Sunday, June 1, 2014

I am writing this on the plane as we fly from Brussels to Washington, Dulles and then on to San Antonio.  We have had so little time or internet over the past week, so this, hopefully, will be time to catch-up.

Monday, May 19, 2014
Julius (the Reverend) escorted us early to Thad Cox’s home for Thad’s traditional offering to western guests of breakfast in his home consisting of juice, coffee (brewed), pancakes, sausages and bananas.  We always look forward to this treat.  Thad has lived in Hoima for the past 20 years or more and will not return to the US.  He is a blessing to the whole community … conducts a program for the local children on Saturday mornings …teaches Sunday School … is Bishop Nathan’s advisor when it comes to money transfers, and other such international affairs … and is a fine wood worker and handy-man. 
After breakfast we joined the Diocesan staff for their morning worship … singing, a reading, discussion on the reading, introductions all around and discussions about their ministries and ours.  Bishop Nathan met with us in his office for a while, after which Beryl, Terry and I left for the Cathedral to meet with the women of Threads of Blessing.  Brien, Stockton and Garry spent more time with Bishop Nathan.
Our time with the women was a mini-workshop and we so enjoyed being with them – worshipping together, greeting each other again, talking about the community they have formed as we listening to their testimonies, and of course, discussion about their needlework.  Beryl led the Bible Study on Grateful Giving … using the same scripture, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 … as we had used in Goli.  She spoke on tithing and its value to the Lord and to us using cabbages as an example … if you grow ten cabbages in your garden, then you may keep nine, but you must give one to the Lord.  How do you give a cabbage to the Lord?  Well, you find someone who is hungry because he has no food, and you give him your cabbage.  It was a simple, powerful message, which the women, being farmers themselves, understood, and it resulted in much repentance and prayer. 
Later that evening, we shared Mama Peace’s wonderful cooking at dinner in their home with both Bishop Nathan and Mama Peace, plus others from the diocesan staff.  We had great fellowship and discussion.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Brien and Terry left us this morning to fly back to Wisconsin where Brien would attend a Board meeting at Nashotah House where he is Chaplain.  It was hard to let them go.  This team has been easy, thoughtful, with each member contributing, and we have all felt it a privilege to share these two weeks.
The rest of us … Beryl, Stockton, Garry and I … visited the family of Everce Nyamahunge.  We met Everce last year.  She had been chosen to receive a scholarship to Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, where she is sponsored by a PEO group from Fredericksburg.  Everce has done well this year adjusting to the huge difference in culture.  She will not return to her home until next summer.  Her goal is to complete a degree in Environmental Studies. We pray she is successful. 
On to Canon Njangali Girl’s Secondary School where we were greeted by our friend and school Principal, Beatrice Baguma.  The entire student body met us at an assembly and sang their school anthems, followed by a speech of welcome from the head girl of the school.  Beryl, being a teacher herself, responded on behalf of the team.  The girls enjoyed her comments as Beryl, having been raised in England, had been raised using the same grading system (“O” and “A” levels) as they use in Uganda.
Then we toured the Azur Health Clinic with the Clinic Administrator, Albert.  Albert has a degree in Hospital Administration and we were impressed with his knowledge of the health system in Uganda and all he shared with us.  Each year there is another building and specialty added.  Currently, they have two Ugandan doctors in residence.  There is a board outside the Maternity Ward that showed this month they have delivered 107 babies!
The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting and packing as we would leave next morning to return to Kampala.  Bishop Nathan had gone “into the field” so we invited Mama Peace, the Reverend Julius, Canon Sam Kahuma (Diocesan Secretary), the Reverend Cindy Larsen (American and the Principal of the Diocesan Training Center), and our driver, Fred Kabuye to join us for dinner at the Kon Tiki hotel where we were saying.  It was a very pleasant evening with a most interesting discussion with Sam on the history and politics of Uganda.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Arriving back in Kampala, we visited the Shrine of the Martyrs at Namugongo.  Martyrs Day is June 3rd.  There are two sites … one tended by the Anglican Church where many of the martyrs were executed, and another at the location where the leader was burned which is cared for by the Catholic Church.  The Anglican site is going through a renovation so we were not able to see very much this time, however, it is also the home of the Namugongo Anglican Seminary and while we were wandering we met a student, Eddy, who showed us around and shared some history of the site with us.  Then told us he was from Bunyoro-Kitara, from whence we had just come.  He was most excited … felt we were like his “family.”  Then he introduced us to another young woman also from Hoima who was well acquainted with all our friends and knew about Threads of Blessing.  We call these “divine appointments.” 
At the Catholic site, our tour guide was Emmanuel.  It was an excellent tour, by a young man who obviously had a passion for his subject and for his country.  
We had dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant with the Reverend Canon Dr. Alison Barfoot, Assistant to the Archbishop for International Affairs, and our dear friend. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Went to visit Jennifer Ssegujja and her children, Joshua, Joy and Josiah in the morning.  Jennifer is the widow of our beloved driver, Robert, who died three years ago.  Jennifer looked wonderful and even more impressive was the growth we saw in her as she showed us her records for her business, with the initial funding by a few donors from the US.  The tiny kiosk she was renting to sell groceries collapsed, so she sold that business (making a profit, nonetheless), and now has two businesses … one selling silverfish which are used in making chicken feed; and another selling used shoes.  She has been to market in Nairobi twice to buy shoes and the profits grow each time.  She was smiling broadly and was well pleased.  She has done repairs to her house, which Robert had built.  The children are in an Anglican school across the road from her home, and she is able to hire a person to help her with them when she is traveling. 
Since Robert’s death, Fred has been our driver.  Later in the day, we visited with Fred and his wife, Mariam, and their son Victor in their home.  Fred is determined that within five years he will have a piece of land with a house on it and be able to raise pigs.  He has bought part of the land he wants; has bought the “iron sheets” for the roof (which he proudly showed us), and says we will see two rooms built when we come back next year.  He plans to buy 3-5 piglets this year. 
Enjoyed lunch at Namirembe Guest House with friends and the Reverend Onesimus Asiimwe, to discuss his upcoming visit to the US in September with Bishop Henry and Mama Phoebe. We spent the rest of the day with Alison … she had some “honey-dos” that occupied Garry and Stockton quite as much as Beryl and I.  Combine that with a year’s worth of face-to-face conversation and it was a good day.  Dinner at an Indian restaurant.

