Today in Uganda Fields Of Life will celebrate 30 years as an organisation. I wish I was there as I was for the 25th Birthday Party. They asked me to send some thoughts to these questions. I did and thought I'd blog them here.
How did you hear about FOL?
I think my first encounter with Fields Of Life was through Alain Emerson and his late wife Lindsay. They had been on trips with me and the students from the Queens Presbyterian Chaplaincy with Habitat For Humanity in Cape Town and had wanted to replicate those with their church. As far as I remember something went wrong with the Habitat trip and they went instead to Uganda with FOL. Then after Lindsay passed away they funded the Light For All school.
How did you felt when you heard the story of the work we do in East Africa.
Without doubt God was weaving a plan around Fitzroy and Onialeku Primary School around 2011/12. In Arua a man of God called Bishop Isaac had sensed asking God him for some time to start a school for the children around his church. He did and then applied to FOL.
Meanwhile a long way a way in Belfast Fitzroy were doing a major project on their Church Halls.
During all of this I found myself in Fitzroy at a FOL gathering. I called in just to say hi. At least so I thought. Alain spoke about Light For All and how for £75,000 they had made such a difference. Fitzroy’s new halls were to cost £750,000 and God almost shouted into my soul “TITHE”.
Fitzroy quickly agreed to the tithing idea but it took a round of interviews to see what was the best project. Richard Spratt came and blew us away with this place ion Onialeku, Arua. Bishop Isaac’s dream and ours came together.
Did you share message with your church and how did they respond?
Fitzroy responded beyond my wildest dreams. They only agreed to build a Primary School building but because the church got so excited about the partnership, quite a few going on teams to Onialeku and everyone involved in crafts and preparation for teams we have since funded a fence, a well, a girl’s toilet block, text books and just last year a Nursery Building. On top of this we have been sponsoring 60 children at the school for 7 years. That’s a congregation commitment of around a quarter of a million pounds plus prayer and trips and fund raising events.
This could only have happened by the close partnership. Fitzroy connecting with a community over years, knowing names, grieving as we lost brothers and sisters, celebrating when buildings got finished. Being loved back.
Who from the UK side was involved with you when committing?
Richard Spratt convinced us on Onialeku and then Helen D’Arcy has been so important to our trips. As a result of those trips and helping to write Trevor Stevenson’s memoir the Stockman family have gotten to know all of the staff in both Lisburn and Uganda and we have been so blessed by those relationships.
What experiences have you incurred as family and as church?
Oh so many. We have so loved so many weeks in Onialeku with Pastor David, the staff and pupils. Even the bus trips no longer seem a burden. We have also loved our times in the flat at Shalom, living around the staff and getting to know them so well.
I think the big thing has been the sense of connection, partnership and family. Fitzroy would not have given so much to a general NGO.
Any interesting observation or comment?
As already said, the personal is vital. It opens hearts to compassion.
I would also like to say that Fitzroy have gained as much from these trips as we have given. As I often say in Uganda, “We are rich in shillings but poor in so many other things. East Africans are poor in shillings but so rich in love, innovation, resilience, faith and hope.” This is a mutual partnership where we share what we can.
Can you share a Bible Verse that ties you to your commitment.
When I walk across the playground in Onialeku the children shout 10:10. I hope they know that more importantly than that being my birthday it is John 10 verse 10, “I have come that you might have life, and life in all its fulness.”
BUT for the over all work with Onialeku, I like to use Philippians 4 verses 10 and 14 which show us how Paul was in mutual partnership with the Philippians, needing them as much as they needed him.