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:

9/24/2016 | TELL THEM THAT WE LOVE THEM

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.  

9/21/2016 |  HE IS A TRUSTWORTHY MAN

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."

9/16/2016 | BETTER TOGETHER

"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."

-Lori

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."

-Lori

Baskets


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.  

How to Enlarge Your Heart

     By Katie Elliott 
     Last November an opportunity arose for me to go on a short mission trip.  I had never gone on a mission trip of any type in my 62 years and since I was newly retired and travel was on my bucket-list, I pondered the idea. I thought about all the things I thought I knew about mission trips... horrible weather, new diseases, inoculations, hard work, an unknown language, a totally “other” culture, dirt, poverty, bad smells, strange religions, and grass huts with an occasional lion wandering about.  I prayed about it for several weeks and even though I tried to talk myself out of going, God seemed to have other plans.  Three weeks before the seven-person team was due to leave for Haiti, I bought my plane tickets.  It turned out to be one of the best acts of obedience to one of God’s promptings ever and one which I will be eternally grateful for.
     When we left Grand Rapids, I knew only one of the team and that we were not going to build any houses or do any sort of “work”, so I was a bit nervoous.  I really didn’t know what to pray for, so I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks His.  Soon after we arrived in Haiti, my heart began to break.  Yes, there was weather, hot and humid, and yes, there were several inoculations I got beforehand. Yes, there were mosquitoes that dined on us, and yes, there was a tremendous amount of poverty everywhere…poverty the likes of which I had never seen…but the looks of hopelessness that I saw on so many faces really tugged at my heartstrings. 
  The main reason our group went to Haiti was to build relationships with the Haitian people, to really get to know them and their culture (as much as one can in four days), and to worship Christ alongside them.  What an experience it was!
     We were climbed on and jumped on and loved on by children.  They couldn’t get enough times of loving in and asked when we’d be back.  A heartbreaker to be sure and I swore I’d be back.  A young woman with a daughter in college and a husband in the states being treated for cancer, lost her job, and with tears streaming down her face, asked for prayer.  With tears streaming down mine, I promised I would pray for her.   Heart-break.  
     Haiti is a place where there is no such thing as a free education, so if a family cannot pay for it, the children simply do not attend and the poverty cycle continues.  We saw school-aged children all over the place during the normal school day who were not at school.  Heart-break.  We visited a fishing village by the ocean where there were children whose hair was a strange orange color, due to protein deficiency…in a fishing village!  Heart-break.  The villagers lived in open air huts made of corrugated tin pieces and left over pieces of fabric…anything they could find to shelter them.  There was no electricity or running water.  The people cooked food over an open fire in the scorching heat of the day and washed their clothing in a basin using a rock to get the dirt out.  But the thing that broke my heart the most was the woman who tried to get us to take her baby back to the States with us, because she and her family were starving and unable to feed it.  The mother was willing to give her child away to save it.  Inconceivable.  It still makes my heart ache.
     In the midst of the pain and hopelessness, resides a group of people…a Haitian group of people who are linked by Christ and friendship to a small group of American friends…who are working hard to provide resources for children to be able to attend school and learn about the saving grace of Jesus.  This group called “Help the Youth”, is striving to raise money to provide scholarships for children who have the drive and ambition to work hard in school, be able to get a high school degree, as well as attend two to three more years learning a trade.  There are nearly 100 students in the program currently being provided for and a small group of them have not only graduated high school, but have gone on to trade schools and university, attributing their success to Jesus Christ.  “Without God, I had no objective,” was a statement we heard from these kids over and over again, meaning that with God, there was hope!  Hope shined brightly through these youngsters. Their faces glowed and they each held their heads high with confidence and pride.  My heart enlarged as I thanked God for these children and the people who have made the program possible.
     So, as we passed by pigs, dogs, goats, and cows (no lions!) walking along the dirt roads beside us, the hopelessness was diminished by the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Haitian people.  God is alive, well, and moving there.  Even though my heart was broken over and over again, it was also enlarged.
     If you have the opportunity to go to Haiti, do it.  You will be forever changed because God will touch you in ways that you cannot imagine.  Yes, your heart will break, but you will love and be loved in ways you wouldn’t believe were possible, your friendship circle will grow, and you will promise that you, too, will be back.

