Love Covers Uganda with Backpacks and Educational Opportunities
Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Steve Shambeck
This article is the second of a series highlighting the work of Far Reaching Ministries (FRM), an evangelical missions and humanitarian outreach serving around the world. FRM was started in 1998 by Wes Bentley, an ordained Calvary Chapel pastor and missionary. See Calvary Chapel Magazine’s article about FRM’s South Sudan Chaplain Corps in issue 78.
“I think I killed my mom!” the little girl sobbed. “I think I killed my mom!”
Wes Bentley, founder of Far Reaching Ministries (FRM), ran to comfort the Ugandan child. His wife Vicky had called him to the girl’s home in Kitgum, northern Uganda, warning him, “Something bad has happened.” Upon arrival, Wes had learned that the girl’s mother had been murdered by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgents, shot six times as she was gathering bamboo. She had hoped to sell the bamboo to raise enough money to buy her daughter a school uniform—in Uganda, children must provide their own uniforms to attend school, and many families can’t afford the $2 to $4 price tag. The girl, desperate to go to school, had repeatedly begged her mom for a uniform. Wes comforted the heartbroken and guilt-ridden girl: “Honey, you didn’t kill your mom. Evil men killed her. She was just trying to be a good mom.”
Vicky Bentley (left), organizer of Love Covers, and translator Dennis introduce themselves and other volunteers (seated) to the children at the beginning of the three-day event.
Deeply impacted by this tragedy more than 10 years ago, Wes and Vicky soon started “Love Covers,” an outreach to help poverty-stricken children get an education. “The hope was that no mother would ever again lose her life trying to allow her child to go to school,” Wes said. Anti-government LRA rebels, who terrorized northern Uganda and neighboring African countries beginning in 1987 for more than 20 years, are no longer active in Uganda; however, poverty is still rampant. At Love Covers events, children receive a backpack filled with a school uniform, play clothes (including a long-sleeved red T-shirt with a Love Covers logo), Croc-like shoes, mosquito net, blanket, and school supplies. Love Covers is the combined effort of FRM, the residents of Canaan Farm in Masindi, and the farm’s tailoring school for women. FRM has also built a castle on the farm housing a new Christian primary school scheduled to open in early 2020.
Dennis (right) translates for Vicky Bentley (center) at the beginning of a Love Covers event.
Emily Brady of FRM gently greets a little girl in a field outside a Love Covers event. Approximately 1,000 children usually attend the outreaches held in Ugandan schools.
Canaan Farm—Healing Broken Lives
For He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy. He will redeem their life from oppression and violence; and precious shall be their blood in His sight. Psalm 72:12-14
More than 15 years ago, Vicky met Ugandans Richard and Suzan Angoma, Canaan Farm’s owners and strong Christian believers. FRM has since been working alongside them. Richard’s family opened the farm, located two hours north of Kampala, to more than 300 families fleeing the terror wreaked by LRA leader Joseph Kony. “They began giving people plots of land, showing them how to farm. Suzan, a nurse, would teach health and sanitation practices. They just started doing everything they could to ease the suffering of families that had been completely displaced,” Vicky recounted. “The majority of them had lost multiple family members to the terrorists. Many of the young kids were former child soldiers who had been abducted, forced to commit horrible atrocities. The LRA forced some of the women to kill their own husbands or witness their children being murdered before their eyes.”
Jonathan Penn, a volunteer from Tennessee, “high-fives” the children in his Love Covers class.
Richard added, “All the families had either witnessed the gruesome activities committed by the LRA or were victims of LRA brutality. Many had been maimed, wounded, or scarred. They had literally lost all they had and fled with only the torn, dirty clothes on their bodies.”
Richard named the farm after reading the biblical account of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage to the promised land of Canaan. “I got a strong impression that Canaan was the name the Lord wanted me to give the land,” he explained. “Ever since, it has been a place of refuge, salvation, mission, hope, and blessings to people. It used to be a 500-acre bush teeming with wild animals and reptiles. But we believe the Lord has transformed this wild environment, and today it is a decent land where His name is lifted high, restoring hope and love among His people.”
Children surround Chase Amaya of FRM after playing a game. They enjoyed games, crafts, and Bible stories for three days before receiving their backpacks.
Wes described three women who fled to the farm after being forced by the LRA to kill their own husbands in order to save the rest of their families. “We’ve been able to provide them with a place that’s not only secure, but where they can grow [emotionally and spiritually]. They all work together on the farm and get a portion of what they grow as income.” FRM built new homes for them—concrete block houses with a metal roof, two rooms, and some furniture—not rich by U.S. standards. “The ladies have been truly healed. And I think they understand that they really didn’t have a choice [when forced to kill]. It was a lifetime ago for them now because they really recognize that they have been forgiven and redeemed in Christ.”
