by Alli Kennedy
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
This is Winifred Nabwami. Winifred is an entrepreneur and single mother of four children, the youngest of which is Josephine Nalubega, sponsored through BHM.
Since 1990 when Winifred had her first child, she has been making envelopes by hand to hold medicine ordered at local pharmacies in order to support her family.
She buys scrap paper and then cuts sheets into the shape of the envelope. Because glue is very expensive, Winifred seals them with a mix of cassava flour and water which is then warmed over a fire to create paste.
Each night, she goes from pharmacy to pharmacy, selling her envelopes in hopes that she will find a new partner to work with. She wants to distribute her envelopes to the pharmacies and become their exclusive and trusted vendor.
Every day she worries whether or not she will sell enough to put food on the table because people do not buy her packages every day and the pharmacies have begun to replicate her design.
Despite the challenges she faces, Winifred is thankful for her job because it allows her to stay at home with her family and prevents her from having to do jobs that would put her health at risk. Many women in the community have to pick up scraps and sweep the roads or other hard manual labor in which they can be easily exploited.
Winifred is extremely thankful for her daughter’s sponsorship because it released her from the stress of her child’s school fees and introduced her to a savings program that has prevented her from being in a vulnerable position by asking people for loans.
With the BHM savings program, which each parent of sponsored children can be enrolled in, she has started saving money for her daughter’s university fees and transportation. Her daughter hopes to be an accountant.
Winifred Nabwami is excited to teach the other mothers in the sponsorship program how to make the envelopes and sell them so they can all provide for their families and save money together. A true act of humility and trusting that the Lord will provide for her family and the Ntinda community through the skills He has given her.
by Alli Kennedy
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
Some names have been changed for the privacy of those whose stories we are honored to share.
The power was out so there was no light to block the view of the stars on Thursday night. The big dipper looks different here and I point it out to Nathan, who eventually finds it in the sky and traces an imaginary line through it with his fingers. Jimmy sits in between Chloe and Emma Grace, holding tightly to their hands, tucking his head between his legs looking at Chloe’s phone at pictures of the boys who have already left earlier this week: Kevin and Musa. I ask Nathan what he will miss about being here in the transitional home. He doesn’t tell me the food or the material things he’s received since he’s been here. Instead, he names person after person: Uncle Abraham, Auntie Phionah, Uncle Dan, Uncle Bucky, Auntie Julie, Kevin, Musa, Xan, Auntie Wavey, Auntie Jennie, Pastor Cosmas…his voice trails off into the dark and we sit in silence for a few minutes, Nathan and Jimmy no doubt thinking about the day to come. The day they will be restored with their families. A day that has been in the works for three months. Three months of Abraham and Phionah loving them like a mother and father. Three months of teaching them about the hope of the Gospel. Three months of instilling work ethic and routine into their lives. Three months of replacing the mindset that came with them from the streets with one of hope and confidence for the future. Three months finished.
The next morning is a bit of a tease. We wake up early and prepare for the journey to meet Nathan's and Jimmy's father. But in Uganda, cars break weekly and repairs take hours and hours. Which is exactly what happened. We fill the hours with funny videos, the boys play games with Abraham and Phionah, Dan gives Jimmy a soccer ball and Nathan a new pair of pants. The boys adore Dan, an accountant for BHM and tutor for the Roger's son, Brennan. They look up to him and admire him like crazy...so much so that they’ve begun to imitate Dan’s trademark selfie smirk whenever they smile. Dan tells them all the things he hopes for them and that he will visit them again through tearful embraces and notes exchanged.
Xan, the Roger’s 13-year-old son, has also made Kevin, Musa, Nathan, and Jimmy feel like normal kids again. Through soccer games, board games, dancing, making movies on the iPad together, Nerf gun wars (which I still have bruises from), and laser tag, Xan has given the boys memories of just being able to be kids without the weight of the world on their shoulders...I know they will hold onto those memories forever.
Soon, the van is fixed and goodbyes begin. Jonathan, Pastor Cosmas, Vicent, Chloe, and I all pile in the van with Jimmy and Nathan. Abraham and Phionah are overcome with emotion. A side note: many Ugandans suppress emotion in public, so it’s refreshing to see their love for the boys through the tearful goodbyes. The boys need to know it’s okay for them to feel things. Especially on this day. A day that is nothing but emotional. Abraham and Phionah gave them all the love they could for the last three months and have to watch them leave in an instant.
