Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#8 Farewell

Welcome to our eighth and final blog from our Uganda mission trip! 

Thank you to everyone who has read our blog, prayed for us and supported us in so many ways over the last two weeks. We hugely appreciate your support!

As we sit in Dubai airport, waiting for the final leg of our mammoth journey home, we reflect on the time we have had. 

Sarah, Jo and Vicky share their summary of the trip below.  

Well, where do we start? There was nervous anticipation and fear felt just 14 days ago in Manchester Airport; some from fear of flying and from everyone the unknown of what the next 14 days would bring. We could never have imagined the life changing experiences we were going to have, new friends we would be making and the spirit filled changes we would be making in Jesus’s name in both our lives and the people’s lives we had yet to meet.

It is difficult to summarise all the many experiences we have had here but we will do our best.  Our initial highlight was the amazing welcome to FACT on our first full day and the joy on the children’s faces as they paraded down the road with the brass band in tow. Feeling their anticipation of what was to come and the stark contrast when walking into the school was shocking. I don’t think any of us were really ready for the poverty we were going to encounter on this trip, however many stories we had heard beforehand. Seeing really is believing, but still having the feeling of God’s presence everywhere we went gave us the courage to keep moving forward.

Over the days to follow we visited lots of different communities, schools and churches all of which provided different joys and challenges, but in all of this, God was with us every step of the way. The team have grown and moulded together, and over this short time have become a really loving and caring family.  We have seen God touch every situation, each in a different way: a smile from a child, a hug from a teacher, and even tears.  We made lifelong friends and partnerships with Peter & Rose Mugabe, Ben from PDN, Paul from FACT, Patrick from Kathy’s Centre, the staff & over 1,600 students at NVI, especially Juliet and the beautiful Abbie (inside & out) who joined our team in Kampala to attend Firefest International. Oh and of course not forgetting the lovely Jude, with the help of Andrew, whom God placed to be our guide, driver, helper, friend and fixer of any challenge that has come along.

We had a lively time of worship at Watoto church on Sunday. Their impressive choir, truly anointed dancing troop and inspirational teaching was a blessing to the team. Having the chance to visit Suubi Watoto village in the afternoon and share a traditional Ugandan meal with three families was an equally blessed time; we left feeling incredibly humbled and positive about the amazing work Watoto are doing in Uganda.

Our final task before flying this morning was to trek through a local forest in search of monkeys. Vicky and Neal climbed 120 ft up to the top of the viewing tower (used to research different types of mosquito!) and spied three red tailed monkeys, while the team below spotted a few in the trees around them. What an incredible experience to be amongst them in their natural habitat!

We thank the Lord our God for the time we have spent here and for the small part we have played in making a difference in this beautiful country. We thank God for the blessings and the challenges that He has given us and the spiritual upgrade throughout this amazing journey. We pray that God will continue to bless the friends and situations that we have touched and that he gives us the opportunity to continue helping in His name.

Psalm 121

I lift my eyes to the hills -
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
the maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip -
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you -
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm -
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and for evermore.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

#7 Firefest - James and Rob's Account

Welcome to our seventh blog! 

Today James and Rob will be sharing their thoughts on Firefest Uganda.

James' account - Friday

It was an early start, breakfast at 6:30! By 7:30 we were in the vehicles on the way to PDN (Pastors Discipleship Network) for day one of Firefest. We sang praises to God and devoted the day to Him until 9am when it was time to enter the tent which was beginning to fill with pastors from around Uganda, a fitting location for Firefest which began as the Southport Methodist Holiness Convention...in a tent!!

