BLUE EARTH - March 21-31, 10 local women visited Uganda and came back changed.
The journey started two years ago, when Kari McGregor and Marlys Ubben of New Horizons Adoption Agency visited two Christian homes for orphan babies in Uganda.
On the 26-hour plane ride home, McGregor told Ubben she wanted to put together a mission trip so others could experience what they had.
COLORFUL — The American women brought back many souvenirs from Uganda, including necklaces and bracelets made from paper beads and lacquered. Other stories of faith can be found in the Hometown Faith magazine, included in today’s Sentinel. (By Jodelle Greiner)
McGregor contacted churches and talked to people on the street.
"Everybody just came together," McGregor said.
"What appealed to me was working with children," said Cindy Bly. "So many mission trips are construction. I can't hold a hammer, but I can hold a baby."
The women stayed at the Bridge Africa International guest house and praised the guides who took excellent care of them.
"We never felt unsafe, ever," Bly said.
The group are from different religious backgrounds, but all are Christian.
"We really bonded well," said Julie Blagg.
McGregor was unable to go because she found out she was pregnant, but others visited the Mommies and Babies Cottage in Jinga for children newborn to five years old and the Loving Hearts Babies Home in Kampala, which is licensed for children newborn to two years, and had about 17 children.
The cottage had about 50 children and the "mommies" are the women that take care of the orphans.
"We were aunties," said Blagg.
"Attachment and bonding is so critical," McGregor said. "They like to have volunteers come in. They like to have them hold the babies, that contact."
The second home had only two mommies to care for all 17 little ones, plus cooking and cleaning.
"I was embarrassed about how I judged that first day," Blagg said. "That was a lesson we all came back with: they love those babies."
Everyone spoke English, so communication wasn't a problem, except when the Americans tried to speak Swahili and mangled it.
The Americans helped in whatever way they could: telling Bible stories, doing crafts brought by Bly, and just cuddling and taking care of the children.
"We more or less gave the mamas a little break," said Bly.
The visitors weren't prepared for what they saw.
"When you see pictures of the little kids, it's heartbreaking," said Chris Alfson.
"Especially when they ask to go home with you," added Sandra Woodwick.
Promises couldn't be made because not all the children are available for adoption, said McGregor.
Because Uganda is still open to American adoptions, the Americans were concerned about how the Ugandans felt about their children being adopted out of their culture and asked the mommies how they felt about it.
"One lady said, 'Adoption is good, that's what God did for us,'" Bly said.
Even though they couldn't take the kids home, the Americans brought a lot to give them: eleven 50-pound duffle bags filled with donations of diapers, formula, wipes, some toys, teething rings, story book Bibles, toothbrushes, shorts for the boys and pillowcase dresses for the girls made by St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Fairmont.
"They didn't want to take them off," said Bly.
The workers weren't forgotten, they were told Bible stories and received lotion.
"Some walked 10 miles one way to get to work," Woodwick said.
In addition to caring for the children, they also cook and raise food at the orphanages.
Some of the workers were very well-educated - one had two years of theology, another had an early childhood degree - but jobs are few.
Times are tough for the homes, also, and the visitors saw broken toys and books with pages ripped out.
The women agreed they were well-fed with meals enhanced by spices, but the cooks prepared meals for 75-100 people, cooking over charcoal.
In spite of the hardships, the locals impressed the visitors.
"They are much more gracious," Bly said.
"Soft-spoken and kind," added Alfson.
It wasn't all work for the Americans.
"We took a safari. The van broke down, so it was a walking safari for a while," Blagg said.
They took a boat ride, and squeezed in shopping: jewelry, baskets, paintings, drums, purses, wooden carved animals, and Woodwick brought back a harp.
They crossed the Nile River to visit Bethany Village, home for the children who are too old for the cottage. It is self-contained with a school, clinic and church.
"We got to attend two of their worship services; the music and the colors, it was awesome," Bly said.
"The thing that impressed me the most was the love the mamas had for the babies," Blagg said. "They said, 'We raise them to be good people.' They were doing what they were called to do."
McGregor already has the next mission trip set for April 20-30.
"The men are going to the Congo, building a church," she said. "The women are going to Uganda and the babies homes."
For information about the trip or to sponsor Loving Hearts Babies Home, contact McGregor at New Horizons, email@example.com or 507-526-3518.