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News from August 2011

Uganda Africa - Vision Trip

August 24, 2011

Vision Trip with World Vision – Uganda, Africa

Well I’m finally here in the beautiful country of Uganda in Africa with World Vision. This is a vision trip that World Vision has allowed me to come on with a group of other artists from across the US. I count it a privilege that they invited me – a Canadian on board for this trip and I try to remind them often of my country – eh!

If I shared with you all of my experiences it would fill pages….and so I will try to give you a summary of what I have been experiencing here in the “Pearl of Africa” in the last 48 hours. With 33 million people, Uganda has the same population as Canada with a land size covering only 2/3 the size of Alberta. So needless to say, there are many beautiful people over here in a small space. The country has been ravaged by HIV/Aids and it seems so odd to see hardly anyone over 50 years of age. Probably because the average life expectancy is a mere 52 years.

Day 1 – The Early Meeting

If you have ever been on a mission trip, you learn very quickly that flexibility is the plan and to plan for the unexpected. This was our first day on the ground. We drove for 4 hours to get to our hotel in Rakai where we would stay for two days. We had stopped at the local grocery store on the way to buy some staples for our families sponsor child that we would be seeing the next day. After we arrived at our hotel it was already 4pm and we were planning to get recharged to meet our sponsor children the following day. As soon as we got to the hotel, we were informed that we were not meeting our sponsor kids tomorrow, but rather today, and that they have been waiting for us since noon. We were beside ourselves as we drove another long hour to get to our kids in the hills in the village of Lwamagwa. When I arrived there, all the tiredness faded away as I got to look into the little 5 year old face that our family has just started sponsoring. Dorcus and her dad were there waiting patiently to meet their sponsor from Canada.

As I walked up and sat with her I could tell that she was so excited to see and meet me and didn’t exactly know how to respond. We sat on a fallen tree and I met her father – Fred who had travelled with her 1 ½ hours to come and meet me. I showed her the picture of my family and learned more about hers. She has 5 brothers and 4 sisters in her little family. Her dad is a farmer and her family is affected in some way by the aids crisis. Her father shared with me that World Vision has made such a difference in their life and that through World Vision; his children have a chance at an education and a good life. I shared little gifts I had brought from Canada for Dorcus and her brothers and sisters and the groceries for her family. I asked if I could pray for her and her family and sing a song for her and over her and others in her family and community. Her dad eagerly said yes and after I prayed for them I sang the chorus to my song Come and Save Us. “You are the God of all of these children. You are the God who saves. You are the Lord of all who are broken. So Lord we pray, come and save us”. We walked over to join some other kids and moms on the ground and they joined in with me and started to sing the words with me. My prayer is that through this blog, you might consider how you also could be the hands and feet to a little one in need, that you could partner with the Lord to help and save one of His own.

Once I sang and prayed for Dorcus and her father, I tried to teach them a favorite song of my sons called “Peace Like a River”. I got a few kids to try the actions but the moms sitting around seemed quite amused that I was teaching them actions but they also started to sing along when I started to sing “Come and Save Us”.

This was such a humbling experience for me to meet little Dorcus and her father Fred. Being a father myself I cannot imagine what a hard thing it would be to ask someone for help so my kids could have a chance at a better life. I saw nothing but love and gratefulness in her father’s eyes.

After a closing prayer we all said goodbyes numerous times and then went back to have dinner. What an amazing day, seeing how World Vision has changed a little life and her family through our families modest gift of $35 each month – less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day.

Overwhelming Day

Day two we awoke at 6AM so we could hit the road to start a full day visiting the area development programs that World Vision has started.

The morning started off by going to the World Vision Kooki Cluster Office to worship and pray with the local staff. What a great privilege to see the great love of the Lord in these locals who serve God’s children and their families each day. We sang familiar hymns like “How Great Thou Art”, and “What a Friend we have in Jesus”. After our time together we went a visited a family affected by Aids.

Dorifanse Kobusingye – 48 years old with 6 children

We drove as far as we could with the vehicles and when the road ended, we kept walking down into a valley. Through the fields we walked until we came up to a little house and a mom outside tending to a pot over a fire. As soon as we walked up she ran around the house and I could see her washing her feet to clean off the mud before we all arrived. As she welcomed us into this small one-room house that could only fit a few of us at a time, we learned that this lady was a Grandma to two of the little ones and the other four children were orphans that she took in. Her husband had died of aids and the community all chipped in with World Vision to provide her with a house that she could raise these little orphans that ranged from 2 to 10 years old. She was doing the best she could with what she had, but really needed the help of World Vision so these little ones could have a chance at life. She is only one example of thousands of grandmas and grandpas who are doing the same for their grandchildren whose parents have died because of the aids epidemic.

Clinic/Maternity Ward

Our second stop that day was to visit the clinic and maternity ward. As we pulled up, outside there was 30 or more moms with little babies waiting to be seen. We learned that many of the moms travel 10 kilometers to be seen and that some will wait hours or all day just to have their children seen. The greatest problem many of them are facing at this time of the year is malaria. We went further to another building to find the maternity ward. Inside we found 40 young women all waiting to give birth, or for a check-up. The nurse showed me the delivery room, and it was a far different setup than back home.

