Does God’s Providence Still Work?

Stephen (back) and Philip (front) are just beginning to realize what’s possible.

Hello again from the St Nicholas Africa Fund!
Hey friends. Big story spanning Texas, California, Utah, and Uganda— and a definite encouragement from God!—

Our strong supporter Charles proposed a while back that with existing online tools and resources and a little mentoring we should be able to bring a couple of African students up to professional-level programming skills in less than a year. He and his company had done this with a few of kids in Texas, so why not in Africa? All they needed was a little aptitude.

So I said, Game on!— and we’ve been setting up a computer programming boot camp in Kampala!

Charles found a couple of used MacBook Pros, both in great shape, at about $800 each, and loaded them with all the software and videos they’d need to get started.

I picked Stephen Ojuku, one of my former seminarians, and Philip Atuhire, who was just a high school kid when I was in Kampala, but who recently graduated from Makerere University with an IT degree, to be our first students. Africa’s IT students don’t always have much experience with actual computers unless they own one, which Philip didn’t. But he has the idea anyway, and I’d made Stephen learn touch-typing.

Stephen is an Itesot tribesman, and Philip is muNyankore— both minorities in Uganda— so we’re already an equal-opportunity school! (and if we do this again, we’ll choose women from two other tribes.)

Next I had Billy Mambo, our Kampala Program Manager, find a secure apartment. We settled on a second-floor unit just behind the Orthodox cathedral in Namunggoona, which is nice, because Stephen is Orthodox, and can readily be part of the community there, and Philip’s family (not Orthodox) is nearby too.

Now this is where the adventure began.

We were expecting that shipping would be a little pricey, but we were not prepared to learn that lithium batteries are considered hazmat, and that it would cost us at least as much to ship the computers as they’d cost in the first place!
In fact, it turns out, we could take those same computers in carry-on baggage and deliver them ourselves for less than the cost of shipping!

But only because my sister has a couple of friends who work with Delta. They helped me get to Africa last time— but it’s been some years, and summer was peak season! But I got in touch to see if they could get me a standby flight to Dallas, where our contributor had the computers, and then on to Africa.
But— ooops!— need to renew my passport! And get booster shots! Believe me, it starts to add up pretty quick!

Well, just about the time I was getting ready to pull out my credit card (uh oh), a nice Romanian lady visited our church here in San Anselmo. We got to chatting and I mentioned our Africa project, and she said her church (Open Door Church in San Rafael) was sending a mission to Africa in August. So I asked, Where to? And she said, Uganda.

Uganda??! This must be from God!!! Quick, what’s their contact info??!!!

Well you can imagine how today’s severely restricted baggage allowances might make an already overpacked mission a little shy of enthusiastic about some stranger’s extra luggage. But after thinking about it, Jon Riley, their assistant pastor, told me he had such a heart for Uganda that he’d just make it happen for us!

But now we had to get the computers from Dallas to San Rafael— within one week!— and remember, we can’t ship them by plane! So I have to go to Dallas and back. Within a week.
But this point, my sister’s friend got back to me. Turned out her daughter lives in Dallas, and would be coming to visit in three days! And she could then just fly out to the Bay Area on her special pass, bring the computers to me, enjoy dinner in SF before heading back!

So just as i was poised to spend some $3,000 on a trip to Africa, the whole episode collapsed into the cost of a couple gallons of gas and an $8 bridge fare, and voilà, Jon Riley was in the air to Uganda with our computers before the week was out!

And the very next day, as you can see in the picture below, Stephen and Philip were already emailing me and exploring the Terminal program under Charles’ direction.

Now, how’s that for divine providence?

Of course, we have to get the whole project stably funded. Rent, utilities, security, stipends for our two full-time students, internet (expensive in Africa), and miscellaneous expenses will come to about $800/month. About half of this is already covered, but we sure do hope you will step forward to help with the rest. Click this button— and please consider making an automatic monthly contribution!—

Earning professional money for professional services, will be a game-changer not just for our students and their whole families, but for Africa. I don’t know of another “boot camp” like this anywhere on the continent. If our program works— and for three months now it’s been very smooth— we’re going to expand and multiply. Even some of Charles’ programmer buddies are very interested in our potential.

