Made in God’s image

Made in God’s image:

celebrating World Down Syndrome Day

Mothers in Gulu, Uganda gathered together on 21 March 2019 to celebrate their children and tell their stories. Stories of raising children made in God’s image. Stories of raising children with Down Syndrome.

It was a party with a purpose. Eight mothers arrived at St. Philip’s Health Centre, Gulu, and stepped into a room strung with blue and yellow bunting, photos of their children displayed on each wall. A beautiful piped cake waited on the table. As the children began to mingle and play, and guests arrived, a ribbon was handed to each person. Its colours matched the bunting on the walls: blue and yellow for World Down Syndrome Day.

A woman wearing a blue t-shirt for World Down Syndrome Day pins a ribbon to the t-shirt of another woman.
Party-goers wore blue and yellow ribbons to raise awareness of World Down Syndrome Day.

Finding themselves part of a worldwide celebration came as a surprise to mothers like Alice, Lucy and Everlyn. After all – they had been so used to handling everything on their own. Before they joined a support group led by BMS World Mission worker Lois Ovenden, each of these mothers had felt adrift – left to care for their child’s particular needs alone.

Even medical professionals had struggled to identify these needs, let alone explain them clearly to each mother. Rocked by rumours, misinformation and worry as their children grew, it was testament to the strength of each woman that they’d made it to the celebration thrown by the group. They had come because of their conviction that there was so much to celebrate.

A woman in a blue t-shirt holds out her hands to catch her young son.
Alice holds out her hands to catch her five-year-old son, Innocent.

In many parts of Uganda, Down Syndrome isn’t widely understood. Doctors are reluctant to identify it, as diagnostic tests aren’t generally available. Medical professionals refusing life-saving treatment for babies with Down Syndrome is not uncommon. Many mothers have to fight for their children’s safety and well-being. It can be a lonely calling.

A man in a blue t-shirt smiles and takes care of a young boy with Down Syndrome.
Some parents are told their children will never be able to read, write or have a job.

Videos of the mothers telling their stories played around the room, alongside videos of parents from across the world. Speech and language therapist Isaac Ojok invited Vision TV and radio station Mega FM to the event, and members of a local church arrived too. It was a courageous choice for the mothers, to celebrate something with family and friends that they had been told to keep hidden. And the presence of local media gave them confidence that their stories were something they could share with the world.

A group of mothers in blue t-shirts stand around a white cake and prepare to cut it.
Mothers of children with Down Syndrome came together for the first time in the BMS-led support group

The party on 21 March was a special day, but it was just one day in BMS worker Lois Ovenden’s ongoing-work, serving as a speech and language therapist and running the support group in Gulu. The mothers at the party also returned home to busy weeks, looking after their children as they juggle work, home and family life.

But each time the support group meets, the mothers grow in confidence. They tackle misconceptions about their children and encourage each other. And they feel part of a bigger story – one that your support has connected them to. One being told all over the globe for World Down Syndrome Day.

Don’t miss out on hearing more from these amazing mothers when we catch up with them for World Down Syndrome month in October. Sign up to Engage magazine today.

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Fearless: taking on the Sahara Desert, raging rivers, and the sex industry

Fearless:

taking on the Sahara Desert, raging rivers, and the sex industry

There’s nothing overstated about the headline above. BMS World Mission workers enter isolated, extreme and often dangerous places because God has empowered them to change people’s lives for the better. They tread fearlessly knowing you are standing alongside them in prayer. So please read on for some of their latest blogs.

1. When you get lost, stuck and weary in the desert

Nightmare journeys home usually consist of heavy traffic, train cancellations, or flight delays. Not so for BMS surgeons Andrea and Mark Hotchkin. For these two brilliant mission workers, along with their children Ruth and Rebecca, the journey home to Bardaï in northern Chad involved getting lost in the Sahara desert, camping outside as lightning struck, and digging for hours to release their vehicle from sand. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, a dust storm then hit. Read the Hotchkins’ blog to find out how they got home!