The Boys From Rainy Kisenyi

I remember the first time Patrick took me into Kisenyi. I had been into city slums many times before, but there was something about the intimacy of Patrick's presence in that slum which made it a difficult experience. We weren't visiting street children, I was being invited into Patrick's home. The kids know him as father, and he feels the obligation of family to them.It rained that first time, and I wanted to leave as quickly as I could. It was chaotic and overwhelming.

On our second and third trips to Uganda, some of the kids that we had met in Kisenyi were living in a house, a ten minutes walk from the orphanage. The house was an improvement from the slum. But rent was expensive. The neighbors complained about the rowdy house of unruly street kids. It was an unsustainable solution.

On our fourth and fifth trips to Uganda, the Kisenyi boys were still living in the overwhelmed house near the orphanage. But there was also a new plot of land, about thirty minutes away. The land was a vision for a different future. Some of the boys lived out there. Some of the boys were going to school for the first time.

On the sixth trip to Uganda, the group that I met in rainy Kisenyi, who had lived in the overwhelmed house for three years, who had gone back and forth between slum and house and village, were in school. We visited the school and I met with the Head Mistress of the school. "They are ok," she told me, trying to be polite. "But they are a bit difficult?" I asked, trying to encourage her to be frank with me. "There are some difficulties, because they have not been in school for very long."

On the most recent trip to Uganda, we visited the school once again. I walked into the Head Mistress's office and asked how the kids had been performing and behaving. "They have made so many strides!" She was proud, both of her school and of the kids. "Some of these boys are really performing so well. We have even made some of them prefects. When they first came," she rolled her eyes and hung her head to conclude the thought, "But now. They are performing so well!"

Five of the RUHU boys had been prefects of their class. I was floored. I leaned back in my chair and shook my head in disbelief. I laughed under my breath and looked over at Patrick who was standing in the doorway and William, seated across the room. William smiled, proud. I think they were also shocked.

After meeting with the Head Mistress, we gathered all of the boys and told them how proud we were of them. William singled the prefects out and gushed over them. He embarrassed them like a good father who can't help himself.

The story of those boys from Kisenyi will never be told as well as it should be. What those boys have overcome in just the last six years is staggering. They have done so much with so little.

We were not really planning on these boys excelling in school. But we weren't really planning on most of what has happened in Uganda. To keep sending them to school, we need about a dozen new sponsors. Support these boys by giving monthly at the $20, $40, or $80 per month level. You can give by following this link. Put "Kisenyi" in the comment box and your gift will go towards these boys' education.



Current Needs

We keep waiting for the shoe to drop, or things to fizzle, or something. I just returned from my 7th trip to Uganda. The trip is old hat in many ways. It feels like visiting old friends. I love it. I pretty much know what to expect on my trips, but there is always a bit of nervousness, a little bit of fear about what I will find. I fear that a stubborn and often corrupt government will have closed RUHU down, or that the generous and selfless Ugandan volunteers who help care for the kids will have abandoned RUHU. But, nope. More kids, getting better care, at higher levels.

On this trip I met a 70 year old woman who leaves her house at 5:00AM every morning to volunteer teach at the orphanage. I visited kids at schools who used to be the bane of their teachers who are now prefects and class representatives. It's incredible, and it is my greatest honor to play a part in it.

But there are tremendous needs right now, and I wanted to communicate those to you. So below is a list of financial needs that RUHU has that we currently aren't able to cover. If you have any questions at all, please let me know. Some of the needs are great for a church or youth group to help cover. Most often, a monthly commitment is preferable. But we honestly appreciate and depend on people stepping up to give whatever they can.

