Winston Churchill referred to Uganda as the "Pearl of Africa" for its "magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life".
Just over 27 million people live in Uganda. Life expectancy is around 51 years. Birth rate is on average 6.7 per woman. 4.1% of the population is believed to have HIV/AIDS. Literacy rate is just under 70%.
English (official national language, taught in grade schools, used in courts of law and by most newspapers and some radio broadcasts), Ganda or Luganda (most widely used of the Niger-Congo languages, preferred for native language publications in the capital and may be taught in school), other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Swahili, and Arabic.
*Taken from goafrica.about.com
It's been a while since our last Portrait Tuesday. Here is one taken by David Sacks in Uganda in 2003. Titled, "Phoenix," this photograph was featured in the last Portraits of Hope in 2012 and can be found in David's photography book, True Africa.
Our dear friend, David Sacks, has recently passed away from cancer, but these photographs are his living legacy. Covenant Mercies' Executive Director, Doug Hayes, wrote a blog post remembering David and said this:
"Less than an hour before David took his last breath on this earth, I had the unspeakable privilege of telling him that in addition to his own children, his legacy includes the thousands of children whose lives he has touched through his generosity toward Covenant Mercies."
Thank you David.
It's that time of year again! Time to put on those running shoes and RunFar.
RunFar (Run for African Relief) is a great way to get involved in the mission of Covenant Mercies. This year round fundraising event has contributed over $86,000 in the last three years.
Here is how it works:
It's that simple. Make sure you register first and then you can begin training and fundraising.
Scott and Rebecca Rudy are a couple from Chester, Pennsylvania who ran the Harrisburg half-marathon on September 9, 2012. They used Facebook as a tool to raise money, and also post about their training progress, their race, and about Covenant Mercies.
They started training using a 16 week plan from runnersworld.com. Scott and Rebecca were able to encourage each other through the training and the race. Rebecca said, "It was an awesome goal to work towards as a couple."
You don't have to run a race to order a RunFar shirt. Order one on in our online store.
David Sacks’ connection with Covenant Mercies began in January 2003, when he providentially visited my home church (and CM’s founding church, Covenant Fellowship) on the Sunday I was introducing our Orphan Sponsorship Program for the very first time. David and I had been friends since we were schoolboys, but he was living in New York at the time and I was surprised to see him that Sunday morning. He approached me after the service, signed up to sponsor a child, and told me he wanted to travel to Uganda with me (at his own expense) to give us the quality photos we needed to promote our cause. David was already a world class photographer by then, and I’m no dummy. Within three months we were on a plane bound for Uganda together.
As we’d talk in the evenings on that April 2003 trip, I can vividly recall David’s excitement about the images he was capturing. Though we couldn’t see them yet (this was still a year prior to his conversion to digital equipment), David believed he was capturing something unique. Perhaps exhibit-worthy. Perhaps of value beyond the brochure and web applications we’d originally had in mind. As we talked and imagined what might lie ahead, the seed was planted for an event that would ultimately become a treasured fundraising tradition in Covenant Mercies, Portraits of Hope.
In all, David’s five trips to Africa would lead to six Portraits of Hope exhibits and more than $300,000 raised toward our mission, ultimately culminating in the 2012 publication of True Africa, a photo book comprised exclusively of our Portraits of Hope images. We were hoping to return to Africa together later this year, but it was not to be. On Friday evening, April 12th, David went home to be with the Lord after a 1 ½ year battle with cancer. He was two months shy of his 45th birthday.
David is survived by his beloved wife Angie and their four young children, and I’d like to ask everyone who loves Covenant Mercies to pray for this dear family. They are surrounded by an abundance of love and support, but no amount of support can take away the sorrow they feel right now. Less than an hour before David took his last breath on this earth, I had the unspeakable privilege of telling him that in addition to his own children, his legacy includes the thousands of children whose lives he has touched through his generosity toward Covenant Mercies. Whatever the Lord does through the lives of those children will accrue toward his reward. Though he has left us too soon, how sweet it is to know that he’s receiving that reward now.
For several years David and I had a running joke about his desire to be given an African name. I told him I couldn’t allow it because I’d worked hard for mine, performing numerous feats of African-ness like eating bugs, taking an authentic African bath, etc. Though David was never averse to performing such feats himself, I insisted that it would take him more than a couple of trips to earn his name. On our fifth trip in 2009, I finally relented and informed him that he had earned his name. After polling our friends in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zambia for their suggestions, I finally settled on the name that fit him best. We decided to call him Mapalo, which means “blessing.”
