I had been to this zoo probably eight years ago. I had heard that they had been through major renovations because they are trying to make it one of the premiere tourist attractions in Uganda. There was an article in the New Vision newspaper on the day we were traveling to Entebbe. It was titled, “Uganda Among Top 10 Global Tourism Spots.” It said this, “Uganda comes fourth after India, Scotland and Canada. It and Namibia speak for Africa.” This was published by Rough Guides, a publisher of inspirational travel guidebooks in the UK. “For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life…Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.” (My African Journey, Winston Churchill, 1908). “More than a century after he penned the line, Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted quip about Uganda still stands.”
The zoo is actually called, “The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.” It was re-launched last year after renovations. What is a tourist attraction for visitors is an cultural treasure for Ugandan children.
It didn’t take long to see that we were in for an amazing day. We drove into the compound welcomed by two huge statues of giraffes! The children were already intrigued! They also wanted to represent Christ and Raining Hope well. I had noticed as they got off the bus how well dressed each one was. They dressed in their absolute best!
The Christmas gift included the entry fee for each individual. We were able to save some money because of a contact Godfrey had with the zoo. We worked out a special fee that lowered it substantially because we were a group of students.
We had a guide that took us on a tour of the zoo. This was key because he gave us so much information as he walked us from one exhibit to another. We started in an information center that had fossils of huge animals such as a crocodile and skulls of all kinds of animals! The children were fascinated! The funniest picture was one of Jireh and Hope staring down one of the heads wondering what in the world they were looking at!
When I asked you in Part 1 to let go of any expectations of your own zoo experience, I had to take the same advice. Mine was more about walking around the zoo with thirty two people. Whenever I take groups out (even my ISP teams!) I am always counting heads! For those of you who are teachers or leaders of children, I can hear you doing the same thing! One, two, three, four, etc. to make sure that you don’t loose track of anyone. I was ready to use the buddy system to make sure that no one wandered off. Godfrey said to me, “They cannot wander off on their own. We move together as family.” Wow. This was literally walked out in a beautiful way as we moved throughout the zoo.
I had nothing to worry about. Everyone looked out for the younger children. Ronald did bring his walking sticks (crutches) just to be safe. It was actually a good idea because we did a lot of walking that day. It slowed him up at times but someone was always with him holding up the rear. The amazing things was it was always someone different. There were beautiful testimonies at the end of the day about what meant the most to the students. Over and over again they said how well they moved together through the zoo as a family. Take a moment to soak that in. They truly were and are a picture of what it means to be the family of God. They take care of one another. They love one another. They watch out for one another. They enjoy life together. They reflect Christ in all they do. What a proud mum I am!
The difference about the monkeys in this zoo is they are not in a cage. They wander freely around the compound. But in my opinion they seem to be so used to the people and want to make it known that they are the kings of the compound! We don’t touch them but a few of them almost seemed to chase us! When it came to our breakfast “rolex” we had to eat in the bus. If we would have gone to the picnic area, we would have had to fight for our food. Let alone, some bold monkeys perched themselves on the side mirrors of the front windows hoping we would throw them a bite to eat!
One of the favorites was seeing a beautiful leopard. As it sat majestically, safely in a protected environment, the guide asked, “What would you do if you were face to face with a leopard.” Many said, “RUN!” which was the wrong answer! The guide said it is not wise to try to climb a tree because they will just follow you right up. I didn’t hear his answer of what to actually do. But as we walked I told Henry this is what I would do… “I would tell the leopard that I don’t taste good. If he eats me he will get sick so he should just take off!” I have never heard Henry laugh so loud! He thought that was hilarious. Guess he was actually picturing me talking to the leopard! But we used this illustration later that night. I Peter 5:8 “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” The enemy does prowl around trying to devour us. But in verse 9 it says, “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” We can stand firm. And the children know you stand with them.
John 10:10 says, “The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” These verses became alive in the hearts of the children after seeing leopards & lions in person!
As they moved from animal to animal they had story after story to tell. Here is what meant the most to the children. They all had a favorite animal that they LOVED but only had seen in a book or on TV or a painting. When they were faced with the real life animal they were beyond astonished. Florence told us later that her dream was always to see a Crested Crane in person. We stood next to the exhibit with a beautiful Crested Crane not more than a few feet away from us. It looked at us as if to show off its majestic crown that adorns its head. Florence said that it was a dream come true. Hearing them talk later about what it meant for them to actually see their favorite animal in person brought tears to my eyes. Something that we may not think twice about when visiting our zoos, they counted as a privilege and honor.
The chimpanzees were a huge hit because there were so many and they were so animated! They were shocked at the size of the crocodiles and lions! The way we moved through the zoo was like a well choreographed symphony. I would have one come up to me as I walked and say, “This is the best day of my life!” Another would come and tell me that they never thought they would ever actually make it to the zoo. Another told us later that because of this experience, when they have children they want to follow our example and make sure they bring their own children here one day.
