A Church Success Story

“We have uncertainty as a church, but that doesn’t mean we waver in what God has called us to do.”

– Katy Griffin, Highlands Missions Pastor

Back in January of this year, before any of us knew what an N-95 mask was, the pastoral staff at Highlands Church in Paso Robles got together to discuss how to best shepherd their people through the season of Lent. In years past, they had focused on encouraging the members of the congregation to make not only little gifts to brighten someone’s day, but to make a significant sacrifice that would change lives, like Christ’s. They usually partnered with organizations around the globe to raise funds to relieve poverty, prevent sex trafficking, or feed the hungry. Hence, Lent became termed the time of “Significant Sacrifice.”

2020, they thought, would be no different. In fact, why not set bigger goals and impact more lives? In 2019 they had partnered with Zozu Project and raised funds for housing for teachers. This year, what if they could raise up monthly sponsors for all 50 of the preschool students and build a preschool playground? Through prayer and discussion, they decided to do it. They would devote a portion of each service throughout the season of Lent to advocate to their congregation on behalf of the children in Uganda. Needless to say, here at Zozu Project, we were thrilled!

Then, COVID hit. Amidst the filling hospitals and the emptying savings accounts, predictably, giving took a sharp dive. Many churches sent out notifications to their members reminding them of staff salaries and office rent, expenses that don’t go away even if the church isn’t meeting in person. Highlands was no exception: they saw a decline in giving too. Sure, they weren’t going to have people meet in the building, but they still wanted to stream services, which takes equipment, and, most importantly, pay their staff. The “well” so to speak, looked a little drier than it ever had in years past.

But come the first week of Lent, did they discuss changing the plan for Significant Sacrifice? No. Not once. The only question on the table was “How do we still do this, and do it well?”

They rallied the team to turn what were going to be in-person messages into recorded videos. They doubled up their efforts to collect photos of the school and children in Uganda to show to their congregation. They made promotional videos highlighting people who already sponsored or donated in their congregation. Without debate, Highlands leaders decided to not retreat focus on promoting their needs. Rather, they still pressed forward, perhaps more than ever, to help the needy, the hungry, and the forgotten.

As Easter approached, much to their surprise, their online attendance numbers started growing. They saw people tuning in from not just the Central Coast, but all across the country. Friends confined at home, family members from other states, and even people with no previous connection to Highlands were all watching the services. And every week they continued to show people the poverty and need in Uganda and confidently call them to give if they felt led. Were they “sacrificing” funds that would otherwise have gone to their own church? If so, so be it. That was the point, after all: to make a Significant Sacrifice in order to change lives.

As this is being written, we are still in the middle of it! The campaign will officially wrap up and a final total will be published next week. It is most encouraging to see the people at Highlands taking a stance of bold optimism. As the children are quarantined at home, this church is raising funds for their school– what hope! What confidence in the power of God to bring an end to the crisis! What willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others!

We will update this blog as the total comes in, but no matter the numeric outcome, the testimony of faith is remarkable. To give in a time of scarcity is the most generous gift of all. On behalf of the children who will be blessed, thank you Highlands, for your love!

Crazy and Common: Sharing the Crisis with our Ugandan Brothers and Sisters

Two weeks ago, I had to cancel my next flight to Uganda. It wasn’t much of a decision– it just had to be done. Weeks of carefully monitoring flight prices, emailing sample itineraries back and forth with our Ugandan partners, praying over who God might bring on the trip… all for nothing. In a moment, all that work seemingly negated. And I had no choice.

This choice-less experience has been the “MO” lately. Before all of this, there was a feeling of wide-open space in the future– a broad meadow with a clear sky. There were many decisions to make and opportunities to seize. When do I go to Uganda? When should I plan to visit my in-laws next? Can we afford that next big purchase that we have been saving for? Before, I could see forward (or so I thought) to the next few years and what they could look like. I could go on this or that trip, make this or that move, change my career in this or that way. So many coulds.

Overnight it seems, in place of the meadow of opportunity, high and impenetrable walls have risen. The distant horizon is not visible anymore. My mind revolves around wondering what tomorrow is going to look like, nevermind the next year. With little warning, my choices have been restricted to choosing what day of the week to don a mask and brave the grocery store.

Can anyone relate? I think so. So many people I know have been in a more precarious economic position than ever before, and some have actually been shoved over the cliff of unemployment. To a greater degree than I expected, I hear family members expressing worry for one another’s health. To put it very bluntly, death has come closer than we like to think it’s allowed to. We forget that it can do that.

