I remember my husband Greg’s words as we sat at our kitchen table, ‘I guess if we’re serious, we should sell our house.’ Just then the doorbell rang. To our surprise it was our realtor friend. Her timing seemed divine. ‘Moving to Uganda? Really?’ She could hardly believe what she was hearing.
The idea was germinated in 1991 when Gary and Marilyn Skinner, missionary Pastors to Uganda, and their family, attended our church during their one year sabbatical. Their children spent many nights babysitting our two daughters, Brittany (2) and Jenessa (1). I never tired of hearing their stories of Uganda. One day the idea took root ‘maybe we should go to Uganda to help.’
Within a week, Gary and Marilyn were at our home for dinner. Gary nearly fell off his chair when we shared our thoughts. Just that week he had finally given up a five year wrestling match with God to get into the ‘social work’ business in Uganda. ‘Alright, I’ll do it’, he conceded, ‘but I’ll need a little help’.
To some, it seemed a reckless step for two young urban professionals to sell their possessions, resign from their six figure income careers and let the nanny go, in pursuit of starting a program to care for orphans in a developing country. But for us it was the right thing to do.
So off we went to Africa.
What an amazing, difficult, life-changing year of adventure! Ideas were conceptualized and tested. Maize was delivered and boiled. 14 construction workers were squeezed into our 4×4 Isuzu Trooper on a daily basis. A hippo peed on our tent while we camped at Lake Baringo one weekend. Greg was arrested, at least ten times. We had electricity. We didn’t have electricity. Our home was robbed, all cameras and shoes stolen, while we slept. We learned to barter for groceries at local markets. We laughed and we cried. We visited villages. We attended celebrations carrying goats and peppers to the party. And thankfully when the neighbors around us were getting sick with Malaria, we weren’t. In the end, the program was registered with the government, three homes were constructed and 150 children found families to call their own.
It’s now twenty years later. Through an interesting course of events, we’re going to Africa, next week! This time, together with a team of 10 others, we plan to introduce a program of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to pastors and leaders in Rwanda. They in turn will use what they can to help their parishioners continue to recover from the devastating trauma’s of the 1994 genocide.
Following Rwanda, Greg and I have the wonderful privilege of returning to Uganda. How exciting! It’s been twenty years. The program we were so blessed to help initiate rebranded in 1994 and has since morphed (yes, there is no other way to describe it) into the tremendously effective wholistic care organization known as Watoto. www.watoto.com
A Toronto journalist that visited us in Uganda recorded these thoughts in her article twenty years ago ‘With so much death and dying the problems could be overwhelming’, Skinner and Olson agree, ‘But if we can care for 10 children, 20 children, 100 children or 1000 , it’s all been very worthwhile.’ And indeed it has!
Top Photo: Elaine, Jenessa, Brittany, Namuli (First orphan in the program, now serving at Watoto) and Greg, 1992.
Right Photo: Local Ugandan volunteers help dig the foundation for the first home, 1992.
Left Photo: Gary, Marilyn and Tim Skinner in front of their home on our last day in Uganda, 1993.