Truck stuck in the mud in a desert
The Hotchkin family not only faced flooding in a desert, they also had the problem of sand becoming mud.

2. Cable bridges, landslides and a lot of walking – just to reach schools

Simon Hall holding a book as children surround him
Children’s books (and Simon Hall) are clearly popular at this remote school in Lamjung District

It’s fair to say that Simon Hall put in a lot of effort to reach the school in the photo above. That’s what’s needed in Lamjung District, Nepal, where BMS teacher trainer Simon serves. The school you can see was one of 15 that Simon and three of his colleagues visited in just one week. Reaching them involved crossing cable bridges over raging rivers, walking for hours up steps, and then travelling in jeeps up to altitude-sickness-inducing heights. The journey was understandably draining, but it was nothing compared to what was to come for Simon. Please read his blog today and pray with him using his prayer points.

3. Joining the fight to eradicate TB

Can you imagine being part of history? BMS mission workers James and Ruth Neve don’t have to. As part of the Indian Government’s plan to eradicate tuberculosis (TB) from the country by 2025, James and Ruth are going to be giving training to people who have been cured of the illness. Their training courses will teach vital skills to help some of the poorest and most marginalized people in India generate a better income and turn their lives around. Read James and Ruth’s blog post about the day they decided to help change the world.

Ruth Neve signing TB agreement
Ruth Neve signs a life-changing agreement

4. ‘I want women to understand that God created us beautiful’

Ashleigh Gibb witnesses pain every day. She serves with BMS in the red light district of Bangkok, where she enters bars and brothels to speak words of love and kindness to women who have been trafficked. She also works in a coffee shop, that gives women who have managed to escape the sex industry the chance to learn new skills. Ashleigh’s blogs are always very powerful and heartfelt, none more so than her latest post in which she writes about the importance of loving those around us, even those who are hard to love.

Ashleigh Gibb in Bangkok
BMS worker Ashleigh Gibb takes the light of Christ into the darkness of Bangkok’s sex industry.

5. ‘May you know that you are loved with a constant and eternal love’

The Ovendens sit together with new baby Eleanor
Please keep Joe, Reuben, Lois, Eleanor and Connie Ovenden in your prayers.

This may not be the frontline of mission work, but we’re confident you’ll want to read about it. There was much joy in the BMS family when news came through about the newest Ovenden. Eleanor Ada Joy was welcomed into the world on Tuesday 18 September, a third child for BMS workers in Uganda, Joe and Lois. We give thanks today for the blessing of new life, and for everything that Joe and Lois do for BMS. They’ve posted a prayer for Eleanor in their latest blog. After you’ve read it, please pray for Eleanor.

God is with our mission workers, as are you. It is your faithful prayer and giving that enables them to be on the frontline of mission, helping the sick in Chad, children in Nepal, women who have been trafficked in Thailand, and many others in need around the world. Our mission workers across the globe write blogs about their work and we often post them on our Facebook page, along with prayer requests and videos. Please check it out, and please do comment on the blogs with words of encouragement for our workers! We love to hear from you.

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Release from addiction, safe pregnancy and our very latest prayer requests

Release from addiction, safe pregnancy and our very latest prayer requests

We believe God intervenes when we pray. Would you please pray for these people today?

A pregnant mission worker recovering from a terrifying health scare. Villagers enslaved by addiction. And a family facing the demands of moving countries. These are real people who need an outpouring of love and prayer, and they need it from all of us today.

Lois and her unborn baby

A few weeks ago, BMS World Mission worker Lois Ovenden, based in Gulu, Uganda, was rushed to hospital, suffering extreme pain under her ribs. The fears for her health were magnified by the fact that she was 19 weeks pregnant at the time. The doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong and transferred Lois to Kampala, 200 miles away from her two young children.

After days of worry and pain, Lois was told she had pericarditis (inflammation of the fluid lining around the heart). The condition is treatable and shouldn’t affect her baby, and Lois is back home now with her husband, Joe, and their children, Connie and Reuben. Praise God! Please pray for Lois and the family.

