Orphan village transforms life in Uganda and Oklahoma

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Congregation initiates Project Hope Worldwide to aid children

by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest 

Discover Bible Fellowship is one of two USMB congregations that have adopted orphans in two Ugandan communities. Uganda, a country slightly smaller than Oregon, is home to and estimated 2.7 million orphans due to AIDS, malaria and violence. 

Pastor Derk Madden would need a much bigger wallet to carry the photos of all the children he claims as his own. But in his heart, all 50 Ugandan orphans living in Calo Me Lare village are his kids. Through Project Hope Worldwide (PHW), Madden and his congregation at Discovery Bible Fellowship, a USMB church in Collinsville, Okla., provide for these children in the small village they have built just outside the town of Lira, Uganda.

Moses is one of the orphans who has been given a home and family at Calo Me Lare. His mother, under pressure from her own father, had left the boy to die in a swamp. Someone found him gagged and covered with mud, but still alive. For a while, a woman in the community cared for him, but the small amount of food and care she and the community could provide could not bring him back to health. 

At three years of age, Moses came to Calo Me Lare  where he has become part of a new family led by a Ugandan Christian widow and filled with several “brothers” who are also orphans.

Madden points to Scripture’s clear call to care for orphans in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

You can't just go home

He recalls the 2008 church planting mission trip that prompted the PHW efforts: “As we went from hut to hut there was this throng of children that followed us, some of them like two years old. People told me those were orphans. When you see something that is so blatantly wrong or needy, you can’t just go home and not do anything about it.”

That 2008 mission trip was Kelley Compton’s first trip overseas and redirected her life. She was Discovery’s worship ministries leader and became part of a small team who returned from the mission trip determined to take some action.

“We started praying and seeking God’s will,” she recalls, “and God showed up in huge ways.”

Compton, now PHW’s vice president for finances and child sponsorship, has helped the mission find corporate contributors and connect with sponsors that allow the organization to do far more than the church could fund alone. By establishing the mission as a non-profit organization separate from the church, PHW is able to tap into many other funding sources. Last year the organization raised $500,000 from several Oklahoma corporations and foundations along with gifts from other churches.

On April 20 PHW will hold its third annual Kwero fundraising event that, according to Compton, is a festive way to get their message out. Table sponsors include law firms, pipeline and oil companies and construction and other businesses that bring their employees and clients. The event includes high quality entertainment, silent and live auctions and multi-media presentations demonstrating the need and showing progress on the development of the project. The fundraising goal for this year’s event is $150,000.

It takes a village

Large gifts in addition to the church’s support have enabled the PHW to move quickly in implementing their vision of creating a village for orphans. In July 2009, a second church planting group from Discovery went to Uganda. Along with the group’s assignment of hut-to-hut visitation, several members also began investigating the possibility of building their orphan village.

The site of this second mission was the city of Lira, home to 1.5 million people with no disciple-making church, according to Madden. The location seemed ideal for what they felt God calling them to do—alleviate the suffering of orphans and widows and plant an evangelical church—so they began the search for a site and partners to help.

An encounter with missionaries Andy and Cami Flege was one of the ways “God showed up,” says Compton.

 The Fledges had experienced a call from God to leave their cabinet-making business in Oregon and serve him in a ministry to orphans in Uganda. Through a series of events they found themselves in Lira in search of a place to fulfill that calling.

The Discovery group’s research for their project brought them in contact with the Fleges.

“It was pretty obvious to everyone from the start that God brought us here to Project Hope,” says Andy Flege, “We just took the ball and ran with it, buying land and building the orphan homes.”

By March 2011, newly formed “families” consisting of a Christian widow and up to eight orphans began to fill the houses. In addition to eight orphan homes, the village soon had an administration building that serves as a gathering place for Sunday worship as well as a school during the week.

"Exactly what we came to do"

As on-site directors, the Fleges hired and trained local staff. They currently oversee around 20 people. “We are doing exactly what we came to Uganda to do,” says Cami Flege with satisfaction.

To provide local leadership and guide them through the Ugandan bureaucracy and cultural context, PHW hired Emiku Dennis from the nearby city of Soroti as administrator and pastor their new church. Emiku had just finished his college education and impressed the PHW leaders with both his professionalism and his heart.

“He blew the socks off of us!” says Compton.

Emiku is a seminary-trained pastor and an orphan himself.

“I lived most of my life in church as a relief to my childhood stress and fatigue,” he recalls. “I consider [Project Hope] as God’s way to put me into ministry of serving the most hurting little ones in my country.”

While Ugandan staff led by Emiku and the Fleges, handle day-to-day operations, Madden and Discovery Bible Fellowship continue an active role in Cala Me Lare. Three teams have traveled to Uganda for short-term ministries. The church expects to continue that pattern, sending about 30 people to Uganda each year. Depending on the expertise of the group, short-term teams have done hut-to-hut evangelism, vacation Bible school, child development counseling and HIV/AIDS testing.

"I left a piece of my heart"

Those who have gone find the experience transformational. Participant Misty Maxwell originally thought of the trip as something to “mark off my bucket list.”

“Now it is like a path I hope I never get to the end of,” she says in a video testimonial. “I left a piece of my heart with the children of Calo Me Lare.” Along with many other participants, she plans to continue taking part in the short-term missions.

Hilary Nicholson, a pediatric nurse practitioner, returned from Uganda with a vision for reaching hurting people in her own community. She founded a volunteer-based free medical clinic in Collinsville. Like PHW, Arubah Community Clinic has established itself as a nonprofit independent of the church and draws volunteers and funding from within the Discovery congregation and from the larger medical community.

After participating in the short-term missions and becoming PHW financial sponsors, long-time Discovery Fellowship leaders Dennis and Margie Balzer have felt God’s call to a further commitment to the ministry. The call came during a sermon about Jesus’ temptation in the desert: Jesus didn’t take the easy way out, and neither should we, they heard Pastor Derk challenge them. When Madden followed that sermon with an announcement that a mature couple was needed to support the current staff in Calo Me Lare, the Balzers stepped forward.

A new retirement plan

Dennis and Margie decided to retire from their jobs and will spend the first year of their retirement in Uganda. Leaving behind six grandkids, they will move to Calo Me Lare in May.

“Leaving grandkids is probably the hardest thing about going,” admits Dennis, “but we’re committed for a year and will see how the Lord leads and how productive we feel we are.”

Giving and serving through missions are part of Discovery Bible Fellowship’s DNA, according to the Balzers who have been part of the congregation from childhood. Margie remembers enjoying the stories of missionaries who visited the church regularly, and Dennis’s dad took part in church projects with Mennonite Disaster Service.

“It’s always been a natural part of our church,” she says.

They are glad to see that emphasis continuing to grow in the congregation.

“Pastor Derk has brought more of the hands-on aspect, not just sending a check, but putting our hands on the job,” Dennis says.

Madden has seen Discovery’s involvement in this mission change his own perspective and the values and priorities of the church.

“Once you have been involved with this, everything in your life that you thought would bring you contentment seems stupid,” he says. “It has ignited a passion for giving ourselves away.”

As Discovery Bible Fellowship wallets and hearts pour out in love for orphans in Uganda, they don’t remain empty. A wallet full of orphans’ photos is a picture of what Madden means when he says: “The more we give ourselves away, the more God blesses and the more we have for ourselves.”

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