by Karen Nazor Hill
Staff Writer for the Times Free Press. This article was published online by the Times Free Press in Life Entertainment on 9 April 2016. Read the original article at https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/life/entertainment/story/2016/apr/09/building-community-love-uganda/359249/.
On March 9, after an emotional send-off from family and friends, Bucky and Julie Rogers boarded a plane with 15 suitcases containing everything they owned. The next day, they landed in an African country that would become their permanent home — Uganda.
It's a drastic change from the life they set out to have when the young preacher, who grew up in Cleveland, Tenn., and his wife married 15 years ago, back when they decided to not have children.
"We selfishly knew we didn't want anything to do with that," says Rogers, admitting that "the Lord must have laughed."
Today, with five children ages 6 to 19, Rogers, 35, serves as executive director of Benjamin House Ministries, a family restoration center for children in Uganda. He says God called him and his wife to work internationally on behalf of those who cannot fend for themselves. It was a journey, physically and mentally, to get there, he says, but Uganda is where they're meant to be.
The journey started when he was 17 and became a Christian. His family moved to Chattanooga after his stepfather was injured at work and spent a year in hospitals and rehab.
"It was a rough time for my family," he says. "We became that family that area churches would provide food and small items for us kids for Christmas. But I'm thankful for that difficult time. It brought me to the Chattanooga area, to my wife, my Savior, my calling as a pastor and a glimpse of my future."
After graduating from Whitwell High School, he attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on a full academic scholarship, graduating with a degree in business administration and accounting. But during that time he felt the call to become a pastor. He soon began serving as an associate student pastor at Red Bank Baptist Church, where he married Julie, his high school sweetheart. It was in their pre-marital counseling that they agreed to not have children.
After they married, he earned a master's degree in Christian education from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
"It was in seminary that the Lord changed my heart about children," he says. "Through a seemingly random event, he convinced me that we needed to adopt internationally. We didn't have anything. We could barely pay for the place we were living and gas to get to school and back. How in the world would we come up with $30,000 for an international adoption?
"I let those questions hold me back for a few months, but the Lord soon overwhelmed me. We decided to trust him and move, even when it didn't make sense and even when all the external indicators would say no. God provided every cent, and we brought home our first son, Xan, from Guatemala."
Moving to Spartanburg, S.C., he pastored a church, Anderson Mill Road Baptist, for a decade.
"During that 10 years, the Lord added to our family three more children (all adopted)," he says. And though he was content with pastoring in the Spartanburg church, he says he began "to feel a stirring."
"Usually the winds of change start blowing when you're not satisfied with where you are. That was not the case for me. Things were great. We had a comfortable home, a church family that loved us, a great city, and many friends and students we were investing our lives in.
"We had a promising future, and then the Lord started a gentle prodding. We knew God had called us to full-time orphan advocacy. We didn't know if that just meant we were going to keep adopting until we died or what, but after a trip to Uganda, I started feeling like our role in the orphan care crisis would be much larger."
After a second trip, he was convinced, he says. His wife? Not so much.
"I have always been open to Bucky and I moving to another country. Ironically, my prayer has always been, 'Lord, I'll go anywhere except Africa,' " says Julie Rogers, 34. "When Bucky first called me from Uganda that first year, asking me to think and pray about it, my response was 'OK,' but inside I was thinking 'no way.'
"Over time, though, the Lord softened me to the idea and eventually gave me a love and a calling every bit as strong as Bucky's. Toward the end of our time in the U.S., I was even more excited than he was, I think."
Though the couple knew they were doing the right thing, their families weren't so sure.
"At first our parents were very emotional and afraid for us," Rogers says. "They asked all the questions you would expect: Why does it have to be to Africa? How will you get medical care? Aren't there plenty of hurting children in America? What about your safety? Why would you take such a risk on so big of a change?
"My answer doesn't really satisfy people, but it's true," Rogers says. "I would rather be on the edge of a cliff and be obedient to God than be in comfort and rejecting what I know he has called us to do. Yes, we will be uncomfortable, poor by U.S. standards, rejected in many ways, unsafe to a certain extent, and choosing a more difficult life. It is still better than us ignoring the clear call of God and leaving these children to suffer and many to die without ever having known what it's like to go to sleep at night without fear and hunger."
Children in Uganda are desperately in need of parents, the Rogers say. Because of the result of AIDS crisis in Africa and the 20-year war in northern Uganda and South Sudan, much of the adult population has been wiped out, Rogers says.
"Children were taken as soldiers and those that were left were either put in refugee camps or left to fend for themselves," he says. "The result is that now 75 percent of the nation is under the age of 18. It's literally a nation of children."
He says young families there have been faced with either keeping their children and raising yet another generation in poverty or giving up their parental rights and handing their kids over to a center, where they'll be nurtured, educated and offered the chance for a better life.
"Julie and I believe no parent should ever have to make that decision," Rogers says. "Our desire is to remove the barriers to families staying together and restore children to their families. Where that is not possible or safe, we will advocate for foster care and adoption. We want to wake up in 20 years and see half of the country's orphanages closed because those children are now with their families."
But to help the Ugandan children, they had to build a ministry from the ground up. Benjamin House was born. The name "Benjamin" was chosen to honor the son of Rogers' best friend, a baby who died in his mother's womb. The Benjamin House is a nonprofit so the Rogers had to fundraise enough money to cover their first three years of expenses, he says.
"We are trusting the Lord to provide beyond that."
Benjamin House is located on the northern end of Kampala, the capital city.
"We won't be in the main city area, but we will have some access to electricity and running water. We will grow much of our food, but there are also local markets to be able to get other things."
Meanwhile, support for Benjamin House is dependent upon partner churches and supporters.
"We have about 20 partner churches and are looking to expand that," Rogers says. "We will have fundraising banquets in Chattanooga and Spartanburg each September as well as ongoing fundraising as we let our needs be known to our current and potential supporters. We need an army of people giving, coming to Uganda on short-term mission trips to serve alongside us, and sponsoring children for $30 per month."
Meanwhile, while unpacking their 15 suitcases of mostly clothing, Julie uncovered something that had been hanging in their homes for many years — a metal plaque.
"It simply says 'FAMILY,' " she says. "That's what drives us and on the hard days it will remind us why we are here."
"We have no intentions of ever living anywhere else," her husband says. "This is home."
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benjamin House staff, short-term missionaries, and our founders