The van door shuts. Everyone stands and watches from the gate of the compound as we drive away. I look at Nathan and Jimmy as I wonder what they're thinking. Jimmy smiles as he grabs Chloe’s and my hands and clashes them together with laughter. I wonder if he understands. We guess that he's only 8. Nathan sits behind us and stares out the window as the dust rises from the sea of red dirt road beneath us. I try so hard to put myself in their place and how they must be feeling and the questions they could be asking themselves. "Will their dad be happy to see them? Will he be angry that they were gone? Will they be able to live normally? What will the community think? Do they know that they were on the streets?" A very possible reality could be that the community would make them feel ashamed for living on the streets and the other kids would make fun of them. I wonder if these questions are racing through their heads too.
Let me say that Pastor Cosmas intentionally seeks out the best option for the boys, which family situation would be ideal for restoration. Pastor Cosmas and a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) driver spent hours on hours seeking out the father of Nathan and Jimmy and followed up with him carefully. Abraham constantly tells me that he still thinks that this could be their most successful restoration ever. Despite the questions rolling through my head, BHM does everything in their power to restore these boys with a stable family and to make sure they set them up for success even before the physical restoration.
During their time in the transitional homes with Abraham and Phionah as their foster parents, the boys have been loved so well! Abraham and Phionah disciple them and instill practical skills in them. They are taught how to cook and the values of saving money. They are given activities and chores to do around the compound to earn money, which Abraham then saves for them for the time they are to be restored back to their home. Abraham contacts each of their parents and discusses how the boys can have a successful long-term transition back home even before they start their journey back.
Much like the boys' parents who they are eventually restored to, Abraham and Phionah may not have much to offer materially, but they create a space to grow spiritually and emotionally. Abraham and Phionah strive to provide a home enviornment that is centered around God. They want to create a peaceful home in which they are encouraged to value each other and look after each other. They discipline the boys and teach them daily about Jesus, while showing them the fruits of the spirit in their own lives. Discipleship and constant, consistant love, despite the mistakes the boys have made or will make during their time with Abraham and Phionah, has encouraged their mindsets to be one of hope rather than distress. They are taught to believe in themselves and trust in God’s provisions so that they can believe they can persist through trials at home, just like they did while in the transitional home.
Nathan and Jimmy have lived through situations that were unthinkable. Kidnappings. Starvation. But today, they will finally have the love of their own father again, something that is often rare in Uganda because of how broken the concept of family is here. I almost expected that all 4 boys in the transitional home would be restored with their mothers, but the fathers were the ones who stepped up to care for them and love them.
Chloe and Jimmy listen to music together. We all eat meat sticks from vendors on the side of the road (and definitely regret it later) and I sleep. It takes a couple of hours to get to their home and I’m covered in a blanket in exhaustion from the previous transitions and school visits from the week. I wake when I feel the smooth road turn to potholes and little dust mountains that make me a little carsick every time we drive. We pass by shops and shacks where people sell food they’ve grown. Shops eventually fade behind us as we are surrounded by fields of maize with mountains looming in the distance. The boys are directing Vicent (BHM's spiritual development director), who is driving, where to go. I’m constantly puzzled on how anyone remembers how to get anywhere without a GPS. Especially an 8-year-old and 12-year-old boy who haven’t been home in so, so long.
Fields turn into an expanse of sweet potato farm lining the narrow dirt road leading to a small brick house the size of my dorm room back home. A man with a toothy grin and a sweater filled with autumn leaves waves at us as we approach. He’s accompanied by two young girls and a woman who is wringing out clothes in colorful buckets of soapy water with a small baby at her side. They're home
Jonathan and I rush out of the car with our cameras as the boys gather their things from the car. Jimmy hops out of the car and hugs the woman, who we later learn is a neighbor who helps the father. He relies on her like a sister now that his wife left him.
Then, Jimmy approaches his father and embraces him. The father’s face lights up with the joy of being reunited with his youngest son again. Nathan takes a little while longer to gather his things from the car, but once he does, he approaches his father and embraces him happily. The father is exuberant. His kids are back. Nathan and Jimmy beam with delight as they talk to him and their sisters. The oldest sister is overcome with emotion and sobs as she hugs Nathan. I hadn’t really thought about how restoration would impact their siblings as well.
Tearful interviews with the family are done. Pictures are taken. We are led into their house that, with the exception of a few dishes, is completely empty. Their mother had taken everything with her when she left the father because she “didn’t see a future with him,” he tells us. Nathan and Jimmy are given mattresses, mosquito nets, pillows, blankets, shoes, clothes, maize, and backpacks. The father thanks Pastor Cosmas over and over. He hugs his boys constantly and they seem to be relieved by his warm welcome home. It makes me think of the prodigal son. I don’t think a smile ever left his face the entire time we were there. It made me feel relieved, too. These boys that I had come to love through their time being my next door neighbors over the last month are with a father who loves them. They have hope of education as Benjamin House will help pay for their next 2 terms at school and check in on their family consistently. They have the hope of Jesus through the love that they had been shown over the last three months, the salvation they asked about and accepted, and the truth instilled in them by Abraham and Phionah.
