Adventures in Africa

From Scott (GO’s Global Development Manager serving in Africa)

I’m currently sitting in a guesthouse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We returned today from a three-day trip to the southern part of the country where we were meeting with our local church partners in Hossana and Koncko. Hossana is a city of approximately 500,000 people and has just begun digging the foundation for the first two “Father’s House” homes in Ethiopia. (The name Father’s House comes from a blending of two different passages in the Bible “let the little children come unto me . . . in my Father’s house are many rooms.”) The church in Hossana is one that I have been working with for several months and it is good to see physical progress being made. The hope is to have 20 children living at the Father’s House in Hossana by early September when the new school year begins.

Koncko is a tiny village even further south in the highlands. We signed a memorandum of understanding with the leadership from that church yesterday agreeing to assist them in building two small, local homes near the church where as many as ten boys and ten girls who previously had no adult guardian will be cared for. There are a few more planning and budgeting steps to be worked through over the next few months and then Koncko will become the second Father’s House in Ethiopia. It is the hope that other churches in the area will see what these are doing to care for the children in a simple, local context and will desire to follow suit. If and when that happens, we will be happy to help them get started.

In other good news, we recently visited a new Father’s House (FH) site in southern Uganda in a town called Rukore which is at the top of a mountain on the border with Rwanda. The construction in Rukore finished this spring and there are now 80 children who are living there. After the amazing views, one of the first things visitors to the Rukore FH site will notice is the joy of the Mommas who are caring for the daily needs of the children. The mothers were absolutely beaming as they invited us into their new homes and introduced us to their children. (left) The pastor of the local church who has been the champion of the Rukore FH is Obed and the best word to describe him is jolly. Obed has been incredibly faithful and diligent in his oversight of the construction and now it is clear that he and the management committee did as good of a job choosing mothers for the children as they did managing the construction.

Among the children we met at Rukore FH was a little boy named Owen. Owen is about 5 years old and has already experienced more trauma than most of us will in our entire lives. Owen’s entire chest is covered with enormous burns and scarring. Both of Owen’s parents are mentally unstable and it is unclear if the burns were intentional or due to carelessness and neglect. Owen currently has a shell-shocked, hundred yard gaze that makes you want to hug him, cry for him, and do anything you can to “fix” him. However, I can’t do anything to fix him. I do take comfort in knowing that Owen is going to be in an environment now that is loving, consistent, and where he is being taught the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ who was also scarred and wounded though innocent. I don’t know how Owen’s life will progress and I am not in control. What I do know is that this is a messy ministry and that God is in control of the outcomes.

We also recently completed a whirlwind driving tour of Uganda with Joe Knittig, my boss from the US. The main purpose of the trip was to focus on opportunities to make the Father’s House model more sustainable. The idea of sending aid checks from the US to Uganda (and the other countries) ad infinitum is one that needs reform. We don’t like it, donors don’t like it, and it erodes the dignity of the recipients. Instead, we are starting small businesses in the countries where we are operating and using the profits from those businesses to support the care of the children. The first type of businesses we are starting are vertically integrated businesses. When you bring children into care, you create a demand for clothing and food among other things. Instead of buying clothing from China, why not start small sewing shops locally and send them purchase orders instead of clothes. We can serve as the first customer to these sewing centers and supply them with steady business while they learn the ropes and begin soliciting other local orders.

Similarly, why continue sending money for food when we could help establish local farms to produce for the needs of the children? At the same time, the older children can be taught about agriculture how to care for livestock (goats, chickens, rabbits, pigs). We have already started small gardens at most of the FH sites which are providing for some of the nutrition needs and we hope to expand on this concept by starting a couple small regional farms with a bit more acreage.

In Kampala, we are exploring a mixed use real-estate venture for which we would also be the first customer. We are looking into the feasibility of building a mixed use real-estate complex where we would rent a few units for housing, one for our office, and add some light manufacturing space to rent to some of our friends who are in need. The hope is to recoup some of our own costs while at the same time creating a continuous income stream to support the ministry.

In addition to these, there are a few other ideas we are looking into including a storage facility to buy crops at harvest and store them to re-sell when prices rebound, a private school, and a potential partnership with a local coffee shop to either open a franchise or arrange to provide up-front capital in exchange for ongoing profit-sharing. Joe has written a few blogs about this trip. Here are a couple links if you are interested: A business man helping others reach their dreams in Africa and A cafe in Uganda caring for children.

I am really looking forward to the arrival of my friend, Sam Roberts, who will be coming from Austin to join me in all of this in about a week.

I have also had a few fun opportunities recently which were not work related. Two of my good friends in Kampala were preparing to return to the US for good and we threw them a surprise going away party. It began as a BBQ in a front yard and then transitioned to a nearby run-down amusement park. It cost just $4 to enter and was worth every shilling. Here are the reasons it was awesome: no lines, no rules, great people, and the added fear factor of the poorly maintained rides. A typical water slide which would not be worth waiting in line for in the US becomes a blast when there is no line and you can go backwards, upside down, in a train, standing up, or with a drink in your hand. This is what it must have been like back in the days before people got hurt and started suing.

I also had the privilege of attending a traditional Kwanjula, (introduction) ceremony. This is the ceremony before a wedding when a bride and groom are introduced and the father’s permission is sought. There is a lot of singing, dancing, exchanging of gifts, exchanging of corny jokes, and feasting that goes along with it. Two of my friends got engaged and are planning to get married in the US later this month but wanted to have a traditional introduction for all of their friends in Uganda. I wore the appropriate attire for men, the konzu. (right) It is a flowing robe worn over your suit pants but under your suit jacket. The result looks like a man showed up in a nightgown to a country club where a sport coat was required and was forced to borrow one. The women wear gomesis, brightly colored dresses with sashes and huge shoulders.

I know that many of you are praying for me faithfully and I really appreciate it. I will be back stateside again in December and will look forward to seeing many of you then.