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Uplifting Updates from Kisozi

Posted on June 20, 2014 at 9:10 AM

 

The Lord has been doing some amazing things in Kisozi at Kisozi Healing Tabernacle (International) Church! I had the opportunity to visit with Pastor Reuben to receive the following really uplifting updates.

 

Church Land: During a larger community choir concert and celebration around the Easter holiday, a visitor to Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church was so profoundly touched by his worship experience and the palpable passion of KHTC’s congregation that he made a very generous financial pledge to assist in the purchase of the church’s land!! One of the church members offered to sell the plot of land where the church is currently located at a very reduced price. This generous soul will be answering a great prayer for KHTC!! WOW, that is some BIG news!!

 

Church benches: As I shared in the previous blog posts, on most Sundays the congregation of Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church sits on blankets or tarps covering the hard ground during their service. When special visitors or events are occurring at church, the congregation must borrow plastic chairs from every possible location within the community. But thanks to a donation of trees which were cut down from a congregation member’s land, enough wooden benches were made to seat the entire HTC congregation and their future visitors!

 

Youth Projects: One of Kisozi’s greatest overall community needs is finding opportunities to engage, empower, and employ youth within the community. (See one of my previous blogs about Youth Projects.) This weekend Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church is sponsoring 8 youths within the community (not all congregation members of KHTC) to attend a 4-day Youth Conference within Kampala. These youth (5 women and 3 men ages 18-27) will spend their time learning valuable skills for entrepreneurship, life skills, and motivational speeches encouraging them to make a difference in their immediate community. The youth will attend sessions to learn how to make candles and soap, plant/harvest mushrooms, and grow feed for cattle, as well as business planning sessions to launch their projects. In addition, they will learn the process of purifying water for individual households. These youths are being asked to return to Kisozi sharing this new information with other youths. In August, the church is hopeful for the funds to bring one of the Conference facilitators to Kisozi to assist with a work plan for the youths, as they launch their projects. Amazing, potential life-altering opportunity for these youth!!

 

Visitors' Quarters: Receiving visitors is quite a celebration for the entire community of Kisozi. It brings an incredible honor to be the chosen host/hostess to receive and facilitate visitors. One of the families of Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church has donated some of their land to construct a couple of simple, self-contained huts for Pastor Reuben and visitors to stay within while visiting the Kisozi community. This is really a gift from the heart!!

 

As you can see the Lord is answering prayers and opening doors within the Kisozi community. But there are still opportunities for your assistance, as there is still lots of work to complete. Youth still need some funding for their simple projects. Visitors are still needed to assist with some of these community projects. Knowledge or advices are still appreciated as this community seeks to move forward to better conditions for the next generation. Please continue to keep this community, ministry, and the pastoral staff (Pastor Reuben and Pastor Jovia) in your prayers.

 

Community Need #3: Youth Development Projects- Working Together for the Benefit of All

Posted on April 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM

There is a palpable sense of community within Kisozi, both within and outside of the church setting. It reminds me of really small towns in America, where people know each other by first name, can share personal details of their neighbors (like children, job, family history), and everyone waves at/ greets everyone. There are no strangers within this community.

 

However, actual jobs within the community of Kisozi are very few. There are few shops or businesses, so most of them are owner-operated. Youth mainly sit idle, not because of their laziness but the reality of their situation. Most of them have never traveled very far outside of the community. Perhaps they have on occasion traveled to the nearest village slightly larger than Kisozi with a trading post, but their exposure to the ‘outside world’ is very limited. There are no televisions, computer, or regular newspapers to provide information about the progressions within their country. Residents rely largely on word-of-mouth or radios on cell phones to obtain any Ugandan or worldwide news.