A woman and a man, and a boy and a girl, smile at the camera, with the girl holding a cat
Pray today for Joe and Lois Ovenden, and their children Connie and Reuben.

• Pray for Lois’ swift return to full health and for the health of her unborn baby. Pray there would be no complications from the medical scare.

• Pray that God provides an assistant to support Lois in her speech therapy work with children and that the right person comes forward today.

• Give thanks for the Ovendens’ BMS colleagues, Linda and Tim Darby , who looked after Connie and Reuben while Joe was at Lois’ bedside. Pray for a blessing over them, and their children, Joshua, Annabelle and Elsa.

A village shackled by addiction

Alcohol addiction is ruining lives in the village of Wang Daeng, in northern Thailand, where BMS church planters Helen and Wit Boondeekhun work in what is largely a Thai Buddhist community. But alcohol isn’t the only problem. A highly addictive drug called yaba – a toxic mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine that leads to aggressiveness and paranoia – also has its destructive grip on the village.

• Pray that Got* breaks free from alcoholism, and that his wife, Suree*, returns to the Bible study where Wit has been supporting her.

• Pray for wisdom for Helen and Wit as they try to start a group for people who want to liberate themselves from addiction. Pray that people would be open to receiving help and to hearing about the gospel.

A village road is covered with tarmac. There are shops on one side, and trees on the other.
Stand alongside BMS church planters Helen and Wit Boondeekhun as they tell people about Jesus in the village of Wang Daeng, in northern Thailand.

Politicians, women in Nepal, and many of you

• Pray for continued peace in Mozambique following the recent death of opposition leader, Afonso Dhlakama. Pray that his successor and politicians across Mozambique will promote unity.

• Pray for the women who are being helped at a gynaecology outreach service in Jajarkot, west Nepal, this week. Pray their surgeries would go as planned, and there would be no complications afterwards. Give thanks for all the personnel at the International Nepal Fellowship (INF) who are helping them, and for BMS worker Chris Drew who is working with INF.

• Pray for all those attending the Baptist Assembly in Peterborough this Saturday (12 May). Pray for safe journeys for us all, and for a day of joy and community.

• Pray that Ann*, a worker at a BMS-supported home for children with disabilities in Thailand, opens her heart today to Jesus. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work a transformation in her life.

Our brothers and sisters in France

Christians in a nation as secular as France can sometimes feel like they’re on their own. We can change this.

BMS mission worker Christine Kling gives a sermon in France
Pray for BMS worker Christine Kling, who is telling people in France about Jesus.

• Pray for the 400 people at the three-day French Baptist Assembly that starts in Lyon today (10 May). Pray for a great sense of unity and fellowship, and for inspired worship and teaching, and that every logistical issue would be overcome.

• Pray that people who have never stepped into a church before will hear about the Saturday evening services about to start at the Baptist church in Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris. Pray the services would help BMS worker Christine Kling connect with people who do not attend church.

• Pray for the couples who have come to the end of a marriage course in Brive-la-Gaillarde south west France. Pray thanks for their deepening relationship with God, and pray their marriages continue to become stronger.

• Pray that God will guide BMS Action Team staff as they choose the right person to fill the final space on the next France team.

A family facing a stressful move

Arthur and Louise Brown have been BMS workers for years in Beirut and are coming to the UK with their children, and it’s all very stressful as moving can be. Please pray for the whole family, for Arthur in his role as Regional Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and particularly these things:

• Pray for energy for Louise who must complete her dissertation this week if she’s to graduate before leaving for the UK.

• Pray for Arthur and Louise’s daughter Jessica as she sits her IGCSEs. Pray Jessica would get the rest she needs during her exams.

• Pray for the family to feel God’s presence as they face the emotional and logistical demands of moving countries.

A woman in a grey dress and a man in a green t-shirt stand on a terrace with the countryside behind them.
Please pray for Arthur and Louise Brown who are preparing for a big move to the UK.