Pastors gather for a conference at FRM’s new Christian school, Christ’s Crucible.
Besides the tailoring school, Canaan Farm grows 100 acres of crops shared by those who work there; operates a medical clinic, community well, water tower, guest house, and preschool for 3- to 6-year-olds; and offers weekly adult literacy classes. The main emphasis, however, is teaching God’s Word through weekly Bible studies and Sunday worship services for adults and children. Suzan holds two weekly Bible studies for women in neighboring villages. FRM also organizes annual conferences for men and women as well as for pastors and leaders. “More than 800 people attend, and many decisions are made to follow Christ,” Richard said. Once a month, Vicky substitutes for Suzan in teaching day-long Bible studies in the Canaan Farm area.
Christ’s Crucible, built on Canaan Farm in Masindi, will open in early 2020.
Richard remarked that many families who originally came to Canaan Farm have returned to rebuild their homes in northern Uganda. “Now we have extended our ministry outreach to the local community and neighboring villages around the farm. They need support and the message of the cross as much as those who had fled the war in the north,” he explained. Muslims have also signed up for the help and training provided at the farm. “It’s our goal to share Christ through these projects, and it’s always a great joy when a Muslim decides to follow Jesus. We have had individuals and even families making this important decision to follow Christ,” Richard added.
Backpacks and Hope
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. Psalm 36:7-8
Ugandan pastors listen attentively to the teaching at the conference.
For the past 10 years, FRM has hosted Love Covers outreaches one to two times a year at schools in the poorest neighborhoods in the Masindi District. Teachers open their classrooms for three days of Bible teaching, crafts, games, music, good food, and ministry. Approximately 1,000 children get to register for each outreach. On the third day, volunteers from FRM and Canaan Farm bring in trucks full of backpacks they have stuffed for the excited children. “Most of these kids have never received a gift. They’ll never forget it,” Vicky related.
Volunteers from U.S. churches also assist. Among them in July 2018 were Dawn Collins and her adult daughter, Summer Steele, of Calvary Chapel La Grande, OR. Dawn observed, “The theme was that God values you, even if you feel unvalued. All of it was centered around Bible stories, and the children were so enthralled. It reminded them that God loves them.” Almost 200 students filled Dawn’s Primary 1 class; Summer taught nearly 70 students in her Primary 6 class, ranging in age from 11 to 20.
Pastor Shawn Stone of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, CA, encourages a pastor.
Summer recalled, “One of the days, we brought supplies to make bubbles. I thought it wouldn’t be interesting for them, that they would think we were treating them like little kids. As I blew the bubbles, their eyes totally lit up. Then all 70 of them thanked me and shook my hand. They were so excited because that was out of their realm of experience.” She added, “Sometimes you feel inadequate—thinking, What kind of difference can I really make? God is showing me [that our efforts] don’t have to be grand; they just have to be kind and reflect God’s heart.”
Dawn treasures one of her most heartbreaking memories—children suffering from jigger-infested feet, a common and extremely painful experience for children in Uganda who often don’t have shoes to protect them from fleas that burrow into their skin. “They were trying to run and play, but they were literally running on their heels. They could barely walk because of the pain,” Dawn stated. Suzan and nurses from the U.S. treated their feet, providing nearly instant relief. Following treatment, men from Canaan Farm sweetly and gently carried them to a resting place in the shade. “They were ministering angels. All those kids went from extreme pain to peace on their faces.”
Emily Brady (left) thanks the women who cook for Love Covers.
Dawn’s tiny classroom was so packed when they passed out backpacks that no one could walk around. “One of the little girls opened up her backpack and saw shoes. She looked at me and tried to hand them back because they were so nice,” Dawn related. The girl didn’t think she could have them because during the outreach, children had been asked to return the crayons they had used, which are scarce in the schools. “I told her these shoes—these treasures—belonged to her, not to the school. I have never seen such joy on anybody’s face over a pair of shoes.”
Some children came despite sickness, Summer said. One child vomited during a teaching. A young man from Canaan Farm, Duncan, “was compassionate and picked the child up, carried him out, cuddled him, and cleaned him up.” She added some of the kids brought and clung to homemade notebooks made of newspaper. “That was their only available paper to take notes for school. They treated it like something precious. Now to have their own fully blank notebook in the backpack was pretty crazy.”
A Ugandan teacher and two Love Covers volunteers lead children in an active song.
When every grade got their red shirts, they took off their old shirts and rushed to put on the new ones, Dawn said. “It was a sea of red. They started running through their village area to show their joy.”