It takes a village. That’s what they say, right? This village made up of the Benjamin House staff and their partnership with these families gives me hope. Hope that the four boys who went from shyly introducing themselves to Chloe and me the night we arrived to scaring us every time we’d come home -- the boys who went from being on the streets to being with their father again, -- will love Jesus for the rest of their lives and show their families and community the love they’ve experienced over the last few months as they grow up.
Pastor Cosmas and Abraham tell us now that the fathers of the 4 boys call almost daily with updates on their sons and to express how thankful they are to be reunited. There are so many people fighting for their success and a God who dearly loves them and invited them into His family even before they knew what a family was. Even while family is so broken on this earth and in this country through sin, we hope that they get to experience a reflection of what it’s like to be in God’s family through being restored with their earthly families.
by Alli Kennedy
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
On a cloudy morning in Nangabo, Julie Rogers sits in her home office, scanning letters from children to their sponsors about their favorite colors and foods from a desk covered with letters delivering good news to parents in Nangabo that their children have been sponsored.
Julie is the co-founder of Benjamin House Ministries with her husband, Bucky Rogers, and serves as BHM's sponsorship coordinator. Her favorite movies are Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables, the movie that God used to first reveal to her the needs of orphans worldwide. She is the mother of five adopted children: Sasha (22), Innocent (17), Xan (13), Brennan (11), and Becca (9).
If anyone had a multitude of valid excuses for not leaving the U.S. to serve in a third world country, it was Julie Rogers. Her daughter Becca was attending the school for the deaf and blind and showing progress in therapy. Brennan and Xan were being homeschooled by Julie, their son Sasha was just starting college, and Bucky was serving on staff at Church at The Mill.
When Bucky first came to Uganda, he called Julie to tell her he felt like Uganda was where God wanted them to serve.
“I changed the subject completely,” Julie laughs as she recounts their phone conversation.
One year passed and with another trip to Uganda and another phone call from Bucky, Julie began to pray. As pieces starting falling into place, they knew it was God’s will for their life. “Bucky felt like God had called him and I trust Bucky, so I said 'Let’s go.'”
Julie’s life has been one overarching theme of trusting God.
Years before the thought of Uganda had crossed Julie’s mind, she had to take a leap of faith when she and Bucky decided to adopt. Before getting married, Bucky and Julie had decided they weren’t going to have children. Even so, the Lord began to soften Julie’s heart towards the thought of having children. She began to pray and trust that God would change the desires of Bucky’s heart as well. A full year later, the Lord revealed He had been working in both of their hearts simultaneously when Bucky told her he felt that the Lord was calling them to adopt. They were ready to begin the journey.
They were poor seminary students. The cost of adoption was more than they made in a year. All she could do was trust God. “We knew the Lord wanted us to do this, so we’re just going to do this. Trust what the Lord has placed on our heart.”
At every stage of the process, the Lord provided. They adopted Xan first from Guatemala as an infant in 2006, Brennan from Louisiana in 2007, Sasha from Ukraine in 2010, Rebecca from China in 2012, and Innocent from Uganda in 2016.
Julie loves that when questions arise about their family from those they come in contact with, she is able to share the gospel and how Jesus took us into his family even though we aren’t biologically His. Adoption has enabled them to show that they are very much pro-life and living it out as they have chosen to adopt two children, Becca and Brennan, with special needs.
Things haven’t been easy living in Uganda for her family. People stop in the street and watch them walk by. They draw attention anywhere they go, which is one thing Julie wishes she could change. Usually, children with special needs are sent to the orphanage when they are born, so the Ugandans are surprised by their family.
While Becca doesn’t have access to the therapies she was getting back in the states, Julie trusts that God has her medical care under control. One of the blessings of living in a third world country has been the ability to afford a nanny for her. This way, Julie can have Becca at home and make sure she is well taken care of.
Julie also loves that they are able to provide Brennan with one-on-one tutoring from home with a Ugandan instructor. Interaction with people outside of his family has helped with his development and social skills. Julie does fear the limitations of what might be available to him in the future in Uganda. He won’t be able to live and work on his own, but she wishes to see his dream of being a chef come to fruition. Brennan’s love language is food, so the most difficult part about living in Uganda for him has been not having access to the foods he loves. "While Brennan has adjusted well to their Ugandan lifestyle, he still misses our food dates and Chick-fil-A and Firehouse Subs,” says Julie.
For Xan, moving was really a chance to get him out of his comfort zone and grow in his faith, Julie tells me. He misses his friends back in the states, but regularly video calls with his friend Jackson who came to visit him during the summer of 2018.