So— RIGHT NOW you have the chance to do something really astonishing— maybe your next app will even be Proudly Programmed in Africa! and you’ll know you were part of that game-changing story.

By the way, in addition to our 2 programming students, the St Nicholas Uganda fund is also currently supporting—

  • 1 pre-med student
  • 1 nursing student
  • 2 university students (computers; accounting)
  • 6 high school students, and
  • 8 primary students
  • 1 refugee family in South Africa (and btw, we could really use some help with this!)

We’ve also made grants or loans to 3 entrepreneurs, to help get businesses started— and one of whom is doing so well in his snacks business, that he’s just paid back his third loan ahead of schedule! (I’m even thinking of investing in him privately!)

You won’t get another chance to impact people as directly or as personally as this— so please click this button and become a partner in this all-important work!—

Does God’s Providence Still Work?

African Christmas?

So, back in 2009, a guy named Mubiru Bazirios emailed me— that’s ‘Basilios’ in Greek, or ‘Basil’ in English, but luGanda speakers tend to spell phonetically and have trouble with r’s and l’s, like the Japanese. The grandfather after whom he’s named was a son of Uganda’s very first Orthodox priest, and a priest himself. I understand that he’d been poisoned a few years before i arrived— I never did find out why, but it seemed especially unfortunate, the way people always talked about him. He’d even been to seminary in Russia, which is very unusual since the African church is so closely tied to Greece. Wished i could have met him.

But as i said, “our” Bazirios, the grandson, wrote in 2009:

—”am in 11th grade, in the sciences track…. I need to continue my studies. Now sir you are my saviour because i have searched from all the corners of the country and you are my last destination. Sir, please find my request worthy because i need to be a good man in future, and i beg you on my knees because the situation is worst than usual. If you consider it, i shall do my best to make you happy.”

Heartbreaking— but still— he makes you smile a bit, doesn’t he?

Well, unfortunately, we didn’t have the funds, and so Bazirios dropped out with only two years of high school to go. If the money were there, he could still go back even now— 30-year-old high school students are not so uncommon in Uganda— but what I didn’t know at the time was that, nine years earlier (2000), at age 15, he’d already gotten a wife, and that by the time he wrote they’d already had 4 kids. So failing to finish school was a serious setback for more than just himself. Still, what could we do.

But Bazirios is a cheerful fellow, despite his struggles. He likes to write songs and sing, and when he discovered me on Facebook, he took to trying out whatever random Greek phrases he’d pick up from the occasional visitor. Not always… successfully….

Well, about a year after that 2009 email, his brother Jonah disappeared. They traced him to to Ssese Island in Lake Victoria, where the locals told them that, as strangers there often do, he probably ended up getting sacrificed to the local gods. They never found any evidence, even with the police on the case, but that’s how he became responsible for Naluta Thecla, Jonah’s daughter.

You remember Thecla. About a year ago, a teacher knocked a little girl so hard, she dislocated her eyeball. We made an emergency appeal, and a couple of you stepped forward very generously and saved her eye. That girl was Thecla. I can’t remember whether I’ve already shown you her picture or not, but here she is, a real cutie:

Since 2009, Bazirios and his wife have had two more kids, so together with Thecla and sometimes Jonah’s son Mugumbya Jeremia (though he lives mainly with his mom), Bazirios now has 7 or 8 kids take care of. He also has to provide for his mom, who is severely diabetic, and his three siblings, Lukia, George, and Stavros. About George, more in a moment.

Let’s pause, though, for a little math break:

Bazirios has 6 kids of his own, 2 from Jonah, 3 younger siblings, his mother, his wife, and himself to take care of— that’s FOURTEEN people!! And— need we point out?— Uganda’s urban job market isn’t terribly kind to unskilled laborers, who comprise about 80% of the population.

But the story doesn’t begin or end there; far from it! I don’t want to make this email too long, so i’ll put the rest of his backstory (it’s really something!) here — but to tell you about the past couple of months, i’ll have to give you a couple of the highlights:

When Bazirios was a little boy, his father started beating his wife and 6 kids so bad that the mother took the kids and ran away. “We survived on cooked pawpaws [papaya], beging, picking eats from rubbish, snitching and steal the food from neighbours’ kids as they were eating, our mom could also beg for us to live”, he wrote.

