Doing Hard Things and Keeping Perspective

In two weeks, three days after Maya turns one and three months before I turn 30, I am going to run my first marathon.

I wouldn't have thought the year I had a baby and started a job in investment banking would be the year I would choose to train for a marathon (what in the world was I doing at 25 years old that had me thinking I was so busy?!). But, I have decided to do it for two reasons. The first likely has to do with proving something to myself (and best left for a therapist?).  But, the second, is to raise money for Beautiful Response.

In the midst of a year where it has been so easy to turn inward and place all our focus and energy on our new little family, our work with Beautiful Response has kept us grounded and connected to the global community that we are all a part of. And, in a job where ten million dollars is a simple matter of rounding, our work with Beautiful Response has kept me grounded to the impact $400 can have when it pays for school fees.

So, Maya and I are spending our mornings running the lake shore and I am raising $200 for every mile plus $800 for the last 0.2 mile* ( =$6,000 for 26.2 miles) to help raise money for the 76 kids we will be sending to school in the fall.

Many of you have journeyed with Caleb and me over the last 9 (!!) years since we started Beautiful Response. It is such a special part of our story and hope you would consider this an official invitation to join us. It would mean so much if you would consider sponsoring a mile, a ½ mile, or a ¼ mile of the run. Do it here and note in the comments which mile is yours.

Love to each of you.

-Sonja (and Maya, my newest running partner)

*Because, we know that will be a long final 0.2 miles


What does it cost?

What does it cost to run an orphanage in Uganda? We just wired money to Uganda for their June budget. We send money for tuition three times each year (January, April, August). In between those months we send money for the general operating expenses of Raising up Hope in Uganda. We didn’t have quite enough money in our bank account to meet all of the needs for June since the April tuition costs cleaned us out. Things just add up! To give you a sense of the monthly budget, I’ve listed out a few of the expenses.

Food (rice/plantain/flour): $553.51
Sauce (mainly beans): $346.22
Other Food (salt, sugar, fruits, vegetables): $313.24
Breakfast (porridge for a few hundred kids everyday): $384.32
Firewood: $151.35
Who would have thought about firewood? Every meal requires it in Uganda. Several years ago, we purchased more efficient ovens, but the cost of firewood still adds up. Each month we need to send $150. Want to sponsor the firewood each month? The house mommas would love that!
Medical expenses: $270.27  (OFTEN MORE!)
Administrative supplies (paper, pens, printing, etc.): $219.73
Feminine Products: $67.57
Transportation: $81.08
Communication (cell phone cost): $27.03
Social Worker Budget: $67.57
Water: $27.03
Electric Bill: $43.24
Staff costs are about $1,000 each month.
The Village of Hope budget is about $1,200.00 which covers some of the slum outreach and provides for the young men living out at the Village of Hope.
The RUHU Primary School is about $1,000/month.
In total, the monthly operating budget is about $6,000. As I mentioned above, we were short this month. It is up to Patrick, William, and the staff to discern what gets cut. Unfortunately, there are no frivolous budget items. This budget is not exaggerating the expenses of any items. Every time we don’t have enough money in the bank, we know it is going to affect the children directly.
If there is a need on this list that you think you could meet, or if there is a business or friend who might be willing to help us meet these needs, please consider connecting with us. We’d love to make sure that we have the funds to meet every single need that the kids in Uganda have.

Never Short on Hope.

We were short on money in September. We’re going to be short in January. A few checks didn’t come in that we had planned on, so we’ve had to pull the budget’s belt a few notches tighter. We hate it. We hate replying to William’s emails with, “we just don’t think it’s wise to do X when we already can’t afford Y.” Because X is always improving children’s lives in some way, but so is Y.


On Giving Tuesday, we raised over $6,000. Or rather, you raised over $6,000. It was amazing. At our chili supper in Wisconsin a few weeks ago, we raised over $15,000. It was Incredible. We will need over $40,000 in January to send all of the kids back to school (and to support staff, fund the day school, pay the water/electric/medical bills etc.), which is overwhelming, but it already feels like God is working on it.

