After my first visit to Uganda (in 2006-07), people asked about my favorite part. Without hesitation, I would reply, "The people." My answer would likely be the same today.
I have met some amazing people here, and some of my favorites live on the island. Let me introduce a few to you.
Papa and Mama O - Okoro and Olive
Papa and Mama O teach in a Family Ministry seminar.
Papa and Mama O, as they are affectionately called by nearly everyone, have lived and served on the island since 2000. They were serving with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) when I first met them back in 2006. They have been with SHIM since the first half of 2007 - joining shortly after Shepherd's Heart was established.
The Os remind me of my own parents. Papa O loves to talk, tell stories and make people laugh - like my own father. Papa is great as the head of hospitality as he truly desires for every visitor to feel "most welcome." He is known for his traditional dancing, his singing, his impersonations of "American" accents, and his funny sayings and stories.
Mama O with their firstborn Harriet and Harriet's twin daughters, born last December.
Mama O provides a wonderful balance to Papa as she is the more reserved, more organized, more detailed one - much like my own mom. She is the hardest working person I have ever met - often working from dawn to dusk. Mama O is also very compassionate, generous and discerning.
As a complementary team, the Os make great leaders of our Family Ministry branch - organizing seminars in churches, visiting island homes, and sharing God's perspective of marriage and family. Their ministry is authenticated by their own lives, having been married for 25+ years with six beautiful God-fearing adult children, five grandchildren and another on the way.
They are not from the islands, but felt called to serve here 10+years ago. Trained as a teacher and nurse, respectively, Papa and Mama turned their backs on secure careers, respect from peers and family, mainland life and security, much like the call of Abraham. But as Papa O shared recently, God has provided for them and their children. Three of their kids have completed their university education, with the most recent finishing at the top of his class.
As the Os have been faithful to God's calling, God has been faithful to meet their needs. They are not seeking lands, houses or treasure on earth, but are storing up riches in the heavenly kingdom as they minister to the individual and families of the islands and beyond.
I think you can see why I love this couple! : )
Three of our island teachers, Joy, Topista and Violet, shown with the girls of this year's graduating class.
Our island secondary (high) school - Lingira Living Hope - was founded in February 2006, and in the last 5+ years there have been quite a number of dedicated teachers who have served among its staff.
To live and work on the islands is a sacrifice, especially for most Ugandans. These places are often despised. Those who work here often have families living elsewhere and perhaps houses, land and businesses on the mainland that they have to leave unattended. Many Ugandans fear water and will not cross it to make a living. But our island teachers do just that.
Of the eight teachers on staff, three are mothers who balance teaching with caring for their young ones - 2-1/2 years and younger. There are five male teachers, most of whom do not yet have families, but are still responsible for younger siblings, parents and other relatives. Because they have a stable job, many look to them for support.
The Headmaster (Principal) Sam and Deputy Headmaster (Vice Principal) Fred both completed university degrees this year - using their holiday breaks from the school to become students themselves, filling their free time to hone their professions.
Headmaster Sam Okello, right, with a visiting university professor from Oregon.
The teachers' perseverance, dedication and sacrifice are amazing to me as they tirelessly instruct and mentor the 100+ students in their care.
I find the teachers of Lingira Living Hope amazing and I know God honors their faithful dedication.
The Students of Lingira Living Hope
When I came back to Uganda in early 2010 I had no idea I would be as involved with the school and students as I am now.
But God showed me in late November 2010 that youth and teaching are among the "passions" He has put in me. I find great joy in interacting, teaching and just being with the young men and women of Lingira Living Hope.
They are unlike any group of youth I have every worked with in that there are language, cultural and racial barriers that can and sometimes do exist between us. But as in most relationships, when you show care, people respond by opening up their hearts and lives.
Anna - one of my favorite students. She is small in stature but big in joy, love and service to God.
Some of the boys and girls come from difficult homes and circumstances, others are basically on their own with no parents or guardian to look after them. Rejection from family is among the consequences some face for choosing Christ. Many worry about where their school fees will come from, how to buy soap or other basic needs, or how they will live during the school breaks. Their challenges are often beyond what I can relate to.
When I look at them, however, I see huge potential - as those created in the image of God, as the future of the island and of Uganda. For many, an education is a hope to secure a better future for themselves and their families. School may be a chance of survival.
|Students and teachers of Lingira Living Hope|
I never thought that people on a remote island in a small African country would capture my heart, but they certainly have.