Monday, July 27, 2009

July 26, 2009

Dear friends and supporters of our son Ben:

God willing, Ben will be returning from Uganda on August 3rd. As far as we can tell via telephone conversations and text messages half-way around the globe, God is stirring deeply in Ben’s soul through the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage in Kampala. Ben is looking forward to coming home, but he will be heart-broken over leaving the kids behind and his inability to continue loving, teaching, and caring for them personally.

Please join us at our home on August 22nd from 7:30 to 9 PM for desert and fellowship. Ben desires to thank you for sending him on this summer mission and share about the experience in Uganda and the burden God has raised through it in his heart.

We would love to see all of you, and please also feel free to bring a friend. RSVP to or at 201 447 0134 by August 16.


Karola & Matthias Prinz

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On our way to a soccer match

Alex from SMK

The Mzungu (white man) at a football match

A sign in Gulu (see post below)

This is my family while in Uganda: Angela, Edna, and Edwin

This is Faith, TTWU missions coordinator, and I on our boat safari

Mercy for Gulu

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Suffering isn't the islands, but the seas"

As I said in my last post, I was away from the orphanage for about five days I traveled north with the TTW GUTS team to Adak in the region of Gulu and west to Paraa/Murchison Falls.

In Adak, TTWU runs The Dream Center which is located next to a camp hosting many of the Acholi people displaced because of the war. At the camp they live in their community of clay and straw huts. We joined them in living in such huts for the three days we were in Adak. Because camp life is very laid-back, we did little but sit and pray with the people. However, we did help in the fields of one of The Dream Center's students as we picked peanuts.

During a campfire on our last night in Adak, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael, one of center's students. As he was roasting the head of the goat we had eaten for supper, he shared with me his life story. Although the rebels never kidnapped him, his sister and four brothers were. The rebels killed all four of his brothers but his sister escaped during an attempted air raid (she trecked 120 kilometers in two days!). When the rebels came to his village and kidnapped his siblings, Michael feigned death. He thinks "God took his vital signs" because they grabbed his head and banged it on the ground yelling at him to wake up but when he continued to "play dead" they left him there. When he woke the next morning, he found his parents, who survived, and they sent him to the town for safety.

Two things struck me most about our conversation. First, he shared some of the most heart-wrenching stories I have ever heard with such matter-of-factness. War, tragedy, suffering, death are all integral and even ordinary aspects of his life and he spoke of it as Americans would of sports or the weather, not 9/11 or Columbine. For him, suffering "isn't the islands, but the seas" (Wolterstorff). Although I have noticed the same common-place attitude towards war with the children at SMK, grief still wells within them and manifests itself in their tears where the Acholi people seem to be almost emotionless. Secondly, I never noticed how holistic the effects of a war are. When I asked him what he found to be the biggest problem in the North he said the destruction of the family and the lack of education which both stem from the LRA's atrocities against the Acholi people. Because the LRA destroyed many families and stripped countless children from traditional development and immersed them in a culture of violence, many young men rape younger women throughout the camps which spreads child pregnancies and HIV. Furthermore, because many children were kidnapped and forced to fight and others displaced from their villages, the majority of the young adults lack the education and thus skills needed to make money and sustain their families. This is where the Dream Center comes in. The Dream Center provides students with a range of practical skils in order to make a living and provide for their families. Recently, over fifty students graduated as tailors and were provided with their own sewing machines to begin their business. Presently, they are training twenty-five men in brick laying and concrete practice, a class of which Michael is a member. As the students learn basic skills, staff members also share the gospel and disciple those students who follow Christ. They ultimately seek to develop the community as they provide for the needs of the community.

In addition to attempting to understand the sufferings of the people, we also joined with them in their joys as we talked and ate together over campfires. On the last night, the men stayed out and we shared proverbs from our two cultures and then guessed what they meant. It was so much fun. These aspects of camplife I enjoyed--the sharing and enjoying each other. However, it's good to be home at the orphanage as I can't wait to spend my last week with the kids.

After Gulu, we went to Paraa which is in Western Uganda. There we had two relaxing days of safari. We saw everything from lions to hippos to crocs to giraffes to elephants. It was beautiful and a great two days of rest.

Thanks again for all that you have done to send me here. I appreciate your love and prayers. Look forward to seeing everyone soon!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Headmaster Ben (just kidding)

Hello! Everything has been so great here in Uganda. I've considered applying for the open head master position at SMK (I'm sort of kidding).

One thing I have noticed is the great need for basic medical care. I never thought I'd get so much use out of my first aid kit! One P6 boy had by far the biggest sty on this eye. I didn't really do much for him but apply some heat but as he sat in my house after we had cleaned everything we spoke for a while. Somehow his family situation came up and he told me that he has both his parents but when he returns home he suffers great abuse. His father has married four women and Ronald feels as if he's the hated one of the family. They do not buy him clothes and rarely feed him while the other siblings receive kind treatment. When I asked him how he thought God felt about his situation he said that God doesn't care. I could do little more than hug him and tell him that God hates the abuse he receives and feels his pain while attempting to share with him the great news of our God of compassion. Because his parents do not pay his school fees or give him anything, all he has is a shabby outfit. I had the great privelage of buying him a school set which comprises of a class uniform, compound uniform, and sports wear, all for only $20.