David Sacks was indeed a blessing. And though he is no longer with us, the blessing of his life lives on and will never be forgotten.
Description of the Ethiopian Flag
The flag of Ethiopia has three horizontal stripes of green, yellow, and red from top to bottom. Centered over these stripes is a blue circle, on which there is a yellow five-pointed star.
The green, yellow, and red colors have been used frequently to represent the region, often called Pan-African colors. The green typically represents hope and the land's fertility, the yellow is for harmony among the Ethiopian people, and red represents valor and war, depicting the fight for independence and resistance to colonist takeover.
The bright star symbolizes the future of the nation, and may also reference King Solomon as the Star of David. Surrounding the five-pointed star are five yellow rays, symbolic of the equality of the diverse people of Ethiopia.
History of the Ethiopian Flag
The flag of Ethiopia was first standardized as part of Ethiopia's Constitution in 1995, but some changes were made to it in the following years. The current version of the flag, which has the star emblem on a blue circle, became the official national flag in 2009. The flag remained largely unchanged from the constitutional specifications, but the blue circle has been enlarged.
Before this, the colors green, yellow, and red had been used in the region since the seventeenth century. The former Ethiopian Empire, which lasted from around 1137 to 1975. One version of a former flag of Ethiopia was made up of three pennants, one in each of these colors. For many years, the Lion of Judah was emblazoned across the royal flag of Ethiopia, which also featured the red, green, and yellow color scheme.
-Taken from mapsoftheworld.com
Read what Covenat Mercies is doing in Ethiopia.
I had a storybook child sponsorship experience. It is one for the movies. I went on a service trip to Uganda a few years back, and as we built the brick walls for a school building, I connected with this little child that was full of energy and doing crazy gymnastic moves down the nearby hill. He made me laugh. I found myself joking around with him as he passed through the worksite. I was drawn by his energy.
As we connected, my heart filled with compassion for this young boy. He was dirtier than the other children and he wore ripped clothes day after day. I asked around and found out that both of this young boy’s parents died of AIDS, and his grandmother could not fully support him. He was in need of help. Doug Hayes told me Covenant Mercies was intending to expand the child sponsorship program to this region, and he would be a perfect candidate.
Sign me up. How exciting. I had big dreams of how this storybook sponsorship would continue. We would write letters back and forth. I would return to visit. And maybe one day he would come stay with me for a bit.
But since the initial sponsorship it has been much less a storybook. I haven’t seen him. I have only gotten a few small notes and pictures since I started sponsoring him seven years ago. I have never written him a letter, and there are no plans for him coming to visit.
I am not upset or embittered by this. I have learned that child sponsorship is more than romanticized ideals and feel good moments. I am sponsoring this child because he needs help, I trust Covenant Mercies, and God has called us to help the orphans. My entryway to child sponsorship was a unique one, but since then it has been the norm.
We often complicate things – I complicate things. I can be too concerned about creating the perfect ways to serve, instead of just doing what I am called to do. God calls us to help the orphans (James 1:27). Let’s do it. Either home or abroad or both. And Covenant Mercies is a vehicle to help us accomplish what God has called us to do.
It would be nice if I wrote more letters and got more in return, but this is a sponsorship not a pen pal program. I am going to continue to sponsor this child until he doesn’t need sponsoring, and then I will sponsor another child. If I get more money in my budget, then I will sponsor more children. And I am learning that it is an honor to do so.
The colors of the flag are used to symbolize various aspects of Zambia and its land. The green represents the fertile lands. The red is for Zambia's fight for freedom, and the black represents the people of Zambia. The golden orange of the last stripe represents Zambia's rich minerals and natural resources. The eagle at the top represents the people of Zambia rising above the country's problems.
The flag of Zambia was designed by Gabriel Ellison, a Zambian artist who designed not only the national flag, but its coat of arms and other official emblems. The flag of Zambia was officially adopted on October 24, 1964, but the colors were revised in 1996, replaced with more vibrant shades.
-Taken from mapsofworld.com
Read about the work Covenant Mercies is doing in Zambia.
'Covenant' was taken in Zambia by David Sacks. The photo is of Victoria Falls; a waterfall in southern Africa on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This story is a continuation from yesterday. You can catch up here and read Part 1.
