New Beginnings

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We’ve driven these long village dirt roads hundreds of times to get to the Sozo land, but this drive was different. The roads seemed less bumpy, the distance felt shorter—maybe it was just the anticipation to finally arrive at “home.” So much excitement filled my heart as we entered the property gates. Getting out of the van and walking towards our newly finished homes was surreal. This was the moment for which we dreamed, prayed and prepared for many years.

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In the Bible, the number eight represents “new beginnings.” After eight years of renting homes to provide a place of nurture and safe shelter for the precious ones entrusted to our care, March 30th, 2019 marked a day of new beginnings for Sozo Children—the day we made our move to our new homes. Our eight new family style homes we own sit on 28 beautiful acres of lush Ugandan land. How sovereign that God would allow us to enter into our eight new homes at the end of Sozo’s eighth year, a milestone made possible by God’s faithfulness through friends like you who graciously support our mission!

The property was quiet that day—the builders and loud machines were gone. A feeling of peace blanketed the property, and I knew the quiet would soon give way to shouts of excitement as the children would enter their new homes for the first time. Anticipation grew as the vans filled with our children drove up. I watched as they ran into their new homes with joy-filled shouts, beaming with pride as they saw their new rooms, their beds meticulously made—ready to welcome them home. 

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Winnie, one of our primary-aged girls, jumped to embrace everyone in excitement—a moment I will never forget. If you’ve met Winnie, you know her enthusiasm is contagious! She was overcome with emotion to know this new place to call home was so beautifully built and decorated with her in mind.

Going from 20 children and several moms to eight children with one mom in a home allows for more intimate conversations, fellowship, and shared meals as a family. At first glance, a day on the land may look similar to life in the rental homes with chores and a daily routine. They start the day with morning devotion in each home with their mom. Daily chores and cooking are done together in the afternoons, and some may walk to Kid’s Club to spend time serving and sharing Christ in the local village. In the evenings, each quad gathers for a time of prayer and devotion in their Amaka (Lugandan word for “home”), the house situated in the middle of the quad where the dad lives.

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There is something inspiring and humbling as I sense God’s presence covering our 28 acres of land. Today, there is a closeness our children were not able to experience before living together on the land as a Sozo family. Our children are now living in community with plenty of space to run and play together, to grow their own food, and to dream of what is yet to come. If you visit Sozo in Uganda today, you are likely to see children playing games at God’s House—our worship pavilion. Some will be sitting around the kitchen table studying, and others will be racing to fetch water from the well—the one they deemed the best water, where they can drink freely without fear of contamination. Above all, the atmosphere is one of laughter and joy, where these young ones once vulnerable and often overlooked by a broken world, are being restored day by day through the love of Christ.

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Most rewarding of all is to see and hear how God is using the children of Sozo to help transform the community around them as they serve in Kid’s Club or visit with families in the village. I’ve made it my declaration for the past year, and it is even painted on a mural on an exterior wall at Sozo Trading Co. in Birmingham, “What You Do Matters.” Friend, my prayer as you read this letter and see these photos is that you will know the impact your support of Sozo Children is making to fulfill our vision of All Children Thriving, All Communities Transformed. With your continued friendship, we enter this new beginning living in our new homes on the Sozo land, grateful for what God has done and expectant of all He is yet to do!

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RESETTLEMENT FAQ

We believe God designed families to depict a biblical metaphor for how He relates to us, His children. Family provides a sense of belonging, a unit that cheers you on, and a group that shares cultural values. Family preservation is a priority for Sozo Children as many of the children we encounter come from loving, yet vulnerable families.

We sat down with our Child Development Director, Aggie, to answer some questions about what resettlement is, how assessments work, and why we believe it is ultimately the best option for the reconciliation of family relationships.

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Q: What is resettlement?

Resettlement is when a child in one of Sozo Children’s homes is deemed able to reintegrate with their biological family by Sozo’s child development team.

Q: What is the Ministry of Gender and how does Sozo Children work with them?

The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is a government agency in Uganda that is responsible for community empowerment, protection and promotion of the rights and obligation of the specified vulnerable groups for social protection and gender responsive development.

In short, the Ministry of Gender ensures that organizations, like Sozo Children, are implementing appropriate policies and guidelines that promote children’s rights, safety, and protection.

