From May until November, G.O.D. Int’l sent three families to East Africa, furthering the vision of our organization through a variety of service capacities. While we always have cooperatives on the ground in both Kenya and Uganda, when we are able to send our representatives from the States to partner with those cooperatives, we get a powerful glimpse into a future together. Because we do not believe that the alleviation of poverty can happen through the work of individuals, we work together in teams (or small “communities”) to offer a variety of specialties that can bring holistic health to a community. Teams can be an effective model of the kind of cooperation and peace that societies desperately need to see. The team referred to here is not just the three families sent from the States, but also the team that they join on the ground in East Africa, made up of our cooperatives.
Cooperatives are our in-country witnesses of the development that can occur as a result of learning God’s word, and allowing it to take root in our lives. We believe that human beings are the development project, not of ours, but of God’s—‘for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works’ (Eph. 2:10). Our cooperatives in East Africa have been learning God’s Word for several years, and have consequentially developed the confidence and self-worth to learn competency in ‘good works’ like well repair, sustainable building, gardening, preventative health, and more.
Acquiring Land and Our Hope for It
In 2012, G.O.D. East Africa team purchased a plot of land from which we can operate in Uganda. For our organization, though, this is far more than an operation's hub. This land plot is an opportunity to embody what it is we hope for all the East Africans watching us. We hope for modest, well-constructed, clean homes that do not lead to sickness or disease. We hope for everyone to be able to grow their own food, and sustain their children nutritiously from such labor. We hope for clean water. We hope for enough electricity to allow one to enjoy their friends, read a book, or have a bible study after a long day of work. We hope for children to be holistically educated, and for health and life for all people. These are not the standards we place on ourselves as Westerners in a foreign land, but the standards we think should be achievable, or duplicable, by anyone. Because this is not the case for many in East Africa currently, we consider it our responsibility to figure out how to make it so on our land plot, so that others can be illuminated to such a possibility in their own life. This requires us to have to think critically and creatively about how to construct such a domicile that could be duplicable to an average Ugandan.
To this end, our team has been working to establish such an abode. As Americans, we do not have much experience with being in need. But because of the values we have learned from the Word of God, and the limited funds we have, we have to learn. So while it may be easier (and quicker!) to utilize power and money to establish a comfortable domestication, we can’t do it that way. We are learning.
Josh Kurtz has received training in assessing and fixing boreholes and wells from Equip International. Their organization, as well as ours, recognizes that while many organizations construct wells in the third world, very few have people on the ground trained in doing well repair. In Josh’s assessment of wells in the vicinity where our team stayed in Uganda, he found that six out of the ten boreholes were out of use, some of them remaining that way for the better half of a year. Josh was able to form a team of men (American and Ugandan) to assist him in fixing the broken wells. In all, they repaired four of the six (two were beyond repair), providing water for hundreds people in local villages. In addition, the men on Josh’s team received hands-on training and education in assessing and fixing wells that allows them to continue assessing and repairing wells.
On our own land, we designed a water catchment system by installing gutters and a storage tank off of the main triplex building. This storage tank is able to hold 8,000 liters, providing enough water for washing, cooking, and drinking (after purification). Introducing this kind of water storage to the construction of individual family homes, combined with education on how to purify water, can be revolutionary in Uganda’s access to water.
Sustainable Building and Food Production
The triplex is our first structure on the land, and was built as temporary housing as families build their own homes. The triplex is outfitted with several other innovative building techniques that are new, but affordable, to the surrounding area. The triplex was constructed with compressed earth blocks (an alternative to fired bricks that reduces cost, transport, and firewood as the bricks are made and cured on site.) The triplex includes an eco-toilet (safer to build and reduces insects and pests), as well as screened windows and doors (keeping malaria-ridden mosquitoes away). We are continually working on a solar energy system and solar water pump. The triplex was lime-washed on the exterior. Lime wash is more affordable than paint, allows for beautiful color options, and doesn’t chip away. Rylan Aaseby and Josh Kurtz spent a large majority of their stay on these necessary practical projects. They also produced a temporary meeting shelter for bible studies and group meals, as well as a playground for the children (the building materials for both of these were local and duplicable). Cooperative families are currently farming on the land surrounding the triplex, increasing the amount of food they can produce as herbs that can be utilized for medicinal uses (Grace Aaseby experimented in this area).
