Take My Hand Uganda
Opening our hands and hearts to vulnerable families in Uganda. Isaiah 58:10
by Julie Hawbaker on June 18th, 2015

​By the end of the day Tuesday, after traveling for more than 25 hours, logging too-few hours of rest and going on an all day shopping expedition in Kampala, I returned to home base with only one thing in mind; SLEEP.

My hosts (a wonderful Ugandan husband and wife team) told me later in the week that they couldn't believe I didn't take a day to lay low after the journey from America to Uganda. They said to each other, in a way that only Ugandans can,  " Oh.....she's still moving??" 

They called me "strong" but the more applicable term here would be "bull-headed".  And in hindsight, I SHOULD have planned an extra day to give my central nervous system a fighting chance. If I would have taken a team or a friend or a board member with me, I would have planned that extra day to rest.
Wouldn't have dreamed of pushing them to get up and go full-throttle the very next morning. 

That night, as exhausted as I was, I struggled to sleep.
Tomorrow we were headed out to Nijja (Ny-juh) to welcome the kids to their new home-away-from-home and I was missing a bag and felt unprepared for all the logistical changes that needed to be made. The heat was unusually.......hot. And the wood frame underneath my mattress kept shifting and collapsing beneath me. It took all of my strength to push and pull it back into place and then extreme caution was needed to mince my way back onto the bed in a way that would not cause another crashing downfall.
The power was out and my flashlight was, of course, in the missing bag.

Now these were ordinary first-world problems that should have been either maddeningly funny or only mildly irritating. But because I was alone, sleep-deprived and in a third-world country, they quickly became problems that made me want to turn around and go back the way I came.
And I know this is unbelieveable, but it took me another 36 hours before I cashed in my tough-girl tickets and exchanged them for a novel idea; Leaning into the strength of my Father.
I found Him waiting for me.
And His arms weren't even crossed.
But I'm getting ahead of the story.....
Douglas, our a-little-TOO-fearless driver, picked me up in the morning with Fred in tow. I don't go anywhere without these guys as they are my protectors, translators, negotiators, heavy-weight lifters and most assuredly my friends.
We packed gear for two days and headed north to Hope Vision Primary School in Nijja. None of us had been there before but this was the school where our kids were going to be enrolled and board at.  And we were expecting the children to arrive within a few hours after us. They were coming down from the north and we were going up.

This was to be the culmination of one journey and the beginning of the next.

Honestly, I'm finding it difficult to express my heart and still give you the facts and details that you all need to know and hear. 
Some of you are saying, "Tell us about the kids! The school! Tell us what happened! How are they adjusting? What were the unexpected costs and detours? Did they get our letters?
While the rest of you are hoping to hear more.
The story behind the story.
The journey of my heart.
And how God showed up in the most incredible ways for me and for these children.
Who are now part of your heart and your story.

Sigh......

After two hours of driving we stopped to purchase all of the larger items that could not fit in our car. This included 26 mattresses, the jerricans, sandals and lord knows what else.
We hired a truck right then and there, loaded everything in and followed the truck the rest of the way to the school. (The photo above shows us trailing behind the truck on the dirt road)
We turned onto a dirt road from the main road and I assumed we were almost there. Twenty minutes later I realized this school was back in the African BUSH. How could there be a school back here? 
I expected to see an elephant charge out at any moment or somed naked natives with their bows drawn, up in the trees.
We were surprised to come to a large, metal gate that was pulled open by three or four eager children. Beyond that gate was Hope Vision Primary School. 

This school is one man's dream come to life.
His name is Pastor Elias and he grew up in this rugged, untamed terrain from a little boy to a teenager and into a man. His village was his world.
And rightly so.
But children like himself growing up here had no access to a school and no money to travel and board at a school far away.
So he dreamed to build a primary school in his community that would glorify God because of His miraculous hand in raising it up and meet the needs of the community.
And indeed, it stands now as an ongoing testimony to what God can do with one man with a vision and the faith and tenacity to see it through.
Hope Vision Primary school is for children from preschool to Primary 6. The director is Pastor Elias' wife, Pauline and she is just as passionate about this work as her husband is.  They hope to someday have a secondary school here but for now they serve children in primary only. 