Q: What is family tracing?

The tracing process occurs before a child is officially brought under the care of Sozo Children to look for the family of origin or any relatives that could potentially care for the child.

Q: How does Sozo Children choose who gets resettled?

After a child is placed in a Sozo Children home, our social workers work with families continually to assess their needs and suitability for resettlement. Our first priority is to ensure child safety when considering resettlement. Sozo Children social workers assess family wellness to ensure there is no threat of abuse or neglect when resettling a child into their family. We also consider the age of the child in respect to Ugandan law regulating children’s homes. We believe in the child’s right to be involved in their care plan, so we collaborate with families and children to determine readiness for resettlement.

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Q: What process does a child go through to prepare for resettlement?

Step 1: Family Tracing
When the Ministry of Gender places a child under Sozo Children’s care, our social workers seek to establish a connection with the child’s biological family within the first 30 days. If family is located, the social worker creates a plan of care based on the child’s needs which often involves planning for resettlement. If family is not located, the child is officially admitted into the Sozo Children home and tracing continues.

Step 2: Identification
Social workers and Child Development Director identify potential candidates for resettlement.

Step 3: Post-tracing Counseling
Social workers sit with the child to get their feedback and attitude towards the tracing exercise.

Social workers counsel the child to help them understand the resettlement process and involve the child in his or her care plan. The child has the opportunity to give feedback and receive emotional support.

Step 4: Family Assessments
Family assessments are completed to give us insight on how to support a child and their family. We are able to determine the condition at the home and community where a child might be resettled.

Step 5: Reconciliation Visits
Our social workers arrange intentional bonding visits between the child and their family before they officially move into resettlement.

Step 6: Counseling and Interview
Our Ugandan counselor and social workers meet with each child before resettlement occurs to cover the benefits of resettlement, answer questions, and address any concerns.

Step 7: Resettlement Package
We prepare packages with items like mosquito nets, food, toiletries, etc. needed to support the child’s transition.

Step 8: Follow Ups
After resettlement occurs, regular visits are planned by our social workers to check on the child’s transition back to life with their family and community.

Q: How are families prepared before resettlement?

Families are given caregiver’s training prior to the resettlement to give them confidence and emotional support upon receiving the child. This training covers their role as a parent to provide, protect, and nurture their children. Usually, there are family and individual counseling sessions or meetings with government officials from the Ministry of Gender, especially the probation officers. Families are briefed on the best ways to support their child’s specific behaviors, emotional, or medical needs. The social worker will also work with the family to identify resources to help the family stay strong and meet the child’s other basic needs.

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Q: Why is resettlement a good thing?

At Sozo Children, we embrace resettlement because we appreciate God’s design for family. A child’s biological family is able to provide a sense of belonging, a lifelong connection to a community, cultural traditions, shared history, and important skills.

Q: What is our hope for resettlement?

Our hope is to ensure the successful reunification of a child back to his or her family of origin through the resettlement process. Reuniting children with family will only be considered the best option if it is deemed safe and appropriate for the child’s case.

Q: How do we support families after resettlement?

Our social workers, employed by Sozo Children in Uganda, stay connected and involved in the child's life as a way of supporting parents. Through our resettlement transition process we maintain the child’s education, medical care, and discipleship.

Q: What if resettlement is not possible?

We do all we can to ensure successful resettlement, as well as, explore different options of alternative care provided in Uganda including domestic adoption, long-term foster care, and kinship care. In cases where those options are not possible, Sozo Children is committed to supporting that child in our homes, with the permission of the probation officers.

Q: How long is the resettlement process?

The process varies case by case depending on the circumstances and the readiness of the child and family to reintegrate. In some cases, resettlement can take only a few months, whereas others might take years.

We are so grateful for each life that walks through our door, and are always humbled when God has allowed us to love on an individual. Ultimately, these children are God’s children and we trust in His sovereignty first and foremost. If you have remaining questions pertaining to the resettlement process, reach out to us! We’d love to further the conversation!

A HEART OF DISCIPLESHIP

Whether you’re a boy scout or a college student, a missionary or a lawyer, most of us can agree that giving back has positively impacted our lives. We would not be the individuals we are today without the experiences we’ve shared or people we’ve encountered along the way. When we recognize we’ve been given encouragement through our walk, then it’s not hard to extend a helping hand to others. Love is passed from person to person—creating a ripple effect—making the world a better place. 