  • New Bedding, $2,000: We are in need of several new bunk beds, mattresses, and sheets. Many of the kids are currently sleeping on a few feet of dirty foam, or sharing mattresses, which leads to bed bugs and illness. 
  • 40 New Sponsors: We have had a lot of turnover in sponsorship, and many of the children currently do not have sponsors. Sponsorship is $40/month. If you're interested in sponsoring a child, you can send us an email and we will pair you with one of the children who needs the support. 
  • Medical Expenses, $500: We've had a few out of the ordinary expenses this month. A handful of kids got malaria, and another child had a head injury that require a brief hospitalization. 
  • General Support: As the organization grows in Uganda, expenses rise. The kid's tuition increases mean that we need financial support that stands in the gap and helps us continue to send them to school.

If you could afford to make a monthly commitment to the kids in Uganda, we would be so thankful, and they would be even more so. Good things are happening, friends. Thanks to everyone who has been making it happen. If you're interested in helping out, you can head to our

website

or send me an email at: caleb@beautifulresponse.org

Dear Sponsors...5 Years in

 Dear Sponsors,

                  Five years ago, Sonja and I watched 42 kids in Uganda head off to school for the first time. On my recent trip to Uganda, I showed the kids pictures from that first trip in 2010. They had never seen old pictures of themselves. We clicked through pictures from 2010-2015 and they pointed, laughed, and clapped as they saw themselves. They have five years of overwhelmingly good memories. For kids whose memories have been the sort that you try to forget, being a part of creating 5 years of good memories is probably the most significant thing I have ever done.

                  Today, Beautiful Response is partnering with Raising Up Hope for Uganda to provide food, support, housing, and education for 58 kids. Raising Up Hope helps an additional 21 students by rescuing them from slums in Kampala and placing them in boarding school.  A further 140 children are receiving an education through Raising Up Hope’s day school. Well over 200 children’s lives are profoundly different because of our work with RUHU.

                  At 21, Sonja and I naively embraced a responsibility we had no business embracing.  We often think back on how outrageous and impulsive it was to promise an education to Victoria, Arnold, Sylvia and the other kids at RUHU. Two weeks ago on my 5th trip to Uganda, 5+ years into our relationship with RUHU my eyes started tearing up when the 14 kids at St. Mark’s High School walked up to the bench where I was waiting for them. They were not kids anymore. They were young men and women with confidence and passion, multi-lingual, on their way to universities and lives of service and leadership.

                  In 2010, Sonja and I were clueless.  The growth of RUHU and the success that Beautiful Response has had are daily reminders to us that God can take naive faith and turn it into something far surpassing what we could ever ask or imagine. We are more confident today of the excellent care and academic opportunity that RUHU is providing than we were five years ago. We are starting to glimpse just how impactful an outlandish decision made 5 years ago will turn out to be.
 
                  To those who have given financially to ensure that these kids receive what they need in order to grow into their potential, thank you. Your giving over the past five years has accomplished a lot! 

                  The next five years are going to be amazing.  The first RUHU kids will graduate! We will cheer them on, help them find jobs, and establish lives. The littlest ones will make five more years of good memories. There will be triumphs and struggles.  We cannot see what the next five years will hold, but if you had told me what the last five would have been like, I wouldn’t have believed you anyways.

Not Cute Anymore.

The kids aren't cute anymore.

Well, that isn't true. Cathy, Miracle, Dan, and Rachel are still breaking hearts with their chubby cheeks and dance moves. But RUHU has moved from being an organization in its infancy into its blossoming, yet challenging adolescence. On our first trips to RUHU, our days were spent spinning kids in circles. We taught them how to say pineapple and explained why we had never met Obama. But this trip, five years later, was different.

On this trip, I helped Francis write an essay about the affects of drug abuse. I spent two days with Hassifah at a hospital for the headaches that adolescence has brought for her. I held her helplessly as she cried with frustration over fear that the medication would not work. I got to observe Patrick and William explain to two young teenage girls that they need to go to school. The girls wanted to go to a different school, further away and more expensive.  Someone even offered to help pay, but Patrick explained, "thank you, but this time they need to just learn that you have to do some things that are difficult. They will find a complaint wherever we agree to send them." 19 year old Patrick didn't have that answer in him.  This Patrick, 25 now, has the vision and maturity needed to give the difficult but right answer.


