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 Chloe Binkley
Benjamin House Ministries Summer 2019 Intern
Some names have been changed for the privacy of those whose stories we are honored to share.
Benjamin House Ministries is an organization that values relationships, encourages discipleship, and works passionately at reuniting families. Over the past few weeks, I have had the honor and joy of being a next-door neighbor to four incredible young boys: Jimmy, Nathan, Kevin, and Musa. They are a part of BHM’s family restoration initiative, which strives to reunite young boys from the streets with their families. This team looks at children the way that Jesus looks at me and you—with hope, with immense love, and with a passion to help them reach their full potential. This is a brief testimony provided by the four boys living in the transitional home with whom I had the chance to talk. I am obliged to observe that their stories always point back to the Lord, and that these boys were eager to share how the Lord is working through each one of them.
I want to thank Jesus for His persistent love, His continuous grace, and for never cutting our stories short. He doesn’t leave empty pages blank, or let us end on a cliff-hanger, but brings closure, peace, and certainty to His beloved children. I thank Jesus for these boys and how He never sees a lost cause, but rather individuals who needed Him in a time of extreme uncertainty. These circumstances of instability are where the story of Nathan and Jimmy begins.
Nathan was incredibly willing to share his story, and I pray that I am able to do it justice. Nathan and Jimmy are brothers from Luwero, Uganda. Their father lacked the finances to pay school fees, so the boys did not initially receive education. I believe that even during this season of their lives, Jesus was working, preparing their hearts for what was to come. One day, while their father was at work, a man from their village entered their home and kidnapped the boys. There were four children in the family in total, but only Nathan and Jimmy were taken. Once he had captured Nathan and Jimmy, among several other boys in the village, the kidnapper took them back to his home. He forced the boys to do unimaginable sexual acts for his benefit. He even used the kids as accomplices in committing theft from a bank. The boys made the brave decision to run away as he was formulating future plans. For two days, all on-foot, they walked all the way to Kampala, the nation’s capital. Along the way, the boys collected metal in order to fund the expense of basic survival. On their first night after escaping, there were street boys who robbed them of all of their belongings. Whenever the boys searched for more money, elders beat them and took what little they had. This was their story for far too long, but in the waiting, God had a plan already in motion.
Cosmas, one of BHM’s social workers, was making frequent visits on the streets when he noticed the boys. He took their photos and assured them that he would return later that week.
Nathan, Musa, Jimmy, and Kevin leaving the streets.
Jimmy, Nathan, Kevin, and Musa arriving at the Transitional Homes for the first time.
The next Monday, Cosmas, Joakim, and Abraham arrived at the streets to pick them up. He went through an extensive process in order to be granted a letter of authentication from the Local Chairman (LC) to take the boys into their care.
Nathan eagerly explained that once he reached Benjamin House, things were good. I think that this word, "good," was not part of their vocabulary prior to that day. They were quickly shown love, given fresh clothes that fit them, and provided more food than they could have previously imagined. But above all else, they were shown Jesus Christ—they were shown the vast love that the Father has for His sons. It is impossible to believe that such a God exists when one hears testimonies such as this. How could a loving and merciful God allow such tragedy to take place in the lives of innocent children? If the story ended there, then this narrative of a Father in heaven who does not take care of us would be an easy one to believe. But praise be to God that He takes our broken past and uses it for His glory.
Musa was more hesitant to share, but his story still deserves to be told. His living situation at home was not a good one. It is common in Ugandan cultures for a step-mother to be reluctant towards caring for a step-child. Like other children in Uganda, this was Musa’s reality. His step-mother used to threaten to pour hot water on him without explanation or reasoning. She did not see what Jesus sees when He looks at Musa. He used to be a Muslim, but by the grace of God, He is now a born-again Christian.
Imagine being a part of a family that did not see your worth. Knowing Musa, it is hard to imagine him enduring such a past. His heart is so pure, he loves to serve others, and is quick to show love to new faces. Despite his past circumstances, Musa always greets me with a huge smile, quickly followed by, “Auntie Chloe, how are you?” This is how Christ wants us to be—warm, loving, and a lot like Musa.