A disciple is someone who follows Christ, who trusts in Him alone, obeys His teachings, and imitates His life. A disciple also leads others to do the same. Through our Child Sponsorship and Community Partnership programs at Sozo Children, we put an emphasis on discipleship. Each day the children are surrounded with Sozo moms and dads who nurture them and point them to Jesus. Our children continue to grow in their faith through daily times of prayer and teaching of the Word by the Sozo parents.

While there are many occasions we’ve seen our children serve as Kingdom builders—choir tour, within their families, among school peers—one of the most common places you can see our children make a difference is through Kid’s Club, one of our Community Outreach programs in the village where we are located in Uganda.

Kid’s Club is an outreach of our Community Development program that exists to reach the community's youngest members with the Gospel. Over 300 village children gather twice a week and Sozo Children have the opportunity to join our Ugandan staff as they pass out snacks, share Bible stories, and extend love through mentoring the children who are our closest neighbors.

Mary is one of our university students who makes it a priority to attend Kid’s Club as often as she can. Mary has a deep love for Christ, a servant’s heart, and the brightest smile. She became more actively involved in the community by working with team members from the U.S. who join one of our short-term mission opportunities and our Encounter Fellows after she returned from Sozo’s US choir tour in 2018. While in the US, Mary not only missed home, but the people in village that felt like home.

“When I started volunteering to help at Kid’s Club I fell in love with the children. They really reminded me of the situation I came from,” recalls Mary.

She can relate to so many of these children in a very tangible way. Mary, along with her four siblings, was raised by a hard-working single mother who wanted the best for her children, but needed a helping hand. Mary’s upbringing parallels many of the children living in this village who grew up with limited resources. She didn’t know Christ before arriving at Sozo Children, but now uses her story to witness to others, passing along compassion and understanding, as well as, love and Truth.

“I know Jesus is on their side. They will become great leaders. I love showing them a reflection of Christ and I love that Sozo Children is teaching these kids about Christ,” Mary told us.   

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God’s story of transformation in these children’s lives does not end with them; but is just the beginning of His work through their lives. Their testimonies are tools of encouragement for other people as examples of God’s power at work. Because of this, our children are encouraged to share their stories with those they meet, especially those going through rough times.

Our Ugandan Child Development Director, Aggie, shared with us, “Our staff commits daily to walking a journey of growth without judgment. Rather, we intentionally help the children heal from their past wounds, discover their gifts and callings so they can be able to serve God’s purpose for their lives.” 

Sozo Children hires Christ followers to raise the children placed in our care to serve as role models and mentors, demonstrating the nature of Christ through their love and nurture of each child. Mary loves the worship and fun at Kid’s Club, but for her the most exciting aspect is seeing discipleship manifest. From watching our staff members and house moms over the years interact with our children, she has seen the impact of their wisdom, faith, and unconditional love. She now gets to watch them share the same spirit with the attendees of Kid’s Club.

“I love it when the house moms talk to the children in the village—giving them Truth and advice. It is the same advice and counsel they’ve raised us on.”

It’s a ripple effect. 

Mary is just one example of a child raised through the care of Sozo Children who wholeheartedly embraces the heart of discipleship. She extends a hand to many in the community through Kid’s Club and we know will continue serving as a vessel for God’s work, touching the lives around her!

THE POWER OF SUSTAINABILITY

Sozo Children is a non-profit that works with children, but also within in a community–a village, in Uganda. In a quick elevator pitch we might explain that we are fostering sustainable efforts, whether that’s through entrepreneurial opportunities, life skill classes, and job creation.


But, “sustainability” has become a bit of a buzz word these days among giveback brands, small businesses, and social media campaigns. So, what does that look like? What does that really mean?

We believe it begins with empowering individuals. Sustainability and empowerment walk hand-in-hand.

Empowerment is a process that challenges our assumptions about the way things are and the way things can be.1 If you’ve ever had a coach, teacher, or mentor invest in you, point out your gifts, or encourage you to aim higher, then you know what a difference one person can make.