The kids in high school will soon be taking their national exams. Students who score well enough will go on to two additional years of high school before applying to university. They are growing up and they are asking the same questions I asked as a teenager. On our visits to the high school, where 15 of the RUHU kids attend, Patrick and William sifted through several requests for spending money. "Teenagers can be so-so difficult, you know?" William told me. Patrick and William are no longer teenagers taking care of kids. They are father figures to kids ages 2 to 18, and their own growth matches that of the kids.

It has been five years since we started partnering with RUHU. It's odd to be thankful for teenage angst, but along with the angst comes discovery, growth, and a realization for these kids that genuine opportunities for a brighter future lay ahead.

I teared up a little as I watched the high school kids going off to their classes. Five years ago, that sight was a naive wistful dream. Today it's a reality. Who knows, maybe five years from now we will have students in universities around the world.

A man can dream, right?


Dreams from Haiti

            Last August, Beautiful Response began partnering with neighborhood leaders in Haiti. Families unable to pay for tuition can receive scholarships to keep attending school. Ticarme, a good friend and Haitian leader, has developed an inspiring program that is helping over 40 families. Holly Schut is ensuring that TiCarme has the funding and support she needs to see her dream become a reality.  Holly wrote this piece after her most recent trip to Haiti:

There is a dream in Haiti.
That there will be food on our tables and clothes on our backs.
That I will be able to find work, and perhaps work with dignity.

There is a dream in Haiti.
That I will be able to help my community.

There is a dream in Haiti.
That our young people who are falling through the cracks will be able to go to school.
That those without hope will find hope.

There is a dream in Haiti in the eyes of the 40 students who a year ago were desperate to get back in school; Today they are back in school!

Students came to TiCarme 15 months ago and said, “TiCarme, you can help us!”   They were absolutely right.  TiCarme is a leader in her community. They call her “Mayor.”  TiCarme knows the needs, she knows the families and their stories, she knows the schools and the teachers.  TiCarme knows what it takes for students to not simply survive, but to thrive.  She also has her staff, Arnold and Rodrique, who share her dream.  But TiCarme was missing the financial resources to make the dream come to life. 

TiCarme called us 14 months ago.  We were in Haiti for 8 months in 2001 and had remained friends ever since.  TiCarme said, “I can't lay this on your heart, but God can.  You can help us.”  TiCarme's call came 13 years after we had lived in Haiti, but one month after we had begun wondering about returning.

In February, we were in Haiti again and we met with the first 40 students of Help the Youth Get an Education.  Four of them gave a speech.  Each of them began with these words, “We thank God, first of all, for laying it on your hearts to help us, so that someday we can help others.” 

Now it is our turn to say, “We can't lay it on your hearts, but God can...You can help us.”  Like TiCarme we can't do it alone. We need partners here in the United States...people with resources to share in the dream.  You may not think you have much to offer, but together we can help.

Would you be a part of making the dream of these 40 kids a reality?

Perhaps you need a trip to explore-to see the eyes of the kids, like we did.  We invite you to join us on one of our next trips to Haiti.  We are planning trips for May, July and November to build relationships and share dreams.   You will be able to see for yourself what God is accomplishing in the country of Haiti, in a village called Neply.


There is a dream in Haiti, and we get to be a part of it. 

What happens when they graduate?

Caleb and I love telling the story about Beautiful Response and the kids in Uganda. It is an easy story to tell. It is a story we have told more times than any other story. We love to tell people about all the kids in school, that some of them are at the very top of their class, and about the excellent schools that they are attending thanks to the generosity of so many.

The follow up question nearly always is what the kids will do after graduation. This part is not an easy story to tell. I typically stammer through something about university for some, trade school for others and that some might return to work for the organization where they grew up. But then I find myself admitting the truth; I don't know what they will do. There are four times more people graduating from university and training schools annually than there are available jobs. The reality in Ugandaas with many other places in the worldis that the economy is not big enough or active enough to absorb, employ and engage an ever increasing educated population. This reality does not make accessing the best education available to them any less valuable. On the contrary, education continues to be a critical building block for the kids and for a country that has so much to offer.

