HEAL From the Outside, In: How Community Changes Everything

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HEAL From the Outside, In: How Community Changes EverythingA recent observation of the James Place by Kendell, an Archibald Project Media Mission Team member Posted by Kendell

"You know how you know something about yourself and you ignore it?" Tina explained. (Yeaaah, I think I know a thing or two about that.) "Well, God didn't give up on me."

Thank the Lord.

Literally.

When we first traveled on the severely pothole-laden roads toward the James Place, I didn't know what to expect (spoken as if I knew what to anticipate any other day in Uganda??). But, driving through the gates, my eager eyes could barely capture all the good. The grounds before the tall guest house featured curious children, a colorful tire mountain, an impressive hand-built tree house kids hailing from any country would be supremely jealous of, a volleyball net perched protectively about the innocent heads that played beneath it, and a long swing set 12 tiny pumping legs deep. Then, as our team piled out of the van and I peered around back of the house? It just got better. My eyes lingered on beautiful women, with faces that somehow gave away their cavernous understanding of pain, clustered together on a blanket beading and laughing, while seemingly interdependent souls yards away squatted comfortably creating rugs and cradling squishy chocolate babies in their arms. Layer that with the sounds from a busy sewing classroom, the clanging pots of lunch preparation, the sweet woodsy smell of a fire, a teacher spinning at a potter's wheel, chickens pecking the ground like it belonged solely to them, and a small crop stretching towards God? A sigh of contented awe escaped my lips. This feeling. Could I just go ahead and move on in now?

We sat around a heavy wooden table with Tina Weir as she graciously lay bare how all the transformative power before us had found fruition. After a successful career as an interior designer, and 20 years of the Lord working on her heart, Tina thought she came to Uganda to start an orphanage. But, God had other plans. Don't you love when He does that? Me too. See, single moms kept being placed in her path, and, having experienced abandonment personally, Tina was led to realize that the only difference between her and these women is that they were born in a land of poverty. They were born in a place where it's acceptable to be kicked out of their homes for being pregnant (whether be result of prostitution, rape, trafficking, or choice). In her words, "The Lord showed me that I was from a land with all of this help, and they weren't." Knowing it was not what she signed up for, Tina jumped in anyway. I knew I liked this woman.

The James Place opened in January 2013 with the mission of family preservation. You've heard the statistics, there are 153 million orphans worldwide and there are 2.7 million orphans in Uganda (UNICEF), but did you know that the majority of them have a family? This ministry's Ugandan staff, led by Tina and her son Trey, and backed stateside by HEAL Ministries (which Tina founded), strive to walk alongside abandoned women and empower them to stand on their own two feet. By teaching them a skill, showing them love and helping them discover confidence, the James Place community allows women to envision the expectation of self-sustainability. Giving control back to those who have had it stripped away. Preventing orphans in the process.

The women at the James Place are referred by social workers, the Jinja Pregnancy Crisis Center, and word of mouth. Staff members guide selected girls in choosing a track (1-3 years in rug making, sewing, beading, teaching, pottery, business, or farming). During their time with Tina and her inspired crew, the women come to the James Place twice a week to participate in English class, bible study, and skill training. Most importantly, they know their children are well taken care of, every day, at the daycare and accredited preschool on property. Success in the James Place terms is happy mom and a thriving baby, experiencing spiritual growth, and realizing the ability to pay for school fees, rent, and food. No small feat. As you can probably surmise through, and was quickly apparent to me, the instruction and practical life-skills the women receive are integral, but the ubiquitous truth was found in their connections with one another. In our conversation with Tina she mentioned more than once, "The Lord's whole plan is relationship." And? I think she's on to something.

I had the opportunity to talk with Aisha, a beautiful 26-year-old mother who has taught at the James Place for two years. I was eager for insight on this acre of empowerment I had instantly fallen in love with, but Ugandan women aren't exactly known for their candor, or emotive scenes, so I wasn't sure what I would gather. After a few formalities, Aisha started off by detailing her social reality. Telling me how easy it is for men to run for women. Explaining that many kids end up on the street because of the choices are by the adults in their lives. It broke me, but I wanted to know more. We leisurely detoured the conversation to our loves, our purposes; she told me about her 4-year-old and I showed her pictures of my son. "He's black!" she shrieked and we laughed. Then I attempted to articulate to her how there are many ways to fight for motherhood. She smiled, dug a little deeper, and told me of a close friend at the James Place. A girl who started her journey with no food, no job, filthy conditions to call home, and three children to protect. She shared how now her sister is living in a good place, can feed her family, can pay school fees all on her own, and whose joy has been brought back. If that's the only thing this place did? I'd call it a success. Next, she brought it back to Tina, how most others turn away when the girls falter or make poor choices, but that she never does. That Tina shows them how to love, share, and give. I told you she was on to something...Then? After some comfortable silence, Aisha took a risk that I'll be forever grateful for. She revealed to me that there was a time very recently when she wanted to give up, when she was out of her mind, when she couldn't come to work. She didn't go into specifics. She didn't need to. Reaching for her handkerchief and quietly dabbing at tears, she told me that He always knows what we need. That is was her the James Place community who encouraged her, had hope for her when she had none for herself, and brought her back to work. She said, "I thank God for them. I take them as a part of my family, my sisters and brothers." Relationships, indeed.

Aisha's parting words to me could probably be blown up billboard size and serve as the truest testimony of what the James Place accomplishes alongside these women. As she put away her handkerchief and gave me a hug, but before she pulled back on her strongly composed exterior, Aisha said, "I feel like staying here forever, God willing."

You know what Aisha? Me too. On so many levels.

Tina will assuredly be the first to tell you that this is the Lord's work. That the James Place exists because of the in-country employees, the HEAL Ministries U.S. board, and Ugandan board. That this property transforms lives because her son and the many teams an volunteers that rain their time and talents on the women and children. But, I have a fairly solid instinct that the 175 women who have thus far been impacted by the James Place would say it also has a whole lot to do with Tina.

Because God didn't give up on her, she doesn't give up on them. And that? Changes everything. In fact, it could change the world one heart at a time.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27

Seeking the sunshine with you, Signature

photo by @ncsudancelover

Photo by @ncsudancelover

Four hearts forever changed

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Harriet has a smile that lights up a room. The same smiles have been passed on to her three children. When I first met Harriet, she lived in a horrible condition. Her husband had just left her and the children for another woman. I met her in my friend's organization, JPCC (Jinja Pregnancy Crisis Center), which I've talked about so much. They work with teenage pregnant girls and then help them through the crisis and HEAL walks alongside them for the next step. Harriet needed a stepping stone so that she could stand on her own two feet. She was a single mom raising three children until the father of the children saw a difference. He began to see that she was strong and joyful. He began to see that the children were full of light and joy. He began to see Christ in Harriet and his children. Today, Harriet and Richard are a family. They have a home with their three children together and Joseph. Joseph is six years old and belongs to Richard and another woman that deserted him. Joseph's mom dropped him off and disappeared. And just like that Harriet said, "we have to take him and help him and teach him what a family is." Harriet has become a remarkable young woman at the age of 21. Today, she can be found at the James Place always working with a smile on her face and always taking the time to serve and help others. Her heart is full of love and we have seen a transformation that can only occur because of the eternal hope that we all have. She has learned to forgive and she has learned to love Christ through hard times and trials and through good times. She knows how to be content in need and in plenty. I have personally learned a lot through Harriet.

Lydia and Harriet are friends. They were both at JPCC when I first met them. Lydia has twin boys and was deserted by her husband. He was drinking and abusive and not providing for her and the children. Lydia began working and growing in Christ. The first year that she worked, she literally had to ask for an advance on a monthly basis and was always in a bad mood. Last year she saved money every single month and had enough money at the end of the year to purchase furniture for her home. Lydia now has a smile that radiates, especially during praise and worship. I visited her in her home and had the privilege of sitting on her sofa recently and asked her what her favorite thing about her home was and she said: "I have a place for my family." That in itself makes a mama's heart smile.

