Nancie and I and our friend Amanda Van Leeuwen have just returned from a three-week trip to Uganda to celebrate, dedicate, and review many of our projects there. We praise God for the progress being made, for our donors who have responded to God’s tugging on their hearts, and for the tireless commitment of our Ugandan partners, Eric and Susan Sabiit. Our foundational scripture has always been Mt 25:35–40. With God’s grace, our donors and Burning Bush International (BBI) are addressing hunger, thirst, friendship, nakedness, illness, and prison fellowship. In other words, being Jesus’ hands and feet in this part of Africa.
Uganda is a beautiful country in many ways — notably, its people, wildlife, and scenic landscapes. Its people are very resilient. This is especially true of villagers in Eastern Uganda, the “other” Uganda, who have suffered greatly during the last few decades.
In the mid-1980s, the nomadic Karamojong tribe invaded this region, referred to as Teso, taking everything of value. Many people were killed, homes burned, animals stolen, and vegetable gardens destroyed. It was very difficult for the area to recover. Then a few years later, in the early 1990s, a second insurgency of forces opposing the current president, Museveni, swept through the region, killing, raping, torturing, and taking supplies. All the while, this region was still coping with the effects of the Karamojong raids. If that wasn’t enough, a third invasion led by forces aligned with the rebel leader Joseph Kony would bring intermittent death and destruction to the area until the mid-2000s.
Susan Sabiit, one of our partners in Uganda, comes from this area and lived through these dangerous times from age two through high school. Many times, to escape being raped or killed, she and her family would seek shelter in rocks and caves nearby for days at a time. Susan witnessed many of her friends being killed by the invading rebel groups. She recounted those days.
"Like in any war zone,” Sabiit said, “the effects were terrible. Education, health, and social infrastructure were brought to its knees. Today, education is at its low in Teso. Schools and health units are a shadow of their former selves and there are generally high poverty levels. When you are a visitor in Uganda, you see poverty in many parts, but when you come to [the] Teso region, you see the poorest of the poor. The way people dress, their housing, and malnutrition levels are common indicators of a region that suffered a lot. I thank God for Burning Bush and the many ways they are helping this region get back on its feet.”
In 2013, Susan Sabiit encouraged Burning Bush to visit the Kumi/Ngora part of the Teso region to meet with village leaders and assess their circumstances. It is not incorrect to say that leaders and villagers begged BBI to provide assistance. The government, due to its “few resources,” had done little to help the area. After prayer and meetings with our partners, Eric and Susan Sabiit, BBI developed an approach called “restoring hope and dignity to Eastern Uganda.” The focus is on sustainability, that is, the emphasis is on the villagers’ inherent skill set that is agrarian-based, animal-raising, and experienced in running small businesses. The word “sustainability” is used here to mean they rely on God’s provisions and their own abilities to provide for their families.
The first step is to deliver access to clean water, then introduce female goats to orphaned children and other poor children in the village, encourage education by upgrading classroom blackboards and provide textbooks for students, followed by establishing micro-credit/savings groups in each village. Lastly, the plan is to provide better access to medical care by supplying the area’s medical clinics with basic medicines that are so lacking today. But that will have to wait until the first four steps are completed.
Due to God’s grace, Susan Sabiit’s leadership, and donor generosity, 22 villages in the Kumi/Ngora area now have clean water for the first time — the first well was drilled in January, 2014. In nine villages, 100 orphans and the poorest of village children have received female goats. These goats have produced many more and several hundred children have donated a female goat to a child in their village who didn’t receive one originally. Blackboards at six village primary schools have been refurbished. Micro-credit groups have been formed in six of the 22 villages. Many success stories are already being recorded and posted to BBI’s website at www.bbiuganda.org.
When we visited the area last month with Susan and Eric Sabiit, we heard so many stories of improved lives and a return to optimism, while giving God the glory! For Susan Sabiit, it’s been a long journey from war victim to a “hometown” champion.