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I want to introduce you to one of my heros: Sharon, 27 years old, Ugandan, grew up in an orphanage. I think after you hear her story she might be one of your heros too.

Poverty is often the story of children becoming orphaned. Even though both parents are still alive, they know they cannot care for their child adequately and thus turn them over to the care of an orphanage. Sharon grew up in a family that echoed this story and therefore became an orphan herself.

At the age of 12, Sharon became friends with a Canadian missionary who quickly realized that Sharon was not in school like the other children. After some research, this sweet soul offered to sponsor Sharon’s education. Sharon went on to finish all of her schooling and even graduate from university. (!!!!!!) While Sharon was receiving her education she realized that she wanted to share this precious gift to help other children like herself. She knew she wanted to pour back into the abandoned children of Uganda. After graduating from university, she began arranging a small guest house business where she would rent out rooms to visitors traveling through Jinja. As time passed she gained enough earnings to open a small orphanage on the edge of town. But Sharon didn’t stop there. Although she loved being able to take care of these precious children, she saw the value and power of educating their parents. This would not only keep children from becoming orphans but enable parents to bring home the children they were once forced to give up. Sharon started small businesses, health classes, and parenting classes in the villages where all the babies were from.  And thus Arise and Shine Uganda began.

That was three years ago. Three years of hard, get your hands, clothes, and everything else dirty kind of work, but Sharon didn’t do it alone. The ladies who take care of the children are called Aunties. There could not be a more fitting word. These women genuinely love and care for each child. They pick them up when they’re crying, they hand feed them, and they wipe up poop and urine without even a grimace on their face. Some of the aunties have been with Arise and Shine since the doors opened in 2011. They worked and took care of the children without getting paid. They worked and loved these kids because no one else would.

Now, when donations are steady, they each take home a low monthly paycheck. Most of them have children of their own and most of their paycheck goes towards education fees. However, when donations are low, sometimes the caregivers and other workers around the home go unpaid. Their work does not suffer, they continue to give their best for these kids and never complain. While at the babies home it surfaced that 2 of the Aunties had malaria. They were still at work. Without complaining. They each had over an hour walk to work, spent 12 hours serving 30+ needy children and then an hour+ walk home. Never once complaining.

These women blow my mind. They love well and they serve well. They have some of the hardest jobs both physically and emotionally, and yet they still find joy and strength and (again, sorry to keep repeating myself) never complain.

While we spent time picking up children we often times sat with the aunties and heard their stories. Some of our team members became quite attached to a few of the aunties and have dreamed of a way to bless them. In a few weeks, we will begin sponsorship programs for not only the children but also the Aunties of Arise and Shine. Again, yes they are paid employees, but they often times go without receiving a paycheck because funding is low. We will provide a steady income for these aunties who are working their butts off to serve the fatherless. These are the real heros. The ones that stay day in and day out (even when they have malaria!).  We know that consistency is a huge factor in child development, and it is beautifully obvious that these aunties are one of the most constant things these kids have right now. What better way to get involved in orphan care than to provide support to these strong and powerful women to better love these kids.

Stay tuned, we’ll be announcing soon how you can donate to these wonderful women!

(A huge thanks to our Media Mission team for helping make this post happen. The pictures and text are a collaborative effort and we’re so thankful for their loving hearts!)

There’s an undefinable comfort in familiarity. The smell of your favorite morning beverage as the light breaks over the window sill, the strange sound your house makes in the middle of the night, the feeling of plopping down in your favorite spot after a hard day of work…the sound of exotic birds chirping before the sun rises and the military marching through the streets calling Uganda to ‘wake up’…

Parts of Jinja have become so comfortable that I can’t imagine not having them as a normal part of my day. From the continual feeling of dirt on your skin to the different smells as you walk down the street, they are all comforting and welcomed now.

Our time here has come to an end. The relationships that spread deep roots in such a short time will continue to grow as will everyone’s hard work to help end the orphan crisis. That’s why we’ve come here. That’s why we care. We might not all be called to adopt, but we are all called to serve the fatherless. We believe, that if we work together and share all different sides of orphan care, that slowly, one story at a time, we can make an impact on the amount of orphans in the world. We believe in reintegration. We believe that you can help educated and serve parents who have had to give their children up. We believe in sponsoring children. We believe that you can help serve the women and men who daily work in orphanages. We believe in adoption and we believe that some of you might be called to adopt and just don’t know it yet. But that’s why we’re here, that’s why all of us came. We want to share the stories of the men, women and children of Uganda and show you and your loved ones all different sides of orphan care. No longer will the phrase, ‘I’m not called to adopt’ be an excuse to getting out of orphan care. You have seen and will continue to see ways in which you can help. In the following weeks we will introduce you to ways you can give, financially and/or with your acts of service to help end the orphan crisis. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not something we can put a band aide on. But over time, you and I can make a difference.

