Travel Journals

By Pastor Clint Schwartz

I recently was privileged to travel to Northern Uganda to visit the New Generation Dreamland Children in their new home at the Rhino Refugee camp. It was short, difficult trip but with all of the challenges, there were many more rewards. Seeing Pastor Stanley and the children in person and sending the greetings of our church to them was the highlight of the trip. I really believe that my coming was a blessing to them, especially since I was able to financially take care of some of their immediate needs. Thank you so much for your many prayers and your care and concern for these orphaned children. If you would like to read the daily trip reports, just continue scrolling.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Making this trip happen has been quite an ordeal to be sure. A few months ago, Pastor Stanley evacuated all 130 of the Dreamland Children to Arua, Uganda for their safety. The civil war has broken out again in South Sudan, but this time there has been fighting around Yei, where the Dreamland Children’s Home is located. Pastor Stanley took them to Rhino Refugee Camp where he was told several times that he could leave as long as he followed procedure, but he has been stuck there ever since.
We have had 2 teams scheduled to go see them this fall, but because of not knowing if they would be able to see the kids in the refugee camp, we have had to cancel them both.
The week of Thanksgiving we heard that Pastor Stanley and the kids were given a separate section of land in the refugee camp and that they were finally allowed setup up the 3 tents (100 people tents) that we had bought them. It was now time to try to get to Uganda to see Pastor Stanley. I was told that we needed a contact from Feed the Hungry to come with me in order to gain access to the camp, so I contacted them quickly to see if someone was available. After a couple days of not hearing back from them, I decided to reserve my ticket because the prices were increasing quickly. 
I scheduled the flight from Entebbe, Uganda to Arua and booked a room. Everything looked like it was going to work out, but there have been many challenges since then…
First of all, because of the late notice and a sick child, Feed the Hungry was unable to send Pastor Solomon or his co-worker Ivan to go with me. Also, because of the late notice, I was unable to get someone to go with me from The Vineyard making this the first mission trip I have ever taken alone. My flight on Sunday night was canceled due to weather and engine problems, but only after sitting on the tarmac for 4 hours waiting for the plane to be de-iced for take off. I spent the night in Chicago, re-booked the same flight for Monday night knowing that I was now going to miss the Tuesday morning flight to Arua but was still determined to go. The flight on Monday night went fine, but when I arrived in Entebbe on Monday night there was no one to pick me up. I had to cancel my hotel for Monday night because of the flight delays and reschedule it for Tuesday night (all through email), but somehow that didn’t work and the hotel had all their rooms booked.
Lance Knapp had given me a contact for a taxi driver in Uganda (Lawrence) so I called him and he arranged for someone to pick me up and take me to a different hotel. He also arranged to have his brothers take me to Arua by ground since there aren’t any flights on Wednesdays. He said that it would only take 6 or 7 hours by ground. I got to bed around midnight and slept only a few hours through the long night, was up by 6 and on the road by 7am. The drive actually took 9 hours, not 6 or 7, so it was an incredibly long day. To top things off, my stomach had been quite unsettled since eating some food on the flights the night before. I arrived in Arua at 4pm, went to check into my hotel room just to have them tell me that my reservation was cancelled. Pastor Stanley questioned them about it and they gave me a room anyway. The room is nice, has internet and a fan, but currently doesn’t have any running water. They said if I don’t have running water by 9pm tonight I should call the front desk and ask them to bring me a bucket of water so I can take a bucket bath…
So, the trip has had its fair share of challenges so far, but I’ve had a couple of verses encourage me along the way. The first 2 are “verses of the day” in the bible app on Sunday and Monday:
Ecclesiastes 11:5
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

This verse stood out to me simply because I couldn’t possibly understand what God is doing, so I need to just trust him.
James 1:2-3
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

These verses hit me because God is developing perseverance in me (and in Pastor Stanley) if we let him.
The last verses that stood out to me were the books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, which I read while on the plane to Entebbe. In those books, Paul is talking about wanting to see them, but couldn’t, so he sent Timothy instead. See below:
1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:3
But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.