Friday, May 23, 2014
Traveled to Mukono to visit Uganda Christian University.  Our guide was a young priest, Esther, who had also attended Threads of Blessing workshop in Nebbi.  Great tour and conversation learning about her work deep in the villages with women and children where poverty is overwhelming.  It is hard ministry, and I wanted to weep as she talked and shared her experiences.  We had lunch in Mukono, and then visited friends nearby for tea, before heading back to Kampala for one more dinner with Alison … Ethiopian this time. 

Saturday, May 24th, 2014
Our last day in Uganda and one more day to complete the “honey-do” list for Alison, - with a variety of visitors dropping in to say goodbye before we left for the airport.

Sunday, May 25, 2014
Arrived in Brussels very early.  We left Beryl to fly to London where she would visit with her mother for a few days before flying home to Pennsylvania.  Arriving at our hotel, The Golden Tulip, we were delighted to find our rooms ready. This hotel has become our refuge on the way home each year … that also means a good hot shower, and a nap lying horizontal after the long flight.  It was a glorious day … warm and sunny, as Stockton, Garry and I took the train into Brussels for an afternoon of wandering, eating, looking, etc.

… and now it is Monday, and in a few hours we will arrive at Washington Dulles to connect with our flight back to San Antonio.   This has been a wonderful three weeks, full of God’s faithful care and provision for us and for the women of Threads of Blessing … to Him be the Glory.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Saturday morning, May 17, we left Goli.  There were many last minute visitors ("vistars") who came to say goodbye including Bishop Alphonse and Mama Evelyn.  Mama Evelyn and I sat down for a good discussion on the workshop ... the logistics for next year as the number of women involved have grown so much in the past 12 months ... satisfaction with the involvement of the attendees in bringing food to help with the catering of the conference (we ask for this as their "registration" - hugely successful ... the need for new marketing venues - we'll look at moving forward with offering the pieces on the internet ... discussed producing a simple newsletter to keep everyone "connected" that can be sent by e-mail, printed in Uganda and distributed to the various groups around the country, etc.  It was a good meeting.  Then a far-too-brief call on Pastor Song and Deborah.  The humble hearts of these spiritual giants makes it difficult to leave them after only 30 minutes in their home.  We left them after laying hands on them both and praying. 

