So I found myself in the United States for the first time in my entire life. Although I had an idea of what to expect, I remember getting off the plane, looking into the sky and wondering what the future may hold. Sincerely, there was a little bit of self-doubt as I wondered if I was good enough for the Urban Promise International (UPI) fellowship. What had I really done to deserve a fully sponsored trip to the USA, to get a fully sponsored Masters’ degree and an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in ministerial work? One constant thought though was that God had me here for a reason and somehow, I had peace knowing that only his will would be manifested.
Now, here I am; about a month into the program and I feel like I have had the time of my life: From meeting amazing leaders from other African countries, to the beautiful staff of UPI who are quick to shower us with all the love. So, this last month has been a time of reflection, learning and community building. As I try to balance my commitment between school, camp and other UPI obligations; there has been a conscious effort to open my heart to all of the experiences, and it has truly been amazing!
First, there was the experience at Eastern University which quite exceeded my expectations. Beyond theory, each class was practical with the professors acting like consultants, willing to discuss unique problems of our organizations and jointly proffering real solutions. Also, contrary to the school system that I have been used to, the classes were more of discussions than lectures. They presented a platform for every member to share his views and an opportunity to learn from diverse experiences.
However, my favourite part of school would have to be the carefully selected pile of books we have to read for the semester. I won’t deny that they were quite scary initially, but diving into each book started to change my perception about leadership. In fact, one statement from Overstreet (2011) has been lingering in my mind. She noted that “when measuring performance, the only standard that truly matters to a follower of Jesus is what God thinks of our leadership” pg. 12. Truly, it has been a wakeup call for me. Beyond skills, beyond hard work or the busy schedules, I am now drawn to inquire each night how the Lord feels about my leadership. After all, that is all that really matters.
Another beautiful experience would have to be my camp involvement. The camp director was kind enough to explain that many of the children there have had traumatic experiences and our afterschool program is aimed at creating an atmosphere of love and joy for the kids. This however became clear on my first day at camp when one of the kids said to me: “Sarah, camp is the only time I truly get to be happy in a day.” This single sentence made all the difference for me. I realized then that beyond learning how to run a ministry, the UPI fellowship journey has presented me with an opportunity to be a part of the life of these kids. Trust me, I am enjoying every bit of camp: from getting to know to kids, to having lots of fun and learning at the same time. Through camp, I’ve gone for fishing for the first time in my life and I even caught a fish #SMILES.
What more can I say, my experience as a UPI fellow has been great so far even if I am still recovering from the culture shock. For one, I have had a taste of a variety of great American meals but I have been really shocked by the combinations.
Well, I had never imagined that it was possible to have ham burger, sweet corn and chips on the same plate!
And for the weather, my friends are wondering how many jackets I would likely wear during winter, considering that it is still fall and most times I have a jacket on. In all, it has been fun to learn about a new culture and see life in an entirely new perspective.
Today, I am reminded of a life lesson I learnt after I lost my biological father. I have come to realize that life is definitely beyond getting born into a family, going to school, maintaining a good job and possibly starting another family. It is more about letting each day count by putting smiles in the faces of those around us. To me, this is what Urban Promise International is all about. The fellowship seeks to empower us to be leaders that would make each day count for children in our local communities. It seeks to equip us with all the skills and knowledge we need to be Christ-like leaders in our respective countries.
So, I am grateful to be a part of this fellowship and I am looking forward to both spiritual and professional growth. In two years, I hope to be fully self-aware, to have my vision clarified and be empowered for the future that lies ahead. Above all, my desire is that whenever I go to inquire of the Lord, I am rest assured that He is pleased with my leadership.
To celebrate 29 years of marriage I've promised to take Pam on a "river cruise"....down the Delaware in a canoe. Sound like fun?
Pam has been a great sport over the years to put up with me. We actually got married one month before officially starting UrbanPromise in 1988--so she's been part of all the ups and downs and an amazing partner in building this ministry. In a few weeks we'll be putting our marriage to the test by spending 8 hours in a canoe together--something we've never done!
Pam's a city girl, so a day on the water is a big stretch.
But Pam has seen our work in Africa and believes kids in Malawi and Uganda deserve an amazing summer camp experience.
We hope you'll support "Team Main" as we strive to raise $20,000!
