had a photo of his mother, Anita, who passed away (most likely from AIDS, as sponsor kids from COG have one or both parents who died of AIDS, but I didn’t ask). I was able to take a photo of him holding the picture of his mother. Martin has the best smile I’ve ever seen and shares it often, but in this picture I saw an incredible sadness.

Martin and Isaac taught me to treasure the relationships I have with people now. Losing those I love isn’t as much of a reality for me as it is for Martin and Isaac, but I saw the value of the time I do have. Loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, and mind involves serving people, building them up, and treasuring the time I have with them because I am called to love them as Jesus loves them.

As I said, I’m still processing these and other experiences, but I hope that these stories give some insight into life in Uganda. Please be praying for all the names I have mentioned as well as all the children who still need sponsorship.

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Role:  Volunteer