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There are many stories like this that best explain why we do what we do. Like Faith and Parvin. Both are 17 now. Faith was 14 when I met her and Parvin was 16. Both were pregnant and scared. Both kicked out of their homes. Both were abused and should not have gone through what they did. Both today, living together as one happy family. Faith has Catherine who is now almost 3. Parvin has baby Benja that was just born last fall. Both have chosen family and hope and joy. Both are in high school together making great grades in the very same class. God put these two wonderful young ladies together and they now understand that God has made something beautiful out of something terrible. A new family that God chose.

We are learning that all mamas want the same thing: children to grow up and learn about love and grow in God's favor and strength. Harriet's story now has a complete family with mama and daddy in the home. But Lydia's story has a complete family too. It just looks different. There is only a mama and two boys but our heavenly Father steps in to complete the family. Faith and Parvin have their own blended family that looks even different than the other two. They would not have chosen this path but they are making the most out of the path they have been forced to go down. It is such a joy to see all four of these mamas running to their children with arms wide open.

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Every family at the James Place looks a little different but one thing is for sure the same: we have a lot of mamas a lot happier because they can work or attend school and have a safe place to bring their children. We have a lot of mamas working hard and learning trades so that they can provide for their family. We have a lot of mamas that needed the James Place stepping-stone to get to the next phase. I'm just one happy mama that gets to give you a small glimpse of what God is doing through these four particular mamas; four reasons that we believe in celebrating family preservation.

Stop and Pray

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I've had writer's block. I never believed that it was a real thing before because I could always just stop and write anything. But it is real and it is hard to admit. The last three months in Jinja have been difficult. That is even hard to admit. Maybe it's pride. Maybe it's because I could not exactly put my finger on "why" it's been so hard. Maybe it's because I'm so passionate about this place and I know that I am called to be here. So why should it be hard? There were problems with renewing legal permits but all is resolved. Everything seems to take a little bit longer here but "longer" sometimes becomes frustrating and stressful. There have been problems internally with staff. This has been difficult because the people we love and build relationships with are supposed to love back and be truthful and loyal and yet...we are all human. We all mess up and we all need grace. We have had "integrity" issues with those that we serve. And yet, God reminds me that we all mess up and we all need grace.

We have had budget problems and trying to deal with the stress of MANY needs medically, physically and spiritually with the vulnerable women and children here. And yet, God spoke to me very plainly this past week through a study in Nehemiah. Sometimes God puts a dream in our hearts that is so BIG that when it becomes a reality, the only explanation can be God. God is the God of impossible. That is what He has reminded me. HEAL Ministries today is a dream so BIG that became a reality so quickly that the only explanation can be God.

Nehemiah was a planner and a do-er and God knew that it took a person like him to re-build the wall of Jerusalem. There were many obstacles along the way but what Nehemiah did when every single obstacle came...was STOP and PRAY. He prayed before every single decision was made. He prayed when funds were needed and he prayed for guidance and help. Action never happened until prayer took place.

God has reminded me that when there are obstacles, we must STOP and PRAY. I have been so caught up in the "doing" and the "planning" that I humbly admit that I did not take time for prayer first. Actions preceded prayer. HEAL Ministries will be fine. Most of the "trials" and "problems" have been sorted out. Unnecessary stress and worry occurred. All because prayer did not precede action.

I would love for everyone reading this to join us in prayer. Pray for us to receive the funds that are needed to complete the 2015 budget. Pray for hearts that can only be changed by God. Pray for the leaders at the James Place (including me and Trey) and pray for wisdom, guidance and clear direction. As we continue this awesome journey, pray that when we get "off track" in the field by taking action before prayer that God would direct us quickly back through his Word. Today I'm thankful for Nehemiah. God showed up and used Nehemiah to do the "possible" and never expected him to do any of the impossible. We just put our trust in Him and watch Him do what no man thinks is possible. Now, I'm excited to see what we will be writing about the next quarter!

A Message from HEAL Intern - Katherine Ferguson

Often we are told to find what sets our heart on fire for Christ and to continually seek those who fan that flame. To me, I found this joy every day at the James Place to the point that my mind was consumed with the irresistible longing to relive my summer days here. After a huge answer to prayer, I knew there was no better time to be back than taking this semester off from school. So here I am for the next few months fueling that joy in me each day. photo 2 (1)Most of my work here is done in childcare. These kids refill my heart each morning as we play in the sandbox or make "food" in the new chipati stands. Their happiness is contagious as tears are quickly turned to laughter that is shared and spread amongst us all. One of my favorite times of day is around closing time when the moms are coming to pick up their children. While it is always sad to close on another day here and see the kids head home, the joy in a child's eyes when his or her mother reaches the gate is an instant joy in my day. It is obvious the kids love their time spent at the James Place during the day based on the shrieks of exhilaration and laughter that can be heard from across the street, but no staff member or intern will ever replace a mother which makes that reunion so sweet every afternoon.

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Though all children get excited to see their mom arrive at the gates, one in particular stands out: Faimah. Faimah is one of the sweetest two year old girls we have here who constantly has a smile on her face. She spends most of the day acting as our quiet shadow following us around, occasionally laughing and singing songs just loud enough for us to hear. This past summer on my first day here when I knew no one's name, I vividly remember Faimah crawling up into my lap and contently smiling up at me with soft eyes of welcome. Nothing has changed since this summer including how she reacts when she sees her mom. As she is playing around with other kids in the afternoon, the moment she catches glimpse of her mom,our quiet little girl beams with a stretched out smile and even lets out a few cries of happiness as she drops her toys and runs over to her mom who is waiting to scoop her daughter up into her arms.

One of HEAL's missions is to be able to keep families together. As an intern in childcare, I am able to witness this being carried out every afternoon. These moms are able to drop their children off into a safe environment where they can learn, laugh, and grow as kids so that these women can go work or attend school. At the end of the day, to get to witness this sweet reunion shows me the tangible difference HEAL is making here in Jinja. Seeing the love that continues to form between a mother and child is unexplainably beautiful.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Restoring Hearts - The James Place 2015 Theme

Every year it has been obvious what our theme should be. This year is no exception. As I talked to some of the ladies about it, I was reminded how God is in this place and it is all about Him. It is easy to get caught up in the "ministry" leaving God out of it. I am guilty of that. But that's the thing that is so beautiful. God knows our hearts and He knows that we are constantly in need of His help. And He created us to be in relationship with each other. Sometimes the most important thing is to recognize that everything takes time. Time to heal, time to build, time to plan, time to build relationships, time to restore and time for God to do His thing. And, time is something that we are learning is important at the James Place. Nothing goes as planned; there is always something that comes up (several times a day) to stop the "normal" activities and there is no "normal." The need is great and overwhelming and sometimes it is hard to know what is best. The legal deadlines, requirements and "important planning" sometimes get in the way of the actual ministry.

And there it is - the cycle that fights against time and takes us away from the actual ministry. The cycle of thinking that so many things have to be done and so many interruptions occur that it is almost impossible to meet deadlines. That is when God reminds us to re-direct and focus on Him. My friend, Betty from Masese, reminded me of that this week.

IMG_5623Betty is my friend that I've often talked about. She and I were not instant friends when we first met in 2011 but there was something about her that made me want to know her more. She was an instigator of trouble and looked for an argument. She was quick to fight and even spit at you if the mood hit her. I loved her raw honesty. I remember her telling me how much she hated others and how much she wanted our bible study to fail. She laughed when the witch doctor chanted around the circle while others made the witch doctor leave and began praying.