 

There are dozens of small projects that could stimulate the economy of Kisozi, as well as develop vocational skills for youth. Most of the project ideas are simple, but have great potential. There are no fruits available within the community. A family could plant some simple fruits (like passion fruits, watermelon) in their garden to sell to local markets within Kisozi and other smaller villages. They could also plant other vegetables that are expensive to obtain at local markets (like tomato, cabbage, eggplant, mushroom). They could make soap to sell to small local shops for use. They could produce Ugandan cultural craft items (necklaces, bracelets, beaded household trinkets, woven mats) for sale to larger craft markets. Simple projects, right?!

 

Before any of these projects can be generated, there first must be some capacity building in the youth of Kisozi. Youth usually grow up with very concrete, direct orders with must be followed without question or delay. So a project, regardless of its simplicity, requires some forward planning and critical thinking that is not necessarily nurtured here in Uganda. These youth would need a teacher who will provide basic lessons, including information about project planning, some fundamental skills (like crop care or quantity sizing or craft demands), business planning (like savings, money management, restocking), and effective communication with suppliers. These are not profoundly difficult skills, but there is a certain level of teaching, coaching, and mentoring to get even the most simple of projects off the ground. There is this proverb about ‘teaching a man to fish and feeding him for a lifetime.’ Such perfectly describes the Kisozi community.

 

In addition to the lessons and mentoring, the youth of Kisozi would need small start-up capital for their projects. Seeds, beads, soap making supplies are relatively cheap, and any project could be started for between $30-$80 USD. But when a family is lucky to have a monthly income of $14/month and finds it exceedingly difficult to feed themselves from day-to-day, the small capital is realistically impossible.

 

For community needs in Kisozi, I am prayerful for the power of ONE. ONE teacher willing to share their skills with one or more youth. ONE person willing to pledge capital or donate supplies for a youth to begin an income generating project. ONE youth who is dedicated to being successful with a project. ONE community member or market vendor who will agree to purchase the goods. This ONE can ignite a fire and passion for more. Income can be generated to not only continue the first project, but also support others. After all, Kisozi is ONE community with ONE common vision… to see development and changes that will assist the next generation with an easier, more fruitful life.

Community Need #2: Schools- Educating the Little Ones

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 9:00 AM

In Uganda most schools are privately-owned. However, the government has established Primary and Secondary schools throughout Uganda, particularly in vulnerable areas to facilitate education. In those areas ‘deep in the village,’ a single school is built to serve students for several kilometers in all directions. These Government Schools do not charge school fees, but parents must provide school requirements (ream of photo copy paper, brooms, toilet papers), school supplies (books and pens), and school uniforms.

 

For the children of Kisozi, the nearest school is Busheka, about 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) away for those nearest to the school. Other children could walk upwards to 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) one way to school daily. (NO kidding!) There are no school buses, so children walk to school. Schools never cancels due to rain, so even during rainy season, school is in session. The road to Busheka is a narrow, pot-hole riddled, dirt road covered on both sides with heavy bush of thick trees and tall weeds. This road is the solitary road leading in/out of Kisozi, and it feels like you are walking directly through a cattle pasture. Children carry their books to school, along with the lunch (usually only a tin or bottle of milk) daily to school.

 

School is supposed to begin at 8am. But before school, children have the household chores of fetching water, attending the family’s cattle, or garden work, so the majority of students actually arrive to school around 10am. Teachers have shared that students are often so exhausted by the labors of their morning work that they sleep through a couple of lessons. Many of them will come with a single notebook for 4 subjects of study and a single pencil grinded down to the nub. There are no visual aids on the walls or textbooks for reading. But students are eager to learn. They are attentive and cooperative during lessons. Due to the long walk home and evening chores at home, school must release classes no later than 3pm. (Here at SMKOM, classes are strictly scheduled from 7:30am-5:00pm.)