Every dollar raised will go directly to feed children, cover trip costs, pay for staff and provide an amazing 6 week summer camp experience for close to 2000 children. These programs are truly life saving and life transforming.
For a gift of over $500, Pam will call you from the canoe and say thanks--and maybe ask for a little marriage counseling.
Thanks for the many ways you have supported our efforts over the years. Your generosity will be a true source of inspiration.
We love you!
Bruce and Pam
PS. Click here to learn more about the amazing work UrbanPromise is doing around the world.
PPS. Canadian donors! Click here and choose Paddle for Promise- Bruce & Pam
James Mureithi, UPI Fellow, shares his story and his vision for UrbanPromise Kenya. James is currently a part of UPI's school of leadership and will be returning to Kenya in just a few months to launch his ministry. Inspiring words from an incredible leader!
Who would have thought a boy in a small village in Kenya, walking barefoot to school, with an avocado or a piece of sugarcane for lunch, would one day step through the doors of Eastern University? Talking about myself now can be a bit embarrassing and may sound like blowing one's own trumpet. I can't help but believe that everything that has helped shape me is on this page. Poverty would not stop me. Neither would the lack of school fees or having nothing to eat. Not even domestic violence and abusive relationships were enough to stop me. I was determined to work hard to secure my place at a public university. I knew I could do it-going to college was all that I wanted and I believed in the brighter future that would come afterward.
At times, the temptation to quit and try my luck somewhere else was intense. The odds were against me. The scourge of a polygamist family was following me.
My call to ministry came at a turbulent time in my life. My mom had just run away from her troubled marriage as the third wife. I had just graduated with my first degree, and was hoping to get a job to support my mom and educate my sister. I hesitated at first to be a church minister since I was surrounded by many troubles, but after one year, God’s call was unequivocal. I accepted it and over time became an associate pastor in my local church in Kenya.
I have been involved with developing and managing a village youth group for about a decade now. Part of what my friends and I have focused on is helping orphaned children. One highlight has been our annual Christmas party. We provide snacks and play games, pray with them and offer each child school materials and Christmas gifts. The joy we see on their faces upon discovering that someone cares for them is indescribable. I want to see more of that joy and want to be able to do more as God helps transform my dream into reality. I want to create more opportunities for those children. They can be like any other children in other parts of the country and world.
Imagine going through elementary and high school without touching a computer keyboard.
That’s the challenge most aspiring scholars have to overcome in Embu, Kenya. I acquired my own laptop at age 32. Currently less than 21% of Africans have access to the internet. In a global economy, that puts children in Embu in danger of being left behind in a rapidly changing world. I want to change that by establishing a nonprofit - Youth Promise Kenya. Through a partnership with UrbanPromise International, I will launch a new affiliate site based on their youth ministry model. With a focus on digital literacy and information access, my vision is to transform the lives of children & youth in the community through education, information technology & spiritual growth.
I often draw inspiration from the Bible and James 1:27 states “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
I’ll be returning to Kenya in just a few months. I can't wait to be reunited with my wife in the near future and to continue serving alongside her. My eyes are open now. Now I see that the hardships I went through were God’s tools to prepare me for this future ministry, which I am now embracing wholeheartedly.
Whenever I remember my experience walking 4 miles every day to high school, it makes me want to support vulnerable kids so that they can access high school education. I believe in giving young people opportunities to become change agents in their families and communities.
When Jesus told children to come to him in Matthew 19:14, he knew they were needed for His kingdom. Today, what are we hoping for our kids? What are we doing for them? Whatever good thing we do comes back to us and to our generation many times over.
Read some inspiring words from UPI Fellow Vanessa Mwangala! Vanessa is here in the US for the next two years and has a dream to go back to Malawi and expand her girls' empowerment organization, Voices Awake.
From a country where there is an outbreak of everything ranging from diseases, hunger, corruption, to prophecy, I got to experience my share of all of these. The first prophecy I got was, “you will be a great woman”. In my mind, great meant wealth and power, so I raced through life planning to make money and gain power by working ridiculously hard at school, and grasping every opportunity along the way. Then I met Jesus, who opened my eyes to the reality that life was what I was living when I was chasing grades and meeting deadlines. He made me listen to my heart and see the desire he had placed in me and my heartbeat went, “girls, girls, girls.” I looked around me and saw the plight of a Malawian girl.