Betty started attending our bible study, became a Christian and we soon became friends and over time, there was a noticeable change. Even others in the study began to notice and talk about it and she would just laugh. This week, I reminded Betty of that. I reminded her of how much she has changed and that I believe it is the Lord working in her. I told her that when I think back over the last two years, her contagious smile is what I think of walking through our gates because it is the epitome of JOY and LIGHT within and that it has been a long road together but a road worth staying on.

Betty asked me if "restore" was a word that means mending because we were discussing the 2015 theme. I asked her to explain what she was referring to and she said that in sewing class if she tears fabric, she is taught how to mend it. And I said yes, restore could mean the same as mending. Betty replied, "My life and heart has been restored and that has taken time." People often ask me why women are in our program after two years and part of the answer is because we have 2 and 3 year curriculums in sewing, English, and in our business and artisan programs. Only the outreach emergency shelter ladies are in and out within three months. And part of the answer is because we have a weekly bible study that is centered around relationships, relationships take time. But, Betty has summed up the best answer: Because we can't always put God's business on a time line. Because restoring hearts just takes time.

January Update

The last two weeks have been extremely busy. Tina arrived on Monday two weeks ago, and then the next day I had to go to Entebbe to pick a team that was arriving that night. Since then, it's been balancing trying to go over everything that's happened during the time that Tina was away and getting stuff that she needs done with doing all of the activities with the team. The team that is here is from Harpeth Hall, an all girls high school in Nashville, TN. Every time this year, they send a team of girls here to work with HEAL for a few weeks. There were originally supposed to be 22 girls coming, however, a lot of their parents freaked out about ebola (even though ebola is closer to them in Tennessee than it is to us here in Uganda. So, the trip ended up being only 7 girls, led by a woman who is on our board.The last two weeks have been extremely busy. Tina arrived on Monday two weeks ago, and then the next day I had to go to Entebbe to pick a team that was arriving that night. Since then, it's been balancing trying to go over everything that's happened during the time that Tina was away and getting stuff that she needs done with doing all of the activities with the team. The team that is here is from Harpeth Hall, an all girls high school in Nashville, TN. Every time this year, they send a team of girls here to work with HEAL for a few weeks. There were originally supposed to be 22 girls coming, however, a lot of their parents freaked out about ebola (even though ebola is closer to them in Tennessee than it is to us here in Uganda. So, the trip ended up being only 7 girls, led by a woman who is on our board. The last morning the team had at The James Place

The Lord chose these 7 girls to be the ones to come on this trip, and it has been an honor getting to know them during these past two weeks. In just this short amount of time, I have seen each of them grow so much. This is the first team I have really gotten to experience and watch grow in its entirety. There was a team here when I first arrived in Jinja, but I had no idea what I was doing and they were only here for a couple days. With this team, I've gotten to see them from their first steps here until their last. I've gotten to hear their testimonies and see the way the Lord is working in each of their lives. I've gotten to see God plant little seeds in their lives and I'm so excited to see how this trip is going to change their lives forever.

 In Masese for Bible Study

Since the team has been here, I've gotten to do some things for the first time that I've been here which is pretty cool. I got go with the team while we took kids from Ekisa swimming. Ekisa works with children who have disabilities. In Uganda, having a disability is often seen as a curse, and it is common for these people to be shunned by their communities and their own families. Ekisa creates a safe and nurturing environment for people with special needs. To learn more about this wonderful organization, go to www.ekisa.org.

Swimming with the Ekisa children

I also got to do some home visits of people I've known basically since I've been here. We got to go meet the Jaja of three girls that we pay the school fees for. She has 11 people living in her tiny little house. We stopped at a bunch of the little stands that were near her house before we went there and bought food and drinks that we then gave to them. Jaja suffers from HIV/AIDs, but she loves the Lord and she goes and gets the free treatment that Uganda provides. We also help provide some other medicines for her that she needs but that aren't free. She is a strong women and I pray that she is able to stay healthy enough to keep taking care of all of the people she is providing for.

Visiting Jaja

We were also able visit the home of a woman named Fazira who has been in our program for a while. She lives a little bit farther out, and provides for her children by selling fruit that she grows on the land that she has. When asked if she had food, Fazira replied that she didn't. We immediately got in the car and drove down the road a bit to a bunch of stands. Tina went and bought a bunch of items from different stands. It was amazing in that moment how many people we were helping. After finishing buying food, we went back to Fazira's and delivered it. Seeing the joy that Fazira had because of this simple gesture was overwhelming. Then the moment that almost shattered me was when everyone was back in the car, one of Fazira's little boy came running to the van with a bunch of sweet bananas in his hands, with the biggest smile on his face. He passed them to us through the window. I almost burst out in tears during this moment. I was so overwhelmed by this, because those bananas were her livelihood. I knew how much those bananas meant to that family, and to see them give them to us, with a huge smile and much thankfulness, tore at my heart.

Visiting Fazira

We also got to take our preschoolers swimming for the first time. That was such a fun experience. We told the kids right before we dressed them and left for the pool. We walked to one of the hotels right down the road and took them swimming. Some of them loved it, while others weren't huge fans. However, all of the children were freezing afterwards. It was so sad to see their little bodies shivering (especially because the water wasn't even that cold). I got to take Joseph, and he was all for it. He kept running around the pool, not wanting me to hold him and he was the first to ask to go into the bigger pool. It was really cool to be with them during this, because it was their first time ever to be in a swimming pool.

 

Joseph and I after swimming

Swimming with Joseph

Besides that, we got to visit other organizations that I've been too, such as Amani (www.amanibabycottage.org) and Serving His Children(www.servinghischildren.org). After HEAL, Serving His Children is probably my next favorite organization here in Jinja. There goal is to break the cycle of malnutrition on life at a time. They have saved hundreds of children since Renee started the organization. I was happy to find out that a little boy who I had held and played with a bunch last time I was there, was doing very well.

At Serving His Children

We've also gotten to eat many delicious meals together and just fellowship with one another. It has been very nice getting to know each of the girls and Lisa on this trip. I'm sad that they are leaving, but I know that they were here for a reason. The Lord has a purpose in everything that happens to us. I'm excited to see what comes next for these girls. We got to spend the last couple days they had in Uganda in Kampala at a very nice hotel. We got to go see a show called Ndere which is a dinner and show of all different dances and music of Uganda. It was an awesome experience that I wish I could have shared with many of my friends.

At Ling Lings for lunch after church

 

At Ndere for the Ugandan dance and music show

More Reflections from the Harpeth Hall Team

More reflections from the team..... oliviaC & corinneOlivia Caldwell To me, the James Place is a place that welcomes people of all kinds to be immersed in the culture of Uganda, as well as help teach women and children to care and provide for themselves. However, although we are here to help the Ugandans, I feel they have helped me more than I could ever imagine. Through different activities, whether it be playing with the kids or helping the women in the kitchen, I have built strong relationships with and been blessed by everyone here at the James Place!

corinneCorinne Gibson The James Place means a new beginning: for the women, the children, and even the teams that come here. By teaching these women life skills and providing childcare, the James Place offers endless opportunities that these people could not have elsewhere. Although we are not taking classes, I feel as though I learn something each day from the ladies, staff, and my fellow team members. I have learned patience from the way that the staff put on smiling faces even for the children that cry or won't listen. I have learned grit from the ladies who face each day without fear despite their problems at home. Most importantly, I have learned that LOVE DOES. True love is giving your talents and your time selflessly to another, even when it is not easy. It is safe to say that the people at the James Place have given me infinitely more than I could have ever given them. Quote from Corinne: "The one thing that I did not realize before arriving is the importance of the childcare program! It is a wonderful thing to see in action and to see the women that benefit from it allowing them to attend classes and to work. The children have schedules and preschool and are learning about God's word."

oliviaWOlivia Wilson The James Place is a nurturing environment that allows women and children to grow beyond their pre-existing potential. It acts as a stable and close-knit community that focuses on building and maintaining relationships that will better the lives of the students and the staff. The James Place has not only taught me how to build a stronger relationship, but also has exposed me to a welcoming Ugandan culture and group of people. I am so thankful to have met the James Place community, and I hope I have made an impact on their lives as great as the one they have made on mine.

