Missionary Men

Three from Madison, Ind.,
get first-hand look at life in Uganda

Experience gives them new appreciation
for life in the U.S.

UGANDA (February 2018) – The floors were dirt, the desks worn, the building made of mud and sticks. This was the school for some of the Imani Milele children we had traveled thousands of miles in early December to visit and help. The conditions were worse than expected, but to the children it was a place of hope. And they were joyful.
If you’ve never heard of Imani Milele, it is a Christian organization and children’s choir from Uganda, Africa. They travel around to churches throughout the United States and witness to people through song and dance. In doing so, they help raise money to educate orphans and vulnerable kids in Uganda.
Imani currently educates more than 3,000 children in eight schools throughout the country. My family and others were asked to host two children for four days last August while they were on their tour stop in Madison, Ind., at North Madison Christian Church.

Photo provided

From left, Tim Chandler, Nick Meacham and Kyle Harsin pose with children during their December trip to Uganda.

Prior to this choir, the founder, the Rev. Moses Ssemanda Mbuga, had little means of funding the school and educating children in post-war Uganda. According to Moses, during the civil war, anyone who was successful and had an education fled the country, leaving them to start from scratch once the war was over.
During their stay in our home in Madison, the children’s joy and exuberance were infectious. That must be true, because during this time they were able to convince a church and community to donate money and get three men from Madison – Tim Chandler, Kyle Harsin and me – who had no previous intention to travel thousands of miles, to solidify a partnership with this country and organization. And that’s exactly what we did.
Getting on the bus as we left the airport, the country’s natural beauty was breathtaking. Rolling hills, tropical foliage and fruit trees surrounded the third largest lake in the world (Lake Victoria), which is also the source of the Nile River. The driving scene in Uganda was much different than even the most crowded and busy U.S. cities. No traffic lights, boda boda’s (African motorcycles) weaving through traffic and pedestrians everywhere made for a unique traveling experience.

Photo provided

Nick Meacham is pictured with members of the Imani Milele Choir, including Grace (middle) and Reagan (right), who were hosted by Nick and his family during their tour stop in Madison, Ind.

As we passed through the capital city of Kampala toward the town of Mityana, the hustle and bustle continued – hundreds of people selling stuff, cooking food and carrying items on their heads. We saw many kids with no shoes. After stopping once to eat, and several hours in the bus, we finally arrived at our hotel in Mityana. Imani children and adults greeted us at the bus with a warm welcome. After a quick visit, we headed to our rooms for the night. It was the first of many eye-opening days in Uganda.
Over the next four days we traveled into the Ugandan “bush” to visit the most isolated Imani schools. The contrast of emotions during this time was astounding. We interacted with hundreds of beautiful children, met teachers and leaders from each school, and attended local church gatherings. Upon arriving at each school, the children greeted us, waved palm branches, played drums and sang and danced for us. They hugged us, shook our hands and held onto us. We were like celebrities to them.
It was awesome, but it was also overwhelming. In the village of Kasanda, we were taken to a house made of mud and stick. This home belonged to a 14-year-old girl who was tasked with raising her two younger siblings because her parents had left them. Along the road, we passed by countless mud and stick homes and children with little to no clothing. The poverty was unlike anything in the United States. But despite this, the people were joyful and full of hope.
After our journey to the “bush,” we made our way back to Kampala. We visited two more schools, then journeyed to the source of the Nile River, where we went to an outdoor restaurant and encountered wild monkeys. The children in the Imani choir noted how monkeys in Uganda are similar to squirrels back in the United States.

Photo provided

Nick Meacham is pictured (in back) along with children from one of the remote Imani schools.

The final part of our trip was spent in Kampala near the Lusaka school, the largest of the Imani centers. We spent time with the choir children and helped prepare for their Thanksgiving celebration and leadership conference. This is an annual event held every December that brings people in from all over the country and surrounding region to take part in a huge feast, with singing and dancing, performances by the choir and preaching by pastors from all over the world. What a humbling and amazing experience this was. We helped serve food, worshipped and sang and danced with them. Their passion and joy was infectious and left me wondering why it’s not like that back in the United States.
This joy was one of many reasons why I had fallen in love with this country and their people. The happiness and content-ness of the people I met, no matter their circumstance, was enviable. But after eight seemingly short days, it was time to leave. While we were sad to say goodbye, we were ready to get home to see our families and sleep in our own beds. But this trip had changed things. We were leaving with a new appreciation for the things we have here, as well as a longing to help the children and people of Uganda. It was an unforgettable experience.

• Nick Meacham is the graphics assistant for the RoundAbout and a member of the North Madison Christian Church. For more information about the Imani Milele organization or how to donate, visit imanimilele.com.

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