She lives to be second best and her failure is not a surprise but expectation. She is defined by the duties of her body and her worth comes from her ability to get married and have children. Her qualifications don’t get her a job but her body parts do. She bears scars, and hides tears, and is told her gender is what proves she is weak. I saw a girl who had accepted the oppressed role, and grows in it. As a mother, she makes sure her children are clothed and fed. She produces food from no money and hustles to pay her kids way in school. She sobs in the night, and laughs her way through the day as she tirelessly takes care of her husband and children. Through it all, she is still told, “You are not enough, you are weak, so dependent, you do nothing but gossip, a gold digger, the world would be a better place without you”, just because she is a WOMAN.
As I looked closer, I saw how I was this girl, and was being prepared to be this woman. I was already being told how to channel my thoughts, manipulate my body towards satisfying the man who would marry me. I was as good as the man who marries me and my ability to make my marriage last before I had even met the man I would marry, before I was even half way done with high school. As I experienced these things, I made up my mind to not be that girl, and not to grow into that woman.
As I got out of college, I decided to use what I experienced to empower myself and other young ladies who would not have the same opportunities and exposure that I had due to extreme poverty and illiteracy. It was time to break the cycle. I started a girl’s program called Voices Awake, whose mission is to awaken the potential in girls by equipping them holistically to fight against harmful traditions for the positive transformation of their lives. With the support from UrbanPromise International, this project started in August 2013, and we have reached out to over 100 girls in Dowa keeping them in school, providing basic needs and getting some out of early marriages. This year, Urban Promise has sent me to Eastern University, where I am getting an education in Organizational Leadership and receiving training from the UrbanPromise Health and Wellness Center in how to recover from adverse childhood experiences and trauma. The knowledge gained will be used to establish Voices Awake as a trauma-informed girl’s organization in Malawi and engage in deeper outreach to more girls. My vision for Malawi is one where every girl is adequately empowered to transform her life and community. I stand, live, and walk with these girls everyday as we change Malawi. And now I choose to believe that when that prophet said, "You will be a great woman", it was not because I will have a lot of money and power, but because I will make a huge impact in other women’s lives.
Read an update from the field from executive director Peter Gamula, of Mercy Care Malawi. He shares about Malawi's current food crisis and how it's impacting the children he serves.
Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, is facing many challenges. Rolling blackouts, rising fuel prices, high unemployment, and understaffed hospitals make for a pretty dire situation. We’re also in the middle of our worst famine in decades.
The president has declared that the country is in a state of emergency because of the hunger crisis. Due to drought, poor agricultural practices, and high population growth, millions are starving. One of the girls in the community shared “I cannot attend classes because I need to help my mother search for work so that we can buy maize”.
Hunger is the greatest enemy for development of any country. Families are separated. Girls are giving in to older men. Boys are forced to go outside the country searching for jobs (child labor). Children are starving and lives are lost. Some families live on one meal for a whole day. This is contributing to the increase of HIV/AIDS as people do whatever it takes just to have something on their plate.
Our efforts to educate the youth in our program have been paralyzed by the drought. The number of students who drop out is increasing each and every day. Most kids go to sleep with empty stomachs and it’s hard for them to concentrate in class.
I visited Chikumbutso who has withdrawn from school. He has the money for school fees and owns a school uniform but he is still not attending school because of the hunger situation.
He asked me: "How can I learn without eating anything?" in response to my inquiry about his commitment to school.
Hunger is hitting us much harder than we can endure.
It is challenging to encourage kids and students to come and work hard toward their education when they are sleeping with empty stomachs. The coming months will be more challenging because these families will pull their kids out of school to work in the gardens to farm food for the next harvest.
My ministry (Mercy Care Malawi) offers kids who attend our after-school program the chance to eat a balanced meal. This not impacts the children, but also the parents who have peace that their child will receive at least one meal each day. Our feeding programs are vital to the health of our communities and with UPI’s help, we’re feeding hundreds of kids each day.
Join me for a virtual dinner this month! I’ll be leading the live webinar and you’ll get a tour of the ministry in Malawi, meet some of the kids, and get a glimpse of life in the village.
Buy meals for some of our children and sign up here!