Lastly, let me share the story of Kevin—one of redemption and Jesus’ grace. As a child, he had a weakness of stealing. It was something that he struggled with, but he eventually let go of the bad habit. One day, his neighbors accused him of stealing money and threatened to call his father. The neighbors told Kevin they'd advise his father to beat him. Although this was a habit he had broken long ago, Kevin was fearful that his father wouldn’t believe him, so he left for the city. He slept on the streets and found a group of boys with which he surrounded himself. They noticed he was new to the area, and helped him find bags (like potato sacks) in which he would sleep. They stayed on the move, collecting bags, picking plastics to sell, and finding ways to make as much money as they could. At night, there were others who would pester the boys for the money they had collected. Even if they denied having any, they would be beaten anyway. The money taken from Kevin and his friends was supposed to go toward their next meal. So once again, they started to look for plastics. Fortunately, there is another ministry that BHM works closely with which has already been established on the streets. The boys informed Kevin they would be eating dinner there and staying in their facilities. So, they snuck Kevin in and took care of him in that place. That next day, Cosmas went to the streets alone. He interviewed a few of the boys, took their names, and then promised to come back and take them to Benjamin House. Upon Cosmas’ return, he noticed that the boys had fled due to fear and only Kevin remained. His name was never on the list, he was never supposed to get in the car and leave with Cosmas, but by the grace of God He allowed Kevin to enter the transitional home. This is a testament of the glory of God and His goodness. This shows how He intercedes for His children and only wants what is best for us.
These boys will be the first to tell you how much their lives have improved since coming to Benjamin House. They recognize that it is not by any act of man that they are part of such a wonderful place but are quick to give the glory to God. Having been at Benjamin House for the past three months, the boys are full of joy and are excited to be reunited with family members who are eagerly awaiting their return. Since they have been in the transitional home, the boys say they are eating comfortably, food is always available, they can shower as they please, and love is shown to them every single day. The boys learn so much from each other. Paul and Musa admire Kevin’s ability to speak English so well. Paul said that he admired Musa because he is “fat.” This comment, among others, was followed by an uproar of laughter. They all agree that by being in this home at the same time, it has grown them closer to the Lord and therefore closer to each other.
Abraham and Phionah are the fearless leaders who act as parents to the boys. Nathan says that because of their leadership and love, he now knows the power and importance of prayer. He knows how to show love to his friends with intentionality. He says when he arrived, his view on the world was so negative, but because of their hospitality he now knows the truth and is seeking to change his life. Musa says that he now knows how to work. If someone makes a mistake, they are openly told in a way that exhibits mercy, a true reflection of Jesus. Kevin says he has been taught of how there is a time for everything—work, play, prayers. Obedience is an important lesson he has learned, and that he can now obey commands. I believe that the Lord intentionally placed each boy under the supervision of BHM to allow them a glimpse of what heaven will be like—a place of acceptance, continuous mercy, and unconditional love.
I want to encourage you all to join me in prayer as these boys prepare to return home. Pray for Nathan and the relationship he is hoping to regain with his father. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak through him as he asks for his father’s forgiveness. Pray for Jimmy as he hopes to be in the top of his class, and Kevin who hopes to be number two in his class (this comment was also followed by immediate laughter). Pray for Musa and that the Lord would bless him with wisdom and good grades in his studies. These boys have very real dreams and want to make a difference in their country. These dreams start at home and are nurtured by supportive friends and family. Pray for their hearts, too, that Jesus would allow their homes to be receptive to the message of good news they will bring. Nathan’s prayer is that God would bless BHM and for it to develop at high speeds. He wants more children to be brought into the transitional homes, and that they would know the real truth and change as a result. Musa’s prayer is that more sponsors would come to support Benjamin House. He wants many kids like himself to be helped and prays that once they arrive to the transitional homes, they should behave well and be positive. Jimmy prays boldly for BHM to simply be well. Kevin’s prayer is that God may help BHM to get more money for transitional homes. They confidently ask these things in Jesus’ name, knowing He will make a way where there is none.
I want you to all know that this is not a sales pitch. This is not a scheme to simply take your money, make an empty promise, and never hear of a situation being solved. This is a story of four real boys with real testimonies. They are sons of the King who were given a chance, and because of people like you, were given a fresh start. It is because of their holy God that they were rescued from their circumstances and now confidently live a life of freedom and of love. I want to thank God for who they are, the humility that I have learned from them, and their hearts which are full of hope.
