Monday, November 28, 2011

the best $140 i ever spent

-posted by Thomas-
As I reached the crest of the hill and made a right along the dirt road my eyes caught something that made my heart jump.  Thirty yards ahead, walking in single file towards the same building as me was a row of young men dressed in suits and ties.  My heart began racing as excitement, affection, zeal, and curiosity swirled inside of me.  At that moment I thought, “Today I spent possibly the best $140 of my life.”  Now, I have made many financial investments that I do not regret.  I am proud to say I have invested money in God’s kingdom many times - but this one was special.   I don’t know that I will ever have such a simple opportunity to do something so meaningful again.  At the risk of being long and boring, I beg you to allow me to share this story from the beginning.    
     I believe it was around the year 2006 (it could have been a little earlier) I was first introduced to an organization/movement called “Invisible Children.”  Invisible Children is a multi-million dollar charity organization that began with 3 young men from California.  They wanted to do something significant with their lives so they decided to document their very own journey into war-torn parts of Africa.  Their goal was to experience the suffering of these people first-hand and somehow go home to raise awareness.  Their journey  led them to northern Uganda, to a city called Gulu.  During the late 90’s and even the first four years of this century northern Uganda was continually terrorized by a rebel army that ruthlessly murdered, raped, destroyed, stole, and most notoriously abducted children and forced them to be soldiers.  Uganda was unstable politically and economically and the gov’t was unable to provide protection to the people living in this region.  It was either leave your home and possessions and flee – or live each day with the risk of your worst nightmares.  

            By the time I was exposed to the “Invisible Children” documentary created by these 3 young men, most of the damage in Uganda was over.  The rebel army had taken refuge in neighboring unstable countries and northern Uganda was beginning to try to “pick up the pieces” of its society.  Invisible Children continued to produce riveting videos of the struggles of people in Gulu.  I watched, read, and soaked up everything they produced over the next four years.  I watched stories of pre-teens and teens who were given a gun and forced to kill; who were raped and now carried the child of their abuser; youth with scars and mangled limbs left to begin their lives over again.  Northern Uganda was now “safe” but the lives of these young people would never be the same.  Eventually we began hosting Invisible Children events at our church.  Some of our youth became Invisible Children “junkies” as well.  Long before I knew about Watoto, I was praying for the young people of Gulu whose lives had been devastated by evils which I could scarcely fathom as realities.
      Then, as so many of you know, in the spring of 2010 I was introduced to Watoto Church and Watoto Childcare Ministries.  I was elated to discover that in a war-torn, HIV devastated, economically challenged, politically unstable place like Uganda – God had raised up a world-class church to bring healing and hope.  I soon learned that Watoto was ministering in Gulu!  When my family came to volunteer for six weeks in February, we were privileged to travel to Gulu at the end of our very first week.  I was honestly lost for words to see the quality of ministry and outreach that Watoto had done in Gulu:  a local church, a baby’s home, a children’s village, day programs for HIV women, and counseling for trauma victims.  Then I discovered that Watoto had even taken about 30 war-affected students from a cheap make-shift government school and brought them to one of their villages.  

          During our first six weeks at Suubi I met one of these young men, named Patrick.  Patrick shared his testimony with me and he became friends with our entire family.  When we returned to Suubi in July, I still had a great curiosity for the Gulu students.  I discovered that they were all placed in a 3 year vocational program because they were too far behind in regular school.  Most of them had lost many years of their education to the war.  Over the last 3 months I have slowly had the privilege of meeting a few more of these students and even teaching some in a discipleship class.  I wanted so bad to just sit them down and ask them – what all happened to you during the war?  When were you abducted?  Did you kill people?  How did you escape?  But living with them opened up my eyes to the fact that these young men wanted to be normal again.  They did not want to spend the rest of their lives talking about those nightmares.  They wanted to study, play soccer, and talk about the future.  So I have politely constrained my curiosity out of respect for them. 

