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When I Met Them the Second Time

This morning in Uganda was mercifully cloudy, the kind that makes the locals don their heavy down jackets and the visitors put sweaters in the cars just in case. I was busy. It was day 5 of a 10 day trip, and only yesterday had my suitcase, full to the brim with letters and gifts (and my clothing), arrived. We had distributed most of the letters the day before. Over 70 children and parents had crowded into one small classroom while myself and three staff members handed out all the postcards, binder-paper letters, and typed novels complete with pictures that sponsors had sent. As Richard read out names, teacher Emily marked a printed spreadsheet, and teacher Mercy handed out the letters. I stood in a corner by the blackboard receiving a steady stream of students for their photo for over 2 hours.

However, there was one student conspicuously absent from the crowd that day. Winnie wasn’t there. I couldn’t decide whether I was relieved or sad. I wanted to see the girl I sponsor, but in such a busy environment I wouldn’t be able to do much more than say hello. My heart longed for a connection with her, and whether from sincere love or from obligation I had yet to discern. “Maybe she will show up tomorrow,” I thought “Yes. That would be best. I have too much to give my attention to today.”

So this morning. I’m standing in the office, tallying the letters that had not yet been distributed. One by one, children and their caretakers start to arrive. I’m taking pictures, handing out letters, and checking the spreadsheet all at once in this tiny office. Then Winnie walks around the corner and through the door. I look up: she’s come with her father. Immediately, I get very self-conscious. 

I had last seen her father seven months before, after signing up to sponsor Winnie. Winnie was shy, not the type to run up to you instantly, but I figured she just needed time to get used to me since I’m older and different looking. It was her family I was nervous about. Winnie lives with her dad, an uncommon situation. At least with another woman, perhaps a single mom, I could be on a more equal footing. But with Winnie’s dad, I honestly didn’t know what to say. Here I was, an unmarried young woman, second only to children on the bottom of the social ladder, yet in the position of benefactor to his child. How was he supposed to treat me? How was I supposed to treat him? Seven months ago, through an interpreter, we had talked about what he did for a living (drive someone else’s motorcycle as a taxi), and how he came to care for Winnie (sounded like he had a few past relationships), and how she was liking school (fine). At that time, Winnie didn’t say much. In this culture, adults do the talking and children are supposed to be silent while they do. I had recently been mistaken for a high school student, so I already barely cleared the bar for “adult.” For that hour, I wished I could somehow quietly shrink down into Winnie’s world with her and let the real adults do the talking.

On this cloudy morning when Winnie and her dad walked into the office, despite my self-consciousness, I knelt down to hug her and gave her the letter I had written to her. I lowered myself to Winnie’s level as much as I could in that small space already packed with students. Her eyes were brighter than last time. She was still reserved, but more coy, less shy. Ok, this was good. Then I looked up at her dad. At once I felt out of place. Not fully in Winnie’s world, not fully in his. I greeted him, he greeted me, we exchanged a few words, and then I had to attend to another student who had just walked in. It was only afterward that I realized how much improved his English was. 

With the arrival of the new student, it was time to leave the cramped office for a classroom. The pairs of guardians and children found desks, and they began to read the letters from America and write back. Winnie and her father sat in the back. Once everyone was settled, I cautiously wandered over and sat down. 

The room was quiet. It was the kind of slow, unhurried, patient quiet that is the loudest in Africa. I heard the soft sounds of parent’s voices and the scratching of pencils. And right there in front of me, with her dad’s help, Winnie started writing a letter back to me. Her dad traced out a horse for her. I commented that he was quite talented at drawing. As Winnie filled in the lines, her father and I talked about what subjects he had studied in school. He hadn’t finished, but his real trade was plumbing. In a society where people live in huts and get their water from streams, there’s not a big market for plumbers, so he struggled to find work. As we talked, his eyes were downcast, and he spoke slowly. This was really meaningful to him. He didn’t want to work driving someone else’s motorcycle for hire– the pay was next to nothing. I thought there was something different about him this time. Last time, he had seemed almost stand-offish, but this time he showed up to school with his daughter, and that was something. Maybe he was changing and growing. Just like Winnie. Just like me. 