But in 2013, times got so bad that they went back to his father to beg for help. Annoyed at the potential competition for her husband’s modest resources, his father’s new wife drove a nail into his brother Ssendija George’s head and swore she’d come after the rest of them as well. They fled. George survived, but he can’t do any heavy lifting; he could work in an office, but he’d need some training before he could get a job. That’s why Bazirios is still supporting him, though he’s 18.

So then last August:

—”KALIMERA SIR! MY BROTHER KIZITO MAKARIOS MARTIN, DIED AT NIGHT, BURRIAL IS TOMOROW 2: 00PM, AT THE HOME OF THE LATE REV FR BAZIRIOS NSUBUGA TANA AT MASANAFU, BUKULUGI ZONE. PRAY FOR HIM”

Did i know this Makarios? I knew one Makarios but i didn’t know if he was the same guy.

—”He looks just like me. You never surfaced him before. But he was killed by the [second wife] my aunts brought for our father. She bewitched him.”

Africans in general have a great fear of witchcraft. I don’t believe all the stories, but I don’t disbelieve some of them. So I can’t say much about “bewitching”. But after she pounded a nail into George’s head, I can see why Bazirios might think she was a witch. Anyway, he hinted that he needed help with the funeral expenses, so I told Mambo, our Program Manager in Uganda, to give him 100,000 UgX (about $30) to help out. That’s a lot of money in Uganda, but nowhere near what a funeral costs.

A few days later:

—”WE BURIED HIM ON SUNDAY, WHICH BIBLE VERSE CAN I READ ALWAYS FOR HIM?”

I told him, “We usually read the Book of Psalms.”

—”Thank you sir. All the psalms? I have to take care and educate all his 4 children, its all my responsibility. but i feel amuch load. Mr Mambo gave me 100k [$30] and iam going to give it to the 4 orphan’s school fees. Thanks alot, God-father, good night sir.”

WAIT!—

Did Bazirios just say he now has FOUR MORE kids from Makarios, in addition to the FOURTEENpeople he ALREADY HAS TO TAKE CARE OF???

That’s *NUTS*!!—

**EIGHTEEN PEOPLE!!!**—

And he’s *UNEMPLOYED*!!

—————

As I said, he’s usually pretty cheerful and in fact he complains so little that i got the whole picture only very recently. But his latest message was unexpectedly poignant:

—”So due to all, GOD sent me to your side. But why is it me with no job, academic document, condemned to surface all the probs and responsibilities? Coz now, i have to be with all these kids by all meanz, go to sch, eat, and medical. Can i say that GOD is punishing me / making me be a man at my sufering stuation?”

Mmm. Man. What would Jesus do?!

—Well, despite having a degree in theology, i have no idea what Jesus would do, but Bazirios and I got to discussing employment. Specifically, a vegetable shop. Eventually:

—”I found a good place suitable for the seling the stuffs, it can sell coz there are many peaple [there].

——————

So ok, dear friends, I think we’ve found a way to help Bazirios and his family write new chapter— one where hope dawns like a star in a very dark cave. (Had to say that, it’s Christmas!)

If we can get Bazirios and his wife set up in a little vegetable shop (my friend Joel Ssali also suggests a popcorn machine, which is a great idea), they can live there and take care of all their kids and siblings and mother (who by the way was just evicted). *We’ve already rented the shop*— but we need about $500 in startup capital.

And that’s for just ONE of our many projects!

Would you like to lend us a hand? Whatever you contribute will go directly to Mubiru’s family or to any other project you specify. And you will seriously be helping some real people in real need!

African Christmas?