I've heard the phrase "unconditional love" throughout my childhood; whether it was pertaining to my family or God's love, it wasn't until I arrived at the James Place that I truly began to understand what that LOVE looks like. I've experienced a kind of LOVE here that doesn't care about my age, my color, my nationality, or which language I speak. It is a LOVE that does not discriminate. This is the kind of LOVE that every person here at the James Place practices and has shown me and the other team members. I hope that because I understand loving unconditionally now, I will be able to LOVE like they do here once I leave the James Place. Quote from Mary Britton: "Everyone is family here. There are many families within one large family!"

Reflections on The James Place

Sydney WebberUpon seeing it for the first time, the James Place already looked inviting. With the colorful tires and volleyball net in front of the main building, it gave me the feeling of security and safety in a completely foreign place. And the James Place really is a place for feeling just that. With citizens of Jinja working as the teachers, caretakers, and cooks, the James Place provides jobs to take care of young Ugandan children, aged between 1-6. What really sets it apart, however, is the emergency shelters it offers for women in a time of need. Whether they are widowed, pregnant, or simply escaping from abuse, these shelters give them protection, food, and most of all, support for these women for a few months, until they are fully ready to support themselves. So while the James Place cares for the children enrolled, it also takes care of the staff and whoever else needs assistance, making it an important institution for Ugandans of any age.

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Alexandra Hulme What is The James Place? The James Place is volleyball. It is colorful tires on the hill. It is broken english and lunches with no forks. It is swings and happy children. What is The James Place? It is joy, laughter, and Bible study. It is singing and dancing. It is potty time, bath time, and clean-up time. What is the James Place to me? There is only 1 word that adequately describes The James Place, and that is love. Love from children, women, men, teams, and Tina. The James Place is a promise for a better future. Here, friendships are made, relationships are strengthened, and growth is evident. It starts with love at The James Place, a whole lot of love.

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Jayne-Stuart Garber Each day The James Place provides kids and women with opportunities to better themselves. I got the opportunity to see this first hand on one Sunday, when The James Place was closed to the kids, and I was playing volleyball. One by one the kids across the street came to the fence and reached their tiny hand through. They wanted to come in so badly. That is a direct example of how special The James Place is to them. They want to be here every day because The James Place provides love, and community that the kids crave. The James Place is so unique in the way that it keeps families together and provides resources for those who need.

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Family and Love

IMG_1163 I left the United States covered in snow and returned to Uganda covered in red dirt. I left freezing weather and family and friends to return to wonderful weather with family and friends. Coming back to Uganda after being away for four months was very emotional. Nakato, a 4 year old, began crying when she saw me and it, of course, made me tear up. She was crying because she was excited to see her JaJa and had been waiting on the day for me to return. She might have been crying because she wasn't the first one hugged - or she might have been crying because she didn't know what else to do. Whatever the reason, the tears were real and heartfelt and pierced a deeper sting of love in the deepest parts of my heart. Nakato teaches me about love.

In just four days, I've lived a life. We've taken several to the doctor saving a child from Malaria, discovering an excited young, married staff member is pregnant, paid all the ladies in the sewing & rug making department their 2014 bonuses from the rug sales, had a staff party to celebrate the new year, received the first 2015 mission team from Harpeth Hall (Nashville), and smiled til it hurt because a little boy with a cracked bucket over his head is smiling. That little boy is Joshua that I have often talked about and requested prayers for. He has battled sickle cell disease and was in terrible pain the last month. But today, with a bucket over his head and a smile on his face, he reminded us all to live life to the fullest no matter what we are dealt.

The James Place is a family home of love. Everyone here is family and family is what we are fighting for. Some of our family members are widows, some abandoned, some are staff and some are children in the community. Teams that come become family quickly and they help us to build deeper relationships with everyone and to show what love looks like by traveling across the world to serve the least of these. But whoever walks through the gates, they come here and find love. Not because of me and not because of what we are doing but because God is in this place.

This thing called love is hard and real and wonderful and crazy. "We love because HE first loved us" according to 1 John 4:19. But it's hard and easy all at the same time. Loving others unconditionally has been challenging and rewarding...it's been easy and hard...it's been tearful and joyful...it's been a whole string of contradicting emotions but one thing is for sure: This deep love has shown me how much our heavenly Father loves us and that we will never, never, never measure up to HIS love. Til I reach my final home, I'll just keep trying to love more the way Nakato loves: a love so deep that it flows with uncontrollable, heartfelt tears. That is how I imagine God's love is for us.

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Rebekah's Joy

My name is Rebekah McKerley and I'm interning with HEAL Ministries for the next 6 months. One of the first things that struck me about the James' Place was the overwhelming amount of love. Everyone loves and genuinely cares about each other. Every morning when I walk outside, the staff greets me and asks how I'm doing. Their smiling faces and words of encouragement mean more to me than they'll ever know! image

The kids here are absolutely precious! They don't know much English, but I have learned more than ever that love knows no language. It's the little moments with them that make me the happiest. Holding Natasha until she falls asleep in my arms, Haggai giving me a big hug every morning, and throwing the frisbee with Ben in the afternoon are all moments that I cherish and look forward to.

 

image_2After spending the past 3 months in Uganda, I know how important the childcare program at HEAL is. There are many women in Uganda who have to stay home with their kids because they don't have anyone to watch them, and are then unable to make an income, which can lead to kids being abandoned. The childcare program at the James Place prevents this from happening, and provides a safe place for the kids to just enjoy being kids while their parents are working. They get to play in a sandbox, sing songs, go to preschool, swing, eat yummy food, and make friends with the 50 kids that come each day.

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There is a quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf that says "As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness." This could not be any more true for my experience at the James' Place so far. My days are full of more joy and happiness than I can ever remember. I have been blessed far more by the people here than I could ever bless them. I wish everyone could experience at least a week at the James' Place. God is truly doing amazing things through HEAL Ministries, and I am so excited and honored to be a part of it the next six months!

While I'm Here...

IMG_6971 It's been quite difficult to stay mentally busy enough to keep my mind off Uganda while in the states. When God places you in a new home, it's just simply.....hard to be away from home. But what I've learned the last couple of months are far more valuable than anything I have ever learned.

 

God revealed to me in a very real and powerful way that His ministry is sufficient and that it will run according to His plan. We have 20 full time staff and 8 more part time staff and our totally Ugandan led organization is thriving in my absence. Wilbur, one of our employees, told me that the first time I went away he was worried but he learned that in my absence, everyone stepped up. Wilbur said that he had no worries this time because he knew that everything was going to be okay and that Trey was a great leader. We also have awesome interns that give time and service to help run things for the least of these.

Childcare is still operating with 50 children full time. Preschool is still operating with 14 children. And 100 ladies are still attending bible studies, sewing classes, rug and bead making, pottery, and farming and English classes. The kids in the community still attend KIDS Club every Saturday.