I had to get up to greet another student who had just arrived, and when I returned, Winnie had progressed to the writing part. I quietly sat down and started looking through the photos on my camera so as not to get in the way. Her father read the letter that I had written to her, and he started asking what she wanted to say back so he could help her write it. I was looking at pictures from the day before when I heard the quietest little voice dictate, “I love you, Elsie.” I stopped. 

Had I really just heard that? 

Oh, Lord. I do not deserve that. I’m awkward, I’m nervous around grown-ups, and sometimes I forget to write to Winnie. I don’t know how to talk to her dad. I hadn’t come with any gifts because I didn’t have the time. She had said barely a sentence to me before this. And yet those four words rang in my head. “I love you, Elsie.” 

I did not deserve it. I still don’t. 

I think God’s in the business of giving us things we don’t deserve. 

I looked at her and her father, hunched together over a piece of paper, and I started praying. In the moment of realizing how inadequate I was, I needed to talk to the One who is totally sufficient. This family has nothing. Winnie has no mom, her dad has no wife. Winnie has no toys, her father has no work. But somehow, through God’s goodness, He connected Winnie to Solid Rock Christian School, and then to me. Now she’s here, and I’m here, and in a strange and imperfect and awkward way, we love each other. I want to give her everything she wants, and if I feel that way, how much more does her heavenly Father? He’s in the process of doing that, and maybe He’s using me to do so. 

I realized too, how much more does God want to give me everything I want? My heart longs for authentic connection and sincere understanding, with both Winnie and her father. Perhaps there was a reason they had shown up on the second day, not the first. Perhaps there was a reason her father’s English had improved. Perhaps there was a reason that I had to come back a second time because patient is the first thing love is, and we can’t expect instant connections with everyone. Perhaps God is so much better than I think.   

As they wrapped up writing a letter to the young woman right in front of them, Winnie and her father were the last ones in the room. I asked if we might pray together, and we did. Winnie sat on my lap, and it was one of those beautiful moments when the right words just come without much forethought. We prayed for Solid Rock to remain blessed. We prayed for her father, that he might find work as a plumber, and we prayed for Winnie, that she may thrive and flourish. Then we went out to the courtyard. While Richard and Winnie’s father talked, I gave her a long and entertainingly bumpy piggy-back ride. Where words don’t work, piggy-back rides do. She tried on my sunglasses and we took a photo together, which I printed out for her later. When her dad came up to take her home, I was surprised to find that I didn’t want them to leave. I had been nervous when they had first appeared, but now Winnie’s genuine smile had overcome my nervousness. We said goodbye, and I watched them walk out the gate. I stood there long after they had left. 

God is taking care of Winnie. He has used and is using me as a small but significant part. Perhaps I had this image of sponsorship as this instant-best-friend across the world kind of deal. I associated it with the right “feelings.” God’s love was too fierce for Winnie to wait until I felt a certain way. Jesus sure didn’t feel like going to the cross for me, but he did anyway. His love for all these kids is too strong to wait for anyone to feel like a perfectly magnanimous benefactor. He’s not looking for that. If there’s anything that sponsoring Winnie has taught me, it’s that if I wait until I feel like doing something good, I’m never going to do it. Take action. See what happens. He could use you to help these kids thrive. 

Elsie and Winnie

 

 

Coloring together. Photo credit: Osbaat

Winnie and her father, Osbaat.


The Sacrifices of Service… Stories of the Solid Rock Teachers

 Teacher Sunday grew up in the Arua district, not far from Solid Rock Christian School, with a love of dancing, serving the Lord, and playing games with children. She dreamed of a profession and a calling where she could shepherd and mentor children in a meaningful way, so Sunday went to a local teacher’s college and pursued becoming a lower primary teacher. Along the way she met her husband, got married, and at 24 found herself living at home as he went to work. As she says: “At first I was staying at home but praying to get a school that will make me a role model in the community and teach me how to develop a child socially, physically, spiritually, and mentally.” She knew that she was meant for more, and had more to learn, but didn’t know where to look. Then, Sunday got wind of a new school opening up for the poorest children in her community, started by a local church. She decided to apply, and was one of the first teachers hired when Solid Rock opened in 2015. This is now her fourth year at the school, and over the last three and a half years she has grown into the Senior Women’s Teacher, the Class Teacher for 1st grade leading the other two 1st grade teachers, and the Sanitation Coach for the students. As she says “It is now my fourth year since I started working.  I enjoy the services I am offering to the children and also enjoy the services given to me.” 

