A new outreach developed by The Church of Uganda (COU) and David C Cook will reach 7 million at-risk children starting in September 2012. COU is one of the largest and most influential denominations in the world, and for the first time they will have a comprehensive Christ-centered children’s program. Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 37.7% of the population living on less than $1.25 a day. Poverty of this magnitude leaves women and children vulnerable to abuse, and perpetuates despair, hopelessness, and significant hardship from one generation to the next. AIDS is also a huge problem, often taking the life of one parent or both, and sometimes infecting the child with HIV.
This new ministry seeks to break this cycle by equipping children to handle the rigors of Ugandan life through a strong faith in Jesus and the character and life skills to withstand any storm. It also prepares in-country leaders to meet the emotional challenges of kids who’ve faced unspeakable trauma.
The Rev. Canon Janet Muhindo, head of the Children’s ministry for Uganda, explains:
Many of our children are at risk. This curriculum deals with the real issues too many of our children face: AIDS, poverty, abandonment, rape, sexual molestation. Their pain takes away their childhood. This curriculum helps give it back. Children will fall in love with God our Heavenly Father. He’s always there—even when their earthly fathers inflict pain or are missing.
A recent study, “Spiritual State of Uganda’s Children,” by the organization OneHope, examined some of the life situations and beliefs of these children.
- 25% report that their father is not alive or that they do not know him. For urban children it’s 33%.
- 84% believe that all religions pray to the same God.
- 81% believe that good people earn a place in heaven.
- 40% believe in reincarnation.
To introduce this outreach, David C Cook staff, Vijay Kumar from India, Marlene LeFever from the U.S., and Simeon Havyarimana from Burundi, led an 18-hour training for gifted children’s leaders in Kampala, Uganda.
Kumar’s session on helping hurting and at-risk children incorporated materials developed with the help of Paul Kusuubira, who grew up as an orphan from Uganda’s civil war in the 1980s.
Kumar explains how an at-risk child feels out of place and isolated even when surrounded by people:
“She lives alone in a self-made cocoon. She uses her loneliness to build a wall of self-protection around herself. Even if she is lovely on the outside, she feels wrinkled and dirty and torn on the inside.”
To make his point Kumar took a picture of a pretty young woman, crushed it into a ball and threw it on the floor.
Kumar then told participants, “People like to say that all children are just children and will respond in the same way to love and care. Wrong! Children at risk are different. They are often unable to accept love. They respond in anger to perceived slights and in many ways their damaged hearts need mending.”
Often these children have been through such terrible things that their responses are different from children who are protected by family and relatives.
Attendees were clearly moved by Kumar’s teaching.
One woman cried and said, “I had no idea. These are the children God is calling me to work with. He’s calling me to smooth out their pain.”
The training of these leaders began with a 2-minute game that required them to keep 40 balloons in the air continuously. The idea was: If a balloon falls to the ground a leader picks it up and puts it in motion again. The exercise demonstrates how teaching should be fun, but like keeping balloons in the air, is also hard work.
No balloon should drop – and teachers should never allow anything important to slide or go undone. A good children’s leader spends time preparing. He leads kids into a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. She follows up during the week. He prays regularly for every child and a child’s caregivers.
Your support makes special programs for needy children possible, not only in Uganda, but also in Mexico, Bangladesh, Nigeria, India, and Ukraine as well.