Man Up and Go recently sent a team of 15 individuals from across the U.S. to Uganda. The trip stands out as the most unique yet, bringing together folks from five different states to equip four different areas of our ministries in Uganda in one common goal: to fight fatherlessness.
Building the Kingdom in developing nations is hard, tiring work, spanning multiple mediums and sundry areas of need. We believe this work always involves the local Church in some capacity, which is why we partner with three pastors in Uganda in three different places of the country.
As previously mentioned, this trip was unique in that we travelled together but had varying purposes once in country:
- One team went to train men in our 5th annual Man Up Men’s Conferences. This year’s theme? Sculpted – How God Shapes Us into the Men He Wants Us to Be.
- One team went to facilitate soccer (futbol) tournaments aimed at evangelizing the community and funneling men to our conferences and/or churches of our ministry partners.
- One team went specifically to encourage and love on the kiddos, both in and out of schools, many of whom are fatherless.
- And one team went specifically to equip pastors in deeper theological training, a huge need in Uganda that will help to reshape the mindset of believers and give them a heart towards the fatherless.
The end result? One of our biggest steps yet in reducing the amount of fatherless children in the world.
Though on the surface it appears we had a lot going on (and we did!), we were well-organized, strategic, and focused in our efforts.
Our team spent the first full day with Pastor George and Sylvia in Kibuku, and as the bus pulled up to their remote rural compound, were greeted with chants of “Man Up, Andi-Go”, “Man Up, Andi-Go” – it was awesome. Those who had never been before commented later that weren’t ready for such a boisterous response, both verbally and physically.
Pastor George and his wife Sylvia run a children’s home called Ebenezer, which is now comprised of 84 total children, 57 of whom stay on the campus full-time. They started the ministry by bringing in neglected and abandoned children, and have, with God’s grace and provision, grown the ministry to include a primary school and vocational training program for women.
We often say internally that George and Sylvia “do more with less” than anyone we know, and it’s evident by the way they continue to trust God for provision. Our team blessed them and in return were blessed as we played with the kids, listened to them perform, fed them, and had a wonderful time.
A couple of days later, we sent three of our men to worship with George on Sunday morning, and then conduct a Men’s Conference in the afternoon. We spoke primarily on work and marriage, and the response was overwhelming. 37 men packed into a tiny classroom and children peered through the windows to catch a glimpse of the stuff men do. Especially touching was the feedback we got as we trained on Time Management and Enjoying Your Spouse. Many of the things they heard were new to their ears, and we consider the time with them most fruitful. They long to have us return for more training.
We drove further into the Ugandan countryside and spent the next few days in Pallisa with Pastor Samuel and his wife Mercy. Pallisa is about a 6-hour drive from the airport in Entebbe, depending on traffic. Since we first met Sam five years ago, he has never ceased to amaze us with the amount of work God has prepared him to do. He now has over 300 children at the River of God school, and over 100 at the Kerith Children’s School; this is the same location where the Children’s Home and Kerith Clinic are. Sam’s wife Mercy oversees these ministries, and she now has 28 children living full-time on the campus, in addition to a severe uptick in patients at the clinic. While the clinic is not yet self-sustaining, the number of patients seen has grown dramatically in the last 8 months, and we praise God for this opportunity to share the Gospel and meet the needs of this materially poor community.
Our team broke into their groups and the results were amazing.
The Men’s Conference Team
Although not our biggest in terms of numerical participants, the growth and response of the 41 men who attended was clearly evident. We spoke on the importance of using God’s tools – the Word, prayer, and other believers – to knock of sin in our lives. On Day 2, we specifically addressed work and purity, two areas where Ugandan men struggle to find conviction, meaning, and purpose. Many men expressed sincere thanks and gratitude at our presence, and we later found that others were disappointed we couldn’t stay longer. With the amount of men cheating on their wives and not working as hard or as diligently as they could, we know the ongoing need for our presence in the community is great.
For those who may not know the culture, our mere presence as Mzungus (white people) in their town give us tremendous credibility. Right or wrong, we recognize the platform God has given us and we intend to make the most of it. One man commented by saying, “We Africans are always writing on our pads when Mzungus come, and we don’t fall asleep. We must listen not only when they have to say something, but also when other Africans come to teach us. We must be willing to listen.”
Indeed. This is why we teach and speak from the bible, and let them know from the onset that, “We Americans do not have the answers.” We are not saviors, we are not the “Great White Hope” as one of our board members has mentioned. We are merely men who want to see the amount of men engaged in their families increased, and the amount of fatherless children decreased. These conferences are serving to change the mindset of the men in this rural Ugandan district.