Rob was up first (number one of five talks!) who focused on being 'Kingdom Community'. We were intrigued by the translation 'Obwakabaka' which is Lugandan for 'Kingdom community'. He encouraged us to take inspiration from Acts 2 and be in communion with God and one another. Next up was Anne, who gave a powerful talk focused on identity in Christ, incorporating her testimony of being 13 years cancer free! The spirit was certainly moving and many of the congregation responded, agreeing to leave all the 'stuff' of life behind and re-align with God. Third was Rose Mugabe, a wonderful woman of God and friend of Neal's for many years (and now friend of the team!). Rose gave us a challenge of making following God the priority rather than the other roles in our life (whether that be a mother, preacher, teacher etc...). Next came Neal with a vibrant delivery which included him throwing himself across the stage! He encouraged us to worship the God of miracles. He presented the sketch involving two chairs to demonstrate that man and God were once united in the Garden of Eden but separated by the sin of man, however, Jesus came as a bridge between man and God so that they could be together again. Then there were just 10 mins left for Peter (Rose's husband) as the day had been running on 'African time' where everything happens at least an hour later than expected! But Peter actually lasted 45 minutes! It was an energetic reminder about self doubt and how doubt leads to letting the devil in and ruins our relationship with Jesus.

Between some of the talks Vicky did some worship leading and was joined (much to her surprise) by the Ugandan worship team (drums, saxophones, keyboard and two electric guitars). It was great that we could all worship together.

Mum also did a wonderful testimony about how she was healed 12 weeks ago which really showed God's power at work.
We're very tired and also very excited for day two of Firefest!

Rob's account

What a privilege it has been to launch Firefest International in partnership with PDN.  We were thrilled to have over 300 Pastors and Youth Leaders sharing with us, only to be told that 2-300 were turned away!  The worship and the teaching has been exceptional and the affirmation of the whole team has been wonderful.  Our hosts and all of the delegates were so gracious, appreciative and receptive that it would be hard to refuse the invitation to return.

On a personal level, it was an added bonus that I had the privilege of meeting our sponsor child George, with Godfrey who runs the project that George attends. As 16 year old George threw his arms around me, my heart melted and I found the moment very moving!  It is hard to put into words what this moment meant and to have George hear me preaching in his country and even laughing at my corny jokes was just great.
Today has been an amazing climax to our time at Firefest, with highlights such as dancing with African youngsters as part of a final celebration, which no doubt members of my family would refer to as 'Dad dancing'.  However T.I.A. (This Is Africa) and our dancing was well received and felt in keeping with the whole celebration.  The event closed with Rev Peter Mugabe talking of martyrs who had died nearby when British missionaries came to share their faith. He then prayed for God's protection upon the whole team as we stood at the front with the whole gathering reaching out their arms in prayer. As he prayed for our nation, many of the team (myself included) were moved to tears.  We were then thanked personally by brothers and sisters in Christ who were keen to welcome us at some point in the future.

We then made our way to the hotel, only to find that a wedding band are in full swing! Some of our number are concerned about how much sleep we will have!  However, we will be leaving early for Watoto Church which we are all looking forward to.

Sarah and Jo will be sharing their personal experience in our next blog.  Thank you all for your prayerful support.

Neal's prayed for ahead of preaching

The Ugandan worship team

#6 Aidan's Account

Welcome to our sixth blog! 

Aidan gives us his thoughts from Thursday

Thursday 15th August.

Anticipation was high - it was the day of the A-level results.

However, we were ready for the last day in Jinja. We left for F.A.C.T. with a hint if sadness, knowing that this was the last day.

When we arrived at F.A.C.T. I was ready for the day of painting. Some of the lads that had helped us with the previous day's work had done some murals of their own, including the school logo, and some animals.

I started my painting stint by painting a wall of a the Baby Class (age 2.5-4) to accommodate a blackboard.  With the help of Cheryl, Rob, Jimmy and Lilian, we got to work.

Some time passed and Neal asked me if I could paint another verse on the wall of the children's accommodation. The previous day I had painted 'Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth and the life" '. For Thursday's painting I painted 'Jesus said: "I have come that they might have life and have it to the full" '.