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Carol has lived in this village for the past 18 years. She has been a Christian for 10 of those years and leads in her local church. She is passionate about her corner of the world—her community, her neighbors, her home. Carol has a humble plot of land, where she grows crops in her garden. Most notably, she grows onions. She has the sweetest smile and the most hospitable spirit. She told us that it’s the people in this village that make it so special.

Each person holds value and unique skills, but sometimes people need a little extra support to help achieve their goals. 

We’ve recently partnered with Work For Life, an organization that helps individuals create businesses to alleviate poverty through their Entrepreneur Development Program. Our staff in Uganda, saw that savings groups were already meeting in the village and knew it would be a great opportunity to introduce the Work For Life training.

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There are currently two savings groups each made up of approximately 20 men and women. Carol joins her neighbors on Tuesday afternoons to catch up with the group and receive encouragement, trainings, and discussion about purposefully saving. The Work For Life training covers topics like how to market your products and how to relate to customers—it’s a very interactive class.

Angella, our Financial Administrator realized many participants in the group were scared to invest and use their savings. She saw people with great products and produce, but they were hesitant to embrace nearby opportunities to market those potential businesses. She believed the Work For Life training classes could open eyes to new opportunities.

“I didn’t want to burden others by telling them about my onions, but Angella encouraged me to share and be proud of my work,” said Carol.

Carol had been growing onions for a while, but when she started bringing them to sell to her savings group—she sold out in ten minutes. She sells each bundle for 1,000 Uganda shillings ($0.27 USD).

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“This is a community where people love one another, serve alongside each other, and work together.” Carol explained to us. These classes are creating a spirit of togetherness and an encouraging environment to share about their latest endeavors—whether that’s brightly colored woven baskets or making bricks.

It doesn’t always take a radical action to change, but if you work with what you already have and gain some new perspective then radical change can occur. Our goal is not to create dependency, but to emphasize the gifts and talents that are already present in the individual.

Now, people outside her immediate circle have been contacting her because they have heard about her onions. Carol’s biggest desire is to be a leader in the community and give back to the people she loves so dearly. We are sure that with her strong faith, radiant joy, confidence, and ambition she will continue to make the world around her a better place one onion bundle at a time.

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Carol is just one of many we hope will be positively impacted by the Work For Life curriculum. We hope to see many other community members embracing opportunities to share their gifts in the future.

If you’re passionate about supporting future entrepreneurs, like Carol, check out our Community Partner program and Work For Life.


1. Page N, Czuba C. Empowerment: What is it?. The Journal of Extension. 1999;37(5). https://www.joe.org/joe/1999october/comm1.php/comm2.php. Accessed February 20, 2019.

 

PURPOSEFUL DISCIPLESHIP: MEET GLADYS

If we were sitting together on the muzungu front porch in Uganda with coffee mugs in hand, this is what I’d tell you about Gladys— she loves big and she works hard. Gladys embodies the spirit of joy in a bold way and loves to spend time with her friends. If she came to join our conversation, you might never know the spiritual and emotional obstacles she’s had to face in her lifetime.

“I joined Sozo [Children] in 2012 when I was 8 years old,” Gladys told us. When she arrived, she spoke a different dialect and could hardly understand Luganda, but she remembers the first person who greeted her at our gates.

“Aggie comforted me when I first arrived. She said ‘make yourself at home, you are welcome here, you are one of us now—you are part of this family,’ and I was so happy to have someone there for me.” Gladys recalled.

Gladys is one of our amazingly strong and beautiful Sozo Children whose life started on a less than easy note. Her aunt didn’t always treasure her in that way she deserved. In many African countries, due to extreme poverty or harsh circumstances, parents and guardians who don’t have a relationship with God occasionally take desperate measures to seek wealth or healing. Gladys’ aunt turned to a local witch doctor when times got tough with intentions to target Gladys.

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“I really struggled because I used to live with my auntie who wanted to sacrifice me for riches,” Gladys explained. She had trouble focusing in school due to spiritual attacks and harbored resentment towards her aunt who wished harm upon her.

Gladys recalls her transition to Sozo Children, “Aggie really helped me. I remember she would pray with me.”

We were never meant to walk this journey alone. When life gives us difficult hurdles, often we look to those who’ve overcome them before us. Role models, mentors, parents, and teachers are invaluable resources of wisdom. At Sozo Children we feel it's so important for our kids to see examples of Christ-centered Ugandan men and women like them who've walked a similar path and can empathize with their situations.

