Birth of a Tree

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

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. 

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.

But I saw something else too. I saw the wreckage that western organizations had left behind. I saw many white people holding dark babies 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. 

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. 

Road to Sustainability

It hasn’t been easy, this road towards sustainability. The concept is largely foreign in a land so used to foreign aid.

We started in the slum of Katwe, summer of 2014. There we partnered with mothers in churches, providing them with hairdressing and tailoring training in a renovated room that we rented just outside of the slum.

After about two years the Lord sent us to the villages to develop permanent roots.

The Lord 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.