Forgot to mention that we stopped by the Health Center on Friday to take them a large pile of baby blankets and newborn baby clothes and were able to have a few moments to pray with Sister Kim.  She has run the center almost single-handedly since its establishment in the mid-90s when she came to Goli to support Bishop Henry as the newly elected bishop of the new Nebbi Diocese.  Sister Kim is Korean, has studied and lived in the US, but calls herself a citizen of the world - Uganda is her home. Currently the clinic has a doctor in residence from Northern Ireland and she feels blessed indeed, as do so many.  She was thrilled with the items.  They will be handed out lovingly and carefully to those with the greatest need.

... back to Saturday ...We climbed into the van loaded and loaded with our bags stuffed full of embroidery ... praying that God knows exactly how much we can take home in our bags ... it's a bit overwhelming.  Each of us has a seat in the van (with leg room :)), but well surrounded by bags, cases of water, cameras, etc.  We drove down the hill to Nebbi Town where we met Peace Uromcamu and his two small sons, Joshua and Justice Junior.  Took the two boys with us ... Peace would follow on a boda-boda (motor cycle taxi) and we headed up the mountain to Erussi to stay with our beloved friend, Peace's mother, Anna.  Anna had been the director for the conference, and is the leader of the Threads of Blessing group in Owilo (Erussi).

The road up the mountain should scarcely be called such ... a series of ruts, pot holes that could break an axle, rocks, etc.  However, this is Uganda, and we are in the hands of a very skilled driver in Fred.  So we crept along ... a little more speed on the flat bits, and careful maneuvering into the pot holes, around the rocks and through the ruts and we arrived an hour later having covered about 20 kilometers.  Anna's house is on the crest of the mountain and overlooks the town in the valley below ... the view is almost 360 degrees and, as you can imagine, is magnificent.  It always makes me think of the movie "Brigadoon."  Coffee plantations are predominant, and Peace has a large one. He delighted in conducting tours with the team. 

We arrived in time for lunch, after which Anna took us on a tour of some of the compounds in the village where many people have received cows from "Send a Cow."  This program is holistic and prior to receiving the animals, the potential recipients must show that they can keep a garden producing and keep the compound clean and neat.  This, of course, is in preparation to caring for their cows.    It was impressive.

Next we drove to the St. Peter’s Church in Owilo where we were met by the women of Jehovah Jireh - the name Threads of Blessing has chosen in Erussi.  They were outside the church on mats working on their loans and savings accounts and had all the books out for us to see, plus their "bank."  This is a large cash box with three locks - one on each side.  There are three keys each held by a different well-trusted member.  To open the box each of these members must be present with her key.  It is extremely effective.  

We were welcomed warmly by the Reverend Ejidra Gabriel, their pastor, and following their speeches, songs and dances, we made our own response, talked about and reviewed their needlework, and then presented them with their envelopes.  Anna had received these last Thursday on the last day of the conference, but had saved them for this moment.  It was such a joy for us to present them and witness their responses.

Back to Anna's home for dinner with her extended family which included her nephews, David and Yonna, who we have known for many years.  David teaches Primary 4 in Owilo School, and Yonna has a job with MTN - the local service provider in Uganda.  Yonna is married and he and his wife are expecting their first child in September.  The fellowship was a blessing for each of us.  There is such warmth and love in Anna’s simple home. 

Worship at St. Peter’s Church on Sunday was a combined service in our honor scheduled to begin at 9:00 am.  Sadly, however, we would have to leave at 10:00 AM in order to travel the 7 hours (or more) to Hoima.  However, there was time.  We arrived at church before 9, with the worship team in full voice, and were ushered to our seats.  Stockton preached, in a different St. Peter’s Church than his own in Kerrville,  on the woman at the well, with Anna dancing around him translating as he moved up and down the aisle amidst children sitting on mats not 6 inches from his feet.  It was quite a “dance.”  Then there was the offering … not passing a plate as we do in the US … in Uganda there are a number of offering bags held by various members who stand near the altar.  Each bag has a specific need and parishioners walk or dance to make their offerings accordingly.  It takes a little time with the worship team and choir leading.
Then we were free to leave and dance our way down the aisle and out the door, but in true Ugandan style we were not allowed to leave before being ushered into the hospitality hut for lunch.  It is impossible to say “no” to this hospitality, so having had breakfast just two hours previously, we now ate lunch, and signed the multitude of ever-present guest books.  (In the words of Henry Orombi, “Of the signing of books in Uganda, there is no end.”)  Such gracious hospitality and kindness from these people.

