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OPC MISSIONARY DEACON UPDATE: Showing Mercy in One of the Poorest Regions of the World

Mark Van Essendelft

"Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, “The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." Luke 10:36-37

In Karamoja Uganda you don't have to look far for opportunities to show mercy, as it is one of the poorest regions in the world.  The constant temptation is to "pass by" like the Pharisee and the Levite, and then excuse ourselves because we are too busy, or someone else should take a turn.  To the extent that the Lord has given us faith, I hope to share with you the opportunities that we have taken in 2021 to show mercy in Karamoja in 2021.

Sadly, KEO (Karamoja Education Outreach) has remained closed due to the continued lock down by the government due to covid.  Though many more affluent citizens have continued with online schooling, once again the poor are suffering here in Karamoja. We have kept the teachers on payroll, and Angela has organized their time into weekly instruction, discipleship, visits to encourage struggling, poor and sick church and community members, etc.  The teachers have also been teaching literacy to some of the employees on the main compound.  Recently, the teachers painted the walls and ceiling in the school so it will look very pleasant when the schools do open. We are hopeful the school will open early next year. 

Leah Hopp has continued to head up the health outreach. In addition to things like hygiene and preventable sicknesses, they have been promoting Covid-19 prevention methods and vaccines in the community.  She has also been doing a research paper in which she is gathering and organizing the statistics from our clinic which will give the Ugandan government and others a better understanding of the demographics of the local community, which to this point no one has done.

Chris Verdick has had a busy year between administrating the clinic, gearing up for new clinic housing, recruiting, and hiring new employees, and having a new baby in the home. So far on the new clinic housing Chris has overseen the installation of the perimeter fence, and we hope to drill the bore hole soon and then start construction by the end of January 2022. One encouraging thing is that we have finally, after four years, gotten the title to the land across the road where the clinic is and where the new clinic housing sight is.  We are currently in negotiations with the former owners of the land to sell a portion back to them.  One discouraging thing is that this year we lost one of our prized nurses (who we hoped to see fill more of a leadership role) due to some poor life choices.  The clinic also led a vaccination effort for the staff and community and had 100% of the staff vaccinated by September.

As far as my work on maintenance, we have mainly kept to smaller jobs this year.  We have dug a trench around the clinic to keep the water away from the building (cracks were developing.)  We have started to fix the cracks in the walls and hope to paint the interior walls early next year. We have almost completed two-bathroom renovations in the main house, which were long overdue. We also fixed some structural issues in the main house due to poor drainage. We have also repaired a lot of the existing fencing on the missionary compounds which is showing its age. This will continue into 2022. A shelter which was started over ten years ago was finished and roofed, and we re-thatched several houses.

The following are some of the things we have done with the diaconal funds of the mission this year: We helped get treatment for Apuun Paul, a former KEO teacher, who has cancer on his neck.  We have helped a local young man who was shot through the hip get some medical care. Unfortunately, the only way he can be further helped is a hip replacement, which is not possible with the funds we currently have. We helped some orphans that the local church assists to relocate their housing close to their caretaker.  We often help with transport for various reasons, but one notable time this year was bringing a young woman, who is a church member, to the hospital and police after she was raped by a man with HIV.  She is mentally handicapped and is the eyes for her blind mother.  Also, she has a daughter who is about 11 years old who is also the result of a rape. After much work and prayer on her behalf, we have learned that she did not get the HIV and the man has been arrested. Praise God for this!!!

The farm project was relatively small this year (acres planted), and most of the crops did not produce well due to an extended dry spell during the growing season.  The peanuts we planted produced very well however, to our surprise! The farm project, though it is not a money maker, does give us inroads with the local community. Though many may look at it as an opportunity for mere work, through it we have been able to bring God's Word daily to people who don’t otherwise come to church, and we have cultivated some sweet relationships which by God's grace will yield fruit for eternity.

My diaconal work with the local church has been challenging at times, but I think is moving ahead. Preparing them for autonomy at the local level is one of our goals, which we made good strides toward. This year the church cultivated a one-acre plot for feeding the orphans and a five-acre plot to help support the local church.  This went very well.  The mercy committee, which is comprised of church members who are voted in by the congregation, meets every Friday.  Being able to send people who are begging from us at the mission to this committee has reduced the begging of missionaries significantly. It is much more effective at discovering and helping truly needy people, because local members know much better the needs of people who come.  By teaching and practice, I have been training the members of the mercy committee on wise principles of helping those in need.  We are in the process of totally separating the church funds from the mission.  (Up to this point all funds have been held by the mission and all accounting done for them.) Starting in January 2022, we hope to implement a cash box system with accounting sheets and double signatures for each transaction.

This is a sample look at some of the many ways that the funds from the CDM are spent here in Karamoja.  I wish all supporting churches could read about what God is doing here. The work is slow but sure!  It is amazing how these many small acts of kindness in word and deed bear fruit from often the least expecting people.  All this could not be done without the support of many church members, who I will probably never meet on this earth but share with us in God's global mission!  I am so thankful for them, and for the involvement of the CDM who oversees this work!  To God be the Glory!

Keep up-to-date with OPC Missionary Deacon, Mark Van Essendelft and his family by going to the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries' website.

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