A total of 13 Claremore residents, including recent Claremore High School graduates, participated in a mission trip more than 8,000 miles away in Lira, Uganda — a landlocked country in East Africa.
Through the non-profit organization Project Hope Worldwide (PHW), members of the team ministered to children at an orphanage and surrounding villages from June 16-30. They served in a medical clinic and traveled hut-to-hut, each sharing their faith with Ugandans. PHW is committed to providing funds and resources for orphans and defenseless children around the world in an effort to address issues that lead to poverty.
In the early 2000s, much of Uganda was still at war. The Lord’s Resistance Army headed by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spirit medium, committed widespread human rights violations, including mutilation, torture, rape, abduction of civilians, the use of child soldiers and a number of massacres.
“The LRA was killing thousands of people. They were kidnapping children and putting AK-47s in their hand,” said Dr. Kyle Hrdlicka, mission trip member. “It left literally thousands of children across Uganda with no parents.”
About three years ago, Project Hope President Derk Madden and Vice President/Director of Development Kelley Compton traveled to Northern Uganda where they felt a calling to help people in Lira establish an orphanage.
“We know Kelley, and so our group was able to connect with her to launch our mission trip plans into action,” said Hrdlicka. “The recent high school graduates who served have all been friends for years. This was really their idea — the parents were just there to help.”
A little more than a year ago, First Baptist Church members Bret and Anissa McGuire helped the students put the trip together. Bret McGuire made the connection with Project Hope and then planning began.
“The 13 of us went on a walkabout that started in Claremore and ended up in Lira, Uganda. The orphanage is where we were going and wanted to make a difference,” said Hrdlicka.
Kyle Hrdlicka’s son Nick said he could remember a couple of years ago he told his dad that he wanted to go on a mission trip.
“I looked into some places and later that year, Bret had mentioned putting a team together to go to Africa. We realized this was something we all wanted to do,” said Nick Hrdlicka.
The Calo Me Lare Orphanage is a 15-acre gated community that is funded through Project Hope Worldwide and its partners. The community includes two 8,000-square-foot school buildings, a soccer field, a medical clinic, a church and living and eating quarters for a total of 80 children. The medical clinic and church serve not only the orpans but people living in surrounding villages.
“When there is a need in the orphanage community, somebody alerts Project Hope and they send the necessary help and supplies,” said Kyle Hrdlicka. “Some kids have relatives outside the compound, but the ones who had no resources, those were the kids who were selected and brought to the orphanage.”
Dr. Hrdlicka served in the medical clinic, helping as many people as he could see. Other team members would assist him in taking records, while he conducted medical exams and wrote prescriptions.
Recent Claremore High School graduate Anna McGuire said the group spent a lot of time playing and loving on the children at the orphanage, but were also involved in the community of villages outside of the orphanage. This turned out to be much of the group’s favorite part.
“For the most part, the children in the orphanage are in a really good environment. They were taken from the worst situation and placed in the best over there,” said McGuire. “To be able to minister to those outside of the orphanage, had a big impact on me.”
Outside of the compound, the group would travel hut-to-hut spreading love to families. After checking on their wellbeing and interacting with them, team members would invite the families to the community church.
“I didn’t know much about Uganda before this trip. I knew they had major struggles based on what I saw on TV about the children armies,” said Brett Knaust, mission trip member. “Before we left for Africa, we began going to these meetings at Project Hope in Owasso, and that’s when we really got to learn about what the organization was doing over there and the kind of impact they were making. Africa’s been a place that I’ve always wanted to go growing up — seeing all of the ministries over there was something I wanted to experience for myself.
Knaust said he was looking forward to spending time with the orphans, but once he started down the hut-to-hut evangelism, he realized that was where he was doing more.
“Initially, there was an uncertainty among the group about going hut-to-hut because we had never experienced anything like that. You’re always going to be very cautious when stepping into unknown territory, but I think after the first few stops we realized that the locals were willing and eager to listen to the gospel,” said Knaust. “Honestly, it felt easier sharing the word of God with them than it would in the U.S. We would get their undivided attention.”
He said people who lived in the huts had a peace among them that is difficult to find anywhere else.
“We didn’t encounter anybody who was rude or threatening.”
Knaust described one custom among the villages as different, yet admirable.
“As we were walking up to huts, people were giving up their chairs. Mothers feeding their babies and 60 to 70-year-old woman would sit on the ground insisting we sit in their seats,” he said. “At first, I felt really weird about it but then realized in their culture it was rude if we did not accept the kind gesture.”
Team members said throughout the two weeks they were in Lira, they felt God working through them on a daily basis, but one moment in particular came as a big surprise to everyone.
“On the team’s day off, a headmaster at one of the schools came to us and said ‘I want your team to talk to our students,’” said Annisa McGuire. “To our delight, it ended up being more than 1,200 13 to 26-year-olds. We basically had church outside in this courtyard with children surrounding us — some sitting in trees from afar.”
During the service, the children learned songs, prayed together and each member of the group shared their testimony.
“At the end, we asked if any of these young people wanted to be saved. About five minutes went by and one child came forward. Slowly but surely more and more walked to the front,” said Annisa McGuire. “A total of 55 kids gave their life to Christ that day. I will forever be changed by that moment.”
The group agreed that the mission trip impacted them as much as they impacted the people of Northern Uganda.
“It’s hard to describe the experience other than to say it was lifechanging,” said Kyle Hrdlicka. “To really understand what this type of trip is about, people need to experience it for themselves because it is so powerful.”
Anissa McGuire said not everyone can travel to third-world countries to make a difference, however, they can make a difference in their own community,
“It’s about making a positive impact wherever you can,” she said.
Through PHW, the team continues to follow up on the progress being made in Lira, Uganda, including the continued expansion of the Calo Me Lare Orphanage.
Kyle Hrdlicka said he is appreciative of the large amount of community support the mission team received throughout their journey. Team members are especially thankful for sponsorships from the First Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church in Claremore.
For more information on Project Hope Worldwide, or to read blogs from members who served on the mission trip, visit projecthopeworldwide.org.