by Mommy Emily

*thanks to World Help for photos from my first trip to Uganda/Rwanda in 2014

Nearly six years ago now, emptied by a recent miscarriage and swollen with a writer’s pride, I stepped off the plane in Uganda, Africa, on a blogger’s trip, to be immediately humbled and filled. 

(me with fellow bloggers and World Help leaders)

I was humbled by the the gummy laughter of jajjas who picked through garbage to feed their grandchildren; by the firm handshakes of mothers who then returned to washing their kids’ clothes in basins of soapy water on the red slum floors; by the hug of skinny little children with a smile as white as coconut milk; by the gentle, quiet grace of pastors with suits hanging five sizes too big off their thin bodies. 

(receiving the best hug of my life from a little girl in the slums of Kampala, Uganda)

Everywhere was life abundant and poverty rampant. Life abundant in the fruit trees and the lush greens of rolling hills and the crystal blue of Lake Victoria and the goats and chickens and cows picking their way through traffic; poverty rampant in children with no school fees and mothers mixing dirt with water because they had no food, again, for their children and fathers with no jobs and too many wives. 

As the song goes, all I once held dear I now counted as loss — all for the sake of knowing Jesus through these precious ones who felt like family.

(listening to a nurse in Kampala, Uganda talk about finding a malnourished 7-year-old who was the weight of a 3-year-old)

But I saw something else too. I saw the wreckage that western organizations had left behind. I saw many white people holding dark babies (as I, admittedly, was doing!) and I saw many ministries doing wonderful things but it was all held together by the purse strings of the west. I saw KFC’s and girls in so many designer clothes and bags, and I saw mega churches preaching an American gospel, a prosperity gospel, right next door to the slums and the pastor with the suit five sizes too large. I saw buildings with plaques saying “donated by” and western names over everything. I saw mothers being separated from their children because a western ministry had decided they could do a better job of taking care of the children. 

And one thought kept trailing through my mind even as I met the mother of my sponsor child — a peasant farmer who’d walked four hours just to meet me at her son’s school, a western school. She’d lost all her children to this school as she couldn’t earn enough even though her calloused fingers told me she worked harder than I’d ever worked a day in my life. Her husband had just died of HIV Aids. And here I was, standing between her and her child, him looking admiringly at me when I wanted him to look, instead, at the woman who’d given him life. 

(in the villages of Uganda with my sponsor child and his mother)

The thought was this — can’t they do it themselves? If we give them the tools, can’t they care for their kids? Can’t they do their own farming? Can’t they lead their own churches? Can’t they care for their own people?

I had no idea at the time that God was preparing this heart for the birth of a ministry — that even as my womb ached from the loss of our little one, God was preparing a tremendous conception, June of 2014, when a motley crew of volunteers began The Lulu Tree. 

(in Gulu, Uganda, meeting former child soldiers and child wives)

It hasn’t been easy, this road towards sustainability. The concept is largely foreign in a land so used to foreign aid. But gradually as God led us from the slums to the villages, as He gave us pastors with good hearts and a vision for teen mamas to go back to school; as He provided the vehicles, the school building, the dorms, the walls, the kitchens, the bathrooms, the bore hole, the livestock, and the land for farming, He set up His children in Uganda for exactly that — caring for their own people. 

We’ve been in the Uganda villages for about three years now. It is our hope that within the next two years the land will begin producing enough food to not only sustain the girls and their babies at the school, but to enable pastors to do their own outreaches within communities. As of this month, funds have been sent for the school to be registered as a community school. This will mean that they can open their doors to teen mothers across the country and parents will pay what they can to help offset the costs.  Meanwhile micro-investment projects are taking place — pastors are joining together to run a pig farm in the slums, and a kerosene shop in the villages. This will allow them to not only sustain their families but to help others.

(in the villages of Rwanda with school children)

We’re also working with the pastors in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Sudan to draw up sustainability plans — the vision and budget towards their plans for sustainability for their countries. These plans outline how the church, sustained by microloan projects and savings groups for the pastors and congregations, can then care for their community through building schools, digging bore holes, and starting livestock and brick building programs for widows, jajjas and youth. Once these members of society are equipped, the children are then able to be cared for by their own families. 

(in Rwanda with a widow who lost her entire family to the Genocide)

Read South Sudan’s vision HERE, as a perfect example of how the Lord is leading these pastors. Please note, this is THEIR vision. Not ours. This is their heart for their people — all we do is prayerfully send whatever comes in each month, and then they account for how they’ve spend it according to the five year strategic plan. 

The Lulu Tree is not meant to be a permanent source. Like the shea nut tree that gives us our name, we sprout to bear fruit simply for the season of hunger. Once the beautiful pastors and people have been trained and equipped to move forward, looking to God alone as their source, we will step aside. And we will watch them with joy from the sidelines, cheering them on, praying that life grows ever more abundant as poverty loses ground, for the glory of Jesus and the good of His children in the precious land of Africa.