While I was painting, others were playing with the children (parachute games and even volleyball) while Gill and Vicky were further training the teachers in his to use some new pre-school resources. It was great time of unity for the team.

Paul, the leader of F.A.C.T., took me to one side and told me (In brief) "I feel so blessed that some of your own work will be on these walls for years to come" which resonated well. With the mix of pride of my work and the sadness of leaving, I went to the bus to leave to the house of Paul's sister to have lunch.

After our beautiful lunch we got ready to pick up the bags and start the 2-3 hour drive toward Kampala for Part 2 of the trip. We arrived in Kampala at dark and went straight to P.D.N. (Pastors Discipleship Network) to have a look at the venue for the next day's Firefest conference.

The group got back into the minibuses and made our way to the hotel to have dinner.

In our next blog, James and Rob will be recounting their experiences of the Firefest Uganda conference.

Friday, August 16, 2019

#5 Anne's Account

Welcome to our fifth blog!
This time Anne will be sharing her thoughts.


Right from our early devotions, where we celebrated in worship who Jesus is for us and all He has done for us, our hearts were prepared to serve him in this place.

We continued to partner with Jesus centred projects which we believe we have been prompted to support by prayer and the Holy Spirit. This time though, we were in two groups. The first went to FACT to build on the work that had started the day before, bringing practical transformation to the lives of those precious little ones. With money raised for this trip the team was able to furnish another room with beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, mosquito nets, whilst some of the team painted murals and scripture on the walls.

I  was part of the team yesterday who went to Kathy's Centre. It was a privilege to see and hear how a dream to educate local children and support one of the poorest communities through regular HIV testing has become a reality. What an amazing testimony Patrick (Kathy's Centre's in-country manager) shared with us too, it really glorified God. In 2014 he was attacked in his home by men with machetes who left him bleeding from every part of his body. He has fully recovered from the horrific injuries he sustained, many prayed for him and he gives the glory to God.

This evening we had a very enjoyable boat ride where we visited the source of the Nile (Lake Victoria) and even saw a monkey.

We now leave Jinja and head to Kampala for the next leg of our trip. Please do keep the conference in your prayers as we lead 300 pastors and youth pastors on Friday and Saturday.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

#4 Cheryl's Account

Welcome to our fourth blog!
 Today Cheryl shares our experiences from yesterday


My bible verse for the day was “This is my God, and I will praise Him; the God of my father, & I will exalt him”. -  Exodus 15:2.   As we arrived at the first of our destinations, Nile Vocational Institute (NVI), it was as if this verse had been prophetic because as we walked towards the Chapel we were greeted with a cacophony of praise.  Over 1600 pupils and staff were worshipping at the top of their voices so even before we’d entered the chapel we were being blessed.  As we took our seats we were able to join in with the dance, even when we couldn’t join in with all the words.  The worship was being led entirely by the students whose love for Jesus shone from their faces. Words are inadequate to express what a privilege it was to be a part of this service. After welcomes, Neal preached a powerful message, part of which was an illustration of the breakdown between God and Humankind, following the disobedience of Adam & Eve. It’s a fact of our faith we are all so familiar with but perhaps not a passage we dwell on because of it’s familiarity - it brought home the reality of the God who loves us SO much, even though we rejected him, he rescued us so that we can be in relationship with Him again.  We live by Grace because of His rescue plan.  This was emphasised too by Anne, who gave her testimony; a testimony of faith, of healing and of the faithfulness and provisions of God.  Our morning ended with an invitation to share brunch with the senior leadership team and a Director. Anna and Neal also had the opportunity to meet up, briefly, with the children they sponsor at the institute and this too was a blessing a blessing for them

As we prepared to leave, we split into two teams.  The first incorporating Rob, Aidan, James, Anna and Anne who went to Futures After Childhood Trauma (FACT) where they painted the toilet block sponsored by KMC and Zac's House.  Along with their DIY skills, the team took along mattresses for beds, bedding and mosquito nets - basic but essential items they were lacking.  We were told last night that when the children saw the mattresses they would not initially get into bed as they did not believe they were for them. When they were persuaded that they were to keep they even cried.  We were also so blessed to hear that Favour, the child with Malaria, was now fully recovered and back at school.  Hopefully now that they all have the vital protection of the mosquito nets, incidents of Malaria will reduce dramatically.  The children’s response to such simple gifts says it all, so a huge thank you to all who have donated, supported and prayed over this trip and those we are visiting.  All of your efforts are more appreciated than you realise.