Every day, Teacher Sunday gets up at around 5, before dawn, so that she can make it to class on time. She walks over a mile to get to school and often arrives tired. After teaching all day, she then has to walk back home along the dusty road. It takes away time from grading papers, spending time after class with her students that need it, and getting to spend time to recharge with her husband Philip. Time management is a struggle for her, but she’s committed to continuing to serve these kids despite the challenge.

 

Teacher Jimmy also grew up in the same tribe as many of the students. He studied at the local teacher’s college, and also gained a certificate as a Peer Instructor in Computers. Says Jimmy- “I started working with solid rock Christian school immediately after completing my studies at the college. But before that I had been praying to be teaching in a school that will also develop me spiritually so after learning about Solid Rock Christian School being under a church (Arua Community Church), I had to join the School and as for now I feel am in the right place and I really enjoy the service provided to me and I feel free to work with the children under such environment.

   Every day, Teacher Jimmy also gets up before dawn. He’s one of the lucky ones who has a motorcycle to use to get to school, but fuel prices are skyrocketing, so he has to be careful in how much he rides. He frequently stays later to play football with the kids, or help set up for Sunday school that weekend. Like fuel prices, rent prices are also rising with the influx of middle- and upper-class South Sudanese who are fleeing their country. Closer housing provided by the school will make a huge impact on his ability to mentor his students and be present with them.

 

 

 

Teacher Godfrey in one room of his two-room house.

Teacher Godfrey never thought he would be a teacher. He thought he was cut out to be a lawyer. But after completing his education, he found that the kind of mentorship and leadership that teaching would give him the opportunity to do was what he was really called to. Like his father and grandfather before him, Godfrey became a teacher. He is also married, with two daughters of his own, but for the last two years, he has not lived with them. Rather, like many working professionals in Uganda, he has come to teach at Solid Rock on his own, until a suitable housing situation can be found for his family. As of talking to him last, he hadn’t seen them in three months. Every day he gets up before dawn, prays for the day, put on one of his four shirts, and goes to school. As an upper primary teacher, he often stays until about 6 or even 7 at night, teaching the children who need extra help to prepare for their first exams this November.

     These teachers have never had a Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s no PTA planning a luncheon for them, nothing like that. But WE haven’t forgotten their hard work. We see it, and we want to honor them.

For those of you who have already contributed to the Teacher Housing Fund, THANK YOU! If you want to appreciate these teachers and help them as they serve these students, you can…..

Write an encouraging letter to a Solid Rock Teacher here 

Contribute to the Teacher Housing Fund here!


To Raymond, from Mick, your sponsor

We met Raymond during our first trip to Uganda in 2013. He came across as a bit of a prankster to be honest, full of energy and always with that infectious smile. Our third trip was in 2015 and was to celebrate the opening of Solid Rock Christian School in February of that year. Joy and excitement abounded as 200 new children were starting their first year. That smile of Raymond’s that was so evident on our previous trips was absent during this visit. The reason, we learned, was that Raymond wasn’t going to be able to attend the school because he lacked a sponsor. As we had developed a relationship with Raymond, our family made the decision to sponsor him. I’ll never forget that moment where we had the privilege to express to him our intent. Tears filled our eyes as he sprinted off to tell the news to his parents. Those tears flowed even more freely when he arrived at school the next day to begin his first day at Solid Rock Christian School.

Raymond in the yellow collared shirt, sitting proudly beneath Mick.

We just returned from a trip to Uganda last week and once again our relationship with Raymond has dominated my thoughts. I no longer saw him as this mischievous prankster that I knew from our earliest trips. Nor did I see the forlorn version that I witnessed before he received a sponsorship. And I didn’t even see the unfiltered joyous Raymond that I enjoyed after he was notified that he could attend SRCS. This version was one of hope and confidence. It was one that read books with ease that he previously couldn’t have hoped to comprehend. It was one that confidently stated “I dream of becoming a pilot so I can care for my family”. It was a version that was just chosen “head boy” which is the Ugandan version of being chosen school president. He is seen as a leader and is looked up to by his classmates. He is a young man who is on his way to fulfilling his dreams.