Join us!

  • March 17, 2014 - 9:02 pm

    Christyn - beautifully said. keep sharing.

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Before he’d let us in the van that was to take us to the village Sharon was born in, our loyal driver, Richard, had one warning:

“The road to the village is like life. Sometimes it has its ups, sometimes its downs. Sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes not so much. But we’re together and we’re okay.”

We spent the next three hours bouncing around seatbeltless on roads that would be deemed impassable in the states but here are just fine, so long as you watch for oncoming traffic veering into your lane to avoid the goats/cows/small-car sized pot holes and hope they do the same for you.

When we got close to the village, Sharon taught us to say hello/goodbye (‘Jambo”) and a few other simple phrases that we yelled out the window, ill-timed, to the children waving and running towards the van, elated at the chance of any visitors, but especially mzungus.

After arriving, the headmaster gave us a tour of the Arise and Shine school, which is not actually a building but rather clusters of benches beneath trees and inside abandoned brick structures. Students grouped by grade greeted us with welcome songs and shy smiles, obediently answering our questions translated by the teachers.

Then came Faith. She rode towards us all smiles, pedaling her bicycle with steel arms and greeting us as long lost friends finally returned home to her.

Faith’s story is one of trial greater than any I have ever known.  But as she sat in front of us with her arms around her children, and told us through tears about how she lost her legs, her husband and her children, she framed her story as one of many blessings: to have met Sharon, to have found work despite her handicap, to have earned her babies back and to have us there to hear about it.

“I’m never complaining about anything again,” Katie whispered as we got up to continue our tour.

Next Sharon showed us the sewing room where women trained through the Arise and Shine jobs program come every afternoon to work. Fifteen seamstresses in dresses spanning the color wheel sat sewing traditional Ugandan garments to be sold in Jinja, many with one baby at the breast and another on the floor beside them. They exploded into song and dance when we walked in, bright teeth beaming through the dim room and beckoning us to join them.

Just down the road, another group of women sat beneath a drooping Marula tree stringing beads onto rolled paper necklaces to be taken to the market, where they would be sold for 5,000 shillings, or about $2 a piece. The money would be used to supplement the income lost during these dry months, the most difficult for the subsistence farmers.

When it was nearing time for us to leave, the headmaster called us back over to the school to say goodbye to the children, who had lined up in rows in their bright orange uniforms. With three of the older girls taking the lead and a teacher on the drum, they began to stomp, clap and sing as if they were born with rhythm flowing through their veins, pumping song straight into their hearts. It was deep and rich and of God, and I realized these people weren’t poor at all.

It rained on the drive home, and everything looked different. But Richard was right. We were together and we were okay.

-Maggie Shafer

  • March 17, 2014 - 5:30 pm

    Nancy Canty - Lots of questions get answered within the photography such as, do the children wear shoes? Also, with the photos of the women who sew, it’s apparent that the Singers are what we would call the ‘old fashioned’ kind that run with the non-electric foot petal. My guess is that there isn’t any electricity at the Arise and Shine community. Do the women who work with sewing and beading bring their school-aged children to attend class while they are working? Does the school then act as a sort of onsight child care for the workers’ older children, the no longer infants at breast or toddlers? If one wanted to "adopt" so to speak the Arise and Shine community with non-monetary donations such as clothing, shoes and school supplies, is there a way to send these items directly to them? These people have captured my heart through your writing and photography.

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While interviewing all of the Media Mission applicants a lot of prayer and thought went into the final nine. Ultimately the Lord was very clear as to who was supposed to come to Uganda. We never doubted any of our choices.

During the weeks leading up to our time in Jinja confessions surfaced from different members about fear of not being good enough or worries of not being affective. Again, we never doubted anyone.

The first night everyone was here we gathered around a table and communed. Everyone shared their hearts and fears, prayers and emotions of going into such a deep sea of orphan care.  The problems we’re encountering are bigger than adoption. The brokenness of families who are forced to give their children up are deeper than the lack of education and poverty. We were not sent here to fix. We were sent here to listen to the needs as seen by the Ugandan people who daily live and serve at Arise and Shine and try to begin understanding some root issues that we might share with the world. We are to do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

I’ll admit, the week before our team showed up I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what we were going to do. There is too much to even begin to scratch the surface. But yesterday, yesterday when our team sat around the orphanage director and heard her story everything changed. She shared with them that she too was raised in an orphanage and that at the age of 12 someone sponsored her to go to school. She was sponsored all the way through University and she knew from the very beginning that she wanted to use her education to serve other orphans in her community. As she began sharing the needs of the babies home I was humbled to my core. Every single person on our team began dreaming big with her. Everyone is here to help her and her workers love these kids better. Some are helping her with reintegrating the children back into their homes, others want to help figure out a way to educate local Ugandans on the need of adoption in their country and others want to learn everything they can about these children so they can provide accurate information for sponsorships. Our team wants to help. They want to listen. They want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to this nation and Nick and I couldn’t be anymore excited to watch the Holy Spirit flow through them.