The second group headed out to ‘Kathy's Centre’, named after Kathy Smedley, of Altrincham Baptist Church, who along with her husband Martin came out to Uganda in 2002 and saw the plight of the children.  On their return to the UK they created Act4Africa which continues to support children affected by poverty and HIV, to provide education, HIV testing, healthcare, teachers and a safe and appropriate environment in which they can learn.  We took with us bibles, clothes, story books and play equipment. The centre caters for children aged 2.5 - 6 years old.  It is difficult to say who had more fun, the adults or the children, as we introduced them to parachute games and bubble wands before joining  them in their ‘learning through play’ (sandpit, water station, play dough, etc) story time and shared songs.  They even seemed to enjoy our acting skills as we acted out the story of the paralysed man lowered through the roof, (Luke 5:17-39) - not sure we’ll be on the short list for the next Oscars but we gave it a good go!   We were SO impressed with the provision in terms of education and welfare for these children.  The carefully laid out learning ‘spaces’ so they can learn through play mirrors quite closely what you would see in a UK nursery.  The dedicated staff also provide nutritious food and teach the children about good hygiene habits. The staff clearly love and nurture the children. The children’s command of English, even down to the very youngest, puts my pitiful attempt to say thank you in the local dialect to shame.  Our time there was far too short and it was sad to say adieu as we boarded the bus and headed back to Jinja for dinner.

A boot full of mattresses and mosquito nets for FACT
Cheryl with the children at Kathy's Centre 

Gill with the children at Kathy's Centre 

Jo makes a new friend 

They enjoyed their new parachute at Kathy's Centre 

The children get ready to paint at FACT

DIY Rob!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

#3 Anna's Account

Welcome to our third team blog! 

This time Anna Walton will be sharing her personal account of the weekend.


I have just had another wonderful day here in Jinja. It was very rainy yesterday though; it rains very heavy here & everything comes to a halt for a while. So we arrived later than planned at the school we were visiting & it looked particularly poverty stricken on arrival. The little classrooms were just propped up on the side of a hill. It was simply the most joyful place; the children were so smiley & adorable as we pulled up & they love Jesus. They love to touch our hands & skin; the most humbling thing is when they bow to us, it’s quite overwhelming. We then gathered with the whole school in an open sided building that was flooded with puddles. We had brought a bulk supply of lollipops for them which they devoured eagerly. The welcome to their ‘msungo’ visitors was beautiful with great love & warmth; we lined up on a makeshift stage of wobbly bricks to introduce ourselves. Neal then told a wonderful story using a large wobbly wooden prop: the children had to walk over it & would eventually lose balance and fall off; the exercise was then repeated with Rob & Anne holding the children's hands to demonstrate that we need God’s support in our lives. Rob also told his magic book story to an audience of excited children! We then gave lunch of chappati and soda to the many many children, some as young as 3 who possibly may not have eaten that day otherwise. Just as we were leaving, a beautiful young lady called Mercy asked for prayer. She shared that she was orphaned & lived with her Grandmother but she was often on her own. I felt quite sad when we left but knew we had blessed them greatly with the love of Jesus. On our return journey we stopped off for tea for a traditional meal of rice & beans - don’t think we’ll be returning!! 😜