“Auntie Aggie is loving, caring, nice, and I love that she can recall all the kid’s names and knows them deeply.” Gladys told us. “I like her personality—she loves God, and loves kids.” Gladys said she wants to be just like Auntie Aggie because she has inspired her with what godly womanhood looks like.

"Discipleship to me means walking a journey of restoration and growth with an individual child, loving, guiding and leading them using the the truth in God's word,” noted Aggie.

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So much of discipleship is walking through life together, in the valleys and on the mountain tops. In the Bible, we see a beautiful example of this—two women leaning on one another in the book of Ruth. What begins as a tragic loss, turns into a beautiful story of redemption. Throughout the four chapters, we watch as Ruth leans on the wisdom and guidance of Naomi, trusting that God is at work weaving a bigger story together for His purposes. Through their faithful obedience, God is able to bring restoration to their family—that ultimately leads to redemption for the whole world through the Messiah. This book reminds us that God is always in the details, even in the valleys when we can’t see the good.

After growing in her relationship with the Lord and with encouragement from her Sozo parents, in 2015, Gladys decided she was ready to finally forgive her aunt.

Now age 17, Gladys has aunties and moms through Sozo Children who walk alongside her, discipling her and encouraging her—they see her value and worth as a child of the most high. She is thriving in school and wants to become a social worker someday! We have total confidence that the Sozo parents will continue to help her reach this goal. Sometimes all it takes is one person who believes in you and is willing to cheer you on. There is power in having someone stand with you in the waiting, constantly pointing you to truth. He is in the details and we know He is continuing to write an amazing story for Gladys.

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Our Vision

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Welcome, 2019!

Last year, our blog was developed using specific words we hoped would resonate with you and describe the heart of Sozo Children. This year, we will share stories of those we serve in hopes of intersecting their lives with the many friends of Sozo in a way that is informational and inspiring. Our Sozo Stories blog in 2019 will focus specifically on our vision to see All Children Thriving, All Communities Transformed. This year’s blog theme invites you into our two areas of impact: children and community, which is what Sozo is all about!

This year, these digital pages will give an expanded overview of where Sozo is headed next! We look forward to sharing the heart of Sozo through these stories of transformation within our Sozo family, and in the village community! You can expect to read stories of success, stories that make you think, and stories that shed light all pointing back to our vision.

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When we think about a thriving child we envision them receiving loving nurture, spiritual discipleship, quality education, and medical care. When we think about a transformed community we envision a group of people sustainably living and working together, supporting one another, and raising their children in a Christ-centered home. 

We believe everyone (even you!) can take part in making this vision a reality. Whether you’re reading this blog for the first time, traveling to Uganda with us this year, or served as faithful supporter for the past nine years, we’re all in this together and we can all help share this vision.

We hope you enjoy reading each month of our newest #SozoStories. And, our hope is you will take action and know that what you do matters! 

We would love to hear from YOU! Let us know if there is something specific you’d like to see on our blog this year in the comment section below!

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2018: A Year of Words

This year we brought you 12 stories.

We launched this blog at the beginning of this year with the goal to share stories from Uganda and how the Lord is moving through this organization. This platform has allowed us to share more in depth with you how we are working to see our vision come to fruition. We hope these words resinated with you—connecting you to our mission and our children in a more powerful way. We invite you to continue following these digital pages next year as we continue sharing stories of transformation and hope.

These stories are our stories, but also, these are your stories. After all, we are all Sozo Children.

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January we launched our BLOG!

Our goal is to take a deeper look into the heart of Sozo Children.

This organization and ministry is ever evolving and growing, but our overall goal hasn't changed. Our vision has always been to see all children thriving, all communities transformed, all for God's glory. This year we are launching our Sozo Children blog right here. This platform will allow us to share more in depth with you how we are working to see this vision come to fruition.

February’s word was EMBRACE.

Throughout our lives, with each twist and turn, God is constantly inviting us to take a seat at His table and calls us to trust Him. Our prayer this month is that we might all continue to learn to embrace His plans and not our own ways, to release our clenched hands and embrace where He has us and those around us. This month we want to introduce you to our newest member of the Sozo Children family, Ryan. This is his story of embracing change and newness, but also his start to embracing others in love. 