We’ve one more request, but it’s a really important one. Please share this article with your friends, family and church before you do anything else.

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* Names changed to protect identities

5 ways you’re making the world a healthier place

5 ways you’re making the world a healthier place

Saving mothers and babies in Afghanistan and helping pregnant refugees. Discover five of the ways your generous support for BMS World Mission is helping to provide healthcare for thousands of people around the world.

1. Meeting medical needs in Chad

Man in the distance looking at the camera. An ambulance in a courtyard at a hospital in Chad.
You're funding pharmacists, surgeons, doctors and nurses in Chad.

There is one qualified doctor in Chad for every 25,000 people. Nearly 40 per cent of children have stunted growth because of a lack of food, and illnesses such as malaria, HIV and Aids affect many people’s lives. But thanks to you, hospitals in Chad (one near the capital and one in the north of the country) are providing much-needed medical treatment and helping people survive. Your giving has enabled us to fund pharmacists, surgeons, doctors, nurses, malnutrition prevention workers, midwives and other hospital staff who are giving the right care to thousands of people. They’re treating gunshot wounds, cancer and malaria, and delivering babies, thanks to you.

2. Giving children with disabilities the support they need

Children with disabilities in Thailand face huge challenges. Many families struggle to cope with the needs of their children, and government orphanages are often unable to provide the one-on-one care and support they need.

Thanks to your giving, BMS worker Judy Cook is providing therapeutic and respite care to children with disabilities at Hope Home, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Hope Home currently provides full-time care for ten children, and offers respite care for many other children and their families.

Check out the amazing work you’re supporting in this video:

3. Coming to the aid of pregnant refugees

The South Sudanese women who make it to Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda after fleeing conflict are often in danger of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. But thanks to your giving, an electronic device that measures people’s blood pressure and heart rate is helping to save lives. At least 7,000 pregnant women will receive medical checks that could identify any problems and save their lives, and the lives of their unborn children. To read more about how the device works and the impact your support is having, click the button below.

A woman in a refugee camp carrying a pale of water.
You're helping at least 7,000 refugees get medical checks in northern Uganda.

4. Saving the lives of mothers and babies in Afghanistan

Boys playing football in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Thanks to you, men and women are being trained in safe birthing practices in the remote mountains of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. In remote mountain villages, it’s difficult for pregnant women to get to clinics to give birth, and unsafe birthing practices such as smearing dirt on the umbilical cord, or pushing on the mother’s stomach during labour to make the baby come out, can lead to infection and even death.

You’re enabling us to help train men and women in safe birthing practices in the mountains of rural Afghanistan. You’re helping them learn to spot when something is wrong, and to dispel unsafe birthing practices, and you’re saving the lives of mothers and babies as a result.

5. Giving children a voice through speech therapy

Being unable to communicate your feelings and needs to the community around you can be incredibly isolating. In northern Uganda, BMS worker Lois Ovenden is providing speech and language therapy to children with disabilities. We’ll leave it to her to explain more of the inspiring work she’s doing in this video:

By supporting BMS, you’re funding life-transforming health work like this around the world. Thank you! You can help us do even more by making a donation today.

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This is what a life transformed looks like

Uganda:

This is what a life transformed looks like

Joshua is full of potential. He is a bundle of joy. He is treasured.

His life is different from how it was before, and your gifts have made his transformation possible.

When Joshua was two years old, his life began to change. His parents discovered that his diagnosis of Down’s syndrome didn’t mean that his life was hopeless. They began to dream for his future.

It all started when Lois Ovenden, a BMS World Mission speech therapist, entered their lives.

Meet Joshua, his wonderful mum Flavia, and BMS worker Lois in this video, and find out how your support has helped to transform a family in northern Uganda by watching the video (above).

Support people like Joshua. Give today.
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Post-war farming in Uganda

Post-war farming in Uganda

As northern Uganda continues to recover from war, two agricultural experts are showing struggling farmers there is hope in God’s soil.