Last week, Patrick called me. We talked for a good while. He knows that fundraising has been hard this fall and that we’re short on funds. But he is also the most hopeful person I know, and he already has plans for what will come next. He and William want to double the capacity of the day school, from 200 students to 400. He wants to throw a Christmas party for 800. He asked me how much money we need for our current commitments. He understands that we have to meet those commitments before we can move on to bigger and better things. The number I gave him was deflating. But God would provide, Patrick said. We serve a big God, he told me.

I’ve seen hope persevere in Patrick too many times to doubt it, now. There are a thousand reasons why a new school should have failed; a thousand reasons why the Village of Hope was too far-fetched; a thousand reasons why orphaned and abandoned kids should fail. All of those reasons only make it more amazing when a child finally receives a high school diploma; when a teacher promotes a classroom of 1st graders to 2nd.

There are a thousand reasons that I am nervous about 2018. And some of those reasons are legitimate. But I’m trusting that those reasons will make it all the sweeter when God shows up and Patrick says triumphantly, “We serve a big God!”

Hope and Grace Amidst Uncertainty

Patrick was wearing a bright red tattered t-shirt, two sizes too large for him, when I first met him. We were supposed to meet the director of a children’s orphanage at the bus stop near the main road. Patrick, who was 20 at the time, didn’t look the part. What was happening? He took us up a hill and to a compound surrounded by a cement wall. We ducked through a small metal doorway and were met by 40 pairs of hands and eyes.

Caleb and I decided to spend 2 weeks with Patrick and the 43 kids that were living in that single family home on the outskirts of Kampala.  We heard the stories of each of the kids. Some had been abused, others abandoned, others didn’t even have memories of what had caused them to be dropped off at Patrick’s door. And after two weeks of hearing their stories, we travelled back to the United States with the hope of sending 8 kids to school. 6 years later that small act has become far more than we could ever ask, imagine, or hope for.

I always say if I knew the scope of what we were committing to six years ago we wouldn’t have said yes. And a lot of me really means that. We took on enormous responsibility when we were just 21 and just dating. We had no business starting a nonprofit. Patrick and William had no business trusting us, and many of you had no business giving us money. And there are times when work is busy, we are moving or traveling, and one of the kids at the orphanage is acting out and I truly wonder how long we can do this.

And although I know myself well enough to know that I would have been too scared and far too practical to commit to being the sole source of funding for Raising Up Hope. I am so grateful that God in his goodness didn’t allow us to see the full extent of what saying yes would require. Saying yes to what God was up to six years ago has sustained my faith. Where God leads he has indeed provided.

There are so many times in our daily life in Chicago where things seem thoughtless-routine-even easy. We go to work, we pay our bills, we plan for the future, and we invite people into our home and believe God is at work but what does that actually mean?

But then Caleb and I will realize that Beautiful Response’s budget for the year is $200k and we know we have no business raising that much money. Or school fees for the term are due and we don’t have enough money. And I write Patrick and William to tell them that we do not have enough funding and to please pray with us and trust that God will provide. I write that to them because I know that they believe that. All the while I wonder if this might finally be the school term God doesn’t show up. And am I finally going to learn my lesson for not managing our cash flow better or not spending enough time on administrative tasks?

Then, someone sends a gift for $2,000 even though we had been meaning to send them a letter to invite them to give and never got around to it. Someone else decides to sponsor a kid for $40/month. And I am reminded of the miracle we experienced 6 years ago when we tried to raise money for 8 kids to start school and we received enough for all 43 kids. And I am reminded of how quick I am to forget that I believe in a God who hears prayers, who shows up, and to whom these kids belong.

Saying yes and getting involved in someone’s life or in a situation that is messy or complicated or beyond your control is giving God a chance to show up. For any of my fellow type A folks, we like to be in control and like life to be predictable and it can feel foolish to hope for the improbable. But as it turns out, I think God likes to show off but we have to give him a chance. I experience miracles, grace, answered prayers, and really uncertain moments in more abundance through our work with Beautiful Response than I do in any other part of my life. 