Continue reading here.

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March’s word was DETERMINATION.

Daniel is one of our older Sozo Children and for years, Daniel wore these blinders of determination. Daniel grew up in a small Ugandan village, one far from our Sozo homes and community. After a short period of time when he attended school, his primary education was halted because of the financial burden it weighted upon his family. For ten years, he was unable to work toward his goal of finishing his education.  

“That was the goal I wanted most: I wanted to go back to school.” – DANIEL

Continue reading here.

April’s word was FAMILIARITY.

Nothing in this life is more important than relationships—that is why Sozo’s mission strives to not only provide physical and emotional care for our kids, but to provide love, friendship, and family for them, giving them a haven not to just call their living space, but a place they can call home.

This month at Sozo, we are looking deeply at the idea of the familiar: the things that make us feel loved, safe, and secure. The things that are most familiar—our family and friends—are among the most important possessions one can hold onto.

Continue reading here.

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May’s word was EQUIP.

We seek to equip our kids in every way we can—relationally by modeling healthy friendship and family dynamics; mentally by giving them quality education that matches each child’s abilities, needs, and skill-sets; physically by providing medical care; spiritually by feeding them with the truths of the Gospel. Our goal is to furnish them for service or action so that they can accomplish their dreams and build the Kingdom.

As our kids grow and prepare to graduate from Sozo, we hope to not only provide for their current and immediate needs, but also to push them toward a successful future.  

Continue reading here.

June’s word was LAUGHTER.

Laughter is the global speech that binds us together, defying all language and social barriers.

Someone once said that laughter is the best medicine; studies have even proven that laughing is indeed beneficial to our health. Laughter releases positive chemical endorphins into our bloodstreams that bring a sense of relief, relieving stress and bringing comfort.

At Sozo this month, we celebrate the gift of laughter.

Continue reading here.

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July’s word was REDEMPTION.

We all love a good come back story, right? It's why we are drawn to sports movies or rooting for the underdog. We get inspired by a hard earned, success narrative after an unlikely journey. We like to see people come out on top, we like to see the ending worth the fight to get there. We relish seeing light triumph darkness and enjoy boasting in God's faithfulness.

Redemption is the heart of the gospel; of grace itself. Redemption is a form of love, a love written by God the Father and displayed in the life of Christ the Son. This form of love is something our good friend Stanley experienced a few years ago.

Continue reading here.

August’s word was DREAM.

As believers, we are called to live with a Kingdom-mindset, living each day driven by the Great Commission and the responsibility to tell others about the Good News of the Gospel. Our dreams, our aspirations, our joys—they are all to point others closer to Jesus. Living out our dreams can be a way of carrying out the Great Commission.

This month at Sozo we want to celebrate dreams, encouraging others to pursue their dreams in the light of eternity. God has given each of our children a dream in order to make them thrive for His glory and for their good.

Continue reading here.

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SEPTEMBER’S word was RESILIENCE.

To know him, is to love him. Junior lives a life of constant outpouring. He is a role model for all of us. He exemplifies a resilient character that we believe will carry him to succeed in medical school. He is on a mission to give back to his country and his people and we could not be prouder to watch God work through him and cheer him on.

May we strive to be like Junior, never giving in to what is easy, but always choosing to stand back up when knocked down. Let us be resilient Kingdom builders.

Continue reading here.

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October’s word was Kinship.

It is beautiful how the Lord orchestrates these divine relationships, weaving common passions—like sewing—into our lives to connect us to others. Community is important and receiving people who lift you up—who support and love you unconditionally is a sweet gift from the Father. Sponsorship is so much more than a monthly payment, it is a powerful relationship—a second family across the globe that is cheering you on—your own Ugandan kin.

Continue reading here.

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November’s word was TRANSFORMATION.

We, at Sozo, firmly believe that the best way to serve people is by working alongside them in community—trying to understand their needs rather than guessing and partnership rather than dependancy. This is why we model our organization around the idea of empowering leaders within Uganda. Our children are raised by Ugandan caretakers, we encouraged our kids to giveback to their community, and we hire locals in our Village Project efforts. 