The Futbol Team
For the first time in Pallisa, we conducted and sponsored a futbol tournament among eight teams in the district. Our men served as honorary dignitaries of the semifinals and finals, and handed out the Gospel of John to all who would accept it at the tourney. The finals went to a penalty kick shootout, with the winning team finally sealing it on the 8thpenalty kick. An estimated crowd of over 500 erupted in celebration after the hard-fought battle, and enjoyed a young bull and Man Up trophy as winners of the tournament. The second team scored a goat, and the first 8 teams were awarded a new soccer ball.
One of the pastors on our team was able to share a Gospel message at the conclusion of the championship game, and only time will tell the seeds that were sewn that day. It seemed like the whole town came out for the game, and even the rain and goats on the field during play didn’t put a damper on a very exciting turnout. We saw several teenagers intently reading the Gospel of John book we handed out – keep in mind that this community has more Muslims than Christians – so we pray for future harvest as we pointed interested parties back to Pastor Sam and River of God church.
The Pastors Team
Because of the lack of theological training and resources for the pastors in the area, Pastor Sam has asked for several years that we might bring a more robust conference just for pastors. We did this, and 30 pastors showed up for the 2-day training.
Many of the pastors have very small congregations (10 or less), but are serving in a full-time capacity. We had three pastors on our Man Up team who explained that these Uganda pastors were actually serving as a drain on their congregants and community instead of empowering them in the Word. One of the main takeaways the pastors received from the training is that just as Paul worked and pastored, a bi-vocational pastor honors God. They received the instruction with joy and we already have plans to return for a more intensive workshop.
They also learned that God hates divorce, no matter the reason. Many of the pastors thought it was okay to leave a wife if she was not supporting his ministry, and our men explained God’s sacred view on marriage. Training like this is far and few between in Africa, and we’re thankful to help provide a biblical worldview on life in the ministry for these men. These leaders set the tone for the community. If they can learn to live a biblical lifestyle, then they can also instruct those in their churches to do the same. We are quite confident that when the Word is properly taught, it does not return void (Isaiah 55:8-11). This will ultimately dramatically reduce the amount of children growing up without two parents in the home.
The Children’s Team
Of course no Man Up team would be complete without loving big on the kiddos. We tasked 7 men and women on our team to do this, and they had a blast playing with and loving on the children at Kerith’s.
Having been our 5th year back to visit Pastor Sam (and our 9th time overall), the children at Kerith’s know the Man Up team by our T-shirts and have an instant bond with even the new team members. They expect something they rarely get – lots of attention from men – and although our time is short, we know it’s invaluable to their development.
One of the great outcomes of this trip is that we have team members who have agreed to sponsor 8 more children at the Children’s Home, bringing our total number of sponsored children to 18! We praise God for tugging on the hearts of our team members, who in turn are granting the gift of a biblical education, food, clothing, and shelter to these children.
One of the other great outcomes of the trip is how we were able to surprise Pastor Samuel and his wife on the last day of our time in Pallisa. Man Up team members, along with the support of Man Up donors, were able to gift them with $2300, just enough to purchase a plot of 4.5 acres that the ministry will use to plant crops to feed the children. This land sits on a strategic site close to a nearby lake, allowing them to irrigate the crops during any season. Recently an 8-month long drought crushed crop productivity in the area, and having this piece of land will insulate the ministry’s susceptibility to such a scenario. We praise God for this and continue to ask for His guidance in the next steps of planting, harvesting, managing, and stewarding this tremendous resource.
Our team made the 2 ½ hour drive back to Jinja for the remainder of our trip. Jinja is Uganda’s second largest city, and it sits in the cradle of where Lake Victoria ends and the Nile River begins.
Pastor Andrew and his wife Juliet started Home Again Ministries in 2009, and we officially partnered with them in 2011 after our first trip to the region. Andrew has a magnanimous smile and personality, and Juliet’s warmth, kindness, and hospitality could win over even the biggest skeptics.
For those who saw the ministry in the beginning, to see the activity now is almost unbelievable. Six years ago, literally nothing existed on the plot of land where the Bethel Junior School and Gloryland Church now sit. None of the 230 children enrolled at the school were being educated. None of the 16 employed staff had jobs at Bethel. None of the 300+ adult members at Gloryland Church were attending. To see what has been done through Andrew’s outreach to the people of Masese III, a slum community that butts up against the Home Again ministry compound, can only be ascribed to the mighty working power of an awesome God, and to Him we give shouts of praise!
Nothing could’ve prepared our team for their first encounter with the children of Masese; these children belong to the Karamajong people, a despised and displaced tribe among the other tribes in Uganda. The stigma of the Karamajong “forces” them into squatting on government-granted land, for all intents and purposes completely isolated from the rest of civilization. Many of the problems in Africa stem from a mindset of “I can’t” versus one that says, “God loves me so I can.” This has traditionally been the mindset in Masese.
However, that is slowly changing, and one of the reasons is the outreach of Super Saturday, a feeding program on Saturday mornings that incorporates play and bible stories for the children of the community. Our team was quite literally mobbed as we stepped off the bus Saturday, with a half dozen or more dirty, greasy, smiling, loving children hanging all over each Man Up team member. It’s an experience unlike any other, and one the new members of the team all agreed they were unprepared for, despite our warnings.