 

The Kisozi community has 2 great challenges in sending children to Busheka for schooling. The first challenge is the distance and safety. Realistically preschool aged children (under 5 years) do not have the physical stamina for such a long walk one way to school, and younger elementary students (under the age of 9 years) are feared to be lost or injured along the way. So education for the majority of children in Kisozi begins around 10 years. There are several secondary challenges associated to this late start to schooling. Some critical years of formative learning have been lost, so learning basic concepts at this advanced age often proves difficult. In addition, students are physically larger and more developed, if there happens to be an age-appropriate class mate. With the great age delays, students are reaching adulthood while still in Primary school.

 

Physical maturity leads to the second challenge of education in the Kisozi community, which is the high priority placed on cattle-rearing over education. For generations, the first challenge has existed, so as you can imagine, a very small percentage of students actually complete Primary School in Kisozi. Such a reality has resulted in a largely illiterate, impoverished, developmentally stunted community. Rearing cattle provides some family income (about 30,000UGX $14 USD/monthly, if one is lucky to become employed by a larger rancher), so there are tremendous pressures, particularly amongst the boys as they mature, to forego education to rear cattle and create their own home-stead. For girls, the pressures to forego education relate to early marriage and providing dowry for the family.

 

When the church initially established itself in the community, Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church established a small community school for Baby Class (like Preschool in America) through Primary 3 for a couple of years. It was a tremendous success! Students flocked to school (although still late after completing their morning chores) eager in their simple school uniform, small pail of milk for lunch, small note book, and pencil in hand. At that time, the church had a funder who provided the salaries for class teachers (about $90/month per teacher), and Pastor Jovia provided the teachers’ lodging (about $16/month per teacher). It was like an answered prayer to the community. Children were learning and thriving. They were even going home to teach their parents basic phrases of English or how to add/subtract. But then the funding stopped, and despite the church’s best efforts, the school had to close. The community has continued to mourn the loss of this small school, and they desperately want to find a means to reopen the school at the new church location.

 

Truly one of the greatest gifts America has bestowed upon its citizens is a free, well-rounded, readily available education. Here in Uganda, an education is an almost elite privilege, even to the youngest of children. Students here are motivated beyond anyone I have ever met with this almost insatiable desire new knowledge and learning. Students must go to incredible lengths to attend school, even for a single lesson. They walk literally miles in the teeming rain, if they must. They often beg their parents to allow them to continue attending school. And you will NEVER hear a single complaint from a child attending school. Not one.

 

When I was in the 3rd grade, our family moved to a rural area. Our home bordered the northern boundary of the school district. My brother and I attended a small public school, so we rode the bus every day to and from school. Because of our home’s location, we were the first on the bus in the morning and the last ones off in the evening. I thought a lot about that childhood experience while being in Kisozi. If I was born in Uganda instead of America, my brother and I would have had to walk to school daily. We would not have had the great education with textbooks, maps, visual aids, charts, and fully stocked library. We would not have eaten a hot, freshly-cooked meal for lunch. The stark contract of the reality of American and Ugandan education continues to astound me. (And I don’t think it can ever stop astounding me.)

 

For this community need in Kisozi, I am being prayerful for a funding opportunity, perhaps a private benefactor or a small grant, which will allow Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church to reopen its school for the youngest youth (Baby Class through Primary 3) in the community. Also, I am prayerful for some educational supplies to enhance these classrooms. It could be textbooks/storybooks, maps, learning charts, pencils, flashcards…anything that will stimulate the minds of these youth and feed their thirst for learning. I hope to one day visit Kisozi to listen to the sounds of children reciting the ABCs, witness them doing math problems, and hear a story read by one of the students. Yeah… that would indeed be a great day in Kisozi for all!

Community Need #1- Water: Not Clean and Available for All

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 8:50 AM

780 Million people worldwide lack access to an improved water source… that is about 1 in every 9 people. Here in Africa 345 Million people are without access to clean water. They find water in open water sources (like rivers, ponds, reservoirs), water run-offs, or rain water collection. 3.4 Million people worldwide will die annually from a water related disease (which is almost the entire population of Los Angeles). Majority of illness is caused by fecal matter present in water. More people have a mobile phone than a toilet. And an American taking a 5-minute shower uses more water than the average person in developing country slum uses for an entire day.