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While I'm away, I've been reminded the importance of just showing up. We showed up several years ago on Ugandan soil and the results of what happened are not because of anything that I did. I could not have caused all that is going on at the James Place. I was obedient to His calling and just showed up. Then miraculous things started happening. We started getting staff that has been so wonderful in leadership and a staff that loves each other. We started having volunteers from the community and from visitors showing up to help. We had teams that came and bought supplies needed. We had the exact number of emergency shelter rooms each time there was a true crisis. We had medical clinics that provided care for hundreds and lives were saved as a result of that. We had checks that came in right when money was needed. We had young girls deciding to keep babies and FAMILY became the theme. Because we just showed up. IMG_0061

 

IMG_7181Things are running just fine while I'm away spreading awareness about the ministry, which confirms that God is in control. It confirms that sometimes, we just need to show up. We just need to answer the call that God gives us and it's not even about being brave. It's about showing up and trusting. It's about having the faith that if we are obedient, God will provide. The James Place is an awesome place. I could take a lot of credit, but it would be wrong. It is actually one of the coolest places that I have ever seen developed by God. I have a front row seat and I'm humbled to call it home and blessed to get to return! While I'm away, I realize what an amazing privilege this is! IMG_4971

A Week With Betty at The James Place

This past week, many of our babies were sick. Blessing and Mukisa have hardly been here at all. The one day when they were here, I was holding Mukisa when Godfrey came over and started talking to him. I put Mukisa into his arms and as I did, I told him that he was sick. Godfrey then said four words that were so simple but heartfelt that it took me by surprise and truly touched my heart. He simply said, "Lord, heal my friend." They were only four words, but to see him pray out loud for the little man in his arms was a truly beautiful sight. Please continue praying for Mukisa because we just found out the treatment for whatever he had didn't work and he had to be admitted to the hospital. Godfrey and Mukisa right after he prayed for him

Then one day this week dear Faimah woke up from naptime with a 102 degree fever. We took her to Dr. Charles where they did a blood test and found out she has malaria. We were able to get her medicine and she is doing much better.

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That same day we took little Shariff to the doctor as well. Shariff's breathing has sounded like Darth Vader from the day that I've gotten here and his nose has never stopped pouring mucus. We had a nurse visit our compound two weeks ago and she said it was most likely from an ear infection. We gave him amoxicillin but his breathing continued to be bad. So, to the doctor he went. The doctor is worried that his eardrum might have burst so he put an IV in his arm and for 5 days he has to go get treatment. We still haven't found out about his eardrum, so pray that it hasn't burst and he has gotten treatment in time to save it.

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It's awful when any child is sick, but the beautiful thing about this is that HEAL completely covers the medical cost for all of our children. It's so easy to test for malaria and get the treatment for it (a mosquito net would actually help prevent many from getting malaria), yet so many children die in Africa from malaria every day because no one can afford to take them to a doctor (or buy a net to prevent them from getting it in the first place). The World Health Organization says that a child dies every minute in Africa from malaria. Read that sentence again. A child dies every minute from malaria. Your brain takes that in as words but almost doesn't allow you to comprehend what it means. Luckily, we were able to provide the medicine for Faimah and she will not be one of the children dying from it.

On a different note, one of our staff members asked me to pray with her to accept Christ this week. This woman reads her Bible every day, but she finally accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. This was the first time that I've ever led anyone in that prayer, and while I felt inadequate, it was such a tender moment and I was so happy to be a part of it. I was able to read her a bunch of Bible verses first, including Titus 3:3-8, which have a special place in my heart. While I often feel inadequate, God is teaching me that it's okay because He is with me. He has led me to this place and I have followed Him. I've asked Him to use me and it's clear that He is. My inadequacy helps point to God's all-sufficiency. I'm not the one accomplishing these things; it's Him accomplishing them through me.

"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." Titus 3:3-8

William on the way to Masese

Then during our Wednesday trip to Masese for Bible study, a woman who I had never seen before came up to me and started talking to me (I couldn't understand her) and singing. Regina translated for me and said she was talking about how good the Lord is and how the song brings joy to her heart. She then sat down and told me some of her story and asked me to pray for her. She had 12 children but most of them were dead. She felt a lot of pain sometimes. She just happened to be visiting her daughter who lived there; God wanted out paths to cross that day. She explained that through the Lord she was strong. If it weren't for the Lord, she would be dead like most of her children. He is the one that sustains her. He is the one that gives her strength to go dig for work. He is the one who loves her and is helping her through this difficult life. She asked me to pray for her, and I was able to. I prayed and Regina translated as we held her hands.

That day in Masese was the strangest yet most real experience I've had in the village yet. There were women smoking pipes holding babies. And the spot we normally sit in to do the Bible study was taken up by men and women who were drinking hard alcohol at 3:30 in the afternoon. I was able to pray for them the entire time we were there and hoped they were listening to what was being said. We could definitely be heard. The sad thing is that's normal in the slums and the crime rate is really high there. This just happened to be the first time I've witnessed something like that while I've been there. It made me realize how much more proud I need to be of our women in our program because they're surrounded by things like that every day but choose to be better.

No ministry, organization, or business ever runs perfectly. There are always bumps that need to be smoothed and things that could be done better. But being here at The James Place with HEAL Ministries, I can see a difference being made in people's lives. I see children being loved. I see people accepting Christ. I see women choosing to work to keep their children and create a better life for their family, despite the circumstances that they face. I see people relying on Jesus. I see people loving one another. Simply put, love does here.

I'm currently reading Bob Goff's book, Love Does. He's an awesome man who lives an incredible life all for the glory of God. If you are in the Nashville area on December 2, I highly encourage you to attend HEAL's benefit dinner. Bob Goff will be speaking and I wish I could attend! Instead of attending, I will be here continuing to love on our kids, women, and staff. God bless!

A Message From Charles

My name is Charles Cranford and I am currently interning at the James Place and working specifically with the preschool ministry. Though I have been on trips with HEAL in the past, and even visited Tina and Trey in Uganda in 2012, it has been such a blessing to finally see all of their prayers and hard work come to fruition in the form of the James Place. I am blown away by each staff member as they use their God-given gifts to serve the women and children who are here daily. Though I was a complete stranger to most of them a little over two weeks ago, they have quickly made me feel like family. 10698537_10152723003828442_2211778551427812822_n

Our preschool has fourteen students who are here Monday through Friday, and our older students (4 and 5 year olds) return every afternoon for an hour of tutoring as they prepare to begin school this coming year. They are eager to learn and full of a healthy blend of energy and joy. There is nothing quite like hearing their voices singing praises to God every morning as I prepare my part of the lesson. They know they are loved; and that is what was most immediately evident to me upon my arrival. During tutoring last week, I was teaching them the "G" sound and the word "good". I asked them to give me an example of something or someone who is good in order to see if they understood, and one little boy in the back emphatically raised his hand and blurted out proudly, "Jaja Tina!". Uncle Trey and many other members of our staff were named shortly after. I believe that says more about the staff and their hearts for God and our children than anything I could ever write. Each day I see this on display in their willingness to teach, listen to, play with, prepare food for (and clean up food after the ensuing mess) and spend time with the children.

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Having taught in the American school system and having worked with teachers and students in Belize, I was not quite sure what to expect from our students here in Uganda. However, after observing our teachers, Aisha and Jackie, for one day, I knew the James Place kids were in good hands. They are working hard not only to educate their students to the best of their abilities, but also to continue to better educate themselves as teachers. Their passion and constant desire to better understand the material themselves will serve their students more than they will ever know. As a teacher who specializes in reading and phonics, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that most of the children already knew their letter sounds and are even starting to read words! We are working hard in our tutoring each afternoon to make sure these skills continue to improve before they start school, and at the rate they are learning, I believe they will be more than adequately prepared. Aisha also has given me the task of creating an alphabet craft each morning so that even our younger ones can begin to better understand their sounds and letters. If you know me, "artistic" is probably not your first choice of words to describe me, but the kids have had a blast constructing objects for each of their letters and proudly displaying them on the walls each day.

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As someone who is passionate about education, I know that the preparation our kids receive at the James Place every day will be more valuable to them than any of them can ever realize now. They are given careful attention and tools to learn each day that most children in Uganda cannot even dream of having. Even more importantly than that, they are being shown the love of Christ each day, manifest in our teachers and staff. They not only get to hear the Word of God every day, they get to see it lived out. As you read this, please pray that God will continue to equip Tina, Trey and the rest of the HEAL Ministries staff with the wisdom to continue to lead and serve the women and children here at the James Place, and that He will continue to raise up leaders all over Uganda to serve and love others in the same manner. I know that we have only begun to see the fruits of their work, and I pray that each child here will continue to grow not only in knowledge, but also in their understanding of God and His love for them.