The drive down the mountain to Nebbi was interesting to say the least as we bumped our way over the rocks and through the ruts and potholes again.  At one point, I asked Fred what we could smell, and if we had a problem.  Without missing a beat, he simply said “brakes.”  So we all sat quietly and prayed until we reached the bottom.  No damage seemed to be done.  Stopped in Nebbi town to deliver Joshua and Justice Junior (Anna’s grandchildren) to their home and have a very brief conversation with Betty, their mother, who was not able to come to Erussi with the family and her husband, Peace.

The drive on to Karuma Falls was uneventful, though the road is awful.  Each year it deteriorates a little more.  Nonetheless as we crossed the Nile at Pakwach we were again greeted with a number of elephants, herons and impalas.  Then later as we neared Karuma we saw monkeys and many, many baboons. 

Phillipa, Anna’s youngest daughter, traveled with us from Erussi.  At Karuma Falls she left us to take another bus to Gulu to spend some time with her brother, Eric, and his family.  She has just graduated from High School and will attend University. 

We continued on to Hoima, being surprised at the state of the graded road once we left the main highway.  It was is far, far better condition that we had ever experienced and made the rest of the journey much easier.  Bishop Nathan, Mama Peace, Julius, Canon Sam and the Reverend Godfrey met us at our hotel, Kon Tiki, for a brief time of fellowship and greeting. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
This morning the Bible study was led by Canon Hellen Oneka.  Over the years, Hellen has become a dear and close friend.  She has been to stay with us in San Antonio on two occasions, and we are godparents to her youngest grandchild, Garry, who was born while she was with us three years ago.  She was Chaplain to the Archbishop of Uganda when Bishop Henry held that position and is beloved by her parish at St. Paul's, Kiwuliriza, and by many, many of the Christians in Uganda and many around the world.  When she teaches or preaches she cannot use a pulpit or lectern as she needs to "move" and "dance," and it is impossible not to be touched deeply by all God teaches through her.  Such was her presentation to the women again on Giving this morning.  

Following this we heard from a number of the groups and individual women about the saving and loan accounts that have begun as a result of the income generated by the women through Threads of Blessing. We took copious notes and have a written report from two groups.  We were amazed at the number that have begun in the last year.  As the women hear each other's testimonies their courage and determination grows. One woman, after tithing, saved until she had enough to buy chickens, built a coup, and now sells eggs and chickens to her neighbors and village.  Another woman was given a cow through the UK ministry, "Send a Cow."  The cow had a female calf which she gave away (part of the program), and she provides milk to her community.  She was a little late for worship each morning as she had to complete her deliveries and left by 4:30 PM each afternoon to go home to milk.  In time she will mate the cow, and so it will continue.  The stories went on and on, and I could have listened to them all day, clapping and applauding.  

Lunch followed.  This is cooked by the students in the Catering Class at the WVTC (Women’s Vocational Training Center).  They are up at 4:00 AM and probably don't see their beds until midnight. The food is excellent (Uganda style) and the women well satisfied.  But it takes a lot of effort to feed 200 people.  The Threads of Blessing community here in Goli are formed into committees to oversee the smooth running of the workshop ... catering, setting up and maintaining the accommodations areas ... assisting any who are ill to get to the Health Center, etc. 

After lunch we asked the women to display their needlework … in various areas around the auditorium, under trees and on verandahs.  It was an overwhelming and glorious sight … many of the women are producing beautiful, fine work.  There was so much to see.

It also meant that we, Beryl, Terry and I would be busy viewing it all and deciding what could be brought back to the US for sale.  The pieces we have chosen not to take have been put aside, so we can talk to the women and explain why they are not sale worthy and what they can do to correct or improve.