I had the opportunity to chat with Raymond and look back on our relationship that has developed from that curious young boy joking with the missionary doctor. It has developed to a friendship that led him to look me in the eye and state, “I will always remember that day I was sponsored. It was my best day”. To have the privilege of being a part of someone’s “best” day is the most humbling of feelings. I say this not in a self serving way, as I too count this opportunity as one of my “best” days and an unending privilege. I say this instead as encouragement for those of you who may be considering sponsorship. It is a life changer and one that I now know profoundly effects both the child and the sponsor. I thank my friend Raymond for this honor. I look forward to the day he lands a plane with him at the controls. Go chase your dreams Raymond.


Gifts to Goats

Written by Richard Aguta, Family Liaison and Social Worker at Solid Rock Christian Academy

Zozu project has contributed much towards children’s holistic development in conjunction with Solid Rock Christian school; they have trained children with livelihood skills (entrepreneurship skills) where most sponsored children, after receiving gifts, prefer to buy goats with an intention of having many goats. In Arua, goats are highly demanded animals used for dowry and sold to educate students at school. Since goats are on demand, they expect to acquire personal needs.

Patricia and Fostin [pictured] are sisters from one family and Rosemary is from another family! They received gifts in form of money from their sponsors and chose to buy female goats that have already given birth to a young ones (kids). They said, their plan is to have many goats that shall be sold to meet their basic needs like smearing oil, clothes, food and sugar. They have enough space for grazing the goats and their brother is the one responsible for grazing them every day. They rear indigenous goats that often feed on local pasture since Arua is located in savannah grassland with green pasture best for grazing animals.

 

Many goats mean more money and basic needs can be met hence enhancing self-reliance.  Many children in Africa are suffering from dependency syndrome, Patricia, Fostin and Rosemary expect to be independent in few years to come, when their goats have increased in number.

Points of interest

• Proper use of gifts sent by sponsors

• Promoting independence through acquiring their own basic needs

• Appreciation from Patricia and Fostin

 

Zozu Project extends her sincere appreciation to the sponsors who offer support towards children of Arua community. Patricia and Fostin’s family cordially extends their appreciation to their sponsors for standing with their family in enhancing the social welfare of their children by providing support.

 

A note from us on the state-side: We are so proud of both the sponsors who supported these girls and the decision they made to buy a goat. This is what we see happen when it’s up to the families to decide what to do with a gift. They think innovative, they think long-term, and they think entrepreneurially. Moreover, Richard, a native Ugandan gets the dignity of celebrating with them as they work to be independent and enhance self-reliance. Praises to God for bringing us all together, sponsors, students, Richard, and you. If you sponsor a student, thank you so much. Should you wish to, you can send a gift to your child and their family here. If you don’t yet, consider sponsoring today! 


We Asked, and God Provided

“I thank the Almighty God for the opportunity He has given me to serve with Zozu project.” – Richard

The best minds in Western education know that for school to change lives, it has incorporate more than just the classroom. For education to have an impact in challenging environments like Arua, Uganda it needs to be wholistic. The challenges are great. When you have kids who come to class with malaria and can’t pay attention, how do you find out why that’s happening? When you want to know if they have light to do homework by after the sun goes down, how do you check? When you want to ask mom or dad how their child likes school, how do you find the time if you have to walk a few miles to visit their house? For the last four years, these responsibilities have been shared by Pastor JP and the principal and teachers at Solid Rock. They have been putting in countless volunteer hours on the weekends, weeknights, and even week mornings to give necessary attention to each of the students. Staying on top of so many tasks for 270 students in addition to official responsibilities as a pastor or principal can feel like herding ducks- focus on one task, and ten get away from you.

It was too much. So we prayed. And then God sent Richard.

Richard is our new hand on deck, the liaison between the school and the families it serves. He speaks both local tribal languages. He has a degree in Social Work and Social Administration and a Diploma in Child Development. Most of all, Richard is a passionate follower of Christ. Here’s Richard’s story in his own words:

“I am the last born out of 4 children. My beloved brother Angelo and sisters, Jesca and Philsta and all of them are married. My mother is Domitilah and father Severino married for 54 years and both living.