By the time the decision was confirmed, the Lord had completed some very hard work in my heart. I never liked living in the in-between or in a place of fear and doubt, but this is how it was for a year. Most of the doubts and fears that had inundated my mind were silenced and were faced head on during this waiting period. The Lord was so good and kind to prepare me for the work he is calling us to.
The work my husband, Alf, will be doing is very exciting. Covenant Mercies has about forty acres and five orphan homes in Maundo. He will help with the administration of the Sponsorship program and oversee the spiritual care of the children in the program. He will also be responsible for discipling the family parents and staff by holding Bible studies and small group meetings on a weekly basis.
Alf will also assist with the building of sustainability into the Children’s homes. Some possibilities of building sustainability will include: fish farming, raising chickens and goats, growing food crops, preserving the food, and more.
I am thankful that I get to serve the Lord with my family in Africa. I don’t think living in Uganda is going to be easy, but I do think it will be perfect for us, because it is the road God has chosen for us to go down.
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matt. 16:25
In a couple months, my husband, four young daughters, and I will move to a little village in Uganda called Maundo. I doubt you would find it on a Ugandan map. When I found out moving there was a possibility for my family, I had feelings of utter joy and excitement, shortly followed by fears and doubts.
This was something I always wanted to do - help the orphans and the widows. I have talked about missions, the oppressed, and the orphans for as long as I can remember.
The seeds of this desire were planted on the mission field at the very beginning of my life; I spent the first three years of my life at an orphanage with my family in Reynosa, Mexico. Now the opportunity I’ve dreamed about for many years has fallen into my lap.
While the move was still in the possibility stage, doubt began weaseling its way into my thoughts like an unwanted friend. Fear snuggled into my arms, close to my heart like a sick child, and the voices started to come:
“But I have four daughters and there is so much disease and sickness…This place is in the middle of nowhere… I finally, for the first time in 23 years, feel a part of my church… I have great neighbors and a lovely home… My husband would be giving up an incredible position that provides well for our family… All my extended family, which I love dearly, lives close by…"
Where was God in my thinking? Where was the One I fettered my heart to twelve years ago? As I began to lay down each fear and doubt, the noise lessened, and the still small voice of truth could be heard faintly again. I started to remember my God.
I was surprised and angry at myself for the feelings I was wrestling through. I really had to fight for faith...
Six equal horizontal bands of black (top), yellow, red, black, yellow, and red; a white disk is superimposed at the center and depicts a grey crowned crane (the national symbol) facing the hoist side; black symbolizes the African people, yellow sunshine and vitality, red African brotherhood; the crane was the military badge of Ugandan soldiers under the UK.
Read what Covenant Mercies is doing in Uganda.
There’s nothing like being talked well of, especially if it’s by The Wall Street Journal. The prestigious New York based publication wrote a review online this past Friday that appeared under Books & Ideas.
The review compared David Sacks, True Africa, to Charles Dickens literary masterpieces Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. The reviewer, Balthazar Korab says,
“A certain Dickensian sentimentality is unavoidable in portraits that show children facing down hard times with serenity and smiles, like that of a boy in a school uniform playfully leaping in front of a peeling but colorful mural of Africa.”
Last month at our Portraits of Hope event, we had the joy of celebrating the release of True Africa, a coffee table book comprised exclusively of David Sacks’ Portraits of Hope photography. I had the privilege of writing the Foreword for the book, in which I tried to express my appreciation for both the photographer and his subject matter. Here is an excerpt:
When I began traveling to Africa in 2002, I sensed a dissonance in my soul that I couldn’t shake. I wasn’t quite able to put my finger on it at first, but over time I came to realize what it was. In my life up till then, the images I had seen, and the news stories I had heard, had conditioned me to view this continent and its people almost exclusively through the lens of calamity. Famine, starvation, disease, poverty, war; these were the themes I had patched together to form my view of Africa.
But when my feet actually hit the ground there, my experience clashed radically with my preconceptions. Encounters with a wide variety of African people left me unable to ignore the pervasive poverty with which they coexist, yet far more conscious of their beauty, their dignity, their generous hospitality, and their joy in the midst of profound hardship. Extreme poverty is an assault on human dignity, but at the end of the day the former is no match for the latter. Dignity can be obscured, beaten down, and dressed in tatters, but its essence remains. If you are perceptive, you will see it.