The afternoon session was led by Miriam Rwothomio.  Miriam’s home is in Nebbi Diocese but she currently lives in Kampala.  She is a teacher, and an extremely good needle-worker.   For the past two years she has conducted a session on Design and Technique.  Her presentations are delightful, informative, and the women listen to her carefully.  Miriam was part of the team of (five) Ugandan women last year, who very successfully, conducted the first Threads of Blessing workshop in another diocese in Uganda. 

Somewhere during her presentation, Bishop Henry Orombi came unannounced to see what we were doing, learn about the ministry and look at some of the displayed work.  He had come on Tuesday, briefly, to greet the women and their joy at seeing him walk in the door was a sight we won’t forget.  All else was forgotten, amidst the cheers, and greetings and outpouring of love for this beloved leader.  Their love for Mama Phoebe is no less.

We conclude the sessions each day around 5:00 PM.  This allows the local women to return to their homes, and for those residing at the center to bathe, have tea and socialize before dinner around 7:30 – 8:00 PM.  The singing, dancing, and talking goes on well into the night.

Thursday, May 15, 2014
We had a shortened time of praise and worship this morning as Canon Hellen was to leave us following the Bible Study.  The teaching, again from 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15, was as powerful as it had been yesterday as she taught on the necessity to give and tithe.

Breakfast has followed the Bible study each day.  Following breakfast a session was presented on Women’s Health by the staff at the Health Center situated next to the Women’s Center. 

Hellen left immediately after her teaching to meet a SOMA UK team in Paidha … a neighbouring town 15 kilometers away.  SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad) is a short-term mission organization with which Garry and I have been involved for many years.  The team is to spend two weeks in the Congo teaching on the Holy Spirit.  The team is led by Don Brewin from the UK.  We have known Don for many years, so Garry and I accompanied Hellen both to help with transportation and also to have ten minutes (literally) with Don.  It was wonderful to see him again and we packed a lot of conversation into those 10 minutes.
Back to the Center in time continue sorting needle work we felt would sell and then putting the rest aside to talk to the women about problems we saw and why we felt others were not saleable.  This is a hard lesson, so we were as gentle as possible, while at the same time, helping them understand what needed to be done to correct their work.  They took it well.

Phoebe had the “last word” giving the women encouragement and support in spite of their needlework not being “taken.”  It was gentle, purposeful and firm, but the women heard and understood.  We were so grateful to her for her words.

Then the celebration began with presentations by each of the separate groups present … dancing, singing, skits (hilariously funny), more dancing, singing, etc.  Then we presented the leaders with the Certificates of Attendance for each attendee and the envelopes which included the funds to each woman for the needlework she had sold in the past year.  It was a joyous afternoon.   

Friday, May 16, 2014
We were up at 5:30 AM this morning to be at the Women’s Center to farewell the women as they left on the bus to travel to their homes around 6:30 AM.  Because there are so many of them going in the same direction, arrangements were made with the bus company for a special stop at the center.  There were hugs, tears, urgent “last” conversations – all coming from these few days together.  Such friendships amongst the women – Heaven sent and beautiful!

After breakfast we spent the next several hours on retreat at Prayer Mountain.  The journey takes about 45 minutes each way – the barely graded road taking us close to the Congo.  The mountain has been developed by a Korean clergyman, affectionately known simply as Pastor Song.  He has lived in Goli since 1998 when Bishop Henry and Mama Phoebe went to Korea to visit the Prayer Mountain in that country and met Pastor Song and his wife Deborah, and invited them to come to Nebbi and develop such a mountain.  What has come to fruition in these 18 years since, is nothing short of God’s miracle, and is a story for another blog.  After arriving, we hiked up to the cross on the top of the mountain from where you can view a number of the neighboring countries.  Then we hiked a path which follows a ridge and down into a valley where a Youth Camp will be developed.  Along the way are small chapels that Pastor Song and his workers have built … each unique unto itself with specific prayer points. At each chapel one of us would pray.  Weather was kind and we had no rain – just a pleasant breeze making the going easy as we scrambled over rocks and through caves and narrow openings, and along paths lined with lush tropical undergrowth. 