So, here I am, trying to fulfill the mission of Timothy to Pastor Stanley and the children, to strengthen and encourage them. I’m not sure why this trip has been so difficult, but I am here now and have already had a very encouraging meeting with Pastor Stanley. I shared with him the story of Moses and how I see his journey paralleling his journey with the children. Moses must have been discouraged at times, as I know Pastor Stanley has been. He is very stressed and could certainly use your prayers, so please continue to pray for him as he pushes through countless decisions every day.
Also, be praying for both of us as we hope to meet with the Office of the Prime Minister in Arua tomorrow to discuss how Vineyard can help with the Rhino Camp and hopefully gain access to see and work with the children not only this week but in the months/years to come.
God is good, I am sticky and tired, Stanley is stressed, I don’t know how the children are doing yet, but did I mention already that God is good? He is in control.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

This morning I woke up after only a couple hours of sleep, got dressed and had breakfast down in the hotel lobby. I met Pastor Stanley by 8:30am and we walked to the Office of the Prime Minister Department of Refugees building. We waited to talk to someone “in charge” and were able to ask many questions about the status of Pastor Stanley and the children. 
The refugee status in Uganda is very interesting. They are given documentation and allowed freedom throughout the country, but most have no means of income so they settle into an actual refugee camp. Once in the camp, they are given some shelter (a makeshift building made of plastic and branches), a blanket, and then daily rations of food and water. Most refugees never leave this dependent state of existence. The Rhino Refugee camp is 90 minutes away from Arua and offers no means of making a living. The hope of the Office of the Prime Minister is that the refugees will eventually move back to the country they came from (in this case, South Sudan), but with the instability in that country, there is no guarantee. 
In regards to Pastor Stanley and the children, it gets more complicated. The Department of Refugees office is told to NOT to create any orphanages; they are too complex for the government to handle. So, they are unsure how to handle Pastor Stanley and the children. They don’t want an orphanage in the camp, but out of fear of child trafficking, they won’t release Pastor Stanley and the children to go anywhere else. So, Pastor Stanley and the children are “stuck” where they are. We have sent 3 tents for them to live in, large 25’x10’ tents (100 seaters), but they need more. He doesn’t want to start building buildings where he is at because his hope is to leave the refugee camp as soon as he finds a way to legally relocate. I asked for permission to go into the camp and was quickly told that permission only comes from the capital’s office (a 9 hour drive away), but was encouraged to write a letter requesting access anyway. I wrote a letter and found a local print shop to actually print it for me (we take this for granted) and took it back to the office. They said they would call me and let me know. As of this typing, I haven’t received a phone call.
We then went shopping for the children with Pastor Stanley and his wife Vicky. We bought rice, flour, sugar and laundry detergent. The food will be used when they celebrate Christmas later this month. We also bought huge bags of “goodwill-type” clothing from America and other countries. These bags were filled with hundreds of shirts, shorts, dresses and sheets. We bought 180 cups for the children as well. We then went to a tent-maker shop and Pastor Stanley negotiated a pretty good deal for another large tent to be made. His hope is that it is of the same quality as the tents he already has, and if so, then he will purchase one or two more.
After the shopping trip was complete, Pastor Stanley and I went to “White Castle Restaurant” (not the white castle you are thinking of) and had a Hawaiian pizza. It wasn’t the same as back home, but it was good.  We were able to talk for several hours about everything that has happened since coming to Uganda. Pastor Stanley has been very stressed and really appreciates our concern and prayers, and will continue to need them until a more permanent location is found. I asked about Yei, and the stories coming out of that country are not good. He heard just today that his home, office, 
school, and church in the town of Yei is now a military outpost. He believes that the Dreamland is ok, but much looting has taken place. He doesn’t know about the goat farm, but he believes that the farmer is still there taking care of the goats. Operation Joseph farm was planted and ready for harvest, but the farmers all left for fear of the war. He believes that many people evacuated the town of Yei out to the region of the farm, so they may have harvested the crops for their own survival, but that is all unknown. There has been a large military buildup in the town of Yei, and no one can be found outside of the city limits as that is “no man’s land”. He hopes to return one day, but that could only be after a significant change of conditions.
It was good to spend time with Stanley and hear his hopes, joys, frustrations & sorrows. Please continue to keep him in your prayers and he has much on his shoulders.
Pastor Stanley went back home later that day and I took a 
much needed nap from lack of sleep each night. Friday I will ask about permission to the camp, but already know that Pastor Stanley has arranged to bring some of the older children out of the camp to visit with me either way.  
Thanks so much for your prayers!