David Sacks is more than perceptive. He is a master at drawing this beauty, dignity, and joy out of his subjects. He mines for this treasure relentlessly as he works, and he usually finds it because he knows it is there. With conviction and genuine love, he refuses to believe his subjects are defined by the outer shell of their adversity. As a result, his lens delivers a priceless gift to us. I am proud to have played a small role in the publishing of these images, because I believe they honor their subject matter and render a worthy depiction of the True Africa I have come to know and love.
You can purchase your own copy of this beautiful book at CovenantMercies.org/TrueAfrica. It may be the most expensive book you ever buy (it was for me!), but I trust it will also be among the most rewarding; not only for the beauty of its pages but also for the knowledge that lives are being changed through the funds it helps us to raise.
For most of us in the prosperous West, education is something we take for granted. It’s a blessing that is largely unappreciated and sometimes even despised. Such attitudes are out of place in sub-Saharan Africa, where the opportunity to study cannot be assumed and a sound educational foundation is often the difference between a harsh struggle for subsistence and a more prosperous quality of life.
This point was driven home for me last year during one of my visits to Zambia. As I normally do when I’m there, I spent Saturday with our Program Coordinator in Ndola walking through the neighborhoods of our sponsored children and visiting them in their homes. It is common on these excursions to receive warm and grateful welcomes wherever we go, but on this day the expressions of gratitude were especially pronounced:
“Thank you for giving my daughter a chance to get an education.”
“I never thought my grandson would be able to go to school.”
The striking aspect of these expressions is the fact that these guardians weren’t referring to a college degree or even a high school diploma. The blessing they had never foreseen for their children was the opportunity to attend elementary school. I was deeply affected by their gratitude, and renewed in my commitment to provide this indispensable gift to all the children Covenant Mercies serves.
Experiences like these only make our partnership with Lighthouse Christian School in Ndola, Zambia more meaningful. Since 2006, Covenant Mercies has sent an increasing number of students to Lighthouse each year to receive their education. As the school has grown through the years, the need for a more suitable facility has become progressively more urgent. So in 2009, we broke ground on construction of a building sufficient for the school’s needs. After nearly three years of raising the necessary funds and completing the project phase by phase, what a joy it was to participate in the ceremony for the Official Opening of Lighthouse’s new campus on February 10, 2012.
Though the ceremony was graced by the presence of Ndola’s Mayor and the Deputy Minister of Early Childhood Education, the true VIPs of the day wore school uniforms instead of business suits. Ultimately, this project is meant to provide quality Christian education for children who otherwise may have had no academic training at all. At present, we are sending 160 of our sponsored children in Ndola to Lighthouse Christian School in grades K-5. Lord willing, as more sponsors come on board and the school continues adding one new grade each year, we will be able to provide education for many more children through Lighthouse.
Future construction plans include administrative offices, a computer lab, and additional classrooms for grades 8-9. Yet our supreme goal has never been to erect impressive buildings with bricks and mortar. Our aim is to shape young lives with the building blocks of education, faith, and love. Through these key ingredients we believe we can impart hope to our children for a brighter future, and we are delighted to collaborate with Lighthouse Christian School in doing so.
Julius Olwenyi was only five years of age when he lost his father in 1997.
With no source of income, his mother struggled to care for him and his younger brother. The year after his father’s death, Julius was enrolled in a public school in his rural Ugandan village. He was eager to learn, but the school was poorly equipped and his mother was unable to provide him with the basic school supplies he needed. Oftentimes, she was unable to pay for his lunch fees at school, so Julius would have to go hungry until he got home in the evenings. Life was very difficult indeed, and the family was barely surviving.
In 2003, when Covenant Mercies began caring for orphans in partnership with Nagongera Gospel Centre, Julius was one of the first children enrolled in the Orphan Sponsorship Program. Thanks to the generosity of his sponsor, his school fees were paid and school supplies, uniforms, textbooks, and lunches were also provided for.
“The lack of scholastic materials and school fees were no longer a looming threat to my education and future,” Julius says. “Covenant Mercies made my acquiring an education possible and easy.”
Julius completed his primary school studies successfully and joined secondary school in 2005. By this time his mother had managed to acquire employment with the local county office. Julius was able to enroll in one of the best secondary schools in the area with the combined resources of his mother and Covenant Mercies. With the burden of his tuition and boarding fees lifted, and with frequent visits and encouragement from the local Covenant Mercies staff, Julius was able to apply himself fully to his studies and excel in all subjects. His grades were so impressive that after graduation he qualified for a full government scholarship to attend Uganda’s premier university. He is now enrolled at Makerere University, majoring in Information
Julius’ experience in Covenant Mercies’ Sponsorship Program has shown him God truly loves and cares for him. He is convinced that God purposely brought Covenant Mercies to Uganda to rescue his family in their darkest hour.