Once back in Goli, we went to visit Esther Aneco, whom we have known since our first visit here in 1999, and then on to the Orombi’s home for a presentation by the children attending the nursery school, Beth-El Christian Ministries, Phoebe has established nearby, and then tea, followed by a walk to the nursery school and dinner.  Wonderful evening. We had brought with us photographs of their only grandson, Jedi, who lives in San Antonio and with whom Garry and I are well acquainted. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Goli, Nebbi, May 13, 2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014
We arrived in Goli to a flower-lined fence and the women lined up singing and dancing as we drove through the gates.  We quickly climbed out of the van and danced with them to the accompaniment of the Goli brass band, to the auditorium at the Women's Center.  There were hugs and joyous greetings all along the way. It was a grand welcome.  Then a short welcome gathering and thanksgiving for our safe arrival, and a song by the women before they took us to our "homes" for the next week.  Brien, Terry, Beryl and Stockton are staying in a home originally built for missionaries but is now empty ... simple, but everything carefully laid out in readiness.  Garry and I are in Yesu Kende (Only Jesus) guest house on the grounds of the Bishop's home ... just as clean and simply prepared.  It is good to be back among these people.

Once settled in our accommodations, we bathed using hot water brought to us in a large jerry can and left outside our washroom.  It is a small room with a high window, a drain and concrete floor.  The walls are concrete and painted with a glossy paint, so it doesn't matter where the water splashes.  There are pegs on the wall to hang clothes, pyjamas, towels, etc.  In a corner on a stool is a large plastic wash basin with a plastic cup (large again).  The idea is to put some hot water in the basin, add cold water from another jerry can, strip off and proceed to wash and use the cup for a "shower."  Really quite effective.

So after bathing, dinner was brought to us in the "missionary" house, and then we settled in for the night.  Brien is to preach at the 7:30 AM English service tomorrow at St. Stephen's Cathedral, and Stockton at the 11:00 AM Alur (local language) service.

Sunday, May 11, 2014
We all walked to church ... this is a village.  The service was already in progress as we entered despite the fact that it was not yet 7:30 AM ... but the worship team was present.  Greeted by Mama Phoebe and very many dear friends and faces.  The service was joyous and we sang one wonderful old hymn after another and by the end of the service Terry was reduced to a teary puddle.  The service didn't end until 9:30 AM when the people were coming in for the next service that was to begin at that moment.  Different pace to the service being in Alur ... more difficult for us, but wonderful to see the enthusiastic praise by the people.  Both Brien and Stockton did a fine job with their sermons - Stockton with a translator.

After lunch, Beryl, Terry and I went to work sorting all the bags and filling tote bags for each lady who would attend the workshop.  A busy, messy work with 200 bags to fill, but our driver, Fred, came to help and his assistance was a great blessing.

Monday, May 12, 2014
This morning we spent completing the filling of the tote bags with Fred's invaluable assistance.  He is really part of the team.  After lunch it was time to walk to the Women's Center and meet with Sunday Dhugira, Principal, to discuss final plans for the workshop.  Discovered that some of the women had already arrived. Wonderful welcome when we called on them ... so much to talk about since we were together last June. Some of the women are housed in small rooms in a guest house with two beds in each, others are in beds lined side by side in a long dormitory.  At the other end of the dormitory, in another long room mattresses are laid out touching each other.  The women don't seem to care where they sleep ... the greeting, hugging, talking and singing go on long into the night.  As each new group arrived their vans, pick-ups, were met with more singing and dancing.  Such fun and such joy!

I think we all slept well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Today the workshop really began.  By the time Terry, Beryl and I arrived at 8:00 AM the praise and worship was filling the room and flowing out through the whole village. The fellowship that has developed among the women over the years with Threads of Blessing is wonderful.  Many of the women never thought they would ever leave their home villages in their life-times, and now, there are friendships that span this country from north to south and east to west. The dioceses represented are Nebbi, Soroti, Lango, Northern Uganda, Kitgum, Bunyoro-Kitara, Masindi, Kampala, Mukono, and Rwenzori.

Mama Phoebe Orombi lead the Bible study this morning.  The theme for the workshop is "Promise in Giving" using 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.  She taught that giving to others is like giving to the Lord's bank.  He will reward those who do so.  She used Hannah as an example.

The morning continued with breakfast, followed by the distribution of the tote bags and discussion and explanation of the contents.  Then note cards were distributed with small pieces of fabric for embroidery. When we return, the note cards will be sent to scholarship contributors.