Xan has also actively pursued friendships with each boy who has come through our Transitional Home.
When Innocent first met the Rogers, he had come with a children’s choir to Church at The Mill. They found out that his grandmother needed help providing for Innocent and that she wished for Innocent to stay with the Rogers to have a godly mother and father. “She told us, 'Don’t see this as I’m merely giving you my grandson, see this as I’m adopting you as well,'” Julie shares. They have since taken in Innocent as their 4th son. He lives with them at home in Uganda.
Julie and Sasha’s relationship has transitioned from child and parent to friendship as Sasha moved back to the States to marry his bride, Hannah. It was fulfilling for Julie to see him mature as he prepared himself to become a husband after the few months he spent living in Uganda with his family.
Raising a family is difficult on its own. Then paired with the emotional strain of living in a place that is filled with the sense of overwhelming helplessness and extreme poverty, Julie has had to really trust in the Lord during her time in Uganda.
Despite the hardships, Julie loves seeing the passion that people have all the way across the world for children they’ve never met in a country they haven’t been and may never get to go too. “I’m seeing the great commission fulfilled right before my eyes,” Julie says with excitement.
She and Bucky both hope and pray for a day where they can take a step back with a team of Ugandans in place on staff that are just as passionate about Benjamin House as they are and to see a great amount of their budget coming from Ugandans. They’re beginning to see this progress in Ntinda, where their ministry all began. Once the locals learned about the mission of BHM to rescue children from the streets, they began to raise a significant amount of money to help build the new transitional homes all while learning how to save money on their own and live a better life because of wise decisions they’ve made with their money, Julie tells me.
Julie’s pattern of trusting the Lord in the big and the small has proven so rewarding in the advancement of the Kingdom through her work and family. God is teaching Julie to be thankful amidst frustration, patient with His timing, and to rest in the fact that their future is in His hands.
by Alli Kennedy
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
It’s rainy season here in Uganda. When it rains, the water gathers in caramel puddles on the dirt roads, creating small rivers that slice through the dust. That’s when riding boda-bodas gets interesting. Think sailor meets the churning sea, except small motorcycle meets hundreds of potholes. Water decides where it wants to go and no one attempts to correct its course. The rain decides the agenda of the inhabitants of Kampala for the day. There are the few that have money for vans and boda-bodas. But people here walk. For miles and miles. Kilometers and kilometers. To school, to work, to church. Attendance at The House Church dwindles on rainy days because people can’t get to the service.
All the while, there are faithful ones who choose to come and serve.
They walk in the rain from their homes, soaked from head to toe, to show up with a smile and serve out of humility.
Jackson Ssempereza, the Children’s Minister at The House Church, has his work cut out for him. Jackson is a wide-eyed optimist with the heart of a child. His joy and drive are contagious. He cares so deeply for those who cross his path. He loves what he does and sees the Lord working through children of all ages. He has discipled children who are ready to turn around and serve once they reach a certain age.
As The House Church continues to grow and thrive, it means more and more children come as well. For Jackson, this means finding the passionate who are able to serve consistently.
Volunteers are single mothers. Women who walk over an hour from their homes to get to The House Church. Women who love children and want to serve, but life makes it difficult for them to come to The House Church. Their children fall ill. They experience death quite frequently in their families and among their friends. Sometimes they don’t have a husband in the picture to help provide. They work jobs and get paid very little. Too little to afford transportation in the rain or shine. Too little to afford food to even feed themselves sometimes.
Yet, whenever they can, they give their time. They sacrifice so that these children might know Jesus.
And I complain about not finding a parking spot at my home church in the U.S.
And I complain about getting up a few hours early to serve.
What does that say about my heart and my God?
When all they do is sacrifice and serve the best they can with a heart overflowing with love.
Jackson cherishes people like Mama Gertrude, Helen, and Mercy who are women who have been a constant encouragement to him and his ministry. Mama Gertrude has seven children. Helen has two children and teaches school. Mercy has recently experienced the loss of her brother. Yet, they show up and serve happily. Pouring porridge, playing games, teaching lessons, singing songs, leading discipleship classes.
They want to make disciples of these children now so they can change the history of Uganda forever. They know how truly crucial it is to shape the hearts of these children at a young age. That’s what Jackson prays for. He prays for money for their transportation. Prays for more women to step into the roles of teaching. Prays for more men to be godly examples for the boys. Prays for encouragement for his own heart that can be struck with discouragement through these growing pains. Prays for the women who have come alongside him to care for the precious little hearts who are eager to know Jesus.
Through the sacrifice and prayers of these men and women, these children will know how to walk and serve Christ through every storm, both the literal storms and the figurative storms that life throws their way.
Bucky Rogers, Benjamin House staff, and short-term missionaries