“Covenant Mercies has played a big role in my life,” he says. “The routine gathering of all sponsored children by Covenant Mercies local staff and teaching us thoroughly about God’s love for us, and following us up individually wherever we were, helped us get a better understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Julius now regularly attends church near his university and is actively serving there.
Not every child in our Orphan Sponsorship Program will achieve what Julius has achieved academically, but all have God-given talents that can be nurtured and developed when given an opportunity to flourish. We are grateful to all our sponsors for investing into the lives of our children, and we pray that each of them would follow in Julius’ footsteps and make the most of this opportunity to become all that God has created them to be.
Many large African cities are faced with the challenge of street children. When families are decimated children lose hope for their future, and they often end up on the street begging and stealing. The streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are replete with examples of this tragic loss of childhood’s innocence and opportunity.
Most children living on the streets have relatives nearby who might be minimally capable of putting a roof over their heads. However, antisocial behaviors learned on the streets aren’t easily broken, and this can make the task of reconnecting children with their families quite challenging. Such was the case with a young boy in our program named Bereket. After years of fending for himself on the street Bereket was befriended by Tesfaye Melaku, our Program Coordinator in Addis Ababa (whom we introduced in last year’s Sponsorship Program Update.) Tesfaye was quickly able to find a relative willing to take Bereket in, so we assigned him a sponsor and started supporting him in the context of his extended family.
However, things didn’t go well at first. Instead of going to school, Bereket returned to his friends on the street. He stole from his family and soon wore out his welcome. With no other relatives willing to take him in, Bereket was back on the street again. But Tesfaye continued visiting him regularly. He found a family in our program who agreed to include Bereket in their meals, then set out prayerfully to find him another home.
In time, Tesfaye found a guardian in our program who was willing to give Bereket another chance. The grandmother of a young girl named Meskerem agreed to take him in, as long as he would receive the same nutritional, medical, and educational support her granddaughter was receiving. This represented a wonderful opportunity for Bereket. He now had a chance to claim a different kind of life; far from the area of town where he might be tempted to rejoin his old friends on the street.
As of this writing, Bereket has lived for almost a year in his new home. He has adjusted well to family life, and developed a genuine love for his guardian and young foster sister. He has made friends in his new neighborhood, including some older boys (also sponsored in our program) who have been a positive influence on him.
Bereket has made a good educational adjustment as well, despite the fact that Tesfaye needed to convince the school administration to accept a 13 year-old who had never attended school. Bereket’s academic aptitude appears to be strong, and he finished his first year ranked near the middle of his class. He is in Grade Two this year, and we are looking for ways to provide extra tutoring to help him catch up with other students his age.
Bereket is learning that we serve a God of second chances. In one way or another, this is the story of every child in our program. We pray that all our children will make the most of this opportunity for a second chance at childhood, and we are grateful for each and every sponsor whose generosity is making it possible.
Of all the Portraits of Hope exhibits Covenant Mercies has ever hosted, I am probably more excited about this year’s show (our sixth) than any one before. Before I explain what makes this year’s event so special, here’s a bit of history for those who aren’t familiar…
Portraits of Hope is a photo art exhibit and silent auction benefiting the work of Covenant Mercies, and featuring the stunning African photography of David Sacks. It’s a tradition that began in 2003, when my good friend David offered to travel to Uganda with me to provide Covenant Mercies (then a brand new nonprofit organization) with the photographs we needed to tell our story and raise funds toward our mission. The images he captured led to our first Portraits of Hope event in 2004, and we haven’t looked back since.
Subsequent exhibits have traced the growth of our ministry through the years, spotlighting Ethiopia when we began working there in 2008, and Zambia in our most recent 2010 show. Cumulatively, these events have raised more than a quarter of a million dollars toward the mission of Covenant Mercies and created a treasured tradition for our ever-expanding army of compassion.
Now, what makes this year’s show so special?
If you have never before attended a Portraits of Hope event, this is the perfect year to come and find out what it’s all about! If you have attended before, you already know it’s an event you don’t want to miss! Fabulous artwork, amazing food, great live music… and all for a wonderful cause.
Hope to see you there on May 18th!