We set a new record for feeding, with over 900+ children from the community grabbing a plate of food! Incredible! Man Up was present for the first Super Saturday in 2015, when about 200 children attended. This unbelievable opportunity to feed the children has far more effects than just the children. Many kids bring a container where they store leftovers and take home to mom, dad, and/or siblings. For many of the kids, this meal is the only true meal they have each week.
In addition to bringing their families food, these kids are also bringing the Gospel. The children are doing the work of evangelizing the community of Masese, and bringing hope in Jesus’ name. The 300+ members of Gloryland Church, which started in January of 2016, are adults from the community, many of whom come because of their children. Counting the children, the Sunday service at Gloryland balloons to over 700 or more on any given Sunday!
The Man Up team also officiated the second annual Man Up futbol tournament in Jinja (our 4th to sponsor overall), and the team handed out flyers for the men’s conference as an estimated 600 people from the community came out to watch the final game, which also ended in penalty kicks. The Gospel was preached at halftime by one of our Man Up pastors, and a whole bucket of ice cream was made available for all the kids.
One of the more touching stories coming from our time was a young 12-year old named Roger. Roger read the book of John we had passed out and also read the flyer. He wanted to come to church the following Sunday but lived 5-7 miles away. We had one of the locals who knew the area explain where Gloryland was, and sure enough, Roger not only walked the 75 minutes to get there, but showed up even before our team. What an encouragement! We have connected him with Pastor Andrew. Please pray for Roger, that no matter where he ends up attending church, that God would guide and direct this young man into a life of service for the King of kings!
Our time in Jinja was similar to our time in Pallisa, with one exception. Man Up has partnered with a ministry called Crossing Cultures International (CCI) to bring robust, seminary-level training to our partners. One of our team members (a CCI trainer) conducted the first training of its kind to 20 pastors at the same time the men’s conference was going on, and the Ugandan pastors were floored with the quality and expertise of the training.
It’s important to understand that the equipping we take for granted in the United States is cherished among the Ugandan men who serve as pastors. Pastor Andrew has told us that the Gospel is wide in Uganda but it isn’t deep, which is why many of the pastors are cheating on their wives, or worse, cheating and leaving them. If the leaders are doing this, how can we expect the laymen to do any different?
Not only will this training equip them theologically, but it will equip them pastorally. That is to say, it will help them in their roles as pastors (literally, “shepherds” of God’s people). Many lightbulb moments occurred during this 2-day training, and we are working on scheduling the next modular training session.
One of the common themes of the trip, as we spoke on topics like the importance of God’s Word, marriage and family, and how God expects men to work and provide, was this: gratitude. Our team was truly inspired by the thankful hearts of the Ugandan men – 421 of them who attended the men’s conference at some point over the three days. They can’t wait to have us back in coming years, and we can only pray God allows and enables us to do so. We sincerely believe our presence at these conferences is taking the leaders of Uganda to a higher level. Not because we’re so smart, but because, just as the children’s song goes:
Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do!
Another noteworthy comment regarding our trip has to be the progress of the children and women of Masese. Our team was surprised when we mentioned that even as little as 3 years ago, hardly any of the children spoke English. What a turnaround! A great number of children spoke at least some English, and many of the older primary students were quite proficient. This is single-handedly the influence of Bethel Junior School, and it opens up significantly more opportunities for the students they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
The women of Masese have also come a long way since we first met them six years ago. A great many of them had countenances of joy when we met under the meeting tree to buy their jewelry. A noticeable glow hovered over the 3 hours we spent with them on our last day, a glow that wasn’t there in past trips. They were kind and gracious, and our team took the initiative to sit with many of the 71 ladies who showed up with their wares, listening intently to them as they shared their stories.
One such story comes from a lady named Irene, a 25 year old whose two children no longer have a father. He bolted years ago. As one of our male team members held her 2-yr old’s hands, she commented, “He knows you are his father.”
Irene’s story is just one of many.
This is why we Man Up and Go. To model the love of our heavenly Father in tangible ways, to encourage these women to press on, and to equip and disciple men to be the men God has called them to be.
A Good Exhaustion
It was an exhausting trip. Every night’s team debrief didn’t end until after 10 PM. But it was a good tired, one that was capped by a boat ride to the source of the Nile River, an underwater spring that bubbles up right where Lake Victoria flows into the beginning of the world’s longest river.
As we flew home to the U.S., a second Man Up team headed to Uganda, our planes literally crossing paths over the Atlantic. This team will do much of the same, but this time putting on our first ever Woman Up conferences! We are giddy with excitement to see how God uses this specific engagement with the women to complement the work that we’re doing.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or imagine, according to the power working in us, be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ to all generations forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21