-Whitney

I’ve sat out to write this blog post several times. However, as before any of our overseas trips, the work pile grows higher and higher, things arise and deadlines must be met. So now, with iced coffee in hand and our loyal retriever at my side I can steal a few free moments to answer a rather large, reoccurring question.

Why are we doing a Media Mission? 

In short, because we believe the Lord led us to do this.

For as long as I’ve been a spirit filled Christian I can remember praying that Jesus would give me His heart for His people. I had grand ideas of what this would look like, of people groups my soul had a passion for and I was sure that God would call me to serve. To be honest, neither Nick or myself had a huge heart for orphans or adoption. Granted, I have wanted to adopt since college, however that was as far as my passion went. And out of nowhere the Lord very vividly called us to document the adoption of a little Bulgarian boy and thus began The Archibald Project, (we can expound on that later because it’s one of my favorite stories to tell!). I don’t know about you, but the Lord often speaks to my heart while I’m driving. Sometime while working with a lawyer to officially become a 501c-3 I asked God ‘why this, why orphan care?’ (and yes I was on the highway), when I felt an overwhelming answer of, “because you’ve prayed to have My heart for My people and My heart is for the orphan.” Of course tears welled up in my eyes and I experienced a humility like never before.

Fast forward a year or so, put me in my car again, and I’m praying about The Archibald Project. That’s when it hit me, “take a team of artists to Uganda and document my children.” It probably wasn’t as direct as that, but the idea of the Media Mission was born. The Lord placed it on our hearts to take a team of people to a town we fell in love with, and have them create stories around orphans with the hope of inspiring people to take action to serve the fatherless. By empowering a larger group of artists to tell these stories we are able to impact multiple communities and groups of people that might not ever see life from an orphan’s perspective. Each time we’ve told a story we reach a certain audience, our audience, our community. Now, with bringing a team along, the amount of people who might be inspired into service will be 9 times larger. Which means, at the end of the day, that many more people will have a personal connection with the life and story of an orphan.  And hopefully, people will no longer see orphans as orphans, but as children who are real, have names, unique personalities, and a desire to have a mama and papa.

We’ve received so many emails from people wanting to work for and volunteer with T.A.P, but up until this point we haven’t had anything to offer. We tried, oh believe me we tried. We so badly wanted to hire people and grow T.A.P into what we wanted it to be. But we’ve been forced to learn, and are still learning, that we must wait on the Lord.

Waiting can be hard, but when the outcome is the leading and provision of the Holy Spirit it can make all the difference in the world. I’m so thankful we pushed through the hardships and (sometimes kicking and screaming) waited on God’s direction. And now, He has created a media mission in which we get to take part! We haven’t even left yet and we’re already seeing our team members inspire others about adoption. Not one team member has taken a single picture of the precious children in the Arise and Shine orphanage and God is already moving in people’s hearts to serve and even adopt in our team members communities.

So that is why we are doing a Media Mission. We waited, we felt led and God opened every single door. He has provided us with an amazing team of 9 artists from all over the U.S with whom we could not be more excited to work.

We, Nick and myself, leave in 7 days to prepare the way for our team. If you’re wondering how you can help, the biggest need we have right now is that you simply share our media. We have seen people directly adopt because of stories we’ve been able to tell. We believe that the more people who see media coverage from this trip the more people will likely be inspired to serve. Whether its through adoption, volunteering, moving to another country, becoming a CIS worker here in the states, beginning foster care classes, you name it, we want to see it!

See you cats in Uganda!

-Whitney

  • March 4, 2014 - 4:00 pm

    abby - Hi Whitney! I was so close to applying to the this media mission in Uganda. I’ve been once before and fell in love. My husband and I are also in the process of adopting from Uganda…we are waiting on a match from our agency and we’ve hit a few bumps in the road (of course…adoption is not easy). I love what you’re doing and can’t wait to see more. I also wonder if you’ll still be in Uganda for the rest of March because I am now taking a trip with a good friend to volunteer at Arise and Shine and We Spread the Love with Mary. I’d love to meet you! :)

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