Family Restoration Stories: Shafiq
Shafiq's mom and dad never married, so when Fatuma gave birth to Shafiq she had no way to take care of him. She decided to find Shafiq's father and ask him to take care of their son. For the next 8 years Shafiq lived with his father and step-mother. In 2016, Shafiq's father suddenly showed up at Fatuma's door and dropped off Shafiq. After living with his mother for only 3 days, Shafiq went missing and the police picked him up and brought him back to Fatuma. Although Shafiq claimed he had gotten lost, a few weeks later he went missing again and a non-governmental organization found him and brought him back home. They enrolled Shafiq in school and he immediately began performing well. Within the first 2 weeks Shafiq was enrolled, it was time for the school's exams and Shafiq excelled.
His demeanor did not match his academics, however, and Fatuma began to notice that Shafiq was acting strange. Fatuma was advised to take Shafiq back to his father so that his behavior would improve, but shortly after Shafiq moved, his father sent Shafiq back with a letter for Fatuma. In the letter, Shafiq's father proclaimed that Shafiq could not be his son, explaining that no one with Shafiq's strange habits could possibly be his son. (Fatuma shared a copy of the letter with our social workers. You can imagine the pain the family felt hearing that Shafiq's father wants nothing to do with him after raising him for the first 8 years of his life). Within weeks of returning to his mother, Shafiq was no where to be found. Fatuma searched for him, but had no idea where he could be. She filed a missing person's report with the police, but never received news of her son. Follow-up between police and our social workers revealed reports that Shafiq's step-mother, whom he lived with for 8 years, had mistreated and even bewitched Shafiq. She would not feed him and while he lived with her and his biological father he began to steal food and cigarettes. His history of disappearing for days began under their care.
Shafiq goes Home.
In June 2018 we found Shafiq living in Kisenyi, Kampala, where he slept on the sidewalks or dirt streets each night and searched through rubbage pits for food. He lived on the street for nearly 3 years. When Shafiq expressed interest in returning home, our social workers asked him if he'd like us to try to make returning home a reality. Shafiq wanted to go home and moved to our transitional home in June. While there, at the age of 12, Shafiq gave up smoking and took on a whole new demeanor. The boy who used to fight for his survival on the streets began opening the door for others to get into the car before he would. And he was shown the love of Jesus and asked to become a believer.
After 2 months of counseling, rehabilitation, and adjustment to family life in his transitional home Shafiq and Fatuma were reunited! She welcomed him home with a meal and the local chairman (a town official) and their neighbors gathered around to catch a glimpse of the prodigal son returned!
Since their reunification, Fatuma and Shafiq have already been able to move to a nicer home and Shafiq is attending school again. Our social workers will continue to check up on Shafiq and his family throughout the year as he adjusts to being a kid, again, in his forever family!
There are 7,000 others still waiting on the streets of Kampala.
Family Restoration Stories: Ibra
You may have heard that, in honor of their birthdays, we're having a friendly competition to see which of our founders - Bucky or Julie Rogers - can raise the most money for our Transitional Homes. Our goal is $10,000 or one full year of Family Restoration operations. That may seem like a big goal for just 3 months, but it's just that important. Here's why:
Ibra Believed He was the Problem
For as long as he can remember, Ibra's mother and father have been separated and while he was young his father cared for him. When his father took a new wife, she refused to cook for Ibra and his siblings. Naturally, they told their father and, to their surprise, he immediately kicked their step-mother out of their home. Soon after, their father regretted his actions, knowing they were made in anger, and pleaded with his new wife to return.
Ibra believed that he was the problem; he was the cause of his step-mother's banishment. When Ibra heard that his step-mother might return, he fled out of fear that she might blame him for his father's actions and mistreat him. Ibra was only 10 years old.
Life on the Street
For the next 4 years of his life, Ibra was homeless and lived on the streets of Kampala - the capital of Uganda. Each day, he dug through rubbish pits for food and re-sold plastic bottles in front of street shops to try to earn money. At night he would sleep on the sidewalk and hide from policemen, ordered to arrest homeless children and send them to Reprimand "Rimand" Houses. Throughout the years, a few non-profits occasionally fed him, but none did anything to get him off of the streets.
If our Transitional Homes didn't exist,
Benjamin House staff, short-term missionaries, and our founders