 Eventually I came to learn that the Gulu students were going to graduate Dec 2 from their vocational program in a joint graduation service with the high school students.  This would mark the end of an era for Watoto.  These young men would now enter trade school or return home to work.  Suubi village would still be home to hundreds of miracles because every Watoto child is a miracle.  But to have former child soldiers, who have been saved from the darkest clutch of evil, is just special.  To worship beside someone who was the victim of some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in this decade is simply remarkable.  To see them smile, sing, clap, and dance in God’s presence is like a tonic of inspiration for an American like me.  I began to ask around, and I found that there would be no special recognition or celebration for them.  They would leave Suubi quietly and spread back out into the fabric of Uganda to be the salt and light that Watoto envisioned.  

       About two weeks ago I just couldn’t help it.  I went to the director of the vocational department and asked him about the possibility of someone like myself funding an appreciation dinner for these Gulu boys.  He went to work on the possibility and informed me that for about $140 US we could pull off such a gig.  So we set Sunday evening November 28th at 6pm as our date.  The boys were invited as well as their vocational teachers.  At first I was torn about the cost.   Our monthly budget of $2000 doesn’t include $140 appreciation meals for people I barely know but happen to be enamored with.  We have “cushion” money in our bank account that is supposed to be used wisely and sparingly along the way.  I live each week here with the sharp reality that we simply do not know how long our support will last . . . but these were the Gulu boys!  So my emotions have see-sawed for a week now between pride/excitement and worry/regret.  I love to do things like this but I know I didn’t come to Uganda just to play Santa Claus (no pun intended towards my current facebook profile pic).  But when I topped that hill and saw those eight dressed in the finest clothes they owned walking towards the classroom that would serve as our dining hall – I knew I had made the right choice.  I rarely see students on the village in suits – suits are only for very special occasions.  Most of the time I see the Gulu boys in old shirts and pants that are too short for them.  So the suits told me that these boys were feeling honored.

 pictured here is David and Patrick, two boys I have been able to meet with and disciple on a weekly basis.  to hear David's story, you can watch this video link from you tube.  the video was filmed here at Suubi Village.  
    Our evening with them was absolutely heavenly.  They were all so grateful.  We had to bring forks from our house for them to eat with (in Africa it is common to be invited to a meal with a “bring your own cup, plate, and/or silverware” policy).  

  After we had all introduced ourselves and eaten to our hearts content, I gave them a short speech/sermon.  I told them what an inspiration they were to me and many others back in America and I encouraged them to keep their hopes high during their transition time.  Then we opened the floor for them to speak.  We all realized once we were together that this would be their one and only chance to process their graduation and upcoming transitions together.  About ten of them addressed the crowd with parables, wise sayings, gratitude, exhortations to keep focused on Christ, and even crazy stories of memories they had made together (jumping off bridges naked).  Their teachers also encouraged them and then we prayed for them.  Then they sang some praise songs for us in English and Acholi – there are no words to describe what those moments meant to me.  At 10pm, with huge smiles and hugs they all disappeared into the night to walk ¾ mile in the dark back home.  As we left, Mika said, “If you don’t blog about this I am.”  It’s 1:20 am as I wrap this up but my heart is still overflowing with awe and fulfillment.  Who am I that God has allowed my grandest dreams to come true?  In 5 years time, I went from watching Invisible Children Videos to eating dinner with former child soldiers and listening to them worship.  The same grace that snatched them from their hellish circumstances has chosen to intersect my life with theirs.  I am humbled at the thought.  If you actually read this whole thing – God bless you for being such a kind and enduring friend.


  1. God bless you Thomas for your heart for those around you! What an amazing time for these boys to be honored, to be gathered together and celebrated! God is with you my friend and I LOVE hearing how HIS plan is unfolding!

  2. Hi Thomas
    It was awesome to read your story this morning. I thought to myself $140.00 dollars to us here in Aus is not a significant amount of money and with that amount in Uganda you can do so much and bless so many.I read your entire article and of course I was moved.Karrieanne and I would love to be able to send you a financial gift so that in the future if another one of these moments presents themselves to you that you can action it with giving a second thought or have to consider your mothly budget. If you could please let us know how we can do that perhaps you could email me at

  3. Brother Thomas! I loved reading every word of this blog-post. You are making a wonderful contribution to the future of these young men and to the nation of Uganda! God Bless you and Mika and your children during this Holy season of the year. MERRY CHRISTMAS!