The US Africa Summit took place in Washington, DC earlier this month. Other than a near run in with the president of Malis motorcade, I had no involvement in the events that week. But even from a peripheral view, I found the narrative of the meetings so refreshing. The story was not about a group of people who needed the charity and goodwill of Americans. Rather, 50 African leaders were invited to the US because over the next five years, Africa will be home to 8 of the 10 fastest growing economies. US businesses see that Africa has so much to offer through its growing middle class, increasingly educated youth and abundant workforce.

There likely wont be a job for the kids we sponsor when they finish school. Chances are slim that a US business invests in Kampala and is able to employ the kids we are sponsoring. In fact, more than likely, the kids will need to create new jobs in new industries for themselves and their peers. But business is growing in Africa and the kids we sponsor will be a small part of a generation that is highly educated and possesses the grit and commitment to change their story.

Through education and innovative ideas, theyll get the chance to tell their own story.


The narrative in Africa is changing and seeing this group of kids excel in school is one piece of that.

Announcing Haiti

A week before my 11th birthday my family moved to Haiti.  We left less than a year later, before I turned 13. Our stay was cut shorter than it should have been, but those brief months in Haiti molded who I was for the rest of my life. Those months led me to study abroad in Uganda during college where Sonja and I met Patrick and William and began Beautiful Response.

In September, I’m going back to Haiti.
Ticarme with friend and neighborhood partner, Jonas

A Haitian woman named Ticarme has been a leader in her community for decades. Her dream is to see the youth in her village educated. Small groups of capable students meet together to encourage and tutor one another. These kids have families and ambition, but not enough resources to attend schools term after term.  They are forced to drop out, or they attend school for a term, drop out, and then go back to school, never advancing.

Under Ticarme’s leadership, Beautiful Response is excited to announce a scholarship program aimed at ensuring that the kids who are capable of excelling in school get the chance to do so. 

Here’s how it works: Families apply for scholarships and work with Ticarme and her team to determine how much financial aid is needed. The students receiving scholarships get academic support from tutors and from peer groups.  Ticarme and her team keep tabs on the academic progress of the students and make sure they are given the tools they need to succeed and eventually graduate.

Since 2010, billions of dollars have been filtered into Haiti. In so many ways, it has been a development disaster. The amount of money and organizations doing development work in Haiti made us tentative about launching a new project there. But we believe that growth and progress in Haiti will come from Haitian leaders longing for the good of their own communities. Ticarme is that leader.  

We’re excited to see what happens. We’re excited to meet the students who will get a chance at an education. We’re excited about good Haitian leaders seeking after the good of their communities.

On September 10th, 2014 I fly back to Haiti.

It will be 13 years, to the day, since I left.

Surrounded by Easter

I leave for Uganda on the night of Easter. 
I wonder where Jesus was on the night of Easter. We don't know, really.

We only know where He is not.  He is not in the tomb where he had been-where he was supposed to be.

On Easter night I will be on a plane going to Uganda. 

When I am in Uganda at the orphanage I am surrounded by Easter.

But you can only be surrounded by Easter if you are surrounded by Good Friday.

A baby was abandoned in the slums. She was found with burns.
A young boy was beaten, nearly to death, for not having a place to call home.
Kids were denied their right to eat, to sleep soundly, and to go to school when their parents died or left them.

In Uganda, I am reminded of the need for Good Friday.

But that baby was found, and her wounds are healing, and she will be strong.
The young boy's life was kept and we will work to find him a place to call home.
And the kids that were denied their right to eat, sleep, and learn are growing stronger and smarter year after year.

Death and life are much nearer to me in Uganda.
In Uganda, I am surrounded by Easter.

Say a prayer for us?
That we won't run away when it feels like Good Friday.
That we will see Easter happening all around us.