Building (Biblically Literate) People
As an organization, we value building people over structures. While structures are necessary, they are not supposed to take all of our attention. The real project God has been concerned about since the beginning is the development of the human being (Gen. 1:26-28). We want to do as we see our Father doing (John 5:19). For that reason, we offer education in learning about the Lord. Our cooperatives have been taking a class on the book of Genesis via recordings from the Institute for G.O.D. Int’l. John Nyago and Rylan Aaseby were able to facilitate discussions on the content of the class with these men, correct their homework, and have dialogue based on the book and its relevance in their lives. John was even able to extend this class to non-English speakers by holding a separate class in his native Luganda tongue. Wives and children testified to the positive impact this had at home, and wives were encouraging their husbands to go to class, even on their day off.
Many young men frequented our headquarters for biblical teachings, advice, and love. Rylan was able to teach them the book of Exodus during their time together. These young men have become very faithful and reliable servants, and have partnered with us on a number of practical projects. Every Sunday G.O.D. Int’l representatives and friends would come together for an evening of worship, prayer, bible study, and fellowship. These moments are beyond meaningful, as we work together to become a community that keeps commitment to one another, and works to extend justice to neighbors.
The women had not a few bible studies of their own. Wives would meet together for an accountability group and prayer. In addition, Grace Aaseby and Jen Nyago taught weekly at a local Rwandan women’s bible study, encouraging women who were away from their home country that they could depend on the Lord, and begin to trust one another. Alyssa Kurtz and Jen Nyago traveled every other week to a women’s prison where they were able to encourage inmates with the word, as well as distribute much-needed items like blankets, food, clothes, and feminine products.
In Uganda, it is common for children to be sent to boarding school at a very young age, creating a culture where parents are not too involved with their child’s education and development. Our team was an interruption
into such a paradigm, as our parents take very seriously the biblical mandate to educate their children in the Word of God (Deuteronomy 6). As a result, Ugandan and American mothers partnered together for a weekly children’s time where kids could learn bible stories, character lessons, as well as enjoy crafts, snacks, and fellowship together.
Alyssa Kurtz and Grace Aaseby enrolled their eldest children in the school that borders the G.O.D. Int’l property. This was quite the challenge for the children, as their friends all spoke Luganda, and the conditions of the government facility were squalor at best. Believing that the best resource they had to offer was themselves; Alyssa and Grace assisted the head teacher several times a week. They were able to conduct English classes as well as help come up with creative solutions for lessons that would help the children learn (instead of just memorize), again, without many resources.
In addition, Jen Nyago was able to serve as an advocate for several health emergencies that occurred. In overpopulated hospitals with no abundance of medical personnel, we have found bedside advocacy to be of utmost importance, and even life saving. Trained in counseling, Jen's gave those in need the attention necessary to assist navigating through difficult situations, from malaria to childbirth.
In Jeremiah chapter 29, the prophet encourages the Israelites to go into the foreign land of Babylon and make their home there. He gives them a word from the Lord with instructions on what they should do:
“Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage…Multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:5-7)
The good plans he has for them, to give them a hopeful future (vs. 11) start with these very things: building, planting, raising children, and making sure they are healthy—the very things that our team was focused on during their stay in Uganda. Our work in East Africa continues as we attempt to ensure the health and life of the people God has placed in our lives, who can serve as a model for what is possible for others in the ‘city’ in which we reside. We are grateful to serve a God who has a good plan, and it is our will to follow it.