So into Sunday’s church services. We split into 3 groups & went to 3 different churches where members of the team shared testimony and prayed with local people. What a service ours was, a truly anointed time of worship & we witnessed God's presence in a mighty way. Anne, myself & Aidan (the triple A's as we called ourselves!!) were a team. We danced & jumped & shouted out the Lord's name. The worship was something I have never witnessed before & won’t forget for a long time. An older lady stood & hadn’t walked for many years, so she had been healed. The presence of the Holy Spirit was very tangible, this went on for over an hour & a half! Then it was our turn & we were invited to the stage. After introducing ourselves, I sang ‘O Praise the Name' which was a very special time for me & it was greatly received. Aidan read the lesson & we then went to speak to the Sunday school of 60 children; Anne stayed behind to preach her awesome sermon. It was quite challenging, although the Lord was so faithful in His words as I preached God's word for the first time, with an interpreter, and the children hung on my every word. Meanwhile the other teams were at two other churches: Livingstone and Namulesa. At Livingstone, Neal preached the word, beginning with a demonstration to show how Jesus came as a bridge between man and God, Cheryl then shared a powerful testimony and Vicky performed the song 'Take Courage'. At Namulesa, Rob, Gill, Sarah and James began by leading  Sunday School which included songs with actions and signing and a special time marching around the chapel as they sang 'We are marching in the light of God' - a real ice breaker for them. Gill was asked to start the main service in prayer and there followed a time of worship and testimony from the local people. Before Rob began to preach, Sarah had the opportunity to give her testimony. The service ended with a time of prayer and healing ministry. It was all an incredible and spiritual experience.

We then went up into the hills to a gorgeous little small holding where Peter & Rose live (friends of Neal and involved in running Firefest this weekend). Peter is also the General Secretary of the Baptist Union in Uganda. We had a tour of his farm & community project: a water source for the local villagers. We also had a beautiful lunch there & afterwards we sat in their garden under a mango tree & praised God for this beautiful place & family. On our return to the hotel we had drinks of tea with toast & reflected on a wonderful day with prayer & praise to our Lord.

Monday was our day off 🤗🤗, so we were able to have a lie in! After breakfast we could choose what to do & I decided to go with Gill, Vicky, Aidan & James to see the local markets, looking for fabric in particular. It was fascinating walking round the hive of activity in the markets; we saw many ladies sat lined up sewing on old Singer sewing machines. All eyes were on us as we wandered round & I felt reassured that our driver Andrew had stayed with us! The lads bought themselves traditional African shirts (and Ugandan football shirts) which are very smart.

We bought some beautiful African design fabric with view to getting the seamstress at the hotel to make us some trousers & bags.

On returning to our hotel, we had a light lunch & then Neal, Joanne & Cheryl came back from NVI (Nile Vocational Institute) accompanied by Neal's sponsored child, Juliet, who studies there. She is beautiful & joined us for a short time of prayer & worship. All too soon they had to set off to take her back & I just happened to ask Neal could I join them on the journey as I also have a sponsored child at NVI so wanted to see the place. Neal mentioned it would great for me to see Kintu but I knew it would probably have to be pre-arranged. However, as we arrived the question was asked via one of the students & next minute I saw Kintu walking towards me, at this point all I’d ever seen was a photo of him. It was very moving to meet him & he was particularly overwhelmed when I told him who I was. He was so softly spoken & hardly looked up, but then his face lit up with a beautiful smile & I told him how we pray for him & he’s very precious & how much Jesus loves him. It was a very special moment, I’ll never forget how subservient he looked on first meeting, it was such a time of affirmation for me realising how precious the gift of motherhood is.

Cheryl will be writing all about today's adventures in tomorrow's blog, so keep a look out for that!

Team Uganda's newest recruits
The team visit Rose and Peter's small holding

The wonder of Rob's magical colouring book

Rob preaches at a local church 

Monday, August 12, 2019

#2 Our First Few Days

Welcome to our second blog post!