When I met Patrick in his bright red tattered t-shirt, I had no idea how much we were committing to. When we said yes to visiting the kids, to sharing their stories, I had no idea that God would take that yes and turn it into a non-profit, would use our small yes to change the lives of those kids. And I had no idea that through those relationships I would learn so much about faithfulness, self-lessness, and how to change someone’s world. 

Alan Sekandi

It is with tremendous grief that I write this blog. Alan Sekandi, a 6th grader at Raising Up Hope for Uganda, passed away Sunday morning in Uganda. Alan was an incredibly bright and joyful young man with a tremendous future ahead of him. He was beloved among his brothers and sisters at RUHU. Alan was one of the oldest boys living at the Boy's Home full-time, and had become a leader for the younger boys. He often helped to lead worship in the home.

Alan was found lying on the floor of the boy's home Sunday (11/28) morning. One of the older children who found him rushed to church to tell Mama Faith, who hurried to Alan's side. It appears that while washing the floor, Alan made contact with an outlet that was insecure and was electrocuted. By the time Mama Faith reached him, he had already died. 

The kids and staff of RUHU are in absolute disbelief. While Patrick and William, the leaders of RUHU, have unfortunately experienced deaths among the children they work with in Kampala, no child in RUHU's direct care program has ever died. The kids are scared, confused, and saddened by the loss of their friend and brother, Alan. For the staff, they have lost a son.

We continue to grieve and lament the loss of Alan's life. His unjust death leaves us frustrated, angry, and heart broken. Right now, our focus is on assessing the needs of the staff and children of Uganda as they grieve and process this loss. Pray for them. The following is a letter written by Patrick, which was read at Alan's funeral:

This reading is on behalf of Daddy and Uncle Patrick, who is currently visiting the United States of America.

I heard the terrible news about the sudden death of our child and brother, Allan Sekandi.  This has upset me tremendously and the loss is unbelievable what has happened to me and the organization at large.  First I would like to thank the community leaders, police and other community members who assisted in the initial process of helping the House Mamas and children prior to William’s arrival.  We were all in shock, and still are, over the tragic accident that happened Sunday morning.

It is my pleasure to have known you, Allan.  You came to me as a stranger.  For the past 10 years you have become a good friend of mine and part of my family.  I just remember all of the good times that we had.  You always had compassion and you always wanted peace.  I remember, Allan, you always could not look onto someone who has annoyed you.  You gave respect and walked away.  That was a good example that everyone could look at.  I will always remember you that way and always remember your smile.  We love you and we will always cherish the time we had together.  I remember the phone call I had with you while in the United States and you asked me to bring back pants, shirt and shoes for Christmas, which I was planning to get for you.  Right now I’m sitting here on a computer reading a letter from your sponsor, Alyssa, saying how she is so proud of you and your hard work.  She sends her condolences and her deepest sympathy to all of RUHU during this time of mourning.

I will always remember you working hard at school and how much you could tell me that you were looking forward to being in P7.  With the conversations that I’ve had with you, you always talked to me about how you would like to be through school and help others.  You wanted to work on computers or be a lawyer.  This was your plans but God had other plans for you.  You were a child of God’s on earth and now you have been united with your Heavenly Father. 

Romans 14:7-9 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

I believe and I know that your friends at school and brothers and sisters at RUHU will miss you a lot.  Those we love don’t go away.  They walk beside us every day unseen and unheard but always near still loved, still missed every day.

Rest in peace my friend and child…….love Daddy Patrick

Educating a Village

70 kids receive full-time care from Raising Up Hope in Uganda. While all of those kids are off at school during the day, the orphanage is filled with nearly 200 children that come to RUHU for schooling. 

The RUHU Day School is run by teachers who have quit their jobs at schools to work for no-pay with orphaned, vulnerable,  and destitute kids in the village surrounding the orphanage. They work from 7:00-5:00 every day. These are their stories...