Like many of you, I also sponsor a child who attends Solid Rock Christian School in Uganda. I have been there a handful of times now, on one occasion for over a month, and I have been able to visit her family a few times. I have been thinking about her off and on. She is probably already a foot taller since I last saw her. She’s really at an age where she should be shooting up into tween years, with proper nutrition that is. Hm. Proper nutrition is a luxury in her life, I remember.

That is, it used to be before she was sponsored and went to school. Before she went to school, she was home all day. Her family didn’t have any savings. She couldn’t have afforded to go to a doctor without her dad borrowing money. I wonder how they are fairing under quarantine.

I realize that some of what the children and families in Uganda are experiencing now was normal. Not going to school, lack of access to healthcare, job insecurity, depleted savings. They know what it feels like to have high walls all around, to not be able to see to the horizon of next month, let alone next year. They know what it feels like for their daily menu of choices to consist only of things relevant to the day they’re living in. The heightened insecurity many of us are experiencing right now is (likely to a greater degree) part and parcel of the poor Ugandan family’s life.

As I have been pushed into heightened insecurity, my faith has been tested, and well it should be. This is the pressing question: Do I really believe that God is faithful to me and my family even now? And if I don’t, who am I to proclaim his faithfulness to a people who live like this every day?

Do I really depend on my money, career, or future hopes for my family, or do I depend on God? I think of the Ugandan families I know who walk with Jesus. To this day, I have not met people who depend on God more than they do. And not just in word by quoting a verse in an Instagram post. They depend on God with their whole heart.

Thinking of them reminds me of a song:

"Nobody said this would be easy
Anyone who did never went through anything painful
But faith is not some fragile thing that 
Shatters when we walk through something hard
So, we walk on whatever may come."

The families I know walked through a lifetime of uncertainty, and out of nowhere God brought some Americans and Ugandans together and started a school in the middle of the forgotten villages, just for them. I have talked to so many parents who prayed and prayed, and Solid Rock Christian School was the miraculous answer to their prayers for their children.

God was glorified by meeting their need. He did it for them. Though they’re in lockdown now, he can do it again.

God was glorified by meeting their need. We need His help no less. Whatever my needs are, the experience of my brothers and sisters in Uganda testifies to me that God can meet them

The quarantine will end, and more than ever students will need the school. I’m glad that God has continued to provide for me so that, from a distance, I can keep providing for them. I want to make sure that when the lockdown lifts, emergency food can be distributed from the school kitchens and the clinic can be re-opened. Whatever they need, God will provide, and if He uses me to provide it, so be it. As for us on this side of the Atlantic, I’m sure He will do the same.

How YOU have Encouraged US

It’s time for another acknowledgment that we’re all going through a season the likes of which we have never experienced.

Even through the national emergencies of 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008, we could still get together. We could still have our friends over for dinner, let a houseguest come to visit, or go to a coffee shop with a close friend. Now, when at the very least we want to give someone a hug, we can’t. 

In this time, we are so proud of you all who support Zozu Project. You are some of the most generous, hopeful, and helpful people we know. Here, we want to highlight some of the wonderful things you have been up to that we have taken note of: 

• We follow a bunch of you on Instagram and Facebook. You have posted so many posts of gratitude, joy, and creativity. One of our sponsors made a post of ten things she found joy in over the week. It made us smile and warmed our hearts in a powerful way. 

• We got an email from another sponsor highlighting a special matching campaign that we could get in on as an organization. It’s so cool that you’re thinking of the kids and asking the question “How can we help?” Seeing people take on a team mindset is motivating. 

• Your comments on the stories we share on Facebook and Instagram have been so encouraging. Every “🙏🏼” and “Good to know!” has mattered to us and reminded us that we are a team working together for good. 

 We have received a few emails that say you’re praying for the families in Arua. The edge-of-disaster feeling some of us are experiencing right now? That’s their everyday experience. On their behalf, thank you for lifting the children up. Now is a great time to get on the prayer newsletter. Email to sign up. 

As always we will keep you up-to-date with first-hand news as we receive it from the staff in Uganda. Things continue to change by the day. 

Thank you so much for sticking with us and the kids, financially, relationally, and in prayer. We’re so glad to be in this with you. You are such examples of joy in the midst of trial, generosity in the midst of scarcity, and hope in the midst of change. Thank you.  

The Zozu Team, 
Elsie, Elaine, and Mick