I am 27 years old and hoping to marry in 2018 a lady called Doreen.  She is a Christian and a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She is passionate to serve with children since she was trained in child development and holds a bachelor degree. I am a Christian and passionate to serve humanity because it’s my profession.  I hold a bachelor’s degree of Social Works and Social Administration, Diploma in Child Development and short courses in disability and special education, computer basics, and leadership training of John Maxwell. 

… My parents paid my school fees from grade one up to senior six and they were unable to pay for the University because they didn’t have money for it. I prayed to God to give me any kind of a job to do so long as I can get money to educate myself in the University. I thank God who connected me with pastor Jeff Artherstone the former Vice Chancellor of Africa Renewal University who a gave me an opportunity to work in the University farm and I was paid monthly salary and then decided to enroll for a course in the University … During my internships, I worked with Africa Renewal Ministries particularly child development project and with Uganda Police Force particularly with the Department of Child and Family protection unit as a counselor.

I thank the Almighty God for the opportunity He has given me to serve with Zozu project.

Because of your support, Richard has this job and this opportunity. Because of your support, we can give individual attention to the home life of each of our students through him. Because of your support, together we are working to see Arua thrive! Thank you so much for supporting us at Zozu, Solid Rock School, and the community of Arua. May God’s children thrive there!


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.


An Update from Mick and Elaine: 4 Years Later…..

To all of our supporters, family, and friends who have been on this adventure with us,

As we look back to where we started, we are overwhelmed at the way this amazing Zozu story has unfolded over the last four years. It started with Templeton Presbyterian Church stepping out in faith to donate $39,000 to build Solid Rock Christian School in Arua, and over the years, we have seen countless other churches, organizations, companies, donors, and sponsors say “yes” to transforming the lives of children halfway across the globe. For us, it has been an unbelievable privilege to witness how God has woven the lives of so many here together with the lives of the vulnerable children of Arua.

Since the building of Solid Rock in 2015, this combined support has provided:

• A 2,100 square foot expansion of Solid Rock

• The establishment of a library, medical clinic, and computer lab on the school site

• The welcoming of 2 additional classes of students at Solid Rock with a total number of 300 students currently being served

• The provision of 18 full time Ugandan salaries

• The purchase of additional plots of land for the building of a preschool, playing fields, and future offices.

But what is even more exciting than these numbers is the transformed lives that we and pastor JP have seen–lives transformed from sickness to health, from hopelessness to confidence, and from desperation to ambition.

As we look back and celebrate the lives already transformed, we also look to the future with excitement. Encouraged by God’s incredible provision, both the US and the Ugandan teams have big dreams! We have been prayerfully considering the building of the preschool, further land acquisition and school expansion, the building of teacher housing, and how to best support our current students in their education as far as they are able, including through secondary school and university.

At the same time over here in America, our helper Chandler Smith, who had been managing all of our communication, left for the Peace Corp in January. Although we knew his time with us would be brief, we have missed him terribly. Recognizing how invaluable he had been in growing Zozu’s support, the board began to discuss the possibility of our first permanent hire. In the meantime, Elsie Soderberg, at the time a student at UCLA, traveled to Uganda and then in April took over from Chandler. It quickly became apparent that Elsie was heaven sent.

       Elsie studied Communications and Entrepreneurship at UCLA and Business and Intercultural Communication at the University of Westminster in London. At UCLA she was a captain of the Mock Trial team, and is a blogger and avid traveller. She worked for two and a half years for a faith-based startup nonprofit called Elevate Africa, and we love how she lives her life with the mindset of service to others. She is empathetic, courageous, creative and committed to community both locally and globally. Elsie is an adventurer!

After obtaining private donations to cover her salary for two years (ensuring that one hundred percentage of your donations will continue to go directly to Uganda), we are beyond excited to announce that Elsie will be our first permanent hire as Director of Communications and Marketing starting in August!  We cannot wait to see how God uses her time and talents to further bless the children of Arua.

We thank all of you so much for making what once seemed like impossible dreams a reality. It seems to us that from one little “yes” four years ago he has brought more fruit than we could have imagined. We cannot express our gratitude enough that you are a part of the story, and look forward to sharing the next chapter with you.

Love,

Elaine and Mick Lebens

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