Marjorie Mukisa

Marjorie Mukisa | 2nd Grade | Started at RUHU January, 2016

Teacher Marjorie first stumbled upon Raising Up Hope in Uganda’s Primary School as a student at the Young Women’s Christian Association. The teaching certificate she was pursuing required an internship at a school, and Marjorie chose to intern with RUHU. After she finished her certificate in teaching, she chose to continue teaching at RUHU as a volunteer. Teacher Marjorie was moved by the plight of the children who attend RUHU’s primary school. She noted that her own past makes her especially perceptive to the needs of the children. 

Marjorie is a teacher through and through. Her love of being in the classroom is very apparent. Ugandan friends and sponsors were integral to her schooling, and so she is glad to be able to give back. “God made my education possible” Marjorie told me. “I know that God wants the same thing for these children.”

Teacher Marjorie is a new teacher at 20 years old. She certainly has other teaching options which she could pursue, but she has chosen to diligently work for the education of the vulnerable kids that attend RUHU’s school. If you’d be willing to support Marjorie’s post at RUHU, please follow the link and sign up to give $50/month. This money will pay for Marjorie’s salary and ensure that teaching at RHUH is an affirming and encouraging post for her.

Teacher Marjorie's second grade class

Teacher Marjorie's second grade class

Teacher Jackie

Teacher Jackie Nanyonjo | Head Teacher and Kindergarten Teacher | Started, January 201

Jackie is a foot shorter than me, but don’t let that fool you. 

She attended Barclay Secondary School and then received a diploma in education from Young Women’s Christian Association. She has been teaching for over 15 years. Most recently she taught at a nursery school in a part of town called Kibuye. It was the 2nd most prestigious school in Uganda. Jackie laughs as she tells me how much money she was making. “It was a lot of money,” she says. 

One day at a church service, she heard Patrick talking about his organization and their need for volunteer teachers. Jackie grew up as an orphan, raised by her aunt. She felt God speaking to her and she was convinced that it was God’s will for her to quit her previous job and commit herself to RUHU. She talks passionately about the role that RUHU plays in the community: “the kids are raised by one parent, or they are orphaned. Many are HIV+ or they have AIDS. The community and the chairman are so grateful that RUHU has opened up such a school for them.”

Teacher Jackie runs RUHU’s school. The other teachers ask her opinion on their lessons and their approach to teaching. The children sit upright and listen when Teacher Jackie speaks. She has high standards for her teachers and her students. With a monthly budget in the teens, Teacher Jackie has created an environment where kids, who otherwise would receive no education, can receive top-class instruction from teachers who love them. 

“Ever since I left my old post, I have never regretted coming to RUHU. My heart is released. The staff is so appreciative and the kids show so much love. I feel so happy.” Teacher Jackie is the sort of person you get behind. She is a rare example of determination, perseverance, hard work, and faithfulness. If you’d like to support Teacher Jackie, you can follow this link. Choosing to support a classroom or any of the teachers means the world to her. 

Jackie with her kindergarteners

Jackie with her kindergarteners

Notes from Lori

Lori Davidson (Sonja's mom) is on her 3rd trip to Uganda. She'll be sharing some thoughts and reflections during her time that you can find here:


As I said goodbye and started the very long journey home (43 hours door to door), I was told again and again by the children to please tell their sponsors that they loved them and they pray for them always.  Why do I make this trip?  This is why; to tell the story to them from you, and from you to them. It is amazing that we can partner with people in Uganda and be a part of their story. That they can love us and care for us even though many will never meet face to face.  So on behalf of so many beautiful children and adults, THANK YOU.  Thank you for caring about issues of poverty, and education.  Thank you for wanting to be a part of the solution.  It matters.  It matters to everyone I hugged, walked with, sang with and sent off to school.  Because of you, they have tangible evidence that their life matters, that they are loved and that they are not alone.  Enjoy some pictures now that I am home and have computers, internet and uploads all at my fingertips; and thank you for joining me on this journey.  