After lunch, I spoke to them about the history of Threads of Blessing. As I looked out at 200 beautiful faces it was an awesome sight, and made me wonder how we had come to this place.  This ministry in Uganda continues to grow with new groups being formed in so many parts of the country.  As God leads, the women respond.  I used scripture from Jeremiah 29: 11. God has a plan for this ministry and so long as we allow him to lead and simply follow and be his hands and feet, it will prosper.

Beryl led a session on design and technique and discussed sales of their work.  Terry gave a description of starting-up Threads of Blessing again in Honduras.  The rest of the afternoon was filled with more dancing and singing and testimonies from some of the women about the blessings they and their families have received from the ministry.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It is now our third day in Uganda ... May 10, 2014

It is now our third day in Uganda, and I am writing this on my knee as we head to Nebbi Diocese where we will hold the Threads of Blessing workshop at the Women’s Vocational Training Center in Goli next week.  As we leave Kampala we are diving past thriving Saturday markets where I suspect you could buy anything necessary to daily living … vegetables laid out on ground mats or small tables; potatoes carefully arranged in neat pyramids; butcher stands with sides of meat hanging in the open air; pots and pans, shoes and flip-flops, clothing … all together in seemingly no order to this uneducated eye.  We’ll arrive in Goli around tea-time (4-5:00 PM) after a drive of about 7-8 hours.  The weather is clear and cool with dust well settled after the rain of the last few days.  This is rainy season.

We arrived in Uganda on Wednesday night after an easy (relatively speaking) flight.  Very few passengers from Brussels to Entebbe, so we all had room to spread our over multiple seats and get some rest.  Our team has “gathered” along the way.  Garry and I met Stockton Williams, rector of St. Peter’s Church in Kerrville, at San Antonio airport.  We flew to Washington Dulles where we met Beryl Wright, from Beaver, Pennsylvania. 

Beryl and her husband, Ben, lived in Pleasanton for many years, when Ben was the Canon Missioner for the Southern Partnership of churches in the Diocese of West Texas.  Beryl has a great heart and love for Threads of Blessing and the women involved, and the sales of needlework, beads, etc. in and around Pennsylvania and Ohio reflects this passion.  She has traveled with us to Uganda for the past several years and is beloved by the women.

Our friend and driver, Fred Kabuye, met us and after giving a wry smile as he surveyed our 13 bags, packed them all very efficiently into the van and we were on our way to Silverton Gardens which has been our “home” in Kampala for some years now.  Silverton Gardens is primarily a wedding reception / party venue, but they have about 10 rooms available for small groups.   

Thursday morning, the Rev. Dr. Alison Barfoot arrived for breakfast, and we enjoyed some good conversation catching-up on each other’s activities since our last time together in West Texas.  Fred, in the meantime, journeyed back to Entebbe airport to meet the last two members of our team – Brien and Terry Koehler, Chaplain at Nashotah House in Wisconsin, and otherwise, associate rector at Christ Church, San Antonio. 

We had a visit from Denis Ndyabawe, a Ugandan missionary in Rwanda with the Navigators organization.  Denis is also the owner of the van that has become our transportation these past many years.  Denis is in Rwanda more than he is home in Kampala, so we were pleased that our time in Kampala coincided with his.

After lunch Denis escorted Garry, Stockton and Brien as they exchanged US dollars for Uganda shillings in preparation for dividing the funds amongst the envelopes for the women in payment for their needlework … and that is how we spent the evening … quietly cloistered behind the closed door of our bedroom, as we counted and recounted each woman’s reimbursement.  This year we have returned $22,500 to 215 women.  Besides that we will pay another $15,000 for beads, baskets, dresses, shirts and tote bags already sold, and then cover the expenses and travel to the conference for 200 women. 

During the evening we had a visit from the Reverend Kenneth Karaija and his wife Patricia.  Stockton had learned of Kenneth from the principle of Ridley College, Andrew Norman, where he had been a student in 2000 and later in 2012.   Kenneth had also attended Ridley College.  We found them delightful, and will continue the relationship on a number of levels.  Kenneth is the Chaplain at St. James’ Chapel at Makerere University’s Business School, known locally as MUBS.

Patricia had heard about Threads of Blessing and asked to see some of the work.   There is not a group in her area, but she knows Canon Hellen Oneka well and will be in touch with her about joining or forming a group.  She is expecting their third child in October.