One of the great opportunities that TTW is beginning about which I look forward to sharing with you more when I return, is a child sponsorship program. The girl that I (/the Prinz family, I hope :) have chosen to sponsor when I return is named Rebecca. Rebecca is from the North and was orphaned as a result of the war. I also bought her a school set and it was so cute to see her the next day looking at her outfit. I cannot wait to share with you how you can get further involved with these kids who have literally nothing.

Teaching has been going very well. I feel as I have finally gotten into the groove of things. I have never seen a group of people so eager to learn everything from the Bible to Math. The students are making a lot of progress especially in math. They make fun of me now saying I say think too much.

Many have asked about my living situation. I finally have a toilet although I need to go to the well every morning to fill the toilet. Although, I lack a lot of the comforts of home, I would not trade living at the orphanage for anything. I grade for a few hours after school, read, and then hang out with the kids until around nine. They are such an amazing group of kids whom I have grown to love. It will be incredibly difficult to leave. But I'm eighteen, so I technically do not have to right, Mom?

The TTW GUTS team has arrived and are doing well. They will be working on the clinic accross the street from SMK. Please keep them in your prayers.

I hope you are well and enjoying the summer. Thanks for your prayers and support! See you soon!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hello! I hope all is well in the USA. I am loving Uganda. Here's a tidbit of highlights of what's going on.

Classes are going so very well. In Religious Education we have covered a basic view of God and how humans were created. We discusses the concept of human beings as image bearers and examined some of the implications of that fact. English also has been going very well as I have seen some great progress in two weeks. Math (my least favorite subject at home) has actually been my favorite subject to teach. I have found that in this context helping kids think and analyze instead of simply memorize comes most in Math and RE. Jesse, who has been teaching math for another class, went up to the North with a team so I have been covering his class. I have been teaching every period of the day! It's been crazy!!! but sooo great.

On to more interesting stuff, Friday night I taught the P7 class how to play manhunt. About 25 of us played throughout the orphanage. I got many "wounds" as they call it, but we had a great time. At the end, we had a little party with cookies and soda and they loved it. The next day, Saturday morning, I went for my morning run. However, this time, I took ten sixth graders who led me to Lake Victoria. It was a long run but it was a ton of fun. On the way back we went through the jungle. It was a bit freaky because as we approached swamps they would tell me to be careful of the crocodiles. Also, we all carried sticks to guard against snakes. At one point, we got out of the jungle, we had to walk through a sugar cane company. Sugar cane, by the way is the best. I will start a business selling sugar canes when I return. It actually tastes like healthy candy. Healthy, pure sugar... oh boy.

As we were going through the jungle and throughout my time at SMK, I have realized the independence and self-motivation the children must develop in order to live at an orphanage. They take their studies so seriously as they constantly long to learn. Also, they clean their clothes and go to sleep all on their own. They never have a parent to manage anything about their lives as they develop some of the skills American children take years to acquire. It has really been amazing.

Recently, I began a small group with ten boys. We are pretty much expanding on the topics we discuss in Religious Education. We've met a few times and each time they are so engaged and longing to learn more about this "something out of nothing" God.

One of the other highlights of my time here was Thursday night. There were about thirty kids hanging out in one of the classrooms and I walked over to say hello and goodnight and they all begged me to teach them something. So I asked what it was they wanted me to teach them and they all said about the Bible. And there for an hour or so with chalk and a Bible, we discussed the gospel as many kids realized for the first time that God saves those who believe not those who do good things. The concept of God punishing himself hit them hard, I think, as they are often punished for their misbehaviors and bad grades. Everytime I teach the gospel I again see the beauty of the our God and his grace in a fresh way.

It is so difficult to sum everything up for you, but I am having such an amazing time. I am learning so much and seeing so many new things which continue to amaze you. Thank you all for your emails and prayers! I hope you are well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Three Days As Teacher Ben

I have finally and officially begun teaching and living at the orphanage! I began teaching on Monday and moved in on Tuesday. However, I am back at the TTW house for some time and then will head back tomorrow as the kids had an exam today and I did not teach. I do not have internet access at the orphanage so my updates will probably now be limited to one or two a week but here's what's going on:

The five major classes I am teaching are P5 and P6 English, P5 mathematics, and P5 and P6 Religious Education / The Story of the Bible. In both the English and math classes, there seems to be a disparity between the students who understand the material and those who do not (especially in English). Although the majority of those doing poorly simply do not care, they are all amazing kids with whom I am looking forward to having more fun. Last night at around nine, I had to go for a "short call" (bathroom) and as I was going to the latreens, I stopped by the boys' dormitories and went to their window. As I was approaching, I started making lots of noise and they all became very scared. As I stuck my head in the window, they screamed but then said, "Oh it's just Ben. We thought you were a nighty dancer." The nighty dancers, as I understand it, are a legendary group of people who come and dance around the huts of Africans and then eat the children. He supposedly dances naked with a skirt made of bones. When they were explaining it to me, they also demonstrated how the nighty dancers dance. It was, by far, one of the funniest moments of 2009. As I was leaving, Francis (my favorite) goes, "Ben, you don't fear the nighty dancer?" Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh it was so funny.