I’m going to Uganda and I'm never coming back

 by James Colten
       
        Don’t worry. I’m just kidding. 
        About the never coming back part. But in all seriousness, I’m going to Uganda in a little under 3 weeks. I leave Easter night and return a week later on Monday.

        Why Uganda?
        Great question. There are a lot of reasons why I’m going, but if I’m honest with myself, I think I’m a little bit crazy. When Caleb returned from Uganda the first time, he told me a story about a priest who lived in a slum. There are three things I remember clearly from his story:

        The first is that the priest led Caleb through the slums of Kampala. This was his parish, these were his people.
        Next, Caleb asked, “What can we do?” What can Western, American Christians do to help? I remember leaning in—this surely was the golden ticket to international development. A priest understands the appropriate balance between aid and ministry, so as to promote economic growth and development without creating cycles of dependency.
        But no.
        The priest, wise from many years of ministering to his city, said, “Tell them to come and see.”  My first reaction was this: Do you know how much it costs to fly to Uganda from United States? Don’t you know there are a thousand better ways to use that money? Surely there is something—books, vaccines, school fees, micro-loans—that would be a more effective use of USD.
        
        There is a boy named Herman who lives at Raising up Hope. I’ve helped him out with school fees since Caleb and Sonja first asked for sponsors. In his last letter he asked, “when are you coming to visit Uganda?”
        Herman, don’t you know that the plane ticket alone could pay for two years of schooling? Isn’t your education more important?
        In the same way that the priest’s words have stuck with me, so too has Herman’s question. He was really asking, “When can I show you where I live? When can I show you the school and the market?” and maybe even, “Do you actually want to get to know me?”

        Isn’t that all we want? To be known and to be loved? To come and see and show and be?
        There is a small part of me that hopes I come back new. Refreshed. As if Uganda is my Mecca, my Jerusalem, and this is a pilgrimage. Another part of me wants this trip to give me the energy and the heart to sustain my soul through the first two years of being a teacher in Washington, DC. And another, the chance to rub shoulders with two young men who are raising up hope in Uganda, so that I too may raise up hope in DC.

        I do not know what is going to happen, but I know I will be blessed.
        So why Uganda?
        Someone has to break the news to Herman that his sponsor doesn’t actually know Obama.

        If you are interested in supporting this journey beyond clicking, reading, and liking this post, check out this video I’ve recorded here.

not our orphanage, not our kids, not a mission trip

Sonja and I want to invite you to come with us to Uganda this spring.

You should come.

We've been praying about this trip for a while and we've been asking ourselves, how do you bring a group of Americans to Uganda in a way that is economical, wise, and faithful?

We're not totally sure.

But these three convictions guide every trip we take to Uganda:

It's not our orphanage,
they are not our kids,
and this is not a mission trip.

It is easy to slip and say things like, our orphanage. It is too easy.

But here is what we believe: All of the good and beautiful things happening at Raising Up Hope in Uganda, from the very beginning until today, are not ours. They were thought up and carried out by Ugandans who wanted, who needed to care for their own. We have gotten to be a part of that and it has been a blessing for us and hopefully for the staff and kids at RUHU. But we won't ever 'work' at the orphanage. It is not our orphanage, and we are committed to keeping it that way.

They are not our kids. This one is tough. It feels so nice to call them our kids. And sometimes it slips, and maybe it is fine. Maybe that ownership is good...but we try to avoid it. We try to avoid it because words matter, and the children who live under the care of RUHU aren't ours. They just aren't. They are God's, and they are Mama Faith's and Ellen's and Patrick and William's. And yes, we are theirs and they are ours in some profound way that I don't really understand...but to say that they are our kids is not really fair.

And this isn't a mission trip. It never has been. This is a trip to see some dear friends that we love.

We love them, and we must see them. And over the past few years, you have grown to love them too. And so you must see them.

Many of you have been sponsoring one of the children in Uganda for 3 years now. You are paying for their food, and you are sending them to school.
You have had pictures tacked on your fridge and the kids have had your pictures tucked under their foam mattresses.
You have written letters about your family and how the weather is.
And you have received letters from them.

