Staff Writer for the Spartanburg Herald Journal. This article was published online by the Spartanburg Herald Journal on 24 September 2017. Read the original article at http://www.goupstate.com/news/20170924/rescuing-ugandas-orphans-spartanburg-ministry-still-growing.
Bucky and Julie Rogers say God has called them to Uganda for life.
The Spartanburg couple had known for a few years they were being called to provide orphan care overseas in some capacity. After multiple mission trips to Uganda through their church, Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church in Moore, that calling turned into a vision three years ago to rebuild Ugandan families by helping the country’s growing number of orphaned and vulnerable children.
“It became apparent that (Uganda) was the place God was calling us to plant our lives,” said Bucky Rogers, who had been pastor of students and worship arts at Anderson Mill. “The situation for orphaned and vulnerable children is very dire there, and generations of exploitation have made it exponentially worse.”
The Rogers sought to invest their lives in seeing things change and in spring 2016, the couple and their four adopted children moved to Kampala, Uganda, to establish an orphan care and family restoration ministry called Benjamin House Ministries.
Right now, the organization is assisting 140 children and families in Uganda through its programs.
“We have been on the ground in Uganda for about 18 months now…and have no plans to return back to the states to live,” Rogers said. “We believe God has called us here for life.”
Providing basic necessities
Among the priorities of Benjamin House Ministries is to help provide basic necessities for Ugandan children like food, clean water, safe shelter and education.
The average Ugandan lives on less than $1 per day and eats one meal per day, Rogers said.
Streams, wells and run-off pipes are where most Ugandans get the water they use for drinking, cooking and bathing. Every year, more than 10,000 Ugandans die from illnesses related to drinking dirty water, Rogers said.
“Many of (the children) became separated from their parents and have been living and sleeping on the streets, begging for food and using drugs to numb the hunger and make themselves sleep,” he said. “Some reach a point of desperation and want to go home, but don’t know how.”
The Rogers and their staff of eight in Uganda also work with the country’s local leaders to get homeless children into transitional homes and prepare them to be part of a family again.
“We want to see the millions of children who are growing up in abject poverty without mothers and fathers be reunited with their birth family or tribe of origin,” Rogers said.
D.J. Horton, senior pastor at Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church, said like any new ministry in a challenging place, the organization’s first two years haven’t been without some difficulties. The organization has evolved and adjusted, but what hasn’t changed is the Rogers’ desire and call to help the people of Uganda, he said.
“Bucky and Julie had everything here with us at The Mill — great job, thriving ministry, beautiful home and tons of loving friends,” Horton said. “Yet, because of their heart for Uganda, they gave all of that up to go live in a third-world country and simultaneously start a new ministry.”
Helping children thrive
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. The median age is around 16 years old.
The AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa and the war in South Sudan and northern Uganda wiped out much of the adult generation, Rogers said.
“It’s literally a nation of children,” he said. “Well-meaning people came to Uganda and established orphanages to care for the children who were left behind. Inadvertently, they created an even bigger problem.”
Bucky Rogers said as a result, Uganda has a generation of adults who grew up in orphanages and boarding schools and who don’t know what it means to be a family. The majority of children are either raised by grandparents or placed in boarding schools and visit home only a few months a year, he said.
“This breakdown in the family has caused ripple effects that are hard to overestimate,” he said. The role of Benjamin House Ministries is to provide donors, churches and other groups an avenue to inspire hope across Uganda. The organization does this by assisting orphaned children and preparing them for their futures, subsequently building up the country’s next generation of leaders.
An important piece of this preparation is education, which can lead to job skills training and empowerment.
According to the organization, some Ugandan children begin working as young as 5 years old to help their parents earn a living. If they sell enough items like rice or bananas on the street, they might be able to pay for school.
“All education in Uganda costs money,” Rogers said. “If a family cannot afford the school fees, including a school uniform and school supplies, then their children may never learn to read or write.”
The organization’s sponsorship program helps take care of schooling expenses, along with medical care and other minor needs, allowing parents to keep children in their families. The organization also has a program that equips teenagers with leadership skills.
“Kids who were struggling when we first placed them in school are now thriving, and we even have several who have advanced to the top of their classes,” Rogers said.
Restoring healthy families
Another way Benjamin House Ministries helps to restore families and get abandoned children off the streets is by building transitional homes in Uganda.
The organization broke ground in June on the first of multiple transitional homes. Children will stay in the homes between three and six months as they receive counseling and rehab for any drug addictions.
“The kids we are rescuing from the streets are alone. On the streets there is no hope for them,” Rogers said. “Our transitional homes are a safe place to land and prepare to be a part of a family.”
Each home will have a set of house parents and between six and eight children. The organization’s staff will work to find the children’s families or tribes and make sure these are safe options for the kids.
Where that isn’t possible, suitable foster parents will be trained and assume the role of parents in a child’s life, Rogers said.
Parents or guardians also will receive counseling through the program in order to adequately care for any children and provide them with a forever home. This can be a complicated process and often involves helping parents or guardians gain skills so they can find a job and provide for their children.
“We want to see families lift themselves out of poverty and brokenness, not simply receiving a handout,” Rogers said.
Building future success
Back in the United States, one part-time representative and a board of directors help spread the Benjamin House story and raise financial support to help the organization continue its work in Uganda.
“Our ministry is completely dependent upon our supporters in the states,” Rogers said. “So the timing of our vision depends wholly on the giving.”
The organization’s major fundraising avenue is through its annual unveiling events. This year, such an event will be held on Sept. 28 in Chattanooga, Tenn., and another on Oct. 5 at the Upward Star Center in Spartanburg.
The ticketed dinner events are open to the public and will involve an intimate discussion with Bucky Rogers about the basic needs of Ugandans and how Benjamin House Ministries can help meet them.
“The work that Benjamin House does is transforming the lives of Ugandans by inspiring hope while meeting their basic needs,” said Kevin Drake, publisher of the Herald-Journal and a Benjamin House Ministries board member. “By caring for others we enhance our own life experience. This banquet gives us an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these children.”
Michael Lord, who also is on the organization’s board, said the future of Benjamin House Ministries is bright because the need is still so large. The board’s role is to give the Rogers the tools they need to do what needs to be accomplished in Uganda, he said.
“When you look at Benjamin House and its aims and its goals for the future, the potential to reach every child is just overwhelming,” Lord said. “We want to impact the lives of as many children as possible, but it all starts with one child. And I think the Rogers know how to build those relationships with that one child, and then another child and another.”
Through ongoing financial and community support, Bucky Rogers sees the organization expanding in the coming years with an entire self-sustaining village in Uganda.
He also wants to see the organization reach more children and families, plant hundreds of new churches, and shift the general mindset of Ugandan families.
“Basically, we have a huge dream, and we believe God can do it,” he said.