Kibuuka –Perish – People Living with HIV/AIDS

Another stop we made was to a Perish where people were infected with HIV/AIDS. This was a community group that World Vision formed to help support people who have AIDS and help other come to reality of living with HIV/AIDS. As they shared songs, reports, and testimonies, you could see Jesus shining through each of them. After they shared and we asked them many questions, we asked them if they had any questions for us. The first and most important question they had for us as a group was “Do we know Jesus?”. As we all answered yes, they were so happy to have this heavenly connection because they have learned firsthand that the only hope amidst of storm is Jesus. What an encouragement to see such hope in these people who not only on top of poverty, are looking directly into the terrible face of AIDS.

Farmers and Their Kids

Another stop along the way was to visit a group of farmers. Upon arrival, their children all greeted us with similar clothing and started singing songs for us to the tune of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain”. After their songs, we walked out into the fields to meet their parents. We found them all working in the fields together and what we learned was the power of strength found in community. These groups of families decided to work together to create change and support one another. Each of them works daily to help farm the fields and crops and support one another. They realize the strength of community and family and it came across as a “small group” concept that we may see at churches back in North America. But instead of just fellowshipping once a week together, they do all things each day together because they know they are stronger together than they are separate. They shared how they wanted to instill this value in their children as well and so they give them little jobs to do together, even singing together in this choir to create these values. We could see how happy all of them were to serve together. I asked who works harder in the field each day – the men or the women? – everyone seemed to get a big laugh at that! As we stood in the fields I asked if I could pray for them, their families, and crops, that God would bless them all. As we went back to the children, they sang another song for us and then I was able to get all the kids learn the song “Peace Like a River” with actions. What a fun time it was together as we sped the song up to a runaway train. Seeing this group was such a great reminder that God did not design us to live in isolation but in community to spur each other on in love and to become more like Him.

Vision Club Kids

We stopped at a school along the way. As we got out we saw a group of about 10 kids all wearing World Vision shirts. We learned that this was a Vision Club and the purpose of the club was to help teach this group of 11–13 year olds about AIDS/HIV, cleanliness, abstinence and Jesus. As each of these young leaders stood up, they shared about what they have learned, what they would like to be when they grow up, and what they will take with them from this club moving forward in life. World Vision shared with us how important these young ones are to create change in the coming years. They said that it is too late for the adults, but as they teach and help equip the young, that is what will create change in the community in the generations to come. World Vision feels that this is so important, that they invite these young children to planning sessions for the community so it is not only the adults who have a say in planning but these young ones. They see the importance of giving a voice to the youth who will affect this country for generations to come.

Water the Hard Way
Our last stop was one that was almost not made because we were running late and all tired from a long day. But this stop, once again, put life in perspective for me as I realized how much I have living in North America. Last week before I left for Africa, our water filter built into our fridge needed to be replaced and so for a few days I thought it was such an inconvenience that I had to go walk over to our sink to run the tap to get my water filled throughout the day. Moreover, each day I wake up back home and hop in the shower for a “quick” 10 – 15 minute warm shower. What a different story for the people of Uganda.

As we stopped our car and got out we saw a group of people all lined up with their yellow containers along a dirt road. As we got close we looked down into a little ditch and saw a water hole where people were taking their turns filling their containers. The hole was no bigger than a family swimming pool back home and the water was a yellow-greenish color with flies, scum and garbage floating around in it. It was the kind of water that I would not let my dog drink if we were walking back home and came across it in the woods. As we looked closer there were adults and children down at the waters edge, filling up their water containers to take back to their families. As I started to ask questions I learned that this water hole supplied the water for 1300+ people each day. Some of them travel up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) each day to get water for drinking, bathing, cooking and their animals. As I watched them, I saw children as young as my 3 ½ year old son Emerson filling up little containers to carry back home for their families. The older ones were filling 20 Liter containers that I could barely carry 10 feet without strenuous effort. They loaded these heavy containers on their heads or their bicycles to carry many kilometers back home. They do this each day in order to have water. We learned that if we waited just a little bit longer, there would be a line of a hundred of people waiting to fill their containers.

We got in our cars and drove a little ways away to see a World Vision water project where they have created a system to catch the rain water from the roofs for people to have clean water to drink and use for their family needs. What a drastic change to see clean and clear water coming from a tap and smile across the families face as they showed us their water system with such pride. I will never turn on the tap at home again the same way. What a difference World Vision has made for so many families with the water projects that they have started in this country!

As we drive down the crazy bumpy roads on all of our travels each child looks at me through the window of the van and longs for me to wave to them. If a simple wave can bring that much joy to a face, how could I not wave to each child I see as we pass them by…. even when my arms are getting tired from waving so much. My prayer is that in the very least, Jesus would be seen in my wave and my smile as we pass them by.

What an overwhelming experience I have had these last couple of days since I have arrived. The phrase – life changing – seems like an understatement, and it is. My prayer is that Jesus has been seen in me here as much as I have seen Jesus in the faces that have looked back at me here in Uganda this week.

Chasing After Me - Tops Radio Chart in Canada

August 3, 2011

Jon’s Canadian Radio Single “Chasing After Me” hits #1 for CANCON radio songs in August! To request this fun summertime song at your local radio station, please visit the radio request page