For the past seven years, we have been building meaningful relationships with vulnerable communities to share the love of Christ and break the cycle of poverty.

Continue reading this story here.

December’s word was Hope.

Susan’s life has not been easy—a disabled body, not being enrolled in school, no proper nutrition, physical and mental abuse—yet you find her joyful and smiling in her vulnerable circumstances. Earlier this year, Susan began showing up to Kid’s Club sick and the Sozo moms took notice—she was unable to lift her head and that infectious smile was missing. Our staff knew they needed to take action and with the permission of her grandmother, Sozo was able to get her medical attention to care for her hernia.

Continue reading here.

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Hope: Susan's Story

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If you were walking into Kid’s Club in our village, you would witness children jumping rope and playing together, and little ones being passed around and loved on. You couldn’t help but notice one particular young girl, not because she is the loudest, or the fastest, but because of her contagious smile. Susan was born in a rural village in Uganda, abandoned by her father as a baby due to her special needs. Children with disabilities in Uganda are often discriminated against and neglected basic care.

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Susan’s life has not been easy—a disabled body, not being enrolled in school, no proper nutrition, physical and mental abuse—yet you find her joyful and smiling in her vulnerable circumstances. Earlier this year, Susan began showing up to Kid’s Club sick and the Sozo mums took notice—she was unable to lift her head and that infectious smile was missing. Our staff knew they needed to take action and with the permission of her grandmother, Sozo was able to get medical care for her hernia and malaria.

Today, Susan lives in Sozo housing under the care of a Sozo mum. She was immediately welcomed with outstretched arms by each of the Sozo children.When she walked up, the younger girls came running, insisting they be the ones to help her adjust to her new home—helping her bathe and giving her clean clothes. She is now in a safe, clean environment, receives proper nutrition, has medical check ups on a regular basis, is able to do physical and speech therapy and will soon be enrolled in school! She has been embraced into the Sozo family, just as we have all been embraced by our sweet Father—with open arms and acceptance.

Become a community partner for $35 a month YOU can make a difference as a community partner. Learn more here: sozochildren.org/community-partnership

Transformation: A Village Story

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In Robert Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity,” he draws on his experience with charitable work, stating that, “Becoming a neighbor to less-advantaged people is the most authentic expression of affirmation I know—becoming a real-life, next-door neighbor.” 

Let’s face it, we are a society fixed on instant gratification and quick results. We want to see the immediate impacts of our actions—tangible outcomes. This can often lead us to focusing on projects, rather than people and relationships.

We, at Sozo, firmly believe that the best way to serve people is by working alongside them in community—trying to understand their needs rather than guessing and partnership rather than dependancy. This is why we model our organization around the idea of empowering leaders within Uganda. Our children are raised by Ugandan caretakers, we encouraged our kids to giveback to their community, and we hire locals in our Village Project efforts. 

For the past seven years, we have been building meaningful relationships with vulnerable communities to share the love of Christ and break the cycle of poverty. We seek to empower the gifts and talents that are already present in the communities through intentional, Ugandan led ministry.

A few years ago we met Florence through Family-to-Family, which is our outreach where Sozo Children have the opportunity to share the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ to families living in our village.

Florence and her husband, Yasin care for six children who attend Sozo’s Kid’s Club, near the property where we are building our new children’s homes. Through Kid’s Club and consistent visits to their home, our Ugandan staff learned that Florence gave her life to Christ as an adult, but Yasin grew up Muslim and was not a believer. In 2016, after hearing Bible stories at Kid’s Club, Florence and Yasin’s son, Ali, approached his mom with his desire to accept Christ as his personal savior. At first, he was fearful of losing his father’s favor, but Yasin said he supported his son’s choice because of Sozo’s consistent ministry. Yasin explained he trusted Sozo because we became deeply rooted into the community, showing consistent love for their children, family, and neighbors. One year after his son’s salvation, Yasin accepted Jesus too!

Florence and Yasin’s family.

Florence and Yasin’s family.

If we are here to a create a long-term, sustainable impacts than we must focus on being real-life, next-door neighbors—working together, for each other. Because of Sozo’s dedication to empowering vulnerable children to become thriving leaders for Jesus Christ—communities are being transformed and hearts are being changed. 

Yasin, Florence and their children are one of hundreds of families Sozo is empowering