Church Crawley Team Blog in East Africa
12 August 2023 17:19
Over the next few weeks a small team from one of our partners, Church Crawley, are volunteering with HHA in northern Uganda and South Sudan. This includes Carwyn (our CEO), Reninca and their family, alongside the leaders of Church Crawley, Steve and Liz, and their girls. Friends, family and anyone else can follow their personal blogs…
Sunday 6th August
Hi Church Crawley, and those that supported us to be on mission here - greetings from Uganda.
We had a long but great journey via Doha. The immigration queues at Entebbe were epic in length, but God wastes nothing. As we queued we met an ICU nurse from Sheffield. He spoke of his catholic upbringing in Eritrea and its oppressive regime and how you cannot leave the country until you’re 55. He made the precarious journey 10 years ago to Ethiopia, then to Libya to the mercy ships in Italy, and then to the jungle in Calais and finally the Uk. After being sent to Liverpool he was accepted to train at Sheffield as a nurse. He’s now married with two children. He was queuing waiting to meet his parents for the first time in ten years - unable to go home they were meeting in Kampala. He was full of Joy and was declaring that God is good.
Then an hour into queuing another flight arrived and we looked round and in the line was Tracey, one of Joshua’s guardians. We had travelled hundreds of miles to meet fellow Christian’s from Crawley! We had a wonderful couple of days in Jinja celebrating Liz and Joseph birthdays. Joseph was 12 but we can’t tell you how old Liz was!
We are travelling through the Gospel of John as families during our time here. From John 1, Liz reminded us of our identity in Christ - that each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made and the security Jesus had in who he was. Then Reninca pointed out that Johns Gospel begins with water into wine but moves quickly to Jesus in the temple - dealing with injustice. It reminds us that our identity as beloved children of God leads us to fight for justice for others. She had just finished a book about Oscar Romero - the Catholic bishop that faced head on the injustices of Central America with the love of Christ . We are praying God will break our hearts for what breaks his and at the same time encounter his Joy. In difficult circumstances there is so much Joy.
Blessings from the Burstons and the Hills x
Monday 7th August
We woke up early packed up and travelled to the smallest airport in Jinja to get a MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) flight up North. We travelled up on a 12 seater plane landing in Arua it was super exciting. It was a long journey to new Hope centre but we were amazed at all we could see along the way.
We arrived at the Centre and were greeted by lots of smiling faces. It was incredible to meet the team and see the awesome work being done by all the staff at the New Hope rehab Centre. We had a lunch of rice, beans and greens then Steve and Carwyn went straight to work training the New hope team on leadership. This was greatly received by the team who were overjoyed. Steve and Liz cooked dinner over charcoal which was yummy.
It is incredible to see all that God is doing through this small but mighty and passionate team changing lives. We are so grateful for Gods protection. Love Burstons and Hills x
Tuesday 8th August
Wow, what an epic day beginning in the early hours with a torrential downpour which continued along our 1.5 hour journey along a dirt red road and over a rickety bridge to Amazing Grace school. We got stuck in, the moment we arrived; teacher training (Grace on her own for the 2nd session!); Pastors conference (Steve & Gareth); class lessons (well done Alice and Lily, you weren't expecting that!); sensory room (such hard work Abby, sweeping the floor too!).
Throughout all this, around 100+ men, woman and children arrived looking for help for their children with disabilities. After Reninca did an impromptu session with them she and Alice carried out assessments, however with still 50 to go at 4pm it was all hands on deck...such heart breaking stories and humbling some had walked/cycled for 3 hours to come and be seen, such is there desperate need. Big thanks to Carwyn and Isaac for holding everything together!
On a lighter note, Joseph being cycled around by Anthony our driver, chapatis for brunch, fresh (and i mean FRESH!) chicken for lunch cooked by Florence, Isaacs wife, on a charcoal fire, and the school children's fascination and delight with our activities was a sight to behold!
We thank God for each other and for the community of New Hope and Amazing Grace. We pray for the sun to shine on the solar panels which will kick start the generator which will give us running water...the sun may even heat it up for a lovely warm shower!
All your prayers so appreciated.
Much love, Hills & Burstons xx
Wednesday 9th August
Day two at Amazing Grace school. We continued with the teacher training and Pastors conference. A broken plug socket, a hole drilled into the concrete floor later, and the Sensory Room was finished!
We were hosted once again for lunch by Florence who cooked a delicious meal of beef, rice, beans, greens and maize. Sitting under the shade of a tree with a slight breeze was a welcome break in the hot hot hot day.