A whistle-stop tour of northern Uganda’s most inspiring farmers. It’s early and we’re bleary-eyed as we clamber into the car – BMS World Mission workers Genesis, Bernard and Joe, our driver-turned-camera-assistant Hannington, and I – and hit the road.

Rainy season is coming to an end and everything is bright, and green, and beautiful. Mothers walk along with 20-litre jerry cans of water balanced on their heads and babies slung low on their backs. We see a girl setting out for a day of school, exercise book clasped in her hand. Her red skirt billows in the warm breeze, perfectly contrasting with the long, green grass beside her. Her bare feet dance along the blistering, cracked mud.

I’ll discover today that the mud here tells a story. A story of war and loss, of determination and victory. The cracks in the earth mirror a fractured people. A people who had to live for years in Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps; forced to flee there by the government to protect them from the Lord’s Resistance Army and the soldiers who had the run of the land. People were born, raised and married in these camps – the younger generation never getting the chance to learn the skill of farming that would have to become their livelihood on leaving.

Acaye Genesis is a BMS World Mission worker helping Uganda's farmers break themselves out of poverty
Acaye Genesis is a BMS World Mission worker helping Uganda's farmers break themselves out of poverty

A decade ago, men and women returned to the same cracked soil they’d left in their youth to begin their lives again. Their survival and the survival of their children lay in the land they were forced to leave. A new battle was only just beginning.

Now, in peacetime, the two agricultural experts sitting with me as we drive have a dream to help their fellow Ugandans win their latest war. BMS workers Genesis and Bernard have a vision and a deep-rooted passion for the land and for helping farmers here to use it well to get themselves out of poverty.

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In Uganda, it is generally the man’s responsibility to earn money for his family – although every member of the family normally pulls more than their weight. “When a husband cannot make good money, the family is always in chaos,” says Genesis. “But if they are making good money, you find the children are going to school, medical bills are paid, they’re eating well.”

An estimated 90 per cent of people in Gulu District subsist by farming. The majority of these farmers are only growing food crops – like maize, cassava and groundnuts – which make up their staple diet but fetch a very low market price. The average salary is just over 1,500 Ugandan shillings a day. That’s roughly 33 pence.

Charles' home in Gulu, northern Uganda

“When you only grow food crops and you sell at low prices, you end up selling almost everything and you don’t have enough money,” says Genesis. “In June there is a month here called the ‘month of hunger’, when you’ve done all your selling and your family suffers.”

Banana, chilli and ginger – cash crops – are transforming the lives of 100 families here. Genesis and Bernard are turning their farmers into pioneers, introducing them to crops they didn’t know they could grow in their soil. Before, farmers in the area only grew small, sweet bananas; the BMS-supported farmers are now growing larger bananas, both in sweet and savoury varieties. Farmers were reluctant to try and grow chillies, because of low demand within the community and fears over handling them, but they’re now seeing huge benefits to growing the crop. And while the farmers were keen to grow ginger, without BMS investment, the initial cost of the seeds would have been unattainable for all of them.

This project has changed my life. When I was not doing this project my life was different. I used to do things that were not right. Now I realise that I have a lot of energy, and if I don’t use it now I won’t be able to get it back. So I am using it to work. I feel good, because I am not the way I was.

Now my vision is to expand my garden and have a farm.

Okello David growing ginger and doing well, thanks to a BMS-supported project

Name: Okello David    Age: 24    Profession: farmer    Crop: ginger

Bernard laughs as he explains how much a sack of export-destined chilli sells for, in comparison to a sack of maize. The difference is huge. It’s the kind of difference that equals a well-fed family, access to medical care and education for your children. It’s the kind of difference that is changing lives.

We drive around the district, visiting different farms and meeting farmers benefitting from the new crops. I shake hands worn hard by tough labour, pray in the huts of strong, gentle farmers, walk through gardens of precisely planted and well-weeded crops, and listen to stories.

