it's day 57 in Kampala on the Watoto 360 programme and time is going by so quickly I can't even explain it. To say I've been challenged, changed and immeasurably blessed would be an understatement. I am thankful that even though I am certainly not entirely unchanging in my faithfulness, love and kindness to God He is still all of the above and so much more to you and me.
It's hard to even know where to begin as around two months ago I was an entirely different person. I was a nervous wreck, struggling to trust God's unshakeable plan and entirely believing that I was not nearly good or worthy or strong enough to be in Uganda for a single day never mind 6 months. Today I am overwhelmed with joy, learning to trust God more every day and believing that God has so much more in store for me than I could even imagine in the next 4 months or so and beyond.
What is Watoto 360? Before I left home I tried to understand for myself and explain to you what the programme actually entailed but the truth is I didn't really exactly know to be fair. I can honestly say that this church and this programme are incomparable to anything I have ever seen before so it's understandable that I couldn't fully grasp what it would be like here. I'm just going to share a few highlights, a few lowlights and a few things I've been learning so far to help create a picture of what's been going on. I can only hope and pray that you'll be infected with the same joy and passion for Christ that I've been growing into here through what I have to say.
I am currently living in the Watoto village called Suubi which is around 1 hour (depending on traffic) away from the Downtown church campus in Kampala which we are based at every day. I live in a house with my family which is made up of 5 other international students and our host mum who is from Uganda and always keeps us right. I wish I could describe how grateful I am for each of them and I'm 110% positive you'd love them all as much as I do.
Living here is probably one of the best things about being here as 1) we get to live alongside some Watoto families (including a lot of our classmates) and 2) we live pretty close to the Watoto baby centre.:
1) Watoto chooses not to just take in orphans in an institutionalised way but rather to take them in and place them in a family setting. Each home contains up to eight children alongside one mother. The mothers are all widows who have been taken out of various difficult and hopeless situations and then given an indispensable role in the lives of 10s of children. My international family had the pleasure of visiting our classmate's family home in Suubi. We ate and sang and prayed together and could simply not deny the feeling of being totally beyond loved even before we stepped through the door. (We were around 3 hours late and they still managed to allow us to feel this way). I can't help but believe that every home is exactly as loving and God-filled. It's a privilege to know and love some of these people and be known and loved back by them.
2) Each week we get one day off (Monday's) so we are able to visit the baby centre and help as much as we can for just a few hours.. if we're not too exhausted and we don't have too much homework. I have been to the centre three times and each time have been blown away by the beauty of the place but also by the realisation that everything is not just as perfect and simple as it first seems. There's around 100 babies there and each of them have their own personal story of heartbreak followed by deliverance. It's hard to come to terms with the truth that on one hand they have a great life of opportunity ahead of them through Watoto's work but on the other hand they have a life void of their own biological family and for some of them even a real sense of belonging.
We get a lot of different opportunities to serve through our ministry work and I've loved and been challenged by each of them in different ways. My favourite ministry has been volunteering at the 'Night to Shine' ball where I experienced a totally new atmosphere and perspective on those with learning disabilities. We had the opportunity to celebrate their lives, to make them feel valued and then to speak to them about exactly why we wanted to do this work and to give our time and energy to them.
However some of the ministry experiences have been perhaps more challenging than rewarding. We have visited the slums twice so far. My team went to Bwaise where we met a few families and heard about the intense effects of the combination of rubbish and flooding on their homes and their lives. It has not flooded yet since we've arrived but driving past this particular slum every day it's hard not to think about how much it is or isn't raining. We plan to go back to this slum to clean up around the school and to clean out a trench as much as we can.
I also must admit that it has been very difficult not to miss home and my family there. Within the first two weeks my family got some bad news in that my uncle had passed away. I can remember so clearly the shock, then the anger and then the extremely slow process (that is still ongoing) towards peace and trusting God that little bit more and believing that He is still good and faithful. I have wrestled with the idea of going home to be with my family even for just a short while and every day I miss my friends and all of CE and kids club and my football team and my work mates and general comfort that little bit more. But I believe that God is working here and changing my heart for the better every day. It is good to be challenged. It is good to feel a million miles away from your comfort zone. It is good to feel restless. It's in these times that we are forced to grow and to change into the likeness of our God a little bit more.
One of the main things that I have been learning since arriving in Uganda is that God is big. He is big enough to be with me here and big enough to be with my family and friends at home. His awesome attributes are great enough to fill the whole earth and then some. In our classes every week it has been a privilege to learn more about the Bible each day. We have learnt about the overall story and how the pieces fit together. We have learnt about the different themes of each book of the bible. We have learnt that every single story whispers the name of Jesus and shows just how much God loves us and wants to save us. To know the Bible is to know God and to know God is the most satisfying thing anyone could ever dream of.
So to finish I just want to encourage you that I am praying for you every week and will continue to do so. It has been a privilege to learn so much at CE in the past few years that I'm getting to share with the people I meet here and I cannot thank CE and my friends/family at home nearly enough for their continual encouragement, support and prayers. I just have a few prayer requests to finish with:
- For us (international students) to communicate well with those who do not speak English, especially in our ministry work
- For energy as every week is busy and for focus, as it is easy to get carried away with busyness or to focus too much on missing home etc
- For safety when travelling as the roads are not great, the drivers drive a little differently than we do at home, to say the least, and we have actually witnessed an accident or two since we got here already (so travelling is pretty high risk)