Friday, December 9, 2017

Today by far was my favorite day, and I believe was a significant reason that I came on this trip. I once again had trouble sleeping and only had 4 or 5 hours of sleep, but I was ready to face today. I got dressed, had breakfast and started walking down the road towards the Office of the Prime Minister Department of Refugees building.
I was quickly allowed in to meet with Jenna, the same lady I met with yesterday, and asked her if I was granted permission to enter the Rhino camp. She said yes, but that I would have to go with one of their employees named Mawa who was sitting there in the office. I arranged to meet him at the camp in the afternoon and left before they changed their minds. As I was walking back to the hotel I was overcome with emotion knowing that I would be able to see all of the kids, even if only for a short time later that day. I text Stanley and let him know as well, I believe we were both surprised at the positive outcome. God does answer prayers!
Since we hadn’t heard back from the Office of the Prime Minister regarding my request the day before, Stanley had pre-arranged to have 8 of the older children come to see me in the morning in Arua. If I couldn’t go
 to the camp, we were going to bring some of them out. It actually worked out much better this way anyway. Pastor Stanley picked me up around 9:30am and took me to his house where the boys and girls were waiting to greet me. We all hugged and exchanged happy greetings. I was able to sit in the shade under a tree with them for quite some time to catch up on how things had been going. They shared with me the day back in Yei at the Dreamland when all of the children had to lay in their dorms under their beds the entire day as bullets whizzed all around them. It was the day that the fighting came to the Dreamland. It was also the day that Stanley decided it was time to leave and made arrangements for their evacuation the next week. They could laugh about it now because none of the children got hurt, but at the time they were all terrified. They said they saw one soldier outside the dreamland who had been killed. 
Some of the children went into town with Tom to buy new sandals for all of the children (with money that Vineyard supplied) while I continued to talk to Charles, James & Sarah Kiden. We talked for a while, I gave them a solar powered radio that I had brought with me, and then I opened up my bible and began to do a bible study with them in the book of 1st Timothy. It was a precious time of instructing these future leaders about Timothy’s call to leadership. I (of course) challenged them each to read their bibles through this next 
year, and gave Sarah my bible since she had left hers back in South Sudan.   
The rest of the children arrived back to Pastor Stanley’s house with the new sandals and then we loaded up the car to head out to the refugee camp. The refugee camp is 90 minutes from Arua, and almost all of it is bumpy, winding, narrow dirt roads. It reminded me of driving out to Operation Joseph Farm back in Yei since it was so far out in the middle of nowhere. 
We finally arrived at the block of land that they now call home. It’s a couple acre section of land with some white tents, makeshift buildings and rough looking showers and latrines. I quickly jumped out of the car and as the children saw me they started rushing towards me and yelling out my name. I was surrounded by over 100 smiling children each wanting to greet me properly by shaking my hand. That moment made the challenges of this trip completely worth it. If I could give these precious children a sense of normalcy by seeing this “
Kiwagi” (white guy) come visit them again in their new home, then nothing else really mattered. They have been through so much the last 3 months, and now I could see the pieces of their life starting to be put back together.  I wish I could have stayed in that moment for a long time, but kids will be kids and they all went back to playing like they had before I arrived. 
I gave myself a tour of the grounds going into the different tents and having the children show me around.  They were proud of their new homes, though they definitely needed many things. At Art for the Heart of Africa, we raised enough money to buy beds and mattresses for each of them, but unlike the good ole USA, Stanley has had to wait several weeks for the beds to be built before delivering them. The first shipment of beds will arrive either tomorrow or 
Monday and boy will they be happy! Once all of the beds arrive, none of them will have to sleep on the ground any longer, they won’t have to be afraid of scorpions crawling on them, and they will have a place to hang their mosquito nets to prevent malaria. Things are starting to get better for them, which makes me happy.
Mawa from the Office of the Prime Minister arrived and we began to discuss the challenges and needs of this refugee camp. There are actually 80,000 people living at this camp, but that’s small compared to a couple of the other camps in the area that are holding over 100,000 refugees. There are no jobs, water is scarce, food is in short supply, and the 
farming ground is hard to find. The only good news is that they are safe, but what a challenging existence! After talking for a while, it was time to leave as
Mawa wanted me to see some other sections of the camp. I quickly made my rounds and said goodbye to the children and left to see how large the camp really was. We finally left towards Arua and bumped along for the next 90 minutes. James was in the car with me as he is going to Kampala tomorrow with Pastor Stanley’s wife Vicky to pick out Christmas gifts for the children. It was good to spend a little more time with James before the day was over.
We arrived back at the hotel and pastor Stanley and I met outside for a while discussing next steps and how The Vineyard Church can continue to be a blessing to him and the children. It was extremely evident to me that this trip brought a little sunshine and a ray of hope to Pastor Stanley, Vicky, Tom and the 131 children of the Dreamland. Things are moving forward, little lives are beginning to settle, and the kids are looking really, really good. In February, they will start school here in Uganda in hopes of catching up quickly from the semester that they just missed. I hope we can bring a team back sometime next year to continue to encourage them and be a blessing. Pastor Stanley looks less stressed and better prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow, and I believe I can finally rest easier now that I have seen their smiles again with my own eyes.
Thank you all for your prayers and financial support of The Vineyard Church’s ministry with these precious children, every bit of sacrifice you have made is completely worth it.