It surprises me how exciting it is to meet these newly trained farmers. My questions about the crops are answered with enthusiasm – I learn about mulching, banana suckers, spacing. I learn about things I’d never even thought about and now find fascinating. The pride on their faces is almost as bright as the yellow and green of nearly ripe bananas and the perfect red chillies they hand me.

Onen Charles is a farmer in northern Uganda

Name: Onen Charles    Family:  eight children
Profession: pastor and farmer    Crop: banana and chilli

Genesis and Bernard taught me how to grow chilli and bananas in the proper way. I am sure that, if I work hard, in the near future I will have some good money. My heart is happy and full of gratitude. I am happy for what God is doing in this region that has suffered war for many years. And I’m sending my greetings to the people who are supporting this work, praying that God will bless them.

In the interests of thorough journalism, I try a chilli – it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? It’s hot. Worse than I expected. And it gets quickly hotter. It sticks to the back of my throat and my eyes start streaming as I cough like an embarrassed idiot, which is how I feel. The laughter (from farmers and BMS workers alike) follows me as I choke and splutter my way back to the car. Cool and composed, as always. Do the farmers find them so hot? In disbelief, I discover that Allan, my chilli dealer, has never eaten a single one. In his entire, probably choking-fit-free life. He’s growing thousands of the things. Unsurprisingly, my reaction hasn’t convinced him to embrace God’s spicy masterpiece.

Allan has been growing and selling chillies thanks to your support
Allan, my chilli dealer

Nevertheless, God and his Church are central to Allan’s chillies and to this BMS agribusiness project. Genesis’ dream is to meet both the physical and the spiritual needs of families in the district, by using the Bible to equip farmers with the skills needed to grow these cash crops well. The 100 farmers (some of whom are Christians, others not) work in five groups, and each one meets and trains in their local Baptist church.

“When we meet together, we pray together,” says Genesis. “We are helping people understand how working, in the context of the Bible, is important. It looks like just agriculture, but when you come in, we share the gospel. We share everything. And we find their lives are changing.”

Some farmers have given their lives to Christ and joined their local Baptist church. Others often ask to pray with Genesis. Seeds becoming fruit, fed by God and his soil.

So many people are coming to me and asking if it is possible for me to go and train them – to teach them the knowledge I have on this ginger so that they can do what I am doing. This project is not just changing my life; it is also changing the lives of people around me.

I want to say thank you, and I want to appreciate the Christians in the UK for helping their fellow Christians in Uganda.

Peter is a farmer in Gulu, in northern Uganda. He is pictured here with his youngest son in his garden of ginger.

Name: Ongaba Peter    Family:  five children
Profession: pastor and farmer    Crop: banana and ginger

The dirt I am standing on isn’t dirt to Bernard, it’s opportunity. To Genesis, it’s God’s beautiful garden. And it’s a way they can follow God’s call to help the poor and share his story. Their infectious enthusiasm for agriculture is so powerful it has genuinely led me to plan a kitchen garden in my first-floor flat.

I probably can’t manage bananas, but chillies hanging from a pot plant on my windowsill could look good, and add a kick to my stir-fries (if used with appropriate caution). In this part of Uganda, though, they are changing lives. That’s possible because of God, because of farmers with reserves of strength and resilience I can’t even imagine, and because of you.

Farmer Onen Charles with his family in Gulu District, Uganda

The first humans God created were farmers, commissioned to look after his garden. Here, in the shade of a banana tree whose fruit is so much more than a meal, I am amazed afresh at the beauty and complexity of creation. Amazed afresh at the wonderful people God has created to tend his land.

 

 

Words and photos: Sarah Stone

Help us do more

“Northern Uganda has been in war for about 27 years, and since peace has returned this work has helped a lot of people to live a better life,” says Genesis. “It is possible because of your support. So please, I ask you to keep supporting. You are not doing it for me. You are doing it for God.”

Do you want to play a part in helping people in northern Uganda grow a harvest of hope? Give a one-off donation to BMS today, or sign up to give regularly by becoming a 24:7 Partner.

Thank you.