Zozu project: The Perspective of an urban, Christian, and potentially over-educated Millennial

When I was in high school I vividly remember the first time a non-profit organization came to speak. They were working to end child soldier kidnapping in Africa. They showed a heart-wrenching video, and then asked if we would support the cause. I remember sitting in my dusty green auditorium seat thinking with excitement “There’s a real problem. And they want me to help!” It was a privilege and a delight to jump in to raising awareness and raising money. Being involved felt natural, biblical, and, moreover, important. It was the first time I felt useful in the world. This was before I grew up. I was 15, and didn’t think about such things as overhead costs, impact models, and white savior-ism. I just assumed that if you were doing something while in your heart you sincerely cared about the suffering of the world and were trying to make a difference, you were doing God’s work. Things were simpler back then.

Fast forward four years and add experience, the internet, and a college education into the mix. Like any good young Christian* (please read: sarcasm. God accepts us as we are, “bad Christians” and all) I stayed up to date with the latest causes. The blend of for-profit model with non-profit work was becoming more mainstream. Guest speakers came to my church and my college to share how they had made an impact for good, and they were very inspiring. However, along with my growing knowledge came, let us say, the darker side of “doing good.” I started reading about the concepts of “empowerment” versus “dependency,” critiques of the system of aid, and articles questioning the idea that we were preaching a gospel of American wealth, not the gospel of Jesus. Like any young idealist, I began to see flaws all around me in the ways that we Americans, and even we Christians, went about following Jesus command to love and care for the poor. My mind was wrapped up in big-picture theories. If we teach English in the third world, what kind of cultural implications will that have for the traditional way of life? If we step in to help out small businesses, is that really more or less effective than church planting? Maybe we should just forget about international stuff and simply focus on God’s command to love our neighbor and take care of things like homelessness in American cities. Why bother “imposing” anything on people so far away and so different when we just seem to do it wrong? It seemed like every time I looked at a cause or an organization, I found some skepticism to rest on that kept me from action or support. It was a frustrating rut that I recognized in myself, but couldn’t seem to shake.

My thoughts thus, I went to Uganda with Mick and Elaine, founders of Zozu Project. I brought all of these questions and skepticisms with me–my own little mental baggage. I guess sometimes it takes traveling really far with your baggage to learn to set it down.

What I saw in at Solid Rock Christian Academy, and at Arua Community Church was exactly what I needed to see. If you can believe it, my over-educated brain’s frameworks and models were either rendered useless or satisfied. It was like I was simply a witness to it all. I was a lucky witness who got to sit in as Mick and Pastor JP talked about how to strategically use a recently purchased bit of land. I witnessed the principal tell me the story of how God called her to shepherd these kids when she was dead set on another path for her life. I listened to the nurse, Rose, discuss the stock of medications with Elaine in the school clinic, which was Rose’s idea. I met the school accountant, Susan, who is probably more adept at bookkeeping than half the college graduates in America. I witnessed the kids there talk about how much they wanted to continue their education at the best schools possible. I witnessed families put on their best clothes when we came to visit them, and felt the love and respect pour both from Mick and Elaine and from the moms and dads we saw. Each felt honored to be in the presence of the other.

More than anything, I saw that Mick and Elaine care just as much about the relationships between the child in Africa and their sponsors in America as any money that gets sent and how it’s used. They don’t care to set the teacher’s salaries or manage the exams used to test the learning. That’s not their job. They care that the kids get their letters from their sponsors, that they enjoy the gifts that they receive, and that they write back. Mick and especially Elaine happily solicit sponsors to contact their kids often, and enthusiastically love it when sponsors and kids get to meet in person for the first time. It was clear to me that the kids feel that love. They would run up to me and ask if I knew X person who was their sponsor and ask if I could film a video of them to send back. My travel buddy, Carra, got to meet the two children that her family sponsors, and they were holding hands and playing all week. When Carra left, all of them cried. It was moving to see. Writing it all down, I realize that God placed me so well to witness so much of His work. Now that I have been a witness, I will happily give testimony to all that God is doing there through Zozu and its leadership. As a former skeptic, I will enthusiastically advocate for this little organization operating in two little towns separated by thousands of miles and united by a single leader–the Lord.

Perhaps I had previously been jaded into thinking “how much help do they really need and how much can we really do?” I don’t know about you, but I see so many photos of African children in poverty (especially around the holidays) that they honestly all tend to blend together in my mind. It’s shameful to admit, but it’s true. There are so many organizations, so many villages, so many things to get involved in that sometimes I just want to check out. But not anymore, not with Zozu. To me, these kids are now just as real and complex as my younger cousins or the girls whose Bible study I led. The Solid Rock students are real people whose fathers are gone, whose moms work 20 hours a day, and who get malaria without a bed to even lay down on to rest. Going to a good school has made so much of a difference in their lives.

The best part though, is that they are learning about Jesus. They could have all the education in the world, and what would it profit them for eternity? Nothing. Maybe that’s the problem we Americans are in. We have it all, and yet without Jesus, we still have nothing. To say such things used to sound to me like a nice toothless platitude. Now to say that Jesus is the water and bread of life rings so true that all of the riches of this world couldn’t make me think otherwise.

So I will passionately advocate for Zozu and the families it supports without fear. Are the leaders humans? Yes. Do they make mistakes? Yes. But for what it’s worth, I think God’s spirit is with them and his hand is guiding them, Americans and Ugandans alike. Before I went, I had been thinking “What difference can we, us Americans, really make in the poverty in the world?” I should haven been asking “God, what difference can you make and how do you want to make it?” I don’t think I should limit God to our failings anymore. He’s got too much work to do to waste time on that. He asks us for faith like a child if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). I think back to my high school days. There’s a real problem. And he really wants us to help.