The classrooms are big and roomy and the structures on the grounds are well-built. When classes are in session they are full of life!
Chanting, singing, laughter and the hustle and bustle of chairs scraping the concrete floor and the teachers presenting their lessons can be heard in every direction.  
The "dorm rooms" for the boarders (our kids) may look primitive to you in this picture. But the beds are sturdy and new, the room is large with plenty of space to move about, and the concrete floors are swept clean every morning and evening. There is plenty of fresh air moving through the windows and the girl's and boy's dorms are separated by housing for the teachers and staff. 
I took this photo before any of the children arrived. But I envisioned the delight these kids were going to experience when they claimed their very own bed! You can't underestimate how exciting this was going to be for them!
Many of the children that attend school here are from the surrounding village and they arrive at school in the morning and return to their home at night. Our children are boarding because their home with Pastor Peter in Kyankwanzi is a few hours away.

The children attend church on Sundays and currently Pastor Elias holds services in one of the larger classrooms. But a beautiful, new church building is being constructed and is so close to being ready. It sits on a hill overlooking the school grounds and miles and miles of African bush and is just a short walk away. 
Every brick that you see in this church building  was made by hand and placed through a labor of love. When I stepped into the seemingly empty structure to see the interior, it was dark and still. But my eyes slowly adjusted and I could then make out a figure up front at the altar.....walking slowly from one end to the other.....hands down, and then up and then clasped behind her. An older woman was clearly in deep communion with God and I was told that there is someone at the church at all times , praying and interceding.
The people rely on Him for their next meal.
The next rain for their crops.
And that next brick. 

There were so many moments during this trip where everything around me faded into the background and the tangible, unmistakable presence of God stopped time. 
My entire life's journey and all of Africa's vulnerable children were compressed into that moment.
Into that scene.
And the sovereignty of God rendered me speechless. 
I stood there, suddenly aware of my smallness. 
I looked at my hands that were holding tightly to expectations that I'd assigned to myself. Fistfuls of anxiety and 
fears of failure. 
And I realized.
I'm simply one of those bricks. 
Handcrafted with intent. 
Placed as part of something much bigger and stronger than what I could ever be on my own.
And certainly not responsible for holding up an entire building or even a wall. 
Excited voices rose up from the school yard below. The children had arrived!
The plan.
The dream.
Was unfolding.
A reunion was imminent.
And their lives were about to take a dramatic turn.

​To be continued..... 

by Julie Hawbaker on June 2nd, 2015

I arrived home from Uganda on May 26 after ten days that were non-stop in every possible way. I will confess that this was THE most exhausting and relentless mission effort in Africa that I have experienced in all six trips that I've been on.
The best news is that it was also FULL of solid accomplishments, surprising  steps forward and a bounty of opportunities to listen and learn. 

One word........VALUABLE.

And God?
He showed up.
Left me standing with my jaw dragging in the dirt on multiple occasions. I will forever be dumbfounded when He chooses to show Himself mighty and intimately engaged in the smallest details of my life. In the lives of these children. And in your life.

This was a solo trip, in that I traveled alone to Uganda without a team and without anyone to lean on and and ask to share the heavy load of mental, emotional and physical struggles that I kept running into.  
I wasn't prepared to find myself needing someone to lean on.
Honestly, I was ready to come home by day two. 
From the moment I landed on African soil, every step was like walking through a soggy bog.
In the dark.
Alone.
With no flashlight and no one's hand to grasp. 

What I DID have were three strong, capable, hard-working Ugandan men whose heart is just like mine.
Or maybe my heart is just like theirs.
Fred, Douglas and Ivan, who have all become enduring characters in this story in their own unique way, carry a passion for the vulnerable children of their country that brings out the best in them. Watching them sweat and serve and strive for the sole purpose of blessing the children took my breath away. There was no ulterior motive. Most of what they did was done before I could even ask it of them. They were almost always smiling. Even beaming! And all I could see was Jesus' heart beating fast and strong inside those three young men. It was beautiful. 

My two flights to Uganda, with a short layover in London, were gloriously uneventful. I did have to sprint through the airport for my connecting flight in London and I would hate to watch a replay of that run on their security cameras, but considering my travel time of 25+ hours from start to finish, I'd say the journey displayed the great calm before the storm.
Once I arrived at the Entebbe airport I discovered that one of my three, fifty pound bags was no where to be found. I was nearly the last person to leave the airport with the promise that my "missing parcel" would come in on the next flight in TWO days and be delivered to my doorstep in Kampala. My carefully laid plans and schedule for the week ahead had to be rearranged because everything in that bag had a specific purpose and a place to be! For someone like me who depends on organization and careful planning, the loss of this bag was filed in the "crisis department" of my brain. And there was no way for me to fix it. I had to begin (on a small scale) to engage the most underdeveloped dimmension of my relationship with my Father; Trust.
After logging about five hours of sleep that first night at the home of my hosts, who I'll introduce to you later, I set out in the morning with Fred and Douglas, armed with a little, black notebook full of scribbled  lists and estimated costs, to conquer the task of shopping for twety-nine children for their enrollment into boarding school.

