Yes, I just said that. And I mean it.
At least I think I do. I've never been totally sure what that saying meant.
Before I knew about Buloba and Cornerstone's connection with Uganda, I knew about Bethany Village. I don't remember how I heard about it, but I did. Profound words, huh? Sorry. But somehow I knew about it and knew I definitely wanted to go.
Before I go on to tell you about the really awesome business model at work in Bethany Village, give me one extra minute of your time for me to tell you how honored and humbled I feel after seeing and experiencing your support, prayers, and interest in my time in Uganda. I am blown away by the knowledge that you guys are out there, in the vast labyrinth of blog-world, caring about what I have to say and encouraging me and following my adventures in Africa.
As of right now, I have only posted the first two days of the trip. Those days consisted of us getting our bearings and first glimpses of Kampala city-life, Buloba village-life, and two separate orphanages. I have shown you the mansion we were surprised and honored to stay in---you were surprised too, I bet. But that's Uganda. They give of their very best and make every effort to provide us with the utmost comfort. There was definitely an interesting, and at times, difficult-to-comprehend dichotomy between our living arrangements and that of living arrangements merely one block away. But, right now, the village just simply can't accommodate nine Americans. And so we stay in the Bridge Africa International guesthouses in the city. I believe I can speak for the whole team when I say we are so thankful for the generosity and giving-spirits of the people who welcome and watch over us while we stay to Uganda.
All that said, I hope you stick around just a little longer, as I post about the rest of the trip and share my experiences and stories. Some are heart-wrenching, some are hope-filled in the face of unfathomable pain, sickness, persecution, or poverty, some are stories of generosity beyond comprehension, and some are humorous, but all are stories (with the accompanying photos, of course) of a place of incredible, unadulterated beauty with a raw and tangible emotional appeal. A place on the brink of an awakening, whether it be economical, political, or spiritual or a combination of those three. A place with a heartbeat---very much alive and moving. A place that has captivated me, swept me off my feet, and a place I want so badly to share with each of you. Thank you for joining me on this journey!
So back to Bethany.
Here are some photos of the shores of Bethany Village and the path leading up to the main structures.
This was a serious line of ants. Look at these ranks. At least four rows wide.
Ant armies in Africa mean business, folks.
Can you believe this is real? It was even better in real life.
While we were there, we met the orphanage director, Denis, who walked us through the orphanage's original vision and some new strategies. Denis is a wonderful, wonderful man with a heart for God's children and a God-breathed vision for continuing and strengthening the already good work that is being accomplished at this sweet and not-so-small orphanage.
So here's the deal with Bethany.
Their vision is to be a "model Christian self-sustaining village" and to "raise leaders who will transform Ugandan society." Their hope is to enable vulnerable, broken, hurting, abandoned, neglected, abused, orphaned children to become true givers. The leadership at Bethany sees the church as the beginning of this transformation (see image above). From the church you get the branches of:
administration--- view themselves as overseers of the resources
medical clinic--- follow what Jesus did: care about the needs of the community
schools--- "once you develop a child, you develop a community!"
homes--- 11 homes with 198 children divided among them
sponsorship project--- exists to provide sponsorship for 632 kids to go to school/ discipled to learn skills
campsite--- being renovated now, but want to use it as a source of revenue (churches able to come visit)
farm--- opportunity for maximizing self-sustainability/ hopes for farm to become a commercial farm
All of those things together, enabled/donated/sponsored by the Christian community, creates and sustains villages. The church is the parent to all of this. The church, sharing the gospel with the whole village, discipling the whole village, meeting the needs of the village, being Jesus to the village and in fact, enabling the opportunity for a true community. Cool stuff. Denis stressed that the school was not to be the center of the village (community), but was to just be one of the departments of the church. All departments are supposed to help the WHOLE village, not just the orphanage.
Denis then spoke of how important it was for the orphanage to receive the donations and to then multiply them. Using the parable of the talents, he explained how it was the responsibility of the village to multiply the gifts and moneys given and thereby become more and more self-sustaining. Take for example, the farm. With a piggery (he said it and it's an awesome word, don't you agree?), 30 acres of corn, 30 goats with a goal to increase that number to 60, a starter vegetable garden, 2 greenhouses, and $2000 donated for an irrigation system so that 5 acres will be well-watered, the farm is set up so that each 'department' can expand and grow (you know, multiply!).
See, if someone donates a speedboat, while that's nice an all, there is a 100% chance that that boat will need maintenance and eventually breakdown. It's a static investment/donation. But, if someone donates tomato cages then there is now a method for growing the tomatoes and then the tomatoes can multiply! For once in my life, I like multiplication.
