My name is Gilbert Mfitundinda, an UrbanPromise International Fellow from southwestern Uganda. I was born to a family so poor that even the poor people in our community looked down on us. At a young age, I did not think that the future had anything to offer me. As the eighth child in my family, I had seen my siblings drop out of school. I was so hopeless.
My family survived on less than $1 per day. Life was a daily struggle. Our house was a makeshift house made of mud. I slept on a mat on a dirt floor and covered myself with another mat. Mattresses were unheard of and blanket never existed in my family’s dictionary.
At the age of 7, I was invited by my local church and community leaders to participate in a child sponsorship organization called Compassion International—who later changed my life. Compassion have me a mattress to sleep on and a blanket that I could use to cover myself. This was the first mattress that my family ever held.
Can you imagine how might have felt having on mattress in a family of ten? (Eight kids plus mom and dad). The blanket and the mattress became the most treasured items in our house at that time. Since Compassion had technically given the mattress to me, I had a bigger share on it.
However, my parents could not entrust me with the only treasure in our house. I was still young and irresponsible. I did bed wetting almost every night. When my parents justified why I could not use the mattress, I had no objection. My parents decided to keep the mattress until I was old enough to use it. For a period of time, whoever felt sick in my family was the one to use the mattress. It was a shared treasure.
During this season of Thanksgiving, I would urge you to take a moment and ponder your blessings. Can you name them one by one? It is easy to take a small thing like having a mattress for granted, yet it could mean the whole world to a child in Malawi, Uganda or any other developing country. I would also like to request you pray for a child longing for a mattress or blanket sometime in his/her lifetime. Perhaps you could be an answer to the prayers of this child.
Gilbert Mfitundinda, Founder and CEO of Love Restoration—a non-profit organization that he started to help his community. Gilbert holds a degree in information technology from Uganda Christian University. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, USA.
So I found myself in the United States for the first time in my entire life. Although I had an idea of what to expect, I remember getting off the plane, looking into the sky and wondering what the future may hold. Sincerely, there was a little bit of self-doubt as I wondered if I was good enough for the Urban Promise International (UPI) fellowship. What had I really done to deserve a fully sponsored trip to the USA, to get a fully sponsored Masters’ degree and an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in ministerial work? One constant thought though was that God had me here for a reason and somehow, I had peace knowing that only his will would be manifested.
Now, here I am; about a month into the program and I feel like I have had the time of my life: From meeting amazing leaders from other African countries, to the beautiful staff of UPI who are quick to shower us with all the love. So, this last month has been a time of reflection, learning and community building. As I try to balance my commitment between school, camp and other UPI obligations; there has been a conscious effort to open my heart to all of the experiences, and it has truly been amazing!
First, there was the experience at Eastern University which quite exceeded my expectations. Beyond theory, each class was practical with the professors acting like consultants, willing to discuss unique problems of our organizations and jointly proffering real solutions. Also, contrary to the school system that I have been used to, the classes were more of discussions than lectures. They presented a platform for every member to share his views and an opportunity to learn from diverse experiences.
However, my favourite part of school would have to be the carefully selected pile of books we have to read for the semester. I won’t deny that they were quite scary initially, but diving into each book started to change my perception about leadership. In fact, one statement from Overstreet (2011) has been lingering in my mind. She noted that “when measuring performance, the only standard that truly matters to a follower of Jesus is what God thinks of our leadership” pg. 12. Truly, it has been a wakeup call for me. Beyond skills, beyond hard work or the busy schedules, I am now drawn to inquire each night how the Lord feels about my leadership. After all, that is all that really matters.
Another beautiful experience would have to be my camp involvement. The camp director was kind enough to explain that many of the children there have had traumatic experiences and our afterschool program is aimed at creating an atmosphere of love and joy for the kids. This however became clear on my first day at camp when one of the kids said to me: “Sarah, camp is the only time I truly get to be happy in a day.” This single sentence made all the difference for me. I realized then that beyond learning how to run a ministry, the UPI fellowship journey has presented me with an opportunity to be a part of the life of these kids. Trust me, I am enjoying every bit of camp: from getting to know to kids, to having lots of fun and learning at the same time. Through camp, I’ve gone for fishing for the first time in my life and I even caught a fish #SMILES.
What more can I say, my experience as a UPI fellow has been great so far even if I am still recovering from the culture shock. For one, I have had a taste of a variety of great American meals but I have been really shocked by the combinations.
Well, I had never imagined that it was possible to have ham burger, sweet corn and chips on the same plate!
And for the weather, my friends are wondering how many jackets I would likely wear during winter, considering that it is still fall and most times I have a jacket on. In all, it has been fun to learn about a new culture and see life in an entirely new perspective.
Today, I am reminded of a life lesson I learnt after I lost my biological father. I have come to realize that life is definitely beyond getting born into a family, going to school, maintaining a good job and possibly starting another family. It is more about letting each day count by putting smiles in the faces of those around us. To me, this is what Urban Promise International is all about. The fellowship seeks to empower us to be leaders that would make each day count for children in our local communities. It seeks to equip us with all the skills and knowledge we need to be Christ-like leaders in our respective countries.
So, I am grateful to be a part of this fellowship and I am looking forward to both spiritual and professional growth. In two years, I hope to be fully self-aware, to have my vision clarified and be empowered for the future that lies ahead. Above all, my desire is that whenever I go to inquire of the Lord, I am rest assured that He is pleased with my leadership.