Unfortunately we weren't headed for Target or the Prime Outlets where we could have found a parking spot in less than two minutes, browsed the organized shelves and displays with confidence, calm and ease, used an actual above-ground toilet when the need arose ( or even a quick visit just to freshen up....you know... pull a brush through my locks, dab on some lip gloss and a sweep of blush on the cheeks, check for salad between my teeth....)
No.
Shopping in the city of Kampala should be handled by marines.
Not even kidding. 
It's the stifling heat, pressing, sweaty crowds, layers upon layers of dust and grime from the street, boda-bodas ( motorcycle taxis) tearing through the scene within inches of your back pocket, taped-shut-boxes of the items on your list you need the most stacked to the ceiling and people shouting and negotiating prices at a deafening level.

I was no help in this shopping expedition. Except to sit on an over-turned bucket in the middle of it all and clutch the money bag close to my body. I suppose that's an important job. But Fred and Douglas did the WORK. 
It took literal hours to find, count, price, negotiate, carry and stack the items on our list; 
Sheets, washing soap, towels, shoe polish, shoe brushes, scratchers, vaseline, sponges, geometry sets, toilet paper, box files, spring files, basins, jerri cans, plates, cups, spoons, forks, pens and blankets.
Multiplied by 29, of course.

I sat on my bucket and doled out money while the purchases piled up around me. 
I was slowly disappearing from sight.

There were a lot of moments and hours and days on this trip where I found myself physically weak and frustratingly exhausted.
I'm usually pretty tough. 
I don't get rattled or dehydrated and especially not homesick. 
I'm capable and can carry my own weight and not depend on anyone to take up my slack. It was my sixth trip, for goodness sake. I expected to be able to breeze in and out without much more than a sunburn and a handful of mosquito bites.

But you will see, as this story unfolds, that I found myself sitting on that proverbial bucket more times than not. 

God has little interest in what we can do on our own. He's not impressed by how strong and capable  we are. And He doesn't keep track of how much experience we have logged from year to year.
His eyes are fixed on that beating heart of yours.
He knows that to walk you from the shore of your climate-controlled relationship with Him into the deep, deep waters of His extravagent love, you will have to come to the end of yourself and your stash of hoarded resources.
He knows it's going to cost you.
And He will walk beside you, waiting to see if you'll decide He's worth it.

To be continued....

 

Posted on April 27th, 2015

Good News

Guess what?!
Founding and establishing a non-profit organization is not for the faint of heart! How blessed I am to have a board of people who possess the combination of an astute business mind and a humble, let-God-lead heart. 

It was a long process with seemingly waist-high piles of paperwork and an even longer wait. But finally, approval came through just a few weeks ago! 
We are now officially a 501(c) (3) public charity (effective May 22, 2014) and contributions to us are deductible from Federal Taxes under section 170 of the IRS Code. 
NOW is a GOOD time to give as we begin to dig in to a place where we can put hands and feet to your donations through child sponsorships, project funding and the search for land in Uganda as a permanent home for Take My Hand Uganda. Your gifts are tax-deductible and are an investment in the life of a living, breathing, needy child. 

Good Gifts


​Eighty-six dresses from Dress a Girl Around the World ​arrived in a huge box on my doorstep a few weeks ago! These will be going with me to Uganda to give to the girls in two communities steeped in poverty that I will be visiting; Kiryandongo and Kyankwanzi. I'll also hand-pick one for each of the girls with TMHU. This was an incredible gift! Thank you Rachel Eggum Cinader! A new dress for a child living in poverty brightens the entire landscape around them with the vibrant colors and their beautiful smiles. 
Another gift that will go with me to Uganda are these adorable tote bags decorated by some equally adorable girls in North Carolina. They belong to a group called Girl's Talk which is all about "helping girls make good choices as they learn to be active, give back to their community, be a good problem solver and be self confident".
The girls personalized each bag for the twenty-nine children in our sponsorship program adding their names and a note of encouragment and friendship to go with it! Having a bag of their own, maybe to keep their letters from their sponsors in, will be meaningful and useful and they will be aware that they are being surrounded more and more by people who care and see their incredible worth and value. 
 
