From Dr. Brenda Kowalske - Founder
When my husband Richard and I founded Helping Hands Foreign Missions in 2003, our vision was simple – tell people about Jesus. As we worked in Uganda, our hearts were broken at the number of hungry children on the street instead of in school because their families had no money for education. In 2005, our Child Sponsorship program began, and since that time, through YOUR generous support, thousands of children have received food, clothing, medical care, and education.
Fifteen years later, it is incredible to see our older sponsored children teaching our younger ones– disciples making disciples. Though Richard passed away in 2010, God sent other missionaries to serve the people of Uganda – Jessica, Willy and Lilli, Robin, Claudia, Heather, and Camilo and Olya – all passionate and fully committed to telling the world about Jesus!
The COVID-19 lockdown brought significant changes to Uganda, as it did in the world. Beginning March 20th, all schools, public and private transportation, most businesses, churches, and the airport were closed. We immediately began planning how to communicate with and continue support for almost 1500 sponsored students in our program. Our team faced quite a few challenges as we made plans to provide food and other support:
Many families have no phone or method of communication.
Some students live several miles from Helping Hands offices, and the only transport is to walk or, as they call it, “footing.”
“Home addresses” are non-existent in rural Uganda; there are no road names or road signs.
Many “roads” are simply cow paths, and most vehicles cannot pass.
Due to financial difficulties and food shortages, some children went to live with relatives in other villages.
Some parents influence their young teenage daughters into “early marriage,” so they have one less person to feed and care for.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
2 Peter 3:18
Claudia Acuña, our Child Sponsorship Director in Uganda, and the team of local Ugandan staff were up for the challenge. She reports, “We are checking on many of the community children at least every two weeks. They have received food packages, school uniforms, and sponsor gifts, including hygiene baskets and mosquito nets. We are always watching for potential health problems, malnutrition, or signs of physical abuse. These visits give our team an opportunity for one-on-one counseling with the children.”
Most homes are without electricity and have no access to television, computers, or the internet. The government began broadcasting a radio class for each grade once a week, so we are distributing radios to the families of our sponsored high school students. The students listen to school lessons, and families can hear gospel presentations in their language on local stations. We are also distributing educational study packets with grade-appropriate materials to all primary and high school students, along with “School Supplies Baskets.” In all circumstances, our team ensures that the students and their families hear the Gospel message.
An essential part of our sponsorship program is the Saturday outreach program for children we call Esangalo. Robin Broom, director of the program, shares, “Esangalo ministry stopped in March; however, many of our teachers from the program have continued to meet with children, both sponsored and non-sponsored, teaching the Bible and encouraging them in small groups throughout local villages. The plan is for our leaders and helpers to meet together again for training, encouragement, and discipleship. At least half of these team leaders are older sponsored children – what a joy to see disciples making disciples! In September, we will begin a new effort in meeting with sponsored children weekly in small Bible Study groups through the Village of Eden Fellowship Church and other partner churches. We’re excited to see the plans God has for these students as they grow spiritually. Esangalo never stopped – it just looks different!”
Heather Oliver, Director of Education for the Village of Eden, has been busy with plans for the primary school. “We have used this time for professional learning for the teachers, including Bible teaching courses. They have had group Bible studies, and I’ve been meeting weekly with several teachers for one-on-one mentoring and discipleship. Two of our teachers are new believers, and it has been a joy to see their hunger and excitement for the Word of God.”
One hundred fifty students are enrolled in the Village of Eden Primary School but have not attended classes since the lockdown began, and schools were closed. Our next step is for teachers to travel on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle to meet with school children and check on their health, note any issues of concern, and review the study packets or other educational materials that we provide.
Heather also shared how different our residential program has looked during COVID. We have guardianship of 25 children who are full-time residents of our children’s home, many of whom have unique needs. The last few months with these children, who range in age from 6 months to 18 years, have been different, but it has been a fruitful time of investment in their lives. Heather said, “I never thought God would give me the task of ‘home-schooling,’ but it is a blessing for me to teach our residents, with help from some of our secondary sponsored students. We focus on math and reading, but we also teach life skills, such as gardening and shoe-making. We teach from a Christian world view, and I can see the children growing stronger in God’s word every day.”
The Village of Eden Fellowship Church body is central to our mission. Pastor Willy Kornelsen explains, “Even though we cannot meet in our building, the church body continues to minister in our communities. Members participate in weekly outreach and home visits in the community and help distribute food to the many who are in need. Small groups are also meeting for Bible study, prayer, and discipleship. We hope restrictions will be lifted soon so the church can resume regular worship services, including Bible study classes for children.”
Our newest team members, Camilo and Olya, are instrumental in community outreach, home visitation, and discipleship of residents. Through their daily lives, students witness a beautiful model of a loving and Biblical marriage. They passionately share Christ's love within the local community with a focus on discipleship.
Through this crisis, the Village of Eden Medical Clinic has remained open. Our team has been doing home visits for some patients with chronic conditions, such as sickle cell disease, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Many times, our ambulance has been the only emergency transport available in the district; several mothers have even given birth in the ambulance. The Nutrition Program for malnourished children has resumed under the leadership of Lilli Kornelsen, the wife of Pastor Willy. Mothers continue to bring their children to the Village of Eden for food, support, and nutrition education. The children grow physically as their mothers are taught life skills and are shown the love of Christ.
There is no way to adequately express our appreciation to you, our sponsors, for your faithfulness over the years. You have given sacrificially and generously, and God has used you to change many lives through the truth of HIS word. We see the fruit of your faithfulness each day as children grow in the knowledge of the Lord and live out His truth.
We love you and will continue to pray for God’s provision and blessing in your lives.