Thursday morning we had a succession of visitors … Julius Mpango arrived from Mukono to collect designs and supplies for the women in Kiwanga to embroider provided by Frances Harrison.  Julius lived with John and Frances in San Antonio for some time attending classes at St. Philip’s College.  Frances worked with the women in Kiwanga for many years, before they became part of the Threads of Blessing community.  They are some of the finest needle-workers. 

Joyce Kuru came by to discuss our order for new dresses and shirts, and to collect her reimbursement for those sold through the year.  Joy will attend the workshop this year also as a needle-worker. 

Despite all the prayers over our luggage, Brien and Terry arrived minus one bag.  We suspect that it will ultimately arrive at its destination, but for now it left them short a few items of clothing.  So a little shopping was in order for the rest of the morning.

In the afternoon we went to visit our good friend, Canon Hellen Oneka, and her family and share in some of her ministries.  Approximately 200 children enrolled in after school programs at the church greeted us at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Kiwuliriza.  The children are from the slum area close to the church, where there are no such programs.  Here they are provided with uniforms, meals, Bible study, and have playtime in a healthy environment.  After entertaining us with songs, Stockton responded by speaking to them and leading and teaching some more songs.  It was a wonderful exchange and the children responded to him loudly and enthusiastically.

Then we were taken into the slums where we met with about 40 young women involved as sex workers, to whom Hellen is ministering.   It was an emotional and heart-wrenching time, listening to their testimonies and sharing their tears and trauma.  Hellen says there are about 65 involved in the program and her goal is to find funds to provide training and employment for each of them.   One young mother has a 10-year-old child with severe deformities desperately in need of a wheel chair.  Stockton quietly told Hellen that St. Peter’s would provide this.

Drove back to St. Paul’s and enjoyed a time of worship and fellowship with Hellen and the very talented worship team.  Then we spent a delightful time over dinner with Joseph and Hellen and their family in their residence next to the church, concluding with the worship team leading us in some rousing praise songs. 

We will see Hellen on Monday at the conference where she will lead the Bible Study for all of us.  

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Testimony from Beatrice in Uganda

I want to thank God abundantly. I didn't know I would be alive at this time. When the message came that you were here, I was in bed. I am a widow. My husband died in 2000. We have five children with two in secondary school. It is difficult to pay school fees. When the children came home I was sick (HIV positive). I didn't know who would help them when I died. My mother also lives with us and I care for her.

When I received the payment, I found good things through our friends in West Texas. They took time and taught us to sew and God gave me strength to do the work. Through the help I have been getting from the hospital, I have been advised to take medication.

I love my life and I love my God. I love him for blessing and sustaining me. When the first gift came I did not believe my eyes. I thought it was a lie. I have a son in Senior 6 and another child in Senior 4. My son was not able to graduate as there were school fees owing. I was able to pay the balance and it opened a way for my son.

With the second gift I was able to get the school results for my second child and buy land for them. How to build a house was a problem. With this third gift I can now continue with building our house. Even the youngest child is receiving education and I am able to help my mother. I am gifted by God, but only this embroidery is able to help me. I want to give glory to God and ask that he continue to bless you.

In 1995, at the invitation of the Bishop of Honduras, a mission team from St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas, conducted a workshop in the town of Villanueva. The team brought supplies to teach the women embroidery, applique, and design techniques. With the great success of this first workshop and the sale of the work produced, several more workshops were held in Siguatepeque.

Threads of Blessing has continued to organize workshops in Honduras, Mexico and Uganda teaching the skills and providing materials and opportunities for women to create fine art textiles that visually record their culture.

The workshops are designed to encourage women to gather as a community; learn organizational skills; and help develop personal esteem.

Women who have benefited from attending a workshop have called the proceeds from their work "blessings" or "gifts." They have used these funds to pay school fees for their children, provide seed for crops, and build homes (mud brick and thatch) for their families. They are also able to provide medical care for themselves, and support for orphaned children in their care as the result of HIV/AIDS, poverty or war.

The finished products are marketed by Threads of Blessing throughout the United States as pillows, bags, on clothing, or simply as pieces of embroidery. All proceeds are returned directly to the individual women who created them.