As our tour of the zoo came to an end, we walked right past a new restaurant. But what came after that restaurant was a gift from God. There was a steep landing that made its way down to a “beach” on Lake Victoria. Godfrey and I at the same time thought the same thing. “Maybe we can have our baptisms here!!
The bonus to this day was what was about to happen. Over the past ten years, we have known that all of our children had at one time or another accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But no one had ever helped them to understand the need to follow in obedience in the ordinance of baptism. Godfrey has been working with the children during their time of discipleship. He had been helping them to understand baptism and did extensive training on this. We had fifteen that had not been baptized yet. We had planned to find a local beach in Entebbe to do the baptisms after leaving the zoo. But God provided the place right where we were at! We gained permission from the zoo officials and were ready after eating our rolex breakfast in the bus!
What was interesting was when I said, “We are ready to do the baptisms!” there was excitement but with some hesitation What I found out later was that most of our children do not know how to swim and some are really afraid of the water. Esther for one said that she was really afraid of the water.
This is one of those moments I wish you could have been there. To see as each one went down into the water, then was raised to walk in newness of life was inspiring. The look on their faces were priceless. It was joy that rose up out of the water was not one of fear. Even Esther said, “I no longer fear the water!”
Those baptized were, Esther, Florence, young Joanne, Difasi, Dan, Vivian, Doreen, Tabitha, Tamarah, Joel, Silvia, Jemimah, Maria, Sharon, & Ronald! As each one went into the water, the others were on the shore singing praises to God. When we were all done, we gathered in a circle to pray a prayer of dedication to these who were baptized.
|Left to right: Difasi, Joel, Maria, Jeseca, Dan, Esther Joanne, Sharon, Jemimah, Florence, Tabitha, Silvia, Tamarah , Doreen, Vivian, Ronald)|
This moment was one that I will never forget. I watched all day as God gave these children the desires of their heart which was really watching His Word come alive. I will always remember how they reacted when they saw their favorite animals. They were no longer in a book. It was if they came out and were alive like the movie Jumanji! They were larger than life and moving and breathing. We talked about this later to make the point that we shouldn’t leave God in The Book. His Words come alive because Jesus is alive in our hearts and our lives! As I shared this you could see this truth really make sense now after our zoo experience.
This became a living testimony when they took the step of obedience of following Jesus in baptism. All that I do as a mum leads to a moment such as this. To watch them proclaim to the world that they belong to Jesus is what blesses my heart the most. My emotions were overflowing and very hard to truly explain the moment. I hope my words give it some justice. My heart was filled with such love.
|Hope - "One day it will be my turn!"|
They then wanted to dance for joy. So on the beach, I used my iPod to play a few songs that allowed us to just sing and dance for joy to the Lord!
|Hillary & Henry|
|Henry, Jonathan & Hillary|
We were not yet done. Mrs. Otile suggested that we drive by the Entebbe Airport which was only about five minutes away. We had saved time not having to go to another beach. We were doing well with time wanting to beat the afternoon traffic traveling home. Mrs. Otile thought that many of them had never seen a real plane. She also thought it important that they see where Godfrey takes me once I leave them to head back to California. We couldn’t go into the airport but they were so excited that we were able to at least see UN planes and visualize now where I am when we say I am at the airport!
Thanks for hanging in there with me as I know this update was long. There is one more thing that completed this tremendous gift. On the way home we surprised them and stopped to get chicken on a stick for everyone with roasted bananas which I now understand are called gonja. Try buying thirty two chicken on a sticks! Godfrey and I actually get out of the bus and go down to were they are actually cooking them on the grill. This guarantees they are fresh and hot, not waving in the hands of the sellers on the road for who knows how long! THEY LOVED IT! My favorite was watch little Jael eat that chicken down to the bone! She enjoyed every little bit of the meat! There was nothing left!
|Roadside chicken on a stick stop! Venders all swarm the vehicles that stop. They are not allowed to cross the road so we park on the opposite side so they can't do this to us!|
|Chicken on a stick hot off the grill (and not filled with dust from the road!|
|Jael & Jireh|
|Happy way to end our amazing day at the zoo!|
We actually made it back in great timing missing most of the traffic in Kampala. It was still daylight outside when we returned which really made us happy. Because of the long day, we gathered together for a time of sharing testimonies but not do our discipleship study. The testimonies were tremendous and I will share some of those in another update.
When I asked if having the trip to the zoo was a good Christmas gift...THEY BEGAN TO SHOUT ... YES, YES YES! The simplicity of this day trip is something that will last a lifetime. You have a part in creating a memory they will never forget.
I want to thank each of you that gave above and beyond your monthly donation towards their Christmas gifts. Be assured that this gift is given to the children from ALL of you. They wanted me to make sure that I thanked everyone back home for caring so much for them that you would bless them with such a tremendous gift. You made their Christmas extra special.
Love you, Mama Eydie Kisakye