Monday, 12 March 2007

International Outlook, Garry Skinner and Watoto.

This past weekend I’ve been up on Tamborine Mountain at the International Outlook Conference. This was my first I.O – but I have been up to Tamborine for so many other camps it feels like my second home.

I.O is focused on Overseas Mission. It gives all of the Missionary Organisations a chance to showcase the work they are doing throughout the world, and is the perfect place for anyone interested in short-term or long-term mission work. Obviously my main involvement was with WEC and I spent a fair bit of time hanging around their stand.

The main speaker for the weekend was Garry Skinner from the Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC) in Uganda. Garry is Canadian but has been working in Africa for over 25 years, when God called him to start an English speaking church in downtown Kampala (Sidenote ~ not such a weird notion when you find out Uganda [like The Gambia] was colonised by the English as is an English speaking nation – end sidenote) KPC was founded in 1984 and now has well over 7000 members and almost 200 cells based all over the city. It is an exciting church ministry, with such an amazing community servant hood, including Watoto Child Care Ministries.

Garry and his family arrived in Uganda amidst civil war, they have seen the country torn apart by war, and then again as the HIV virus swept through the continent. Uganda is one of the worst effected countries by HIV in the world and Garry and the people at KPC felt as the church they needed to do something to counter the effect AIDs was having on their nation.

Watoto Child Care Ministries is a response to that.

Uganda has endured brutal dictators, the scourge of civil war and the deadly AIDS epidemic. An estimated 2 million children in Uganda have been orphaned by these calamities, 880,000* of them as a result of AIDS alone. (*UNAIDS stats)

The country is still reeling from a past of corruption, brutality and oppression. The economy is improving, but still struggling. Social services are scarce, water and sanitation systems are unavailable to most, and poverty and disease are prevalent. Every day, scores of children are orphaned and abandoned in the streets. The government is not equipped to provide care for them. Private babies homes and adoption centers can't keep up and are themselves unable to provide long term care a child. This is the reality that is Uganda. The situation is dire. The need is great. But the future is changing!

Watoto was born out of this need. It is addressing this crisis and is providing hope for the nation.
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2 million orphaned children! That’s the entire population of Brisbane! I love this ministry, I have a deep deep passion for what they are doing, and how they are doing it. I am excited about the fact that the whole ministry is being run by Ugandans, not external missionaries – the Ugandan people have seen the need in their nation and decided the church needs to do something about it. It’s not your traditional orphanage either, more like a Children’s Village. Each child is set up in a house with about 7 other kids and a Ugandan mother (usually a widow of a HIV victim) and that becomes their family. They are fed, clothed, educated and giving the spiritual guidance to become the future leaders of Uganda.

Watoto currently operates 3 children's villages and cares for over 1500 children. The villages include over 130 individual homes, each accommodating 8 children and a house mother. They also contain a complete school system for the Watoto children and the surrounding communities, a medical clinic, a church / community center, an agricultural project providing food, a clean water source and electrical power. The result is a self-sustaining village that serves the children while providing employment for women and teachers, and steady jobs for laborers.

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Most churched Australians would have heard of the Watoto Children’s Choir which has toured here every year since 2003. Garry is a firm believer that anything adults can do, children can do as well, and the choir is the children’s way of sharing Jesus with the world. Some of the stories which have come from the Choir’s ministry are simply amazing. They truly do understand Jesus’ great commission and know that they are carrying it out while on tour. Plus it gives them an amazing look at the world outside of their country and a growth in confidence and personal abilities.

I’ve seen the choir many times… in fact the first was just before I headed to The Gambia. I fell in love with the kids - their passion, their understanding of God and their humble worship left me feeling in awe of them. They’ve all had such hard lives, loosing 1 or both parents to HIV, yet their joy and determination to make other’s see Jesus is overwhelming. Since my return from The Gambia, each time I’ve seen them I’ve been crying for the whole concert… the tears just run and I can’t help it.

Garry used all of this to speak on “God’s Answer; The Church”. Quite appropriate for the themes of I.O and I think I’ll blog on one particular message he gave in some more detail. But the main idea was that governments, and companies are not going to solve the worlds problems... why would God use governments, when he has his own people right here. The Church is God's tool to complete his will, and having millions of HIV orphans die on the streets of Uganda is not his will.

But my favourite part of the weekend was sitting down to dinner at the WEC centre and then having Garry actually come and sit next to me – he had been invited back to WEC for dinner – we had a good conversation, he was quite annoyed at The Gambian president’s claim of curing HIV (here) and having a personal discussion with him on the effects of HIV in Africa (from both of our experiences) and what the church should be doing is something I will not forget for a long time, I think God planned for me to sit next to him that night.

In fact I’ve thrown in my lot with Watoto. After speaking to the Australian director, I willing offered my I.T skills and anything else I can do to help the Watoto Australia team (based at Gateway Baptist here in Brissy). I would love a chance to meet the next choir in a more personal way, but all I really want to do is use my skills to help them with their ministry. If I meet them I know it would just be an added bonus, and though I don’t expect anything in return for what I’m doing, I pray God allows me to delve deeper and deeper with my involvement with Watoto.

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