I recently came across an old article I wrote about the work I do in Uganda with Bringing Hope to the Family Orphanage. I thought you would enjoy it.
Building Men in Uganda
“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17. Christian author John Eldredge explains that the first stage in the masculine journey is being the ‘beloved son”. “For we must remember that above all else, boyhood is the time of Affirmation, the time when a boy comes to learn and learn deeply that he is the beloved son.””Without this bedrock of affirmation, this core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand other ways. Quite often he doesn’t know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, by fears and the opinion of others, yearning for someone to notice him.”
Four years ago I first visited Bringing Hope to the Family orphanage in Kaihura, Uganda. While I met the cutest elementary school students and watched the great work being done in the medical clinic, my heart was captured by Bringing Hope’s vocational school and farm in Kyongera. Twenty minutes away from the village by motorcycle, the farm is a vocational school for 15 teenage boys who learn carpentry and farming. These boys are mostly orphans who dropped out of school, usually at an early age, and have a limited education. They spend two years at the school learning trades that will help them earn a living.
During my first visit to Bringing Hope I dug ditches, painted walls and built a fence in Kaihura. My only time at the farm was the obligatory twenty minute tour. However, I couldn’t get the farm out of my head. I left Kaihura thinking about what legacy I wanted to leave from my work. After reading Eldredge’s Fathered by God and thinking about the boys at the farm, I hit on the idea that I have worked on since then: Building Men. Instead of building physical things, I would build men. Now I focus my time on the boys at the farm and have spent two weeks with them every year.
Last year’s theme was “What Is A Real Man?”. The boys, my leadership team (college students from Bringing Hope) and I spent two weeks working together, competing against each other on the soccer field and talking about the issues in their lives. We practiced simple things like how to introduce ourselves with a firm handshake and eye contact. We talked about their plans for the future, their dreams and their fears. And, yes, we talked about girls.
Eldredge explains that “masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s got from a man, or the company of men. He cannot learn it any other place. He cannot learn it from other boys and he cannot learn it from the world of women.” While most of us have learned to be men from our fathers, these orphans have neither a father nor older men to serve as role models.
This year our theme was “No Excuses”. Every time the boys (or their teachers) had an excuse as to why they could not accomplish their goals, they had to drop to the ground and do ten push-ups. We focused on how we will achieve our goals, not why we cannot. The boys especially loved it when their teachers had to do push-ups.
We took an overnight field trip to Fort Portal where we toured a commercial farm and St. Joseph’s Technical Institute. Most of the boys had never been to the city and everything we saw was an eye-opener to them. They were exposed to a world they had never experienced before. Afterwards we spent two days preparing a plan on how we can improve the farm based on the things we had seen and learned. This will be our project for the upcoming year.
For all of the plans we work on and all of the ideas we discuss, however, one idea stays at the forefront–to let these boys know that they are loved. To let them know that they are the beloved son. I can feel the emotion course through them when I tell them how proud I am of them. But affirmation also comes from just spending time with them, from listening to their stories and from standing side by side with a hand on their shoulder. I am overcome by the power of affirming them. Isn’t this affirmation our own deepest desire?
We always end with Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” When I am working with the boys I feel like I am living for a greater cause and that I am that much closer to God. My heart is full.
Laine Wagenseller is a real estate attorney in Los Angeles. He has volunteered with Bringing Hope to the Family since 2010.