Mubiru’s Backstory

This is the backstory that Mubiru Bazirios sent me when I asked him to clarify the astonishing situation he reported to me after his brother George’s death. I’m posting it here as background for the newsletter i will send out shortly, whose contents I’ll post in the next article:

—”My names are Mubiru Bazirios, the son of Mr Ssegane Andrew, Ssegane Andrew is a son of the late Rev Fr Bazirios Nsubuga Tana. Fr Tana is the the son of the late Reuben Ssezimugumbya, the first reverend at the time when Orthodox Church came to Uganda. He taught catechism in the Pearl of Africa as being comanded by the late bishops Spartas and Theodoros, but the church didn’t help him so his children didn’t go to school.

“His son Andrew is my father, and my mother is Nalongo Maria Nakimera. We were born 6 alive and 3 died including twins. We never had what to eat, dad neither had a job nor our mam did have. Our dad was ever frustrated with no hope.

“We struggled to join school but we ever got sent back home for school charges. So we had to grow up biologically but when i reached 6th Grade, our dad started beating us badly. Jonah the firstborn ran away due to the torture, and was murdered on Ssese Island (sacrificed in a certain shrine).

“We left home with our mam because our paternal aunts had brought a[nother] woman for our father.

“We lived on street and verandahs with our mam as we go to schools for a month. When we were chased away, we could go to another at least to learn english. We survived on cooked pawpaws [papaya], beging, picking eats from rubbish, snitching and steal the food from neighbours’ kids as they were eating, our mam could also beg for us to live.

“I am the elder brother but am next to Anna. We begged people to help us so that we could get some land and build for our mother a room and not to stay outside, but it failed. We went to the bishop, but he chased us away.

“And we continued to be like slaves to people who could give us food. We went to dad to help my brothers Stavros and George and my sister Lukia, but my father’s new wife stopped him. At that time, i had to pay rent for our mam, pay school dues for Lukia, George and Stavrios, and also, care for kids of my brother Jonah, buy food, water, soap, medical and etc.

“2013, my father’s wife pierced a 6-inch nail in the head of my brother George but god helped the doctors to save him. But the doctors said he could not lift any thing more than like 5 kilograms. The step mam started to hunt us as she had promised to kill us with our mother. So we ran farther.

“2014, [my sister] Anna was bewitched and she ran insane, we suffered as we prayed to God to save us.

“One day but this year, 13th august, she killed my brother Makarios. He had 4 kids and now they are my responsibility.

“i don’t know where i can put and give them but now i am responsible for 14 kids including my 6. i have to cater for their food, school, medical, water, acommodation, including my mother because, i do not have land to cultivate or business to suport me or a plot to build for them a house. Anna, Bazirios, Makarios, Theodora, Lukia, George, Stavlos. My mam takes medical of 500,000/month [$150] but am job less…. she has never in 15 years had a full dose. I have not paid two terms for feas [because] the kids have to eat and drink, plus compulsory needs.

“Good night.”

So i asked, “Let me understand properly— How many people are you actually having to take care of (names and ages)?”

—”OK sir,
Nalongo Maria Nakimera:  my mother, she has diabetes,
Ssendija George: my brother, 18 yrs, who was pierced a nail in the head.
Namubiru Lukia: my sister, 17 yrs, S.6,
Nsubuga Stavros: my brother, 11 yrs, P.6,

Mutebi John: my son, 1yr,
Nansubuga Sharon: my daughter, 5 yrs, nursery,
Mukasa Jonah: my son, 5 yrs, nursery,
Namukasa Jacky: my daughter, 6 yrs P.2,
Mubiru John: my son, 3 yrs, nursery,
Namutebi Maria: my daughter, 3 yrs, nursery,

Naluta Thekla: Jonah’s daughter, 7 yrs, P.3,
Mugumbya Jeremia Edmondi: Jonah’s son 9 yrs, P.5, stays with his mother, but she asks school fees etc

Ssegane Makarios: Makarios’ son, 5 yrs, nursery,
Mukalazi Andrew: Makarios’ son, 4 yrs, nursery,
Ssendija Nectarios: Makarios’ son, 3 yrs, nursery,
Nankya Sophia: Makarios’ daughter, 2 yrs,

Then he added

—”My brother (dead Makarios) appeared in the dream he was crying to me while saying miserably that he died while I am just sitting and doing nothing.

“Can he be dangerous to me? Am not just sitting and doing nothing! Also i have to be with his children, now am stuck.