 

Before coming to Uganda, I was one of the privileged Americans who every day of my life had access to clean water…. not only clean water, but the choice of cold or hot water (a true luxury I have learned). I am also a person who savors a good shower, so the final water fact applied directly to me. Even at my current home, we have piped water. It may be only cold water and actually workable an average of 4 days in the week, but it is drinkable and clean. I don’t share these facts to insight guilt in myself or others, but when faced with a situation where water access was so distant and incredibly unclean, I was riveted with shock and dismay.

 

Kisozi is just one of millions of villages throughout Africa facing similar water challenges. There are 3 options for water within Kisozi. First, villagers can walk about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) to a river. The water is muddy and murky. They must beware of the occasional crocodile. Secondly, villagers can walk about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) to a local pond with a reservoir for the cattle. The water there is pale green from algae and shared with the cattle. Lastly, villages can walk about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to the nearest village to the local borehole. People must pay for this water, and often the borehole’s water source can become stagnant during the dry season. While there are water choices, personally it would be like choosing the lesser of really terrible evils. Round trips to any of the water sources on foot is at least 1 ½-2 hours mostly traveling through thick brush of trees and weeds. It is long, exhausting, and physically strenuous. But water is essential for cooking, bathing, washing, and cleaning, so it must be done.

 

Typically fetching water is a daily chore for the children or young women. Since they have youth and strength on their side, they would carry small jerry cans or other plastic containers atop their heads. Some families will share an older bicycle which jerry cans can be strapped to each side of the seat, so it is matter of physically navigating the bicycle. The last, more desperate option is to pay a stronger individual to carry water back to the household. A few strong young men actually make a modest living spending their days carrying jerry cans of water for local residence for a small fee.

 

I was forewarned about the water conditions prior to my visit, so I took several larger bottles of water. When not used to the water, the algae from the pond can cause skin rashes and severe itching, and the river water can carry some crazy bacteria. (Yeah, yeah… perhaps prissy, but for me necessary.) I had the choice, ability and finances to carry my own bottled water. Not a remote option for local villagers in the slightest. Consequently, stomach cramping and intestinal ailments are quite common. Medication is not readily available, so usually people will attempt herbal remedies or just endure.

 

There are several purification materials on market. I do not pretend to be an expert on them, but I have seen some neat gismos and tablets from visitors to SMKOM concerned about any Ugandan water. I even remotely remember a simple science experiment using charcoal to purify water, but those memories come from a LONG time ago. I have heard of some organizations with the mission to help remote villages establish their own borehole. Quite obviously, water purification is not an area of my expertise. But I am keeping prayerful that there is a solution to this water situation that can be available to all community members of Kisozi. After all, water is life. And it continues to strike me as just unacceptable in this advanced age of technology and innovations that clean water can not be made available to every person.

 

I welcome any suggestions or reputable resources that anyone would be willing to share on behalf of the community of Kisozi.

Church Center of Community

Posted on April 7, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Deep in the village, there are two places that residents congregate…either church or the local pub. Since these communities are so small and poor, there are not the typical social hang-out spots, like beauty shops, restaurants, or shopping centers.

 

In Kisozi, there are a couple of small churches of different dominations. I had the pleasure of visiting Kisozi Healing Tabernacle (International) Church, where Kwagala Reuben (my good friend) and Kakazi Jovia are pastors. This church has become a central hub within this small community. The physical site of the church has recently relocated to land that the congregation is in process of purchasing. The church structure is primitive with wood frame enclosed with orange cloth tarplings. The alter is raised upon a mound of packed soil. Until recently church members worshipped while sitting upon straw mats arranged on the hard, dusty soil. (Last month thanks to a donation of trees, church members were able to build benches.) But despite the rustic environment, the presence and spirit of the Lord is palpable!



Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church


 

Congregation members have become extended family members. Within the small community, they both offer tremendous support and accountability to one another. Sundays are a full day of worship and fellowship with one another. Church members leave their homes very early in the morning to walk to church. Some of them walk several kilometers dressed in their very best clothing. (Often the same outfit they will wear every Sunday.) For those cattle keepers, work continues, so usually spouses alternate weeks attending services, or one of the older children of the family is responsible for the herd while the rest of the family attends service. After services, congregation members will sit on straw mats under the shade of nearby trees and enjoy their afternoon milk or other prepared food. Babies crawl about and children play with their friends with happy merriment. Laughter fills the air, and no one is a stranger.

 

Pastor Jovia is a respected community member. Her cell phone rings constantly with issues and prayer requests from church members. She is often one of the first responders in a crisis. While financial provisions are usually impossible to provide, prayers are readily offered. And members support one another with the little they have.

 

Time is relative once church service has begun.  There is no clock visible.  No one checks their watch.  The Choir will continue with Praise and Worship until the Pastor feels compelled to begin her sermon.  That sermon will last for as long as the Spirt is flowing through her.  Some Sundays service could last 2 hours. Other Sundays service could last 4 hours.   No one complains.  They are just happy for the fellowship.

 



Pastor Jovia and KHTC Choir


 

Church resources are scarce. The majority of the congregation members are illiterate, so bible verses and passages are read to them. Most members know bible stories and biblical characters from years of hearing these stories within services. For those that can read, many members don’t own a bible due to the expense. Surprisingly, bibles written in native languages are especially costly. Children’s church is taught through drama, verbal story-telling, or bible trivia. When I visited, I brought an illustrated children’s bible, as the church did not own one. There were over 50 children in a small enclosed space, and the silence was remarkable. They were riveted by the pictures of the story and very thoughtful about the life lessons within the bible story. Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church takes particular interest in the youth of their church and nurturing their biblical teachings.



Melissa and her new friends at KHTC Children's Church



All small villages here in Uganda have local council members. These are officials elected by their community peers like a local government official or mayor of sorts. However, in smaller villages, like Kisozi, most of the community projects or needs are first brought up through the church. Pairing the local council with pastors is instrumental in any project success.

 

During my next few blogs, I am going to share the Top 3 community needs that the Pastors of Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church and Kisozi Local Council official have identified. As a congregation they are placing their support, resources, and prayers towards needs. First, my intention in sharing each community need separately is that each one really touched me on a personal level. I had many conflicting emotions during this short trip ranging from joy, appreciation/ gratitude, sorrow, guilt, amazement/shock, and conviction. Secondly, my own conviction has compelled me to make attempts to open the door for others. Perhaps there is someone reading this blog that will have the interest or resources to extend a helping hand to assist this community.



Pastor Jovia, Melissa, and Pastor Reuben. 

Melissa is wearing a Mushanana, a traditional dress for Bulalo woman.  

It was a cherished gift from Pastor Jovia.


 

I have the utmost respect for Pastor Reuben and Pastor Jovia. They are servants of the Lord in every aspect of their lives, and the ministry they have created is inspirational. The congregation of Kisozi Healing Tabernacle Church are amongst the most genuine, generous, and spirit-filled that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. And they are hungry for improvement and development within their community.

 

If you are interested in learning more about projects in Kisozi or how you can help, please contact me ([email protected]). I will put you in touch with Pastor Reuben and Pastor Jovia.

Deep In The Village

Posted on April 4, 2014 at 5:40 AM

In Uganda any small living area is called a village. In America we would call them towns. There is ‘village’ (like Kajjansi), located just outside of a major city (like Kampala). And then there is ‘deep in the village’, referring to a village that is so far from any civilization and surrounded only by Uganda countryside. Recently I had the opportunity to travel ‘deep in the village’ with a good pastor friend of mine to the small village of Kisozi. (More about his church and ministries in an upcoming blog post.) Kisozi is located southwest of Uganda’s Equator. There is a singular route in and out of Kisozi, and the drive feels like traveling to the ends of the Earth. Most of the road would be described as little more than a ‘pasture path’ if found in America…they are dusty, narrow, wash board and pot-hole riddled, and slow-traveling.