On a more serious note, SMK has given me pretty much free reign on Religious Education which is great. Thus, we are going through Genesis 1-11, then Romans 1-4, and then Micah 4 and Revelation 21 to attempt to understand the overarching story of the Bible. So far, we have discussed creation up the creation of man. We described God as triune (and thus loving), eternal, creative, and holy. Even in creation, we examined the idea that God redeems and creates something out of nothing as I told them that we would see the theme of "something out of nothing" as a major one in this story of God.

I plan on meeting with some of the older boys throughout the weeks to help them with their classes as well as further discuss our RE class. Living right on the orphanage gives me a great opportunity to be with them whenever we can as well as connect with them at levels other than the academic.

Also, on Saturday nights, I plan on starting a little church service with any of the kids who wish to come. I'm excited as this should be an opportunity where I can teach them some of the well-known Bible stories from a Christ-centered perspective.

As for my living conditions, they are pretty good. I have my own room with my housemates Edwin and Angela (they are married). They are very funny and I have enjoyed getting to know them. I do not have a working toilet or shower. For toilet matters, I use something called a latreen (spelling?) which is pretty much a built-in hole in the ground. Today, I bathed out of a basin, splashing water on myself which was fun until I tried it :). Yesterday night, I cooked for the three of us. Edwin and I went to the market to buy tomatoes and eggplant and fresh meat (just kidding, mother). But we did get the tomatoes and eggplant and actually made a good meal. I think Edwin and Angela will cook most of the time as I will be quite busy, but when I can, I hope to. All things considered, the living conditions are fine. I would much rather not have a shower and live among the kids than have a shower and not. They are so great.

I hope to give you a better update about Bible classes and groups and such once things really get rolling. My parents keep telling me there are many people who are praying for me. Thank you so much for praying and following along our journey. I am so thankful for the group of people God has established whose love is shown to me in many ways. I look forward to keeping you in the loop about this wonderful country!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Little about St. Mary Kevin's

Although I have not yet moved into the orphanage, I have already begun doing some work there. Here's some background about SMK.

During the 1980s, Rosemary, now the executive director, saw the need to provide education for impoverished families and orphans. After opening the school, she also realized the necessity of providing the children with a home in which they may live. Although there are some students who have families and go home everynight, they are extremely few. Almost all of the students have lost at least one parents and live at SMK as their aunts or grandparents come to visit them Sundays. Yesterday I had the opportunity of meeting and hearing about many of the orphan's stories. Some experts follow:
  • Ivan's father died from a snake bite and his mother from a sickness. He has "now found home in St. Mary Kevin's"
  • Lillian is from the North where many LRA rebels kidnapp children and ravage villages. She and her siblings saw rebels capture her parents, cover them in paint thinner, and then set them on fire burning them to death.
  • Another orphan, also from the North, saw the LRA slaughter and chop uphis parents. He and his siblings hid in the bush, surviving off of berries for five days until the Ugandan government found them.
These are just a few examples of the many extreme cases at the orphanage of about 200 children. Although the LRA killed many of the other students' parents, many are also there as a result of disease.
The school aspect of the orphanage is organized quite differently from how we understand education. Because SMK has a very low income and struggles to pay for their expenses, none of the children have text books. At the beginning of the year, they receive notebooks in which they copy and finish the assignment the teachers write on the board. The teachers often will shortly explain the lesson, write their assignment on the board, and then leave the room for the day or the period. Furthermore, at the end of the year, the students take a national exam determining whether they may move on to the next level (the levels are divided as follows: Primary1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P7). Thus, the teachers prepare their students purely for the exam. They are taught to memorize facts and simply regurgitate their answers on the national test. Consequently, when I ask a students, "What is matter?" they all can answer, in perfect unison, "Matter is something which occupies space and has weight." Or, "What is the area of this rectangle?" they respond admirably, "A= L x W" yet cannot apply that information half as quickly when unassisted as they can provide such formulas and definitions. Additionally, the lack of resources along with huge class sizes often inhibit the students' efforts to learn and the teachers' efforts to teach.

However, like most people, they are more than capable of thinking but have never learned how. Yesterday, I socractically taught from Genesis 1:1 on the eternity and certainty of God. I have explored the same concepts in the same way with many people in the States and the Ugandans were just as sharp and articulate when pushed to be so as anyone I have ever taught. I hope to teach the kids how to think and communicate effectively in all of my classes but especially in the Religious Studies and English classes.

Just as a reminder, these are the classes I will teach:
  • P5,P6 English
  • P5,P6 Religious Education
  • P5 Math
  • P5 Science
Tonight and for the weekend, I will be attending the TTWU staff retreat in a beautiful area about thirty minutes from where we are now. On Sunday, when we return, I will move into the orphanage and begin teaching all of my classes.

Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers! I AM SO PUMPED.

(Their "school bell" which prefects ring to indicate the beginning and end of class periods)