One of our new sponsors stepped up after hearing about the pond that these kids draw water from when they are not in school. She purchased Sawyer Point One Two Water Filter system kits that connect to a standard 5-gallon bucket and are distributed right in Uganda.  A new bike and wheelbarrows will help them get the water they collect at the pond back to the compound. It's a bit of a hike!
And a sponsor who has been with us from the very beginning purchased yet another month's supply of food to supplement their diet. This gift has literally been life saving as the conditions and situation in Kyankwanzi has been dire. 

Good God

​​I'm just in awe, really, at how much God loves these children and makes a way for them when there seems to be none! We (you and I) are His hands and feet, but He's the One who stirs our hearts and calls individuals towards compassion and a generous heart.

I will be leaving for Uganda the middle of May and will be spending the majority of my time there with the TMHU kids. I am over-the-top-excited to be going back and I'm especially looking forward to introducing them to their new sponsors and seeing their faces when they see their very own bed with new sheets and a blanket plus school supplies, toiletries and eveything else that will be provided through your giving and love!

You have to understand how few possesions they have and how crowded their current sleeping conditions are to know the joy they will feel and the smiles that will be on their faces. I'm priviledged and honored to be able to be there in person for this new beginning in their lives.
We will have a lot of shopping to do when I get there and I hope I can make up every single one of their beds before they arrive. In my mind I see myself arranging all of their new belongings on their bed along with their personalized bags filled with the things you have provided for them. 
I have to rememeber it is Uganda and so my plans may not happen as I think they will, but I'm having fun dreaming it up! 
 
A reminder to all the sponsors! Please get your first letter to your child to me by May 10th! Use an envelope no larger than a 5x7 and include a letter introducing yourself and your family or pets or anything else you might want to share. Please DO include at least one photo so they can see who you are. They love photos as much as we do! You can also include other lightweight items.

We had a few weeks worth of trouble with our mailbox for TMHU and some people had mail returned to them. The issue is now fixed! Apologies to those of you who have to re-send something.

Our address is still TMHU, P.O. Box 476, Hancock, MD 21750

We are still looking for God to send in three more peolpe willing to sponsor one of the three children left on our "I Choose You" page. All of them are boys! Mushaija Charles, Agaba Habert and Kayumba Charles. I certainly can't arrive in Uganda and have three of the kids waiting and wondering who will choose them. 

Our project fund has come a long way from $2,700 down to $410! So many people have given so that we can see that the kids have everything they need for school. If twenty more people give twenty dollars each, we will be done!

Please share this email with your friends and family and encourage them to get on board!

​Julie



by Julie Hawbaker on March 3rd, 2015

I was curled up by the woodstove yesterday reading the news from all over the world on my ipod.
Eating dry-roasted almonds one after another right out of the bag.

And thinking........always thinking....

I was suddenly shot an unsettling question that demanded an answer.
An arrow that hit the intended target of doubt and fear hidden inside of me.
With all of the madness going on around us in the game of politics, the carnage on the battlefield, warnings of drug-resistant epidemics and glaring evidence of the end times stacking up on my proverbial desk, the questions was this....

What am I DOING here?

I'm pouring my heart and soul  into the lives of twenty-nine children living in poverty a million miles away in a remote village in Uganda.  

Why am I DOING this?

I spend my days sharing with anyone I can about Elias and Shafra and Noah and their ability to sleep on cold, dirt floors and wake up smiling in the morning. I send emails introducing these children and their simple but desperate need for a pair of shoes and a change of clothes.
My desk is full of child packets-in-progress and a calendar waiting for organizations to allow me a few minutes to let them hear more about this mission. I travel, I speak, I work jobs to save up money and I toss and turn at night wondering how hungry they are at that exact moment, or whether or not they are dreaming of the day they can go to school. Wondering how long before God steps in an answers their prayer.

I suddenly felt foolish. 
A slacker on taking up issues that really matter.
Standing there holding an empty bag of futile dreams.

Does any of this really MATTER?

And what am I going to do if it DOESNT?

I began to lose heart right then and there.

Until I asked Him why.

Why them? Why Uganda? Why now?
And He whispered, "Because I asked this of you.
I'm the One who stitched this into your heart long before these children were even born.
You don't need any more reason than that.
Walk in obedience.
Trust me."

