With a mattrace in our hands Julian and I (Johann) are standing in front of a heap of new children mattraces, waiting. Through the window we can see a few children jumping towards the church building in which we are. A little boy comes through the door. As he discovered us, he ran towards us and receives "his" mattrace with a big smile. So far he has slept in a small grass roofed hut on the mere soily ground. It will be the first night in his life that he is going to sleep on a soft mattrace.
This experience touched me deeply and it stands for me symbolically for the time in Karamoja. Together with Julian, who was replaced by Simeon after 2 months, I was allowed to serve in Karamoja, a desert like area in the north of Uganda, for 3 months.
The children here come from poor backgrounds. Their houses are in small villages without electricity and water only comes from a well that is sometimes far away. While the adults are only dressed with a big cloth, the kids wear T-shirts and trousers often consisting more of holes than material. Hardly any child has shoes but many have black holes in their feet which "jiggars" (sand flees) have made while they sleep and sometimes even rats. Die Karamojongs are nomades, so as soon as a child turns 6 years they are often used as shepherds. Instead of going to school they move around with their cattle looking for water. Food is rare in the villages, the children are going to bed hungry most times. To satisfy the hunger the people drink a lot of alcohol, also children. Nature beliefs with dark rituals rule the life of the Karamojongs.
All this sounds now so hopeless, BUT:
We as volunteers are entitled to experience how God changes the life of these children. In our Jesus-Agape-Center they get what they miss in their villages: the love of God, food, care and education.
Mornings and evenings we have devotions whereby the children worship excitedly, singing, dancing and jumping, and listening to bible stories. These children have a great love for Jesus. When during the easter time we told them about the death of Jesus big tears rolled down on many children's cheeks. Their joy about his resurrection which we proclaimed the following morning was greater than you could imagine. And they are so grateful for God's provision.
In school many kids first have to learn English because in the villages only their tribal language is spoken. With 3 children who had difficulties in class, I was able to give special lessons where learning and discovering is done in a playful way, and in this way we could support these kids with their special needs. It was beautiful for me to see how these kids have developed within these 7 weeks. While they were just seated still in front of me in the first weeks, having problems with the teachings, like the numbers 1-10 or simple games like puzzles, they were much more self confident in the last weeks, knew the numbers 1-10, even some letters, and understood games and tasks way faster.
While I was active in school, Julian and Simeon were making use of their handcraft skills and repaired everything and helped building up, like 250 children beds for the new dormitory among them.
God loves the Karamojongs. And he uses these children to change this region. Already now they carry Jesus into their villages, they are singing him songs of praise and tell their families about him.
Experiencing God's love and strength in Karamoja for 3 months was wonderful and I am excited what God still has planned with this region.