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Trey's Journey

I've been in Uganda for three years now. I've learned a lot, grown up a lot, and found that I'm not as strong as I thought I was. I have no idea how long I will be in Uganda. I know this is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life and I am happy to call this my home. IMG_8133

Living here has taught me a lot of different things. One of those things is that God is in control of everything and I have to stop doing things my way. I am a family man. I love my family and love being with them. But when I am in Uganda, it's just not possible to always do that. It's hard knowing that they are going through hard times being here because I am the kind of guy that likes to fix things, and it's hard to try and fix things 8,000 miles away. That's when I have to lean on God's shoulder and just let Him do His thing. At the end of the day really everything that I could possibly do God can do it 1000 times better. Just like it says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

It's these little reminders that things are going to be ok.

I've learned God has me in His hands and is taking care of me. Dealing with life here all day can be stressful. I can't always figure something out to help everyone and it gets overwhelming and stressful at times because there are always so many needs. Every single day something new comes up and sometimes I just don't have the answer for it. I think: "how will this ever work?" Or, "how can this be fixed?" Stress is a common thing for me here. I am 26 years old and I have white hairs in my beard! But I am thankful for stress because it reminds me to turn to God. God is a great doctor and a great teacher. He teaches me that things my way aren't the best way, and my solutions and stress is temporary, but that's the thing; IT'S TEMPORARY; and God's solutions are eternal.

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When I first came to Uganda I was coming to do business and to be here with my mom because I wasn't comfortable with her being here because of the cancer she has battled. Yes, you can call me a mama's boy. I was excited to tap into the international business realm while looking after her. Then God closed those doors and opened the doors to get more involved with HEAL. I am beyond thankful that HEAL hired me as the Operations Manager in Uganda in 2011.

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I started work immediately on The James Place in December, 2011. There was a lot of manual work to do and I love working with my hands. We've come a long way since we first got this place. I remember having to wake up to our neighbor's goats, cows and chickens every morning. Now, it's waking up to kids laughing and women singing in the mornings. It is a rewarding way to wake up each morning knowing that people on this property are happy when they come through the gates. A little look into what I do: I over see all of the day-to-day operations that we do here in Uganda. And every day is different. One day I might be shopping in Central Market to get food for the week with Joshua; one day might involve taking people to the hospital; one day involves going to pay all the bills; one day might involve repairing and improving the property; and then one day might be solving a flooding issue on the property, or backed up sewage problems, or just solving people issues with the women and children and staff. There are always new problems that come up and we learn to deal with the moment. I also handle all the finances and make sure that we are staying within our budget. Teaching the Farming God's Way classes to the women is rewarding because I know that they are learning productive ways to feed their families. I teach the class on the property twice a year, but also conduct field visits to the ladies gardens or plots. I truly love what I do. It is rewarding to feel that I'm making a difference and God has taught me so much.

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Now, about when I said "I am not as strong as I thought I was." I may come across as a big macho guy, but when it is all said and done, I am a softy at heart. I love waking up and going down to hold the babies, to see all the kids, then get to work. The kids and staff make my day. Yes, I love seeing the women come through those gates and get equipped with everything we know how to equip them with to succeed and learn sustainability, but our staff and these kids have become my family away from home. I am thankful for them every single day. If any one of them ever has a problem outside of work, I would probably be the first one to show up at their door. God works in mysterious ways; He has provided me with another close family in Uganda.

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HEAL Ministries is doing a great thing here with the abandoned women and children. Because I grew up with a single mom, I understand the issues of abandonment. Over the past few years I have seen changes in these ladies' hearts and changes that can make their future better and brighter. We are equipping women, who have been through a difficult past, with skills and education that can help them get out of the rut, so to speak. We are a stepping-stone for them to succeed. It is a rewarding job, but it is a hard job. We want to help every single person but at the end of the day, that is just not a reality. We have around 125 ladies in our program, 50 children in our childcare, and average 300 children every Saturday for KIDS Club. We are making a change in this community; even with the kids in childcare and the youth in KIDS CLUB; and I believe that they are going to go out from here and make the real change in Uganda in the future. And speaking of the future, we are not sure what the future holds. Maybe one day we will expand. Maybe we will get a new place. Maybe we will add a new program. We don't know everything that will happen, but whatever it is, we know who holds the future. I am just thankful that God used me in this journey to be a very small part in His ministry and I wouldn't change a thing.

Trey Weir

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Lipscomb University Interview With HEAL Intern Meleia Fisher

Interview by TJ McCloud, Lipscomb University Missions Coordinator This past summer, senior Nursing student Meleia Fisher did a three month internship with HEAL Ministries, based in Jinja, Uganda. HEAL, a Lipscomb Missions host partner, specializes in ministry to abandoned women and children. Small business start-up, skills training, health and parenting classes, child care, children's ministry and spiritual mentoring are all part of the three-year program that women enter at HEAL's outreach center, which is focused on empowering women in poverty to keep and provide for their children. A few weeks after Meleia returned from her internship, I sat down with her to hear more about what her summer was like.

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TJ: Where are you originally from? Have you ever been involved in mission work before?

Meleia: I am from Colorado Springs, originally, and have been involved in mission work since I was twelve. That's when I first went to Juarez, Mexico with my church. It was a life-changing experience! I think God really opened my heart with that initial trip; seeing people who lived so differently than me, people who were so wonderful and kind, in spite of the poverty they lived in... it made me want to see more of God's world. Since then, I have been involved in mission work in the Dominican Republic, Uganda, and serving medically with the immigrant/service community of Destin, FL.

TJ: So, what did this internship consist of? How did you spend your summer?

Meleia: As an intern, I got to be part of the team that helps make the summer season for HEAL ministries run smoothly. We helped with mission groups that would come in, helped staff the child care ministry that they have on site, and coordinated some of the ministry logistics for certain activities. But the thing that I was most excited about was the ability to teach some basic health classes to the women; classes about hygiene, nutrition, hydration. Its all simple stuff, but it's really important and makes a big difference to the women's lives; and the lives of their children.

TJ: How did you get involved in HEAL ministries?

Meleia: I originally got involved with HEAL as part of a summer mission trip with Lipscomb Missions in 2013. I helped facilitate the painting part of an arts ministry workshop for about ten days or so. It was a blast, and during the trip, I got to know Tina Weir, HEAL's Director. She just really poured into me and invited me to come back as an intern, and specifically use my health/nursing training. She also had a vision for having a clinic on site one day, and I wanted to help lay whatever groundwork I could toward that goal.

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TJ: What about this summer do you think will make you a better nurse in the future?

Meleia: I think it was just the excitement of learning how to teach and educate people about health. The process of simplifying concepts, applying them to the circumstances of the women's lives, that was just really great. Also, the opportunity to learn more about a different medical system taught me a lot- watching talented doctors and nurses deal with lack of resources, think critically and innovatively. There's a doctor in Jinja who helps with HEAL's ministry, Dr. Charles, he's just wonderful, and I learned so much from him and his staff, just by watching and listening every chance I could.

TJ: What would you say the biggest challenges were for you this summer?

Meleia: I think it was probably just choosing to go and do this, rather than some other more specific nursing internship. Friends were getting jobs all over with clinics and hospitals, and I wondered if working in Uganda this summer would hold me back in some ways. But at every step, I felt carried along by God. He provided the money and a great ministry to work with and I ended up learning so much more than I ever thought that I would have. I have no doubt that I spent many more hours in patient care than I might have in an internship in the U.S.. For me, this training is exactly what I wanted - I want to go into nursing in order to have direct contact and impact on the lives of those who need it most. That is what this was. All summer, for better or worse, people looked to me medically, and I had to continually use my skills and build up my knowledge in order to meet that need.

