What could possess someone who has been in a job for just a couple years and earned very little vacation time to use two weeks of that precious vacation time to go to work. Not just easy work either but long hours of backbreaking, hot, sweaty labor in weather that alternates between pouring, ground soaking rain that leaves you slogging through mud capable of swallowing vehicle tires, and blazing sun so intense that you can see heat waves squirming up from the ground as the mud dries and transforms into rock hard earth that can repel a pickaxe. Did I mention that there would be no pay for the work? No monetary compensation whatsoever.
What could possess a man to do that?
“It was God’s calling that drove me to take part on this mission trip,” Travis said.
When God calls, you listen.
My son, Travis, is the individual I referred to above, but he wasn’t the only one who took that trip. Several men and women took time away from their regular jobs, their families, and their comfortable, day-to-day lives to fly to Africa with ITEC (International Technical Electric & Construction), a group that seeks to improve the lives of others and to share the love of God with them at the same time.
The last week of this past September, Travis and one of his coworkers, Trey Harper, joined a group of like-minded people to fly to the war torn Democratic Republic of Uganda, in Africa. There they boarded a small bus to an orphanage out in the bush.
It would be hard for Americans to fathom such a place.
The orphanage, Restoration Gateway, consists of four pods. Each pod is made up of seven homes. There is one “mother” and nine children in each home. One of the children may be the pod mother’s natural child but the other eight are children orphaned by the war or AIDs.
Besides the pods and their families there is a main building which serves as a school/gym/church. There is also a hospital which is manned by one doctor and a dentist’s office with one dentist. The hospital contains enough equipment that the doctor can perform minor surgery and the dentist can do most standard dental work.
Did I mention that the orphanage has never been hooked up to a power grid? Never! It does have a generator but the fuel for that must be husbanded carefully. The generator is outside of the dentist’s office and, before the ITEC group arrived the hospital only had power if the dentist’s office had power. If either of the doctors needed to use equipment that runs on electricity, they had to start the generator and complete their work before it ran out of fuel. That or leave the operating room to refill the tank and restart the power plant in the middle of the procedure.
The children at the orphanage were born to parents who were unable to care for them. Themselves the result of being abducted from their parents and raised to be mindless child-soldiers or prostitutes for the Lord’s (think war lords and you get the idea) Resistance Army, the orphans’ parents’ minds were so twisted by the evil organization that they never learned to love and abandoned many of the children they produced. Others contracted HIV during that experience and died of AIDs, leaving their children alone.
A few years ago, a young woman named Jolly Okot was able to escape her enslavement to the LRA. Rather than surrendering to the depression and broken spirit so many would have fallen victim to after living through that experience, Jolly was filled with a determination to help others.
I spoke of Ms. Okot in my previous post, “Jolly and Her Invisible Children”. This orphanage is one small part of the miracle she hopes to accomplish.
Travis and his associates arrived at the orphanage and went to work. Most of the materials they needed had arrived from the U.S. just a couple days before the crew got there and was contained in a 40’ shipping container, but there was also a lot of creative engineering done by the intrepid group of volunteers. They had a tractor to make moving things easier. A couple local welders made an attachment for it to help unroll the conduit and cable. In a normal year, they would have had to work in deep mud which would have limited the tractor’s use. They had several thousands of dollars worth of components for the solar power system they planned to install, and basically only two weeks to get it all done. Though there was still some mud from earlier rains, this year, as Travis said, “There was no mud. During the rainy season we were blessed with two weeks of no rain!”
The men and women were up to the task, using ingenuity to overcome any obstacles as they cropped up.
Travis explained, “Our biggest hold-up was the 4000 feet of four foot deep ditch that the conduit was going in. It was being dug by pick and shovel. In some places they had 50 foot long stretches of rock to get through.”
When the time came for most of the Americans to leave, the orphanage had a dependable, constant source of electricity for the first time ever. The doctors were finally able to work on patients and communicate with them at the same time. Except for some unforeseen dire emergency, the noise of the generator is gone forever.
I asked Travis about his experiences in Africa and he glossed over the hard work. He barely mentioned the suffocating heat. What he did tell me about was the smiles…the smiles of the pod mothers and their children. He told me about the indomitable spirit of people who had known so much pain but were now living in a facility where they could eat regular, healthy meals; sleep inside out of the weather; have access to good medical treatment; and have electricity to make it all easier. He talked of the joy of people who could worship God as they wanted and were not forbidden by some warlord from doing so.
Was there a downside to his trip to Uganda?
“Yes,” Travis answered. The downside, besides missing his family, was the broken heart of falling in love with those beautiful children and not being able to bring any of them home with him. The Ugandan government, rightfully, wants to ensure the welfare of its citizens, but in so doing they have thrown up almost insurmountable roadblocks for foreigners wanting to adopt.
“Oh, well,” he said. “We can always go back. There is more work to be done and more children to help.”
Yes there is, Travis. Yes there is. But, with people like your group, progress will be made.
If you would like to know more about the orphanage, go to their website at www.restorationgateway.com. For more information about ITEC, check their site at www.ITEC.org.
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(above) A short presentation I put together from video and pictures the ITEC group let me use.
(below) The volunteers did get a little time out when they got everything done that they could, and they got to enjoy more of the beauty of Uganda.