When someone from the U.S. finds himself on the outskirts of Mubende, Uganda, the phrase “a world apart” takes on a real meaning. Food, accommodations, music, traffic, roads, and the general way of life is a dizzying experience that’s difficult to put into words to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand. But upon returning home, the attempt is made. It’s probably my fault, but conversations always end with some sort of sentiment of pity and sorrow – especially when the subject of the children comes up. Maybe this time it will be a little different.
Our Father’s School seems as though it’s in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps it is. Any electricity is produced through a small Honda generator. The plumbing, well, is a hole in the ground. And the water is collected daily by the children from a running stream down the road which is shared by some local cows and goats. A percentage of the children at this school are orphans and are taken care of by Patrick Kibirige, a local Ugandan with a heart for children. The rest have a family. All of them live in a way that is completely foreign to anyone who is reading this.
But if you ever can make it down the worn out mud road and up the hill and through the gate to Our Father’s School, you’ll see the obvious differences. And those differences for sure will create an inward tension. And many times, that tension will produce a feeling of sorrow. But then you’ll see those things that equalize every culture. Those same children who have caused a sadness inside you will be the same ones running, playing, dancing, singing, and yes, even smiling – a lot. And here comes a second round of tension. Why and how? Why are they happy? Why do they even seem happier than some of our own children? How can they be happy when they don’t have anything like what we have?
My time in the developing world has taught me that God’s grace is a global truth. This is where happiness comes from. It is God’s grace that puts smiles on the faces and joy into the hearts of anyone and everyone around the world. This happiness isn’t contingent on what we have or don’t have. Many of us know firsthand how things can be taken away – and sometimes quickly and painfully. True, deep-seated joy is a miraculous gift that is seen even in the hardest places.
“True, deep-seated joy is a miraculous gift that is seen even in the hardest places.”
But another truth that is experienced by all is need. We all have needs in some capacity. And as those who have first experienced love, we are inwardly compelled to look out into the world in order to help those with and in times of need. We don’t close our eyes to the brokenness around us and throughout the globe. Instead, we immerse ourselves even in the areas of life that bring us the most tension, and we try to restore dignity to those who find themselves in difficult situations.
“…we immerse ourselves even in the areas of life that bring us the most tension, and we try to restore dignity…”
This is why I have grown to appreciate and admire the mission of Agape North. As we all do, I like their shirts. But it’s their mission that is compelling to provide school uniforms to those in the under-resourced areas. Seeing it firsthand, this mission shined in Uganda. Not out of pity or feeling sorry for anyone, but by recognizing a need and putting their hand to meeting that need, Agape North provided 200 school uniforms to the children of Our Father’s School – through a purchase of shirts from Hilton Hotels. This provided children who only had one set of clothes with a real uniform which brought pride and dignity to the children, the teachers, and the school. That was a good gift, but that in itself didn’t impress me as much as the way they went about it. They spent time communicating with the director of the school about the need and the context in which they were serving. During that time, they realized that the Ugandan culture needed a certain type of uniform (both top and bottom) and in a different style than what’s typical for Agape North to provide. Not only were they culturally sensitive and flexible, they even allowed the uniforms to be made in Uganda by a local seamstress in order to help her, her family, and the local economy, forgoing their branding and symbol being placed on the shirts.
Meeting needs without a posture of superiority or an attitude of pity but with humility and contextual sensitivity is how to do work in God’s kingdom throughout the world. This is what Agape North is doing. And their working is making an impact. A student named Ahiro says this,
“Hello every one, my name is Ariho Silver, I go to Our Father’s orphan School Uganda, am in primary seven. I thank Agape North for providing me with a school uniform, I have never dreamt of having a school uniform because I couldn’t afford getting one for myself since am an orphan but so thankful to God that I got one. Long live Agape North.”
I am happy to be connected to this business/mission and thank them for the work they do in the city of Memphis and throughout the world.
Will Savell / The Grace Institute / www.thegraceinstituteintl.com