 

Kisozi is fairly typical of living ‘deep in the village, and my impressions were reminiscent of America’s Prairie Days era. There is no electricity. One resident of Kisozi had a small solar panel to generate income by charging cell phones. (Yeah, ironic that although faint, a cell phone signal does indeed travel to this remote location!) Otherwise, life revolves around daylight. People rise early in the morning just prior to the sun to fetch water, dig in their gardens, and start the routine of the day. People often sleep early, as the pitch black of darkness impedes nighttime activities.

 

There is no clean or running water. Residents of Kisozi must travel upwards to 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) for water. Their choices are either river water or pond water. In one direction, the river water is muddy, and people must be cautious of the occasional crocodile. In the opposite direction, the pond water is greenish in color from algae and shared with cattle. Water is typically collected 1-2 times daily depending on the size of the family and their water usage for the day. For those with the physical strength and stamina, jerry cans of 10-15 liters are carried upon the head. Otherwise, they are transported astride an old bicycle for hire. This water is used for cooking, cleaning, washing, and bathing.

 

Kisozi is located within cattle country. Uganda’s President has a large ranch which employs local villagers to be cattle keepers for about 30,000 UGX monthly ($12 USD), which places a family below the most extreme poverty level. It is sun-up to sun-down, 7-days a week work keeping the cattle herded in the countryside of trees, overgrown shrubs, and thick bush. Kisozi residents rely heavily on the cattle for food. Milk becomes the main staple of their diet… breakfast, lunch, and supper. Some staple crops (like cassava, maize, beans and matooke) are raised on small individual plots of land. During the bi-annual harvest, the crops are pooled with neighbors to generate a small price at local markets. Any remaining crops are a supplement to their dairy-dominated diet.


 




Homes in Kisozi are made with homemade bricks of mud and straw in either a circular hut or small rectangle house. Both styles would have some walled partitions to form 2-3 rooms. A separate hut is constructed for the outdoor fire pit for cooking. With a family’s income being small and sporadic, basic household items like sugar, bread, salt, or soap become luxuries. They become cherished gifts saved for the most special of occasions. Furniture is sparse within homes. Outside elements are utilized for hygiene and household upkeep, like a special twig from a certain tree used as a toothbrush. Manure is used as wall stucco. Grasses are woven together to make mats for visitors to sit upon or beds to sleep at night.






One could find a few boda-boda motorcycles and pedal bikes within villages like Kisozi. Vehicles are so rare that the entire community will cease all activity to see its passage. A taxi bound for Kampala makes departures/arrivals twice daily. Therefore, most travel is done by foot. It is not uncommon for people to travel kilometers upon kilometers to attend church or school, visit with a friend, or work their ground. Many of these people can be bare-footed.

 

Days in the village are often monotonous. For men, they are usually with cattle from dawn to dusk. For women and children, they wake early to fetch water and/or work in their garden either hoeing by hand, planting seeds, or harvesting. Babies are strapped on the backs of their mothers. By mid-morning when the sun becomes too intense for such laborious work, household chores are completed like mopping, washing, or cooking. These chores usually take hours to complete. By evening, more household chores must be completed and the household must settle down to prepare for the upcoming day.

 

While I personally found many elements of village life astonishing, I had to remember that most adults and children know life no differently. Many have never traveled to Kampala and have very limited contact with media and technology. Village life seems to rear extreme… incredibly laborious back-breaking work (gardening, cattle rearing, fetching water, etc.) followed by endless hours of relative idleness. Not much work or activities appeared individualistic… everything done incorporated the entire family or a partial community unit.

 

It was a fascinating experience that led to other observations, which I will share in the next few blog postings.