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.