TJ: What were the highpoints of your time in Uganda?

Meleia: Getting to know the HEAL staff and kids was such a blessing. They just really loved and accepted me as part of the team- family, even. A summer can feel so short, but I felt like I really got to live real life alongside my Ugandan friends while I was there. Other than that, seeing that women were actually learning and implementing and passing on some of the things that I was teaching... I mean, wow. That was just really humbling.

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TJ: What do you think that God taught you, or is teaching, through your work this summer?

Meleia: I think it's so easy to question what good we are doing, when we try to make a difference in the name of Jesus. But realizing that God is so much bigger than anything we do- that he can take whatever little we offer and multiply it a hundred times over... that's what I came away with. That, and the power and value of relationships. Every new friend is such a beautiful gift, and a chance to see God in new ways.

TJ: What do you see in the future? Will you continue to be involved in HEAL? Medical Missions?

Meleia: Absolutely. I have no idea what the future holds, but I really want to continue to help HEAL move toward the reality of a full-scale medical clinic in Uganda, whether I'm working there or here, or where ever. And yes, medical missions continues to be my passion and goal. I guess we'll just have to see where the Lord takes me!

Blessings From Betty

Time here is a strange thing. So much happens in each day; sometimes at the end of the day I look back and think, "Wow, I can't believe I did that this morning." The days are long, but the weeks are so short. It feels like I got here last week but I have been with HEAL Ministries for six weeks now. So much has happened in those six weeks: I have fallen in love with Uganda. But more importantly, I have fallen even more in love with her people. I get to love on 50 children every day here at The James Place. I am "Auntie Betty" to them and I love each and every one of them so much. The days are filled with playing, laughing, feeding, cleaning, naps, snacks, runny noses, drool, teaching, and growing. Our kids get to actually be kids. It's easy to forget that that isn't reality for most of the kids here in Uganda.

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Besides the kids, I also get to love on all of the staff and the women involved in our programs. Most of our staff is made up of women who have been abandoned, but their lives are filled with such joy because of their relationships with Jesus. Our women in the program have all been either abandoned or widowed, and they use the programs here at The James Place as a way to learn so they can become sustainable and provide for their children. They have the opportunity to learn English, take business courses in which they create a business plan of their own, learn how to sew and make rugs and pillows, make beads for jewelry out of paper, and we just recently started a pottery program.

I've been with the pottery class since day one and it's awesome to see how much they have learned in the few weeks that it has been going on. The other day, I watched the women start to purify the clay (it has to be purified so that it doesn't break when put in the kiln). The process involves breaking down the hard clay into smaller pieces and then crushing it with rocks and sifting out all of the bigger particles. The resulting product is finer than sand. Some of the women were so good at this process and I found out why: Isaac, our teacher, told me that it's the same method they use in the villages to make flour, by grinding the wheat down with rocks. It was an awesome moment for me, being able to see these women apply a skill that they already knew to another medium, one that can help provide a future income.

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HEAL Ministries also has an emergency shelter on the property. A few weeks ago, a 15 year old girl named Parvin showed up at our gate, due to give birth within a couple of days. She shared her story with us; her mother had died before she can remember anything, she was raped, and her father didn't believe her and wanted nothing to do with her. We had a bed open in our emergency shelter and she moved in the same day. I got to know here during the next week or so and last week I went with her to the doctor after her water broke. I held her tight as she found out she had to have a c-section. I felt her body shake with fear but felt her calm. By the time we got to the Medical Center where the procedure was to be done, she was at complete peace, a peace that only Jesus could give her. I sat in the room as she was taken away to the "theatre" for the surgery. I prayed for her and her baby while we waited. Eventually, a nurse came in with the baby. I felt so guilty because I got to see Parvin's baby before she did! We had to wait a little while longer and then I watched as people carried her body into the room. That was the scariest moment for me, watching people carry Parvin using only a bed sheet, weaving through a room of people and then getting her onto the bed. I got to watch as Parvin saw her baby for the first time. Both baby and Mama were fine. It took a couple days before she could be released, but now she is back here with us at The James Place. Both Parvin and Baby Benjamin (what an awesome name right!?) are doing well. It is amazing to me that I am going to get to watch this little bundle of life grow up for an entire year.

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So much has happened in these six weeks, and I know so much more is in store for the weeks to come. I'm excited to see how else God is going to work here, in these children, in these people, and in me.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

- Betty Ross

What Does HEAL Do?

What does HEAL do? This is a question that I asked our interns, and here are two responses:

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"When the director of missions for HEAL ministries came here in 2012, she thought she was coming to start an orphanage. But during that first year she realized that it wasn't an orphanage that Uganda needed. Uganda needed something that was going to help the abandoned women - help them find a job or start a sustainable business. She wanted to empower the women. She wanted to give them hope. She wanted to help them. So, she started going into the slum and teaching a bible study twice a week under a big tree. She taught the women about Jesus Christ and his redeeming love. She listened to their troubles and shed light into their life.

Before long she opened the James Place, which was founded on James 1:27 - "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the widows and orphans in distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by this world." This now has developed into the most beautiful place. When you walk through the gates, the first things you will notice are all the children running around. Currently, the James Place provides free childcare to 50 children, but it's more than just childcare. Did you know about 40% of children in Uganda are malnourished? HEAL combats that by feeding the children 2 healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. They give them baths everyday to not only keep them clean, but also HEALTHY! And if a woman has her child in childcare, she has to have a full time job. On top of all of that, all the childcare workers are abandoned women themselves who HEAL has cared for.

If you walk to the back of the property, you'll find the women. HEAL offers both English and business classes free of charge. English is one of the official languages in Uganda, and in order to find a good sustainable job you must be able to speak it. The business class teaches women how to run a successful business. The group that graduated from the first business class came up with the business plan for making rugs.

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Rug making is another program that HEAL sponsors. HEAL provides the ladies with all the material they need and then helps them sell their rugs! Did you know 1 rug sold could pay rent for a whole month, a semester of school fees, or a month of groceries? These rugs are providing for them. They're keeping their family together. Jewelry, pottery, sewing, and farming classes are also taught at the James Place. And Friday all they Ladies come together to have a Bible study." - Sarah Kate Brewer

 

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"This summer, I was privileged in a different way- privileged to experience life with people in another culture, to watch children grow, and to see families grow. I was privileged to see Jesus working so tangibly in the lives of others, and see how much he loves us all. He helped me see that He gives us the privilege to love others - to love the fatherless, the widows, the orphans, the abandoned, the abused, the sick, the uneducated, and the ones others have pushed away. I've learned as an intern that family is who is around you at the time that you can love and grow with. We were able to experience the first steps of babies, children being potty trained, learning how to write their names, and memorize nursery rhymes. We were able to experience new life with Joshua's baby, Charity, and the anticipation of new life with Parvin, who recently moved into the emergency shelter, nearly 9 months pregnant. We were able to pray over the families who moved into the home across the street, and rejoice with them for that gift from God. Even things like baby Blessing getting over chicken pox, and others recovering from malaria and different sicknesses were experiences that we were able to share with this family.

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Being an intern for HEAL was the coolest opportunity because we were able to meet so many wonderful people who came on teams and as leaders. The staff became family, and there were many tears on both sides as each intern left. I am so thankful for the countless people involved in HEAL ministries all over the world. It is such a blessing to see the work of the Lord carried out through the love that fills the James Place and this ministry. Without Jesus, none of what HEAL is able to do would be possible, and His work is evident in each and every day. What a blessing to have such an extended family. " - Meleia Fisher

Humbled and In Awe...