We ended our time there with a football match between the HHA staff and the Amazing Grace staff with the school teachers winning 4-3...all down to some dubious refereeing of course, and a ridiculously unlevel pitch!
What a joy to see the kids captivated by the game, and all running onto the pitch with screams of delight when their teachers won! Liz had the honour of presenting the trophy, it really was just as if they had won the world Cup final...what a scene!!!
We thank God for His provision through generous donors for the Sensory Room (you know who you are...thank you!), for such joy, fun and laughter at the school and for keeping us all safe along the treacherous roads.
We'd value prayers for Grace who has an ear infection, that she can get the right treatment, and general protection over the team, especially Joseph, Abby, Grace, Alice and Lily, for good health, deep sleeps and bountiful energy!
Blessings from this beautiful country.
Burstons & Hills xx
Thursday 10th August
A day at the base, New Hope Centre: - - - Morning devotions led by Steve
-HHA team day led by Carwyn and Steve
-Holiday club prep for Reninca, Liz & girls
-Prosthetic leg casting by Abby & Cynthia
-Paddling pool fun for Joseph
-IT training from Carwyn, Gareth and Liz
-Clothes washing by hand...quite therapeutic!
Praise God, thanks to the extremely efficient health centre next door, Grace was given some much needed antibiotics for her ear infection. Praise God also, for the 60 year old who we watched walking on his new prothetic leg for the first time having lost his leg 2 years ago!
We thank God for the opportunity to go out for dinner in the evening, it felt like a celebration at the end of a great day all round. The journey home, through yet more torrential rain was littered with lightning illuminating the whole sky!
We pray for Carwyn, Steve, Isaac, Pastor Edward, Gareth and Phil as they travel to South Sudan for a few days, also for the ladies and Joseph remaining at the base... for everyone to be safe and to be aware of God's presence so tangibly.
It’s so good to know people are praying for us...thank you.
Sending love, Hills & Burstons xx
Friday 11th August
Have we really been here a week already?
Early this morning Steve, Carwyn and the team left for South Sudan for a few days. The journey wasn't quite as straightforward as they had planned, with a trip to the hospital along the way for an xray on Gareth's leg due to a nasty fall. Praise the Lord it wasn't broken so they were all able to continue. They managed to have a productive team meeting when they arrived.
Meanwhile, back at the base, the ladies and Joseph had a chilled time in the heat, continuing to plan for tomorrow's women's conference and children's holiday club, plus a bit more IT training.
One highlight of the day was the achievement of cooking dinner on our home made coal fire, followed by home made Popcorn and jelly...Joseph was beyond excited...well actually, we all were!
We thank God Grace is feeling a little better and that we all had showers today...yay! We also thank Him for His creation all around us, including all the weird and wonderful, and a little scary, creatures... especially at night time!
Please be praying for the team in South Sudan, for safety and protection, and for the women's conference and children's holiday club tomorrow. That God will go before us and we will see the Holy Spirit move powerfully, both in the women and children and in ourselves.
Burstons & Hills xx
Saturday 12th August:
Today, Reninca, Liz and the girls and Joseph lead a women and children’s conference in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement. Steve and I are in Juba, South Sudan, but it was incredible to see the photos and see the obvious joy and hope the conference gave to so many! Over 80% of refugees in Uganda are women and children, and with rations having been cut for so many, life is incredibly hard. This week we’ve witnessed the heart-breaking stories of children who’ve been left unable to talk for years due to the trauma they’ve faced from the war. One beautiful boy was found trying to breast feed from his dead mother, having lost both parents in the war. To see hope being bought into the settlement, even for a few short hours was beautiful to see. Please pray it’ll be an encouragement for all those who attended and they’ll leave knowing their loved and that in some way, it will help in their journey.
Steve and Gareth have been leading a Pastors conference in Juba, a challenging place. Steve found it heart-warming to hear the stories of pastors who are returning back to South Sudan having been refugees, and others who have stuck it out in South Sudan over an incredibly tough time. With so many challenges, they were so happy to receive theological training and passionate to use it to bring transformation to the country they love so much. The war has left much poverty in this country and it’s humbling passing through some of the communities as those taking us around share their memories of all this city has faced. Unimaginable stories hard to comprehend.
Tomorrow, we’ll be at several churches in Uganda and South Sudan. Please pray for continued safety and that those we meet with tomorrow will be encouraged with hope and peace beyond human understanding.
