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‘I want to give more’

Special to the Daily/Rocky Mountain Bible Church

Summit County, CO ColoradoFRISCO – In Eastern Uganda, a children’s home for AIDS orphans now sits on the same plot of land a brutal government regime once used as a killing ground.”On the site where people were being executed, there is now life and hope and children who have a future,” said Bruce Miles, senior pastor at Rocky Mountain Bible Church in Frisco. The home, run by the Second Presbyterian Church of Mbale, is not an orphanage. Instead, it will provide a permanent home, education and health care to about 90 children until they reach adulthood.In the early 1990s, Uganda’s HIV/AIDS prevalence was one of the highest in the world, estimated at up to 30 percent. Now the country is considered a great success story in the disease’s decline. But AIDS has carved a bitter scar across the nation; around half the population is under 15 years of age, many of the children’s parents lost to the disease.The Rocky Mountain Bible Church sent a delegation to Uganda in June to assist the Mbale church in their goals of building stability within the community and improving quality of life for citizens by planting churches around the region, then providing wells for clean water, medical clinics and job skills training. Miles led a mission team of 23 members to the rural community of Angalia, about 20 miles outside the city of Mbale, near the Kenyan border.Unlike many international aid projects, this one was driven by the local church – not strategized by Americans with little awareness of the community’s needs, Miles said.”We really sensed that they had a burden for their own people, and we desired to come alongside them and help them in what they were trying to do,” he said.Two weeks after their return from Africa, Miles and three members of the group recounted how their lives changed by what they saw in Uganda, a country still suffering from a long history of political instability and poverty, ravaged by AIDS and malaria. The comfortable, book-filled room off the main sanctuary of Rocky Mountain Bible Church where the group sat provided a stark contrast to the stories of hardship they shared.

“It was a remarkable experience for me,” said Kyle Tucker, who works at FirstBank of Breckenridge. “I don’t even think there are words that I know to express the depth of what we saw and experienced there.”Their reasons for involvement differed.Rebekah Kennedy, a junior at Summit High School, had been raising money for more than a year for Invisible Children, an organization devoted to helping children in Northern Uganda escape being kidnapped by the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to become child soldiers. When the opportunity arose to travel to Uganda, she knew she had to go. The others weren’t even sure what drew them to Uganda, but they said they felt the need to go and help however they could.So on June 7, the group set out to visit Angalia, a rural region comprised of small communities with mud huts and thatched roofs, where a new church had been constructed from funds the Rocky Mountain Bible Church sent ahead six months prior.Although the nearby children’s home gave the group a sense of hope for the region’s future, the devastation left behind by AIDS extended far beyond the walls of the home.”Because so many people have died from the AIDS epidemic, and children are raising children, they long to be touched and held,” Tucker said. “There aren’t enough arms to go around.”Jason Thoma, a father of three young girls, saw many children the same age as his 4-year-old daughter carrying infants on their backs.”It broke my heart,” he said, to think of the level of responsibility bestowed upon children at such a young age.

During the day, mission team members visited huts in the community, telling residents about the new church and the Gospel. In the evenings, they hosted hundreds of residents at the church to spread their message. They also went to local schools where they taught AIDS education. A visit to a local prison opened their eyes even further to a level of destitution many of them had never witnessed. The prison housed around 160 people, 11 of whom were women. Two women had infants with them. Each day, prisoners walked two-and-a-half miles to find water – which was unsanitary – for the rest of the inmates, many of whom were in prison for petty crimes. Some women had been imprisoned simply because their husbands no longer wanted them. Another prison had one pot to cook for 160 people. It did not have any blankets.The prison warden literally begged the group to help them build a well for the prisoners, Miles said.Water is scarce in the Angalia region, and clean water is nearly impossible to find. All residents, not just inmates, travel miles each day to draw water from the same ditches from which cattle drink. Waterborne disease is rampant.The Ugandan church intends to drill wells at new church sites and area prisons, providing more than 200 wells across the region.When the Rocky Mountain Bible Church sent money ahead to build a church, they also sent funds for the drilling of two wells.But the mission team didn’t understand the severity of the water problem or the difficulty of building wells until they arrived in Uganda. The drill the local church had purchased was in disrepair and could barely drill 10 feet deep, let alone the 80 to 100 feet needed to reach water. To make matters worse, the drilling conditions were similar to those in Summit County; thick veins of granite ran through the ground, precluding a dull drill bit from making much progress, said Thoma, an operations supervisor at the Summit County landfill.Although the church was able to build a well that the mission group helped inaugurate, the well drilling has virtually come to a standstill after the completion of 12 wells. The equipment cannot withstand the difficult ground conditions. The group was told just three other organizations were drilling wells in the entire country.After talking with local church leaders and witnessing the lack of clean, accessible water in the area, the mission team decided providing well-digging equipment and training was one of the most important things they could contribute to the community.

“Water is the basis of life,” Thoma said. “That’s why, to me, it’s something that is a good starting point. From there, other things can grow, such as health.”Miles said that no formal plans have been made yet for a trip back to Uganda next year, but every member of this year’s team has expressed interest in returning.Tucker called the experience humbling.”I want to go back,” she said. “I want to give more.”Thoma echoed her sentiment: “I can’t believe how much it has changed my perspective. I would go back,” he said.Kennedy said she felt the same.In the meantime, Miles said he hopes the church can purchase well drilling equipment and send a team back to Uganda as early as this fall to provide equipment training. Their goal is to make the well project self-sustaining.For more information about the Rocky Mountain Bible Church, go online at http://www.rmbc.org.Julia Connors can be reached at (970) 668-4620.