Today was one of those days that made me smile at all that happened. Not because of anything I did, but because it is so unbelievably amazing at how God can place people together at the perfect time. IMG_7552

We found three rooms right across the street for three single moms: Lydia has 2-year-old twins, Syliva has a boy and girl and Christine has two boys. One of the moms has been in our emergency shelter, and we were all so happy when we found something near by. We assisted in moving them and had a truck pick up their things...and were humbled when we watched all three pushing a suitcase that contained all their belongings. Trey decided to give one of the young ladies a bed that he was not using, and the response of joy and thankfulness brought tears to our eyes. Over and over she stated: "I've never had a bed and now I can sleep on a bed with my boys. God is so good...so so good." Then as the staff (all 20) slowly, one by one, walked across the street to pray over their new homes and see their things...more joyful noises were made; all because they were so happy to see their friends in a safe place.

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A 16-year-old girl ready to give birth walked through our gates. Parvin seemed a little distant and quiet, but as Juliana and I talked to her, she slowly began to unfold her story. Dr. Charles' office sent her to the James Place to see if we could help her in any way. This sweet young lady was raped. She has no mom and her dad refused to have anything to do with her. She stated sadly that her dad thinks she is lying. This is actually something quite common that we run into: rape or trafficking...then once pregnant...abandoned by all...kicked out of school.

Because we found the rooms across the street, we had a room open up here for emergency shelter. Because we found a room for Christine, we now have a new resident, and are about to have two new residents because the baby is due any day. It breaks my heart to think that this young girl who had her innocence robbed was going to be sleeping in the streets...scared, with nowhere to turn. Parvin brought all her things (in a suitcase the size of a carry on) and we settled her in. One of the interns took her food and water and discovered she had not eaten in the last 24 hours.

Then, I saw a transition. The children were playing outside and I noticed that Parvin was playing ball...playing catch back and forth with one of the interns. She was smiling and talking and discussing how the Bible says that we are supposed to forgive up to seventy times seven. Wow...I learned another lesson about love and forgiveness today, and all through a child that has been mistreated...a child forced to grow up with a bright attitude.

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All four ladies were smiling and talking. All six of their children (about to be seven) were playing and laughing. People say constantly that the childcare program is wonderful, but they have no idea how wonderful it really is, because they usually don't know the stories. These four families are sleeping safely and happily tonight because of HEAL Ministries...all because they all four walked through the gates of the James Place. All at different times, but all similar stories. All of this could only be designed by God. No matter how much I plan, no matter what I "think" is going on here in this place; I'm constantly in awe of the Creator that knows best, the One in control and the One looking down smiling tonight as Parvin, Lydia, Sylvia and Christine sleep soundly.

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What I Learned

I sat with the women who make the t-shirt rugs. They are a hard-working, lovely group. One woman, Sylvia, laughed when I told her she will be my mom in Uganda because that's my mother's name. Earlier, as we drove into town, my teammate and I talked about all the stressing out we did about packing and how it was meaningless...utterly meaningless. While we want to represent the ministry, our respective sending churches and Jesus well, the point is in the relationships. What is most meaningful is asking how to cut the fabric properly, or simply, " What is your name?" Hearing these women laugh amidst the joyful noise of crowing roosters and toddlers playing, it reminds me of my own church's worship. When the Holy Spirit is present, the music is prayed over and the instruments and voices are in unison along with the congregation, you know that the offering was fragrant and pleasing. It was the same dynamic today. Just a few short moments ago, I sat on mat cutting strips of cloth (terribly, I might add) listening to the women converse in a euphonious harmony of Luganda and laughter. I sensed that I belonged. It was important that I be accepted. IMG_9231

What have I learned through today's experience? That God is bigger than my control issues/fear of flying and failure. He is bigger than my disappointments and heartache. He is bigger than my anxiety and uncertainty. Yes, He is the mastermind and in the center of all that I deem chaotic, where He sees His perfect will coming to fruition.

And the James Place/HEAL Ministries is doing His will. The joy seen in the faces and lives of His servants is clearly from the Joy-Giver.

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The James Place provides a safe place for empowering women and enriching the lives of their children. Business classes, pre-school and Bible study are the norm. Women learn the fundamentals of business, complete with a business plan to be put into practice. They are a group of women with such a determination to succeed and a deep sense of pride in the products and works of art they create. The children are received in a caring and stimulating environment where they learn their ABCs and numbers. Most importantly, they learn about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The worship and Bible study is a picture of heaven. It is a true sense of community, learning from each other as they sing and pray.

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And that's what happens here in this amazing place: we learn from each other. Through each moment and relationship built, Bible verse learned and pre-school song sung; we are continually growing as a community of people who love one another.

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Amber McNeil - Chicago, Illinois

To Sum It All Up...

It's hard to sum up a team. It's hard to sum up a day sometimes. Many ask me, "What is the average day like at the James Place?" There is no average. There is no normal. Each day is loaded with love and excitement, trials and problems, joys and milestones, and always...the unexpected. Each day something comes through the gate that causes us to stop what we are doing and deal with the priority at hand. pic 1

The team that we just said goodbye to is a great example of a group of people that dealt with the unexpected. They had tiring, exhausting days full of love and full of problems. There was a stomach bug that traveled through 4 of them. There was lost luggage and a lack of clothes, towels and even hot water at times. There were a few times with no power. But through it all, the team experienced a life changing adventure.

They got to see a baby being named. That was one of the joys. Joshua is the James Place assistant to Operations and he asked me, Jaja Tina, to name his baby. This is an African tradition and an honor and I took it very seriously. Because Joshua's family has given so much love to us and to the James Place, I named the baby Charity, from 1 Corinthian's 13:13.

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The team got to visit different homes: one in the village with Fazirra (abandoned mom with 7 children), one in the village with a staff member, and they got to see homes in Masese that were not what they were used to seeing. Masese was hard for them - as it is for most people the first time they see it. Even then, the team shared that it was the most joyful act of worship they had experienced. The joy and love on the faces of the little ones with torn, dirty clothes melts your heart.

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The team visited a private boarding school with three girls that HEAL mentors and got to learn their beautiful story of redemption. Irene, the auntee of two of them and mother of one of them, has returned to the family and now works for HEAL. It is a beautiful story of love, hope and forgiveness. It was also a tearful reunion when the three girls ran into the arms of Joshua, the James Place driver and Operations Assistant...another perfect example of family at the James Place.

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They got to visit partnering organizations: Canaan Children's home, Amani Baby Cottage, Serving His Children, and Ekisa. They experienced what love looks like on many different levels at each place. They also fell in love with the 50 children in childcare at the James Place and participated in chores each day, developing a new appreciation for all the work required to run the James Place. The women's Bible study was another experience that was touching and sweet. The women showed the team true worship and shared what forgiveness looks like. They discussed hard places to forgive and then laid that down at the foot of the cross - literally.

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They saw how many people needed medical care and school fees...and how each person walking through the gates felt love and family. I am often asked this question, "Would you rather 10 people give HEAL Ministries the money that they spend on a mission trip, OR would you rather the 10 people show up to serve?" Great question! Ten people usually spend an average of $3500 each to come to Uganda. That is $35,000 that would actually go a long way!

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And yet, my answer is the same after years and years of leading and hosting teams. 100% of the time, my answer is..."SEND THE TEAM!" While I'm quite sure that the Lord blessed each team member more than they even realize, the blessings on this end continue. I see abandoned women and children smiling when a team member encourages them. I see a child laughing while a team member plays soccer with him. I see a woman smiling and connecting with a team member, and the team member doesn't even know that her husband just left her to be with another family and that her baby died a month ago.

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I see HOPE through the eyes of the team members. I see Jesus in the skin, and I see that more than ever, our Creator was brilliant. He created us to be in relationship with each other and He created people to travel across the world to give hope and to spread encouragement to the nations.

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