“He said i just sit around and do nothing yet we struggled together with our mother when we had been chased away from home by our aunts and our father, but the woman who they brought for our father, killed him with demons and that I did not save him.

“The woman promised to trace all of us and kill to have space. She spoke that when she had pierced a 6 inch nail into the head of my 2nd last brother george. Peaple tell us to hide far away to remain alive.”

Since he’s the oldest male, he’s responsible for his mother, who has diabetes— and was just evicted, by the way— and for his disabled brother, a sister, and a younger brother, as well as his wife, and himself, in addition to his 6 kids, the 2 of Jonah, and the 4 of Makarios. That’s EIGHTEEN people!

Lukia his sister brings in a little money from doing domestic labor, and George, who took the nail in the head, could work if he could find a desk job, but he needs at least to get some training before he’ll be qualified for that.

So here we are at the intersection of Christmas and desperation. Some of this money will come in, over time, if all of you continue as you’ve been doing.

But we need your help. Actually, we don’t need it—  good people like Bazirios need it.

Please be generous by contributing through Paypal:

Contribute to the St Nicholas Africa Fund

—or by sending a check to the address on our contact page.

“Amen I say to you, to the extent you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”— Jesus.

“When you give alms, God himself becomes your debtor.”— St John Chrysostom.

Mubiru’s Backstory

Who we are and what we do

The St. Nicholas Africa Fund is a Charitable Works project of St Nicholas Orthodox Church, San Anselmo, California, a 501(c)(3) organization. Your contributions go directly to people personally known to us, and are fully tax-deductible.

Contribute to the St Nicholas Africa Fund

The Fund has provided more than a third of a million dollars over the past decade in direct aid to Uganda, South Africa, and the Congo— some of the poorest countries of the world— for education, medicine, family assistance, vocational training, and even start-up capital for small businesses.

The program began in 2003 when long-time St Nicholas parish member John Burnett worked as Dean of the Orthodox seminary in Kampala, Uganda, and began to organize support for high school students who were in danger of dropping out for lack of fees. Because Mr Burnett later worked as Director of Studies at the seminary in Johannesburg, South Africa, the program sometimes sometimes helps Congolese and Zimbabwean refugees in that country as well.

The Fund has mainly focused on helping poor students finish their secondary education, but because we have a fairly close relationship with each of our recipients, we occasionally provide medical, nutritional, and housing assistance when needed; and we’ve sponsored some of our graduates in vocational or even university programs, or helped them start small businesses. Our main goal and purpose is for our recipients to become self-sufficient, for in our experience of Africa, when one person has a job, about ten people eat.

The Fund is directed by Mr Burnett, with the ever-faithful and hardworking assistance of Mr Billy Hasimwe Mambo, our Program Manager in Kampala. Mr Mambo keeps a close eye on each of our recipients personally, and makes sure that every cent remitted to Kampala reaches its intended purpose. Our Assistant Director is the Parish Treasurer, whose accounting skills keep us right on top of our finances on this side; and the Director of the Parish’s Charitable Works Ministry provides advice and practical backup as needed.

We strive to provide support for our recipients at least through the end of high school or vocational training, but on occasion we also support university students, especially in medicine or STEM subject. Typically, we help our kids for 6 or 7 years.

When we send funds to the Program Manager, he either pays the required expenses directly, or places the money directly in the recipients’ hands to buy clothing, food, books, etc. We keep strict accounting of all transactions, and accounts are audited by the Parish at the end of each year.

You’re not likely to find a charity where you’ll have a more direct impact on someone’s life. We have almost no overhead, and we know each of our recipients face-to-face.

You can contribute by clicking on this Paypal button (you don’t need a Paypal account, but can use Paypal to pay safely and securely by credit card)—

Contribute to the St Nicholas Africa Fund

—or by sending a check to

Africa Fund
St Nicholas Orthodox Church
102 Ross Avenue
San Anselmo CA 94960 USA.

See our list of current projects.

Click here to subscribe to our Africamail Newsletter, and get updates from the deep village!

And contact us from the link at the bottom of this page if you have any questions, comments, or wish to sponsor a student or address a particular need.

Who we are and what we do