We have been so busy here in Uganda meeting our partners and building strong relationships within the team. Let's begin with a few quotes:

"I've been promising Vicky for a long time that I would make 1 trip with her to Africa and I can't believe I'm finally here!" - Gill Royle 
"I've never seen such joy in the children's faces as I have out here in Uganda" - Anne Donaldson
"The children melt my heart and they are phenomenal" - James Wallwork

The first few days have seen us visiting different projects in the area, starting on Thursday with our first visit to FACT (Future After Child Trauma) where we opened the water tap and toilets funded by KMC and Zac's House. We were overwhelmed by the loving welcome of over 200 children and the FACT brass band, all of whom paraded for nearly a mile with smiles and joy on their faces. We particularly enjoyed dancing with them on the way while Neal played the trumpet.

After a Welcome Ceremony, Gill and Vicky (supported by Sarah and Anna) led some teacher training with the teachers from FACT and other linked schools whilst a team of 4 (Neal, Anne, Aidan and Rob) went to visit three homes of children from the FACT Children's home. The elderly grandmother who cared for 3 grandchildren (2 now living in the home) welcomed us with open arms. It was a gracious welcome to her humble home, where her 3 hens and chickens who slept next to them were their pride and joy.

The following two visits both involved prayer ministry, the first to a young mother of six, Betty with breast cancer. This was a real privilege with all the villagers around waiting to see if she was healed. Betty was so appreciative that she then gave us two large bunches of bananas!  Whilst then meeting and praying for Harriet who had AIDS, her daughter Faith was introduced to us who was unable to speak, but her smile melted hearts. Rob and Faith made a particularly strong bond; he peeled her a banana which she loved and then the team all shared a banana with the children and adults. It was a lovely sacramental moment together. There are just so many moments that words seem inadequate.

Friday saw us heading off to Kamuli, about 1 and a half hours from Jinja. It was a fascinating drive into one of the poorest rural areas, past roadside shops -rather like wayside market stalls, and on to a rough track for the final 2-3 miles - and you think we have potholes...! Our two  drivers, Andrew and Jude, drove skillfully around them all, sometimes at crazy angles. A wonderful welcome of chanting and smiles awaited us, then in the shade of a canopy (more use that day to protect from the thunderstorm, than the sun!) Vicky with a little help from Mama Vicky (Gill), presented the teacher training whilst the others led a talk with the upper years to encourage and empower them. The local cooks were very busy that day feeding over 80 teachers who attended the training and 11 of our team...we had a mixed reception to local cuisine!

After lunch, whilst the final part of training was completed and James and Aidan played games with the children, the rest of the team visited a local women's empowerment project ('One Girl' ) which trains young women in menstrual health and hygiene. It works to support the whole village and also runs an entrepreneur program; we walked to one lady's house and visited her tomato stall which she had established as part of the program. Back at the project, one highlight was the enthusiastic dad dancing of Rob and Neal to the African drumming much to the delight of the local community. Then, whilst the children all delighted in the big wand bubbles and how they floated around them, one little boy was sat by himself on a step looking out into the distance. Aidan went up to the little boy and sat a few feet away and reached out his hand. He said "hello" in a chirpy voice and the little boy turned to look. The boy proceeded to let out the biggest smile and reach to hold his hand in return. The two sat for about ten minutes just holding hands until the painful moment when they had to be pulled apart.

After seeing the project and spending time with the children, we walked to Jude's house (our driver who also manages the empowerment project) where we enjoyed a chapatti and a boiled egg with a cup of African tea. (Lightly spiced loose leaf tea, drunk without milk). It was then time to hit the road, travelling back to Jinja as the sun began to set.

Look out for our next post tomorrow when Anna will share her personal experience from over the weekend.

Please do continue to pray for the health of the team and for God's guidance in all we do.

Aidan makes a new friend

Sarah shares bubbles 

Vicky trains 85 teachers

Neal officially opens the FACT toilets