This is Denis' daughter hanging onto her mother's skirt.
This is the medical clinic and the nurse, Christine. Jennifer, a pharmacist, really enjoyed seeing the medicine cabinets and talking with Christine about her work at the orphanage.
And this is the wonderful, amazing, and spectacular school, and some photos of a geography class. Notice the awesome chalk map of Africa on the chalkboard. I told the teacher how awesome I thought it was and I think he thought I was crazy. All in a days work for him I guess. But I was impressed.
Look at that guy's smile.
Does this place look dreamy? It was.
Christian graffiti. Except later we found out that it wasn't graffiti. It was the name of the home. This home was "Blessed Home" and the "Praise Home" was across the street.
Bible verses over the door frames. One of the house mothers.
And a list of chores pinned on the dining room wall.
Some of the children at the orphanage.
A termite mound, with Davis as the scale figure,
so you can get a sense of how humungous those things were.
The orphanage farm. Pigs pens, a cow, and sort-of-a-spider.
My camera memory card ran out of space while we were here so I wasn't able to capture everything, unfortunately. That also meant that I spent the next 5-10 minutes of the tour reviewing and deleting pics from the memory card so that I could take more pictures... It was a tough assignment.
There was something about this pig pen. It didn't SMELL like a pig pen. Denis explained something about the use of plywood and the plywood shavings having something to do with why it didn't smell like a pig pen. I'm afraid I have forgotten the explanation. I'm pretty sure it had to do with the wood though. Also, the pigs' food is different (again I can't remember the concrete facts on this, sorry folks) and it makes feeding them a part of the self-sustaining farming process. I'm afraid to say that I think they re-eat some of their previously eaten and digested food. (Guys, did I make that up? Who remembers? Help!)
Then there was this spider. Or, rather, this web. Davis and Josh called me over to take a picture of a really enormous spider.... but I got distracted by the web and the sunlight and neglected to take a picture of the spider. Sorry guys! I also didn't take a picture of the baby cow (I know it's called a calf) that was in this pen. ...I had limited photo space! And just look how enchanting this web is! And I...
Okay, so I failed a little bit on taking pictures of the farm... but will you just look at that web!? Totally filled up with all those pesky gnats that swarmed all around us and in our mouths and ears and nose when we landed on shore. Perhaps, there may be more than one reason I think this web is fantastic and wonderful. I'm sure God had a reason for creating the gnats. And you know what? I think this photo shows it. So you see? This is a celebration of creation.
Okay. I was just trying to make you forget the fact I didn't take photos of the farm or the huge spider. Did it work?
And of course, here are some more children of Bethany Village.
This little girl saw us from far away and came racing towards us, followed soon after by those two other kiddos you can see running in the background.
Gah, can you believe these faces?
Two of them racing back to bring more of their group to meet us. Pretty cute, huh? I'm sure our cameras had something to do with our appeal, but all the same, it was a lot of fun.
Look at RJ's fan club!
Headed back out of Bethany, towards our docked yellow boat.
You can't see the boat. Don't try.
Okay, you can see a teeny-tiny sliver of it.
We had extra passengers on the way back to Gaba. A brother and sister. Early on in the boat ride back, Davis passed out bubble gum and demonstrated how to blow a bubble. The lesson didn't last very long because the kids were pretty shy, but Davis peeked over at the sister when we were almost back to Gaba and caught her mid-bubble! She had learned how to blow a bubble in one hour! I remember it taking me days to learn. So naturally, we were all impressed and I snatched up my camera, trying to get a photo of her new talent... But, uh, you remember how I mentioned that I ran out of space on my memory card? Yeah. So I missed the bubble. But I snagged this photo while she still had a really sweet, proud expression on her face.
And so we finally made it back to Gaba, and docked in this very blue-ish-green lagoon. The dock was floating and seemed very precarious to my experienced step. I warned everyone of the danger and gingerly (and yet expertly, of course) stepped my way down the dock and guided everyone onto dry and less blue-ish-green ground. They were very thankful for my expertise on that wobbly leg of the journey. What would they have done without me? I shudder to think.
A final note about Bethany: right now the orphanage is at capacity. But, as with other similar organizations, they hear about terrible cases and somehow find a way to make it work so that they can take on another child in a desperate situation. Denis told us some of the children's stories and they were horrible. Believe me. The work going on at Bethany is powerful and so very very important.
Remember Bethany Village Orphanage.
over and out from Africa via America,
and thanks for staying with this super long post,