Take My Hand Uganda is a small, virtually unseen ministry to a small, but not unseen group of vulnerable, desperate children.
And I am convinced that His plan for their lives goes beyond a pair of shoes and some clean underwear. And His intent on calling you to join me goes beyond thirty-eight dollars every thirty-some-odd-days.

My life has been turned upside down and right-side-up through small but willful acts of obedience to my Father. And I know I would not want it any other way.

Your story may very well gain a whole new chapter when you take the hand of one of these children. God is AS interested in you as He is in that needy child. If you sense a tug towards becoming part of this family, don't miss it. He has a special work that He wants to do in YOUR life through the life of one of these children. 
Go to I Choose You to find out more.

I'll be here catching up on the news while knowing that He simply says, "Walk in obedience. Trust me."

​Julie



Posted on December 11th, 2014

​Our first day in Uganda was spent at the Watoto Church in Kampala attending various meeting with departments operating within the their Villages. Watoto was founded by Gary and Marylin Skinner from the U.S. who wanted to establish a westernized Christian church in Kampala. From there they recognized the bottomless need for caring for vulnerable children in Uganda as well as widowed and single mothers who were struggling to care for their own children.
 
A Watoto Village was started with ONE home that held one mother and eight children. Some of them were her biological children and others were orphans.  The goal was to create a family to care for kids instead of institutionalizing them in an orphanage. And to reach out to the widows to allow them to keep their children instead of having to abandon them or give them up. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but the village concept has grown from one home to hundreds. And from one village to several more including several babies homes. I believe they are caring for more than 3,000 children and widows at this time.

 So on Friday we met with different department leaders who shared with us on topics such as medical care, procurement and sustainable projects within the villages.  These meetings were very candid and the staff were very forth coming on how and what they do as well as where they want to be.  For example they now have sustainability projects that produce more food than their villages can consume per day and are therefore able to sell some back to the local markets.  They also pre-negotiate their estimated food purchases and set contract prices.  Around each of their villages they employ local workers and provide water to the community.  Eventually they will probably have a better medical system than all but the top hospitals in the country. They already have the best clinics in the village areas and have doctors on staff.
​On Saturday, 11-1, we traveled about an hour to the  Subbi Village. This is only one of their villages in Uganda and we spent the day seeing and hearing how a Watoto village operates from top to bottom. We were all amazed at how incredibly organized and well thought out everything was and how every question we thought of was answered with something they already had in place and going strong. Every person in that village, from the children to the mothers and all the way up to the heads of departments, were accountable in several ways to several people.  Their self-sustaining projects were amazing. Chickens producing 3,000 eggs a day, pigs, agriculture, millet, and more.  The village was made up of smaller villages of eight, simple homes holding one mother and eight children. The mothers are allowed to bring in two of their biological children as part of the eight. And these women were carefully chosen according to the greatest need and through an application process. The children brought into Watoto are also carefully selected according to the greatest need. Everything possible is done to ensure the child has no living relatives that are able to care for them. They do a lot of investigation before a child meets the requirements to be placed at Watoto.
​ Our team was divided up into two groups and we had the priviledge of being guests at a home where a traditional lunch was prepared and served by the mother. Our plates were heaped with rice, stewed meat, potatoes, chapati (a flat bread) and a few servings of foods we did not recognize. Our table was occupied by teens and adults while the younger children sat on a mat on the floor. They graduate to sitting at the table as they get older. There was very little talking and a whole lot of eating going on. They told me that Ugandans EAT first and THEN talk. It was a lovely meal and clearly took a lot of work to prepare. Sitting with and being part of the family was such a unique experience.  

The gift giving followed the meal and we were able to bless the children and mother of the family with an indestructable soccer ball, self care items, small toys, vaseline, school supplies and the much anticipated SWEETS! We call it candy and it brought forth some squeals of delight  lots of wide smiles. 
Before I close this out I want to show you the transformation that took place in a child we knew and loved from Uganda last year. He was rescued  and placed at Watoto and they surrounded this child with one on-one-attention, medical care, regular, nutritious feeding and a whole lot of love. When I saw him at Watoto I recognized those unforgettable eyes. I just stood there watching him play and laugh and run, knowing how close he came to death and the miracle that his life represents now.
The two days we spent at Watoto were full of listening, learning, intense emotion and we left with a large portion of confidence and peace, knowing that these children are in very good hands. God has been using this ministry for years to rescue, raise and rebuild children and families in Uganda and our team was privileged and blessed to experience all He is doing there.