Women from the tailoring school sew uniforms that go into the backpacks; even graduates who were part of the first outreach still help, Vicky stated. “We would always make a big deal about presenting the women at Love Covers events. We wanted the students to see it was someone in the community who sewed their uniforms. It wasn’t a foreigner or money sent from somewhere else, but a local woman who did this because she loves Jesus.” Many women in the school attend Vicky and Suzan’s Bible studies; while children attend Love Covers, some graduates actively share Jesus, door-to-door, with the students’ mothers. “I remember the first day they got back [that first time seven years ago]. One of the ladies came running to me and said, ‘Vicky, I caught five fish!’ She was so excited that she had led five people to the Lord. To me, that’s the fruit of their heart, what the Holy Spirit’s done in them. Our desire is to root and ground them in the Word so they can go out and do evangelism. We emphasize making Jesus a part of everything,” Vicky confirmed.
Wes Bentley (right) shares at FRM’s tailoring school graduation. The women are given their sewing machines.
A Castle, A School
How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:103-105
As the first walls of a castle were being built in the Masindi District, local residents flocked to see its progress. The castle, a new school located on Canaan Farm, is FRM’s first Christian primary school in the district. Wes Bentley remembered the day he and Vicky arrived and met an unexpected crowd. Wes related, “Unbeknownst to us, the entire community, probably close to 1,000 at one point, showed up to greet us here, to thank us for building the school. It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened in the community, and I think it’s part of God’s plan.” Called Christ’s Crucible, it has generated excitement and interest in the community, including in the government and Muslim population. It will be a safe boarding school for children of FRM’s military chaplains serving in war-torn South Sudan and a day school for local children.
“When we announced that we were building the school, all of the local church leaders from all of the denominations got together at the building site and fasted and prayed for three days,” Vicky said. “They told us, ‘God chose our community to be the site of a Christian school. We want to thank Him for it.’”
Women in the tailoring school sew school uniforms for Love Covers backpacks.
The school will be able to house approximately 700 children, who will learn math, science, English, Bible, African history, and farming. Christian teachers—Ugandan natives—are currently being trained. “Children need to have a strong foundation in Christ,” Wes stated. “We want these kids to have an extremely strong moral compass, to understand right and wrong, and to be able to live lives that are productive for the Gospel.”
Ugandans who have the money send their children to boarding schools in order to get a good education. Most children, however, attend local schools—simple cement structures, some with missing windows, doors, and roofs. Often without desks, children sit on the floor, bring their own supplies, and learn by rote. Only teachers have textbooks. “Kids want an education because all of Africa sees that as their key to unlocking a successful future,” Vicky explained.
A tailoring graduate shows the community her work.
The school is called Christ’s Crucible, Wes declared, because the crucible of a fire brings out all of the impurities within. “You put gold into a crucible and the impurities rise to the top and you scrape them off. Our vision is to change the course, the very direction, of this nation. We want our students to be able to get jobs and take care of their families. But beyond that, to be able to think critically and solve problems. Our goal has always been to train the future leaders of nations.” FRM has plans to eventually plant a Calvary Chapel Bible school on the property as well.
Even the large Islamic population is welcoming the school. “We have built a good relationship and trust among the Muslim community. They know we truly care for the community we serve,” Richard affirmed.
A boy excitedly opens his backpack filled with school supplies, clothes, and shoes.
Muslims of the district also live in poverty and desire education for their children; they understand their children will be taught Christian values. Wes said, “The chief of the area is a Muslim. He’s extremely excited about the school. They’ve given us free access to share Christ with their kids, and even they’re listening to us.” He concluded, “They’re not extreme Muslims. We don’t try to provoke them, hurt them, or take their children away. We’re trying to reach them with the love of Christ. That’s always the first approach you take.”
Ugandan children welcome, with joyful song and dance, Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) volunteers to a Love Covers event.
Vicky asked believers to pray “that these kids will experience God for themselves while they’re with us and go home in the Holy Spirit, full of love for Christ so they can be a witness to their families. Africa is in desperate need of revival. I would love to see all of Africa have Bibles and her people grounded in the Word,” she said. “God is going to raise up evangelists and teachers from that community. It’s coming.”
But you are a chosen generation, … a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God. 1 Peter 2:9-10a
Volunteer Jackie Sauer washes painful jiggers out of the feet of girls at Love Covers.
A local Ugandan mother carries her produce and hoe home after working in the field.
Suzan Angoma of Canaan Farm organizes children before taking them to lunch.
Children and teachers gather for a healthy meal.
Sarah Deem of CC La Grande, OR (right), encourages children in the Primary 1 class as they color pages. Through teaching, music, art activities, and games, the children learned how much God loves and values them.
Emily Brady enjoys an active game of “Red Light, Green Light” with the children.
In a humorous moment, a Ugandan man gives volunteer Matt Sauer a live chicken at the end of Love Covers. Matt had previously told his class that he didn’t have any goats or chickens at his home in the United States.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
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