I ventured out to a part of Uganda that I am convinced might be the most beautiful place on earth last week. The vibrant green hills and blue skies contrasted the red dirt roads in such beauty. Honestly, as much as I wanted to just soak it all in, the reason for my journey to that part of Uganda was anything but beautiful.
Corruption in ministries is something I’ve learned to accept in Uganda, good intentions and ethnocentrism with blurred lines spill over and create one of the most disturbing situations I have experienced. For a long while I remained silent because I thought, well, surely I’ve misunderstood a story or situation. These people claiming to be Christ followers did not truly steal money, give themselves generous salaries or mistreat staff members, did they?
I sat in a plastic blue chair overlooking those hills and listened to these parents tell me how the sponsorship program they were in was calling for dependency. The organization created situations intentionally so parents would remember who they were dependent on- foreign non-profits with an ideology of saving the world. But they weren’t. The parents made a statement through their stories- they didn’t want the sponsorships, they just wanted their children in school.
I remember the times I interviewed parents and asked why child sponsorship was important to their family, between 5 different mothers they all responded the same way “I do not want my child to grow up to be like me.” That response changed me, they did not want dependency, but poverty is a beast and laughed at their failed attempts of escaping his captivity. They wanted their children to escape, to find a life outside of the cage that had been placed around them – and no matter how many tomatoes or onions they sold, no matter how many baskets they made, no matter how many bricks he toiled over in the hot sun and no matter how many loads of laundry she washed by hand – they were not escaping. Their children were their last hope.
He could have died. He was denied for six months the health care he begged for and the proof of a growing tumor did nothing to change this Christian organization’s mind. What could they do but wait? So they prayed. She watched her husband’s condition deteriorate as her children’s sponsors from the western world lovingly put checks in the mail. It made me angry, because it’s insulting you know? Christians across the oceans believe they are making a difference when really the organizations are letting them go hungry. Letting them sleep on the hard ground. Letting them die.
They were candid about how the organization withheld the health care programs, feeding program and gift programs that sponsors paid for. She told me about her husband’s plan to build a shop, one that they could help villagers with repairs, and would generate income and allow them to pay their children’s school fees without dependency. They were not living off sponsorship, at the same time they weren’t being helped out of poverty. They were trying to surface while being held under water. Still, she makes her family’s story one of hope, one of God moving mountains so they could meet one person who truly loved them.
It’s kinda ironic for me to say this, but child sponsorship is a toxic trend that creates a cycle of dependency and hopelessness. The dignity of parents is being removed with a selfless gesture that is supposed to bring hope but instead is a reminder of their poverty. I have always been aware that child sponsorship isn’t the answer to poverty, but a Band-Aid reaction – it will cover the wound but it won’t heal it. We need a salve that will mend these tiresome souls and breath life into their potential.
Honestly, today I watched a video from an organization that made my blood boil, because I know the truth. I wish I didn’t. I wish I was still a first-timer in Uganda where every ministry is Christ-serving and not self-serving. I wish I could go back and forget the injustices that I have witnessed. I wish I didn’t wrestle with “Do I speak out or am I jeopardizing families?”. I wish I didn’t want to go to the highest mountain and scream “Oh church, where has Jesus gone?!” I want to vomit. I want to find Jesus in those places, but I find a church that is more concerned about building a better structure, than opening their arms to those who truly need it.
Some days, I want to go home. Because Africa and Uganda do not need me. I feel like maybe I will only create more mess in this broken and beautiful land. I press forward because there are stories to be told and songs of victory to be sung.
If you are a sponsor, don’t give up hope yet, please, the children do need you.
First, be wise. pray. seek advice from those who are working on the ground in regards to how to help without hurting or damaging dignity.
Find child sponsorships that involve the entire family unit, empower a family and you empower the generations to come. Empower a family and you keep “orphans” out of orphanages and with the family they belong to. Don’t let parents live underwater, pull them with a lifesaver and then just wait; they will show the world their beautiful potential.
Find small locally run ministries. Raising Up Hope Uganda is a ministry that I adore, the director is so passionate about the work God has called him to – this child sponsorship is a bit different from most because the children have no families to belong to. Another ministry, Mission Uganda Ministries, is pouring into the community as a whole and seeing parents thrive through being empowered. They will make a difference and we can be the love.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” [Isaiah 58:6-9]
Hope is rising.