If you haven’t been to Africa and are physically able to go, you should. It will change your life for better and worse. Meeting souls housed in bodies marked by suffering who have so few resources but give more than any proportion you ever have will make you feel worse about yourself than you ever have in your entire life. It will wreck you and it will be one of the best experiences you’ll ever encounter because you won’t be able to look at anything the same ever again. You will want to do something to alleviate the anguish and movements of desperation that many of these people have endured for generations. You will simply want to help.
I’ve been privileged to trek all over the globe and interact with people living in all sorts of conditions. Some are ideal circumstances. Some are deplorable. But no place on this earth has rocked my world more than Africa. In fact, it turned my world upside down.
Nearly three years ago, we travelled with the Church Missions Network with our church in Nashville to Kenya. We arrived and after only a few hours of sleep, set off for the bush of Africa. The conditions were not like anything I had ever expected. The children we initially met were getting in fist fights over the stickers and small gifts we had brought them because many of them had no parents to referee them, we had no tools to dig with to set the poles of the church building we were trying to construct except for crude metal bowls, the bathroom situation was ideal only for breeding disease, and the flies from the cow patties near by flew right onto the mystery food the locals had prepared for us. I was in utter culture shock and wondering why I was there. I secretly pleaded with God to let me get on the next plane back to the States.
A good night’s rest to catch up from jet lag makes everything a little better, though. A few days after we arrived, we left from our hotel located only a few hundred yards from Uganda in our tour van to travel to the Lunga village, which literally translates as, “upside down village.” Along the bumpy ride on the cavernous roads, Martin, our driver shared with us that many Ugandan refugees had travelled across the boarder which was just in site from our hotel to escape from the terrors of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Resources at World Help summarize some of the atrocities this wicked man led, “the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has stolen a generation of childhoods. Joseph Kony and his LRA have turned innocent boys into soldiers and produced thousands of child mothers.” At that moment in my life, I couldn’t believe we were so close. Martin denied my requests to let me just run across the boarder to see what it was like.
We arrived a couple long, sweaty hours later at the Lunga village. You can read the entire portion of that story here, but for now, I’ll just share a little glimpse of it:
“I met Lynda. I’d say she’s about 11 or 12. She has a younger sister, Beverly, and two younger brothers as well. They are orphans. One of the last times the organization we were with had come, they discovered her and her siblings living in their aunt’s small house. They had no food, so the aunt was down by the coast working as a prostitute to earn money for their food. Linda really was raising her siblings by herself. The organization we were working with helped to buy food for them before they left and also helped them be able to go to school. Christopher had since taken them under his wing to watch over them and provide a better living situation for them.
Linda had seen us playing with the beach ball earlier and came to me asking to play volleyball. The “court” she selected for our volleyball game was none other than the place where the burial preparation structure for the other little girl’s father had been. While it was way higher than a regulation “net”, the two stick poles that supported the horizontal pole served us well. We used a partially inflated soccer ball in lieu of a volleyball and had to watch for holes in the ground so as not to twist our ankles.
The thing that I did not know until we were finished with the game is that Linda and her sister both tested positive for HIV recently. I have to admit that HIV/AIDS was a huge concern for me going over there. But, God is in control. He’s bigger than my fears. He’s bigger than the sorrow and suffering these people go through every day that are more real and tangible than my fears.
Those few moments were some of the happiest of my life. I know for sure they were happy for Linda and the others who were either participating in or watching our game. There we were in a place where much sorrow had occurred and people still were suffering with every day heart aches, having the time of our lives playing make-shift volleyball. Linda’s bright white teeth glistened in the sun; the sweat sent from the near by equator drenched us all. But we were smiling…even in the midst of suffering.”
Linda and her siblings were rescued. They were given a chance at a much brighter future than their parents or aunt had ever dreamed of because they were given the gift of hope. Much of that came through placing her in a safe, welcoming home that loved the Lord Jesus and also by sending her to school to gain something that no person on earth could ever take from her: an education.
Suzzane O’Dell, senior writer for World Help says this,
““Women comprise half of the world’s population, but represent an astonishing 70 percent of the world’s poor. When it comes to work, women complete about two-thirds of the world’s working hours but only earn about 10 percent of the world’s income. Since most of these jobs are considered informal, these women don’t get paid days off or maternity leave. The average work environment is an open invitation for exploitation, abuse, and all kinds of oppression. Globally, one in five women becomes a victim of rape during her lifetime.
Think about this: A girl who goes to school has options. She is more likely to learn a lucrative job skill and avoid dangerous industries like prostitution or fall into the hands of sex traffickers. She is less likely to be the victim of a forced marriage as a child because of her ability to earn a stable income. She is less likely to engage in adolescent promiscuity or to contract HIV.”
Reaching Beyond My Reach exists to do just what our name says. I want to reach beyond my reach by using my voice to advocate for the voiceless and point them to the hope of Jesus Christ. I want to reach beyond my reach to YOU so that you, too, will be encouraged to reach beyond your reach.
World Help has come up with incredible methods for doing this. One way they are reaching beyond their reach is by providing vocational training schools, starting in Uganda.
World Help says, “No amount of charity will heal these wounds. True restoration will come as we reinstate dignity . . . as we give Northern Ugandans a reason to hope again. And vocational training plays a direct part.With a marketable skill set, women and young adults can once again contribute to society and better care for their families. Local economies strengthen. The potential for trafficking decreases. Traditions of gender discrimination are broken. The benefits of vocational training are extensive and long-lasting.”
Through the vocational training schools, students are taught a skill set such as sewing, welding, or even hairstyling. The schools that are being facilitated through World Help provide a much safer, more dignified, and benefiting career path to those who have or could be forced into sex slavery as an act of desperation for financially supporting family members. Graduates of these programs are given the gift of hope where many times not even a trace of it was present.
Hear what Jeanette Laker from Uganda has to say about these schools, “I could not afford to buy food, soap, or clothing for myself nor my children before I joined the vocational school. We did not have much. But now, I can afford to support my family because of my training. I can pay for my children’s tuition and send them to school. I am grateful for to the ministry of the vocational school. It has given me the dignity and the financial freedom to take care of myself and my family.”
This Christmas, you have the opportunity to contribute to some of these Gifts of Hope . That’s what this season is about, the hope of Jesus Christ. That’s what Reaching Beyond My Reach is about.
Would you like the opportunity to bless someone who may be half way across the globe from you with the gift of hope?
Then how about shopping through some of these Gifts of Hope, many of which have been made by women and men, rescued by hope and given back their dignity as they crafted items with the skills they learned at the schools that World Help has helped to found. In addition, you’ll find gifts for others that we take for granted such as clean water, seeds to grow food, livestock to raise, books, and medical emergency funds.
Want the opportunity to share a gift that just may outlive your lifetime?
Then shop at Gifts of Hope.