They say,
"My best color is blue.
My best friend is Rachel.
My best subject is English.
I love you so much my dearest mom.
Thank you for the school fees. I miss you so much.
When will you come to Uganda?"

When will you come to Uganda?

You should come with us this spring.

We are aiming for the end of April or the beginning of May, but dates aren't final. So let us know when you could come.

You will not,
will not,
will not regret it.

info@beautifulresponse.org


Christmas Letter


In September I made a trip to Uganda to visit the kids. It has been three and a half years since Caleb and I first met Patrick, William, and the 42 kids who were living at Raising Up Hope.
Three and a half years later there are 60 kids living at the orphanage at Raising Up Hope. They have been in school for three years in a row, a consistency that many of them have never had before. Some have moved on to middle school and others have been accepted into high school. They all speak English more confidently. The kids are taller, healthier, and bigger than when we met them three and a half years ago. The babies are no longer babies and the older kids have become teenagers. It is a joy to know each of the kids and to see them grow and develop as individuals.
On this trip three and a half years later I am in Bulenga, Uganda for the dedication of the girls orphanage home. The Jireh House--named from the Hebrew word "to provide"-- is a wonderful four-bedroom house that has been beautifully furnished. With thankfulness to God and the many of you who gave generously, it has been a privilege to see Raising Up Hope grow to two orphanage homes.
On this trip I am reminded, once again, of the incredible work being done by Patrick, William, Faith, Allen, Hope, and Joyce-- all part of the RUHU staff. I am encouraged by the schools providing an excellent education, and I am grateful for the part you play in supporting each of the kids and loving them from afar. I am reminded that beautiful things are happening at RUHU and I feel so blessed to be apart of it.
We wish you a joyous and blessed Christmas season.
Sonja and Caleb
PS. Please do remember Beautiful Response when considering your end of the year giving. We look forward to an exciting new year! www.beautifulresponse.org


Loaves and Chili


Patrick told me that the kids in Primary 7 took their exams and he is confident that all of them will get to go on to high school.
But this is going to get very expensive Patrick said.
Yes, so many kids in high school. It is going to get expensive, I said.
Patrick replied, God is a good big God. He has always provided.

I watched him provide on a November Tuesday in Waupun, Wisconsin.
Laura is my cousin and a board member of Beautiful Response. On Sunday morning, she overcame her phobia of public speaking with the help of her daughter. And together they pitched a chili supper on Tuesday night to raise money so that kids in Uganda could keep going to school.
That night, churches from the area came together around the topic of mission and I got to share the story of Raising Up Hope in Uganda. At the end of the night I shook people’s hands and said, see you Tuesday!

At 2:30 Tuesday morning, my uncle Henry woke up and began baking bread. He made 54 loaves.
I got to the church to help make chili at 9:30 Tuesday morning, only 7 hours after Henry had started working. By the time I got there, there were 9 crock pots the size of small cars on the kitchen counters already steaming with what would soon be Dorinne’s secret chili recipe. Dorinne spent 12 hours making and serving chili that day.
My aunt Diane and uncle Dave came out to Waupun to help. My aunt Joanie took her last day of vacation and hauled the 54 loaves of bread out to Waupun. My cousin’s husband’s mother helped out most of the day. People I can’t remember filtered in and out of the kitchen all day long.
The boy’s soccer team from my high school across the parking lot pushed carts of chili, crackers and dishes around.

            There were 9 huge tubs of chili, 54 loaves of bread, 1600 ounces of coffee, and gallons of ice cream with homemade toppings. All of it was given and prepared by people free of charge and expectation. All of it was given because the people of Waupun really do want to see those kids across an ocean keep going to school.
            It started to rain right when the supper was supposed to begin. And I thought that maybe the numbers would be low. But the rain didn’t stop anyone.
            Hundreds of people showed up, and we exceeded our expectations.

            And at the end of the chili supper we had two loaves of bread, one gallon of chili, some homemade chocolate-fudge sauce, and enough money raised for me to call Patrick and tell him that God had indeed provided.