These are the words of Teacher Jackie as we rode away from the shop where we negotiated and purchased food for the students of the day school. These nearly 200 hundred children are not orphaned but are still so desperately poor that they cannot afford school fees and show up for the free day school run by the orphanage having not eaten. So the day school prepares a simple lunch. Corn maze and red beans. Sometime they don't have money and the shopkeeper mentioned above will give them food and wait to be paid. And teacher Jackie, this well educated Ugandan Christian woman who left her paying teaching job to volunteer teach is praising him as a trustworthy man. We have paid him ahead this time and he will deliver the maze and beans tomorrow. We climb back on the motor bike in the rain and head back to the orphanage. God is so faithful.


9/18/2016 | I FORGET

"When I am home my life is busy with work, cares, distractions; and I forget.
Then I come to Uganda to the orphanage. To the children. And I remember. Jesus said love as you have been loved. Care for those who are poor, helpless, forgotten. Today one of the girls trusted me with her story. At 12 her mom died. Already desperately poor she ended up in the slums; starving, only the clothes she wore and no shelter. Patrick found her. He invited her to come to RUHU. This is the where I meet her. Now she has food, shelter, clothes and is attending school. I forget that school is not free here and that there is no welfare provision. This orphanage was barely able to feed the children until Sonja and Caleb responded beautifully and came home and told their story and invited us to remember the sufferings of others. It is good to remember."


"I have been back in Uganda for 3 days. We just got internet last night. The children are on a break from school so all the children are gathering together at the Village of Hope. It is beautiful to see them work together. Teachers and house mothers working together to prepare food for over a 100 children over a fire in a make shift outside kitchen. Teenage boys holding babies and keeping them happy and entertained. The older students are helping the newly off the streets children understand that they don't have to fight to survive anymore. The message that God loves them, that Jesus has died for their sins and the evil of the world is being told both with and without words. And we are here to remind them that others love them. People that have never met them are sendingmoney so they can eat and go to school. That we want them to know that their lives matter to God and to us. That their faith and courage to overcome actually inspires and builds our faith back in America. Yes. We are better together."


9/12/2016 | THIRD TRIP

"Thank you for traveling with me to Uganda via this blog.  This is my third trip to Raising Up Hope in Uganda to visit the beautiful children who no longer live on the street without food or an education.  I am so excited to see the change since my last trip 3 years ago. God is so faithful.  Check back in a few days and I will have arrived and have news to share.  Thank you for your prayers.  Love and miss you all already."



Janet lives in a small hut in rural Uganda, forty minutes down the road from Kampala. When she was younger, she had 10 children. “God took 8,” she tells me. When she was a child, her grandmother taught her how to take banana leaves and dry them; separate them into long strong strips; weave them into shapes that hold fast. She had forgotten all about weaving baskets until she was left with 11 grandchildren to take care of. Spending the mornings and afternoons farming wouldn’t be enough. She would have to spend her evenings making baskets; teaching her own grandchildren how to dry, separate, and weave.

When I visit Janet, she is sitting inside a dimly lit hut. Her knees are wrapped in cloth, swollen, I can tell. She is glad to see Patrick, and he makes her laugh. She is desperately poor, probably hungry, has two broken knees (from a fall I learn about), has 11 grandchildren to care for and yet she laughs. Patrick has this effect on people-the indescribable ability to make people laugh who have no business laughing. But Janet too, she has the ability to laugh when I cannot find any reason.

We have 5 of her baskets that we are selling on her behalf. I paid for them on the spot, and so she has the money already. She has probably paid for tuition payments for her two grandkids that are behind on their school fees. Or on food for 12. Or for a clinic bill for her knees. Buying one of those baskets will recoup our money. But mainly, buying one of those baskets, or supporting Beautiful Response in general, really does two things. First, it sends Patrick into more dimly lit huts to make tired grandmothers laugh and rediscover their sharp senses of humor. Second, it makes you a part of a bigger story. Those baskets, made by Janet and her grandkids, carry their story.

If you’d like to order one of those 5 baskets, check out our Etsy page and make it happen. If you’d just like to support Patrick and send him into more dimly lit huts…you can be a part of that story here. Thanks.