With love and thanks for all your support and prayers, the Burstons and Hills xxx
Monday 14th August:
Yesterday back at camp, after Reninca cooked us delicious pancakes on the coal fire, we were taken to a local church in BidiBidi where some of the HHA team worship. It was beautiful and one of the highlights so far...a young man led us through a Bible study, James 4:1-4 before the service started, very thought provoking. Then we had a whole mix of worship with drums and home made metal shakers, including songs and dancing led by children and youth, plus testimonies, prayer.
Liz gave her testimony and looked at the story of Hannah, finishing with choosing joy despite hardship. It was so humbling to be with such worshipful and committed people. The building itself, mud walls; corrugated roof; wooden beams decorated with bunting; lectern; dirt floor laden with plastic chairs and wooden benches; had been built at such great cost to them.
Today we visited a church in Palorinya for a smaller kids club this time, only about 100! A few children with disabilities came, including a young lad in a wheelchair whose mum was going to leave at home but he insisted on not being left behind! A teenage boy with downs syndrome arrived early with his adoptive mum (his birth parents didn't want him due to his disability) and absolutely loved it, especially playing foot all with Joseph and the girls, it was so heart warming!
The women's conference kicked off with worship and was well received, we never quite know if what we're saying has 'landed' but then the women respond after and we realise it has!
Steve and Carwyn arrived home safely early evening laden with goodies from Juba - it was a great celebration, sharing with each other over the camp fire, all that had happened over the last few days. Steve or Carwyn will provide an update on their visit later in the week…
We thank God for Steve and Carwyns safe return. We pray for healing for Phil who has Malaria. Please also pray for all the kids we've seen so far, especially those with disabilities, that they all felt seen and loved and they learnt more of God's love for them no matter their ability. Also for those who run the local churches, for God to sustain them through all the challenges they face.
Much love, Hills & Burstons xx
Tuesday 15th August:
On our final full day at the centre, after devotions and breakfast, Steve, Liz, Reninca, Grace and Lily set off for another day leading a women’s conference and kids club at a church in Marobi.
Another day of insightful teaching pressing into community and identity, delivered to the women. We heard powerful testimonies, one woman recounted how, when she lost a baby at birth, she was blamed for killing her baby by being careless with pushing during contractions. This happened again with her second baby. The third baby she delivered in hospital successfully as she had the right support for the issues she had during the first two deliveries, however she was so affected by the first two losses and accusations that she turned to drink and lost a lot of weight. She then started going to church where she found a supportive and loving community and gave her life to Christ. Since then she has stopped drinking, put on weight and her life has been transformed! In the final session Graces bracelet making went down a treat…so much so that one women burst into song with joy!! At the end there was worship and prayer ministry during which a woman came to know Jesus…Praise God!
During the women’s conference the team led a lively session for the many wonderful children of all different abilities that came and joined us. We learnt about the Bible, played games and sang songs…some led by the new addition of Steve who brought lots of fresh laughter to the room!
Meanwhile back at New Hope Alice was given the opportunity to spend the day with the doctors and nurses in the on-site paediatric ward. This gave Alice a great insight into the workings of healthcare services in refugee camps and common conditions children present with. Alice was slightly shocked by the nurse to patient ratio with only a handful of nurses for about 30 child inpatients, most with malaria. This was a valuable experience for Alice to take home and apply to her children’s nursing degree.
Carwyn Joseph and Abi spent the day at the centre, Abi assisted the team in making prosthetics and was very pleased with a finger cast she made! Joseph was in his element in the wheelchair department, making the wheelchairs fit for purpose and can survive some wear and tear!
In the evening we were privileged to be invited to baby Bernice’s (daughter of Florence, the centres receptionist) 1st birthday party. We had a great time singing, praying and eating cake in celebration of her life. We ended the night with pasta and sauce (chef Liz’s speciality) and a bonfire.
We praise God for our amazing time at New Hope and the wonderful people we have met.
Please pray for our next leg of our travels, as we help lead a conference for the Community Based Rehab workers in Moyo.
With love, the Burston’s and Hill’s xx
Wednesday 16th August:
We woke up early having all had a fractured night sleep from the epic thunderstorms happening during the night. We packed up and went for a final morning devotion with the staff. Steve shared which they found really moving. We then said a sad goodbye to the centre staff at New Hope.
This centre is amazing and it has been incredible seeing the staff literally changing lives every day through physio, providing wheelchairs and making prosthetics and orthotics, though that is just what happens on the surface so much happens underneath to change lives everyday. It’s been a privilege to see the team working so hard, who all sacrifice living away from family and only seeing them periodically to work at the centre and help the last the least and the lost.
We packed up and drove with Anthony our incredible driver who was amazing considering many of the roads had been washed away and we had to turn multiple times as roads were inaccessible. We arrived in Moyo staying at the multipurpose guest house.
We walked into the market and bought some fruit for lunch, then Steve and Carwyn did some training for the Kajo Kejistaff team who arrived from South Sudan. We were delighted to see Phil and Issac back from Juba, after Phil’s time in hospital with Malaria. In the afternoon we prepared training for the Community Based Rehab team training and got unpacked.
Tomorrow starts a two day conference for the Community Based Rehabilitation team who are an incredible group of volunteers who support people with disabilities in the community. They are an inspiring group of people who love Jesus and seek to be his hands and feet.
The evening involved listening to a four hour worship rehearsal. It was simply beautiful.
Thursday 17th August:
What a privilege to spend the day with about 30 of the HHA East Africa team for the Community Based Rehabilitation Conference. Everyone is well and we’ll share more on that tomorrow, but for now a few reflections from our weekend visit to Juba…
To say it was an eventful trip is an under-statement. Leaving early in the dark, our friend Gareth fell badly, leaving him with a suspected broken leg which became more painful as we progressed on the road. It had rained severely the night before with cars stuck in the dirt tracks, some blocking roads, one bridge broken by the rushing water. We managed to get Gareth an x-ray and fortunately no fracture, but very badly bruised.
We arrived in Juba and whilst all buildings are heavily fortified, it was encouraging that the significant military presence we witnessed in 2016 had reduced and the oppressive atmosphere we’d previously experienced was less so. The hope for South Sudan was perhaps most powerfully highlighted on the Sunday when we visited a small house church in an area with displaced South Sudanese families who’ve fled fighting from other regions. It was incredibly moving as the pastor explained the house by the tree where we met, had been a location of systematic killing, in which the home owner had been indiscriminately killed due to his tribal race. This had happened in 2016/17, at a time when there was intense fighting between the Nuer and Dinka in the city. Despite this history and the poverty around, the congregation of maybe 20-30 included both Nuer and Dinka households who’d reconciled and now stood as ‘one family’, alongside other tribes, denominations, young and old, able and disabled. It was a beautiful image of reconciliation and hope from what was once a scene of such senseless horror. The other lasting thought was how many children in the congregation were clearly malnourished. South Sudan has many challenges, food insecurity is one.
Another is malaria, and on Sunday our good friend and HHA volunteer Phil who’d joined us in Juba, had to be admitted to hospital suffering badly from malaria. With insurance in place we were incredibly grateful for the excellent care he received at a private hospital. But, it was a humbling reminder of how critical malaria can be. In fact, in Uganda, it’s the leading cause of death amongst children. We have the privilege of mosquito nets and anti-malarial drugs on this trip. The majority of families we work with do not, with malaria claiming a child (under 5) nearly every minute globally.
Despite the challenges we faced on the trip, it was a success, perhaps most significantly meeting the Director General of The Ministry of Health to sign an MOU between them an HHA. With this MOU signed, HHA can now open their new clinic in Kajo Keji, South Sudan at end of August. On the way back to Uganda, it was amazing having the chance to stop by and see the new clinic under construction. It’s certainly bright, but is going to be a life-saving facility in a community still trying to rebuild after the devastating war. The dream of a new HHA health facility that started in 2016 is now a reality and a huge thanks to all those at Church Crawley and other friends/family/supporters who’ve contributed to that and made it a reality!
Saturday 19th August:
After an extremely successful CBR conference we said goodbye to Multi-Purpose and Moyo and set off for our next and final leg of our mission trip - Adjumani, another refugee camp.
The first leg of the journey was stunning - rolling hills, dotted with rugged rocks and mud hut villages, took us down to a ferry on which we crossed the beautiful Nile. We continued on to Adjumani via a pit stop in Gulu, plus a brief stop to purchase some tarpoline to cover the luggage on our roof before the heavens opened!
We arrived at our destination early afternoon in blazing heat...late 30s, the pool was a welcome sight and a real treat, especially for Joseph and Abi who made the most of it! We chilled for the rest of the day, though a little too chilled later at a nearby restaurant, having to wait nearly 4 hours for our dinner to be served ...some of us got eaten alive by the mozzies as we sat patiently outdoors, telling ourselves that surely it'll come in a minute?!
It was a great opportunity though, to reflect on all the things we had done, people we had met, stories we had heard, some heart breaking, some heart warming. It's been such an incredible privilege.
As we head towards our final day of mission tomorrow, visiting a church to deliver men's, womens and kids ministries, we pray for renewed energy (the forecast is HOT!) and a real expectancy for God to use us and for us to be just as blessed.
Much love, Hills & Burstons xx