Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to help imprisoned children

Yesterday I told you about our visit to the imprisoned children in the Ugandan remand homes.

Did you know that many of the children in the remand homes have done nothing wrong? They are there due to neglect, abuse, or orphaned and left on the streets. Sometimes there parents send them to the streets to beg and they are picked up by the police to clean the streets. Sixty Feet tries to reunite the children with their families when possible. What about the rest of them that have done nothing wrong, but have no place to go? What about the youngest and most vulnerable children?

Yes, there are orphanages in Uganda, but did you know they won't take children from the remand homes? Some wonderful families will take them in, but it is very much frowned upon. Dan & Shelly Owens of Sixty Feet found a pastor willing to look after their two children from a remand home until their adoption of them was final. The church supporting the pastor ordered him, in no uncertain terms, to get rid of the children. The church told them they simply could not stay. Orphans, yes. The dirty, dangerous, sickly children from M, no. “Return those children to M, immediately” were the instructions. They refused. They stood up to their church, to the white, American-born senior pastor, to all the elders and said “no way.” We will not leave these children as orphans. We will not return them to M. “Then you stand to lose everything,” said their church. "Either the children go -- or you go. You will lose your home, your job, your income. This will cost you everything." (full story here.)

Sixty Feet has been able to remove some of the older children and place them with Cornerstone Development, but there simply isn't enough room for them all.

So how can you help? Sixty Feet had a BIG DREAM to build a children's home to take in the most vulnerable, most desperate children at M1 and the other facilities didn’t have to be there. Recently, several incredible donors have stepped forward to offer a whopping $60,000 as a matching gift in order to make this dream a reality. Yes, that was not a typo and you read it correctly. Every dollar raised between today and December 31, 2011 – up to $60,000 – will be matched, dollar for dollar!

To donate to this amazing cause, to have your donation matched dollar for dollar, and to make a big difference this Christmas, click HERE

Can you please -
Pray for these children!
Come to a showing of Sixty Feet's film Bereaved to learn more!
Share their story with your friends! 
Give even the smallest amount and it will be matched!
Consider coming with us October 2012 on a two week trip to show God's love to these children!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Imprisoned Children

Where to start? I've been putting off this post for too long not knowing exactly what to say. In July we visited two remand homes in Kampala, Uganda through the ministry of Sixty Feet. Sixty Feet is working to improve conditions in the government fun facilities by providing clean water, electricity, better food, mattresses, and most importantly the hope only Christ can provide. Their mission statement is to bring hope and restoration to the imprisoned children of Africa in Jesus' name.

I first learned about Sixty Feet in March when I was able to view their film, Bereaved, at a friend's church. I was heartbroken for the children and wanted so badly to go show them God's love! I met Dan Owens of Sixty Feet and told him about our upcoming trip to Uganda with Visiting Orphans and how much we would love to visit. He said they were planning to meet with Visiting Orphans about a possible partnership. Then a few months later I saw a video of another Visiting Orphans team singing to boys at one of the remand homes. I told our trip leader how much I would love to visit and then it showed up on our itinerary!!

The day of our visit there was a miscommunication and we were not able to go. It was our 13th wedding anniversary and I was really looking forward to visiting the remand homes (sounds crazy, I know). Little did I know God had other plans. Moses, the in-country director of Sixty Feet, was able to visit us that evening after dinner to give his testimony tell us all about the ministry. It was late, but I clung onto every word. As he was leaving we asked our team leader if there was any way a few of us could go visit the next day. She ran out to Moses' van to ask. He said he had room for 9 and would pick us up in the morning! The rest of the team would visit the other mission scheduled that day.

Moses is an amazing man! He had a hard life growing up and was a street kid for a while until missionaries helped him get into school. Now he helps others in similar situations. "My ultimate desire is that God always should use me to enable children of such background as mine to achieve greater things even more than I have achieved, and also help them forgive their past and lead their lives as God truly desires of Us." He works tirelessly on behalf of these children to give them a second chance. He visits each center weekly. He cares for their well being while at the remand homes and tries to either reunite them with family or find somewhere else for them to live when they get out.

We first visited M2. It is a remand home for children 12-18 years old who have been convicted of a crime. Their crimes range from petty theft all the way to murder. 165 kids all in a place designed for 50. When we arrived all the kids (majority older boys) were seated in one room. Becca brought her guitar and we sang a few songs, taught them one, and they sang us a song. Then we sat down and talked to a few of them and heard their stories. One boy needed money so he could use the phone to call his parents because they had no idea he was in there. Another boys employer had accused him of stealing so they didn't have to pay him for his hard work. Some were there because there caregivers sent them.

They gave us a tour of the facility and we ended in the girl's dorm. Our group consisted of 8 females and 1 male. The prison consisted of approximately 15 females and 150 males. Naturally we stayed with the girls and visited with them for a while. There I found Lori* tucked away in a bed in the corner very ill. She had a fever and had been sick for two and a half weeks with who knows what. They were giving her malaria medication, but she was still sick. Later someone told me they suspect she had typhoid. I spent time talking to her, praying, and trying my best to encourage her. I had no experience encouraging someone very ill.... and in prison... and in Africa. Oh I've prayed with people in an American hospital bed, but this was so much different. I asked the Lord right words. Taking a cue from Becca I saw Lori had a Bible and asked her what her favorite passage was. Her Bible was in Lugandan, but she translated the first few verses of Psalm 63:

1 You, God, are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
  I thirst for you,
   my whole being longs for you,
  in a dry and parched land
   where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
   and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
   my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
   and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

WOW! I told her to keep praying the Psalms and hide God's word in her heart. She was in a pretty desperate situation with little hope, but God had not forgotten about her and loves her dearly.

Since Bill and I were leading this small team and it was sort of fly by the seat of our pants I wanted to go check in with Bill who was in another part of the prison. Lori was so desperate for a friend and did not want me to leave. She clung to my hand even though I assured her I would soon return. I came back with a few suckers and her mood improved though I could not get her to smile. Finally I figured out that she was ticklish and got to see her beautiful smile. I will never forget her & pray for her often!

We left M2 and drove a short distance to M3. It is a remand home for children 8 and under. When we visited there were approximately 175 children with only 3 staff. We were unable to take pictures at this facility. The children here are babies found in trash cans, children abandoned on the street, children whose parents are in jail, and children with handicaps. Some children may have become separated from there parents on a busy street and lost. They now reside here until their parents can pick them up - if they ever find out they are there. There is a local television station that has pictures of the children hoping their parents will see and come pick them up. Unfortunately many of their parents do not have televisions.

photo courtesy of Daily Monitor
These children desperately need love and attention that the staff simply cannot provide. Some cried out for attention while others had internalized their cries long ago because they were not being heard. Some were completely numb. One little boy walked around in his own world not even realizing we were there. I reached out to another boy to hold his hand and he grabbed my forearm and ran his hand back and forth very intensely. It was as if he had been starved of human touch and no one had offered any.

The living conditions are not ideal. They put themselves to sleep on the concrete floor. For the past year there was only one light in the whole place. Many children are young and not potty trained. They walk around with only a shirt and no shorts or underwear. Praise the Lord for Sixty Feet and the funds they have been able to raise! They recently delivered mattresses for them to sleep on! There was an electrician installing lights when we visited! We were able to bring a huge tote of cloth diapers donated by some wonderful new friends.

Please pray for these beautiful children that God loves so dearly! They need food, love and attention. Pray for the staff of Sixty Feet both here and in-country! Shortly after their first visit to M1, they found out their were more of these facilities around Uganda. They have since found 7. Moses and the other in-country staff visit all these children weekly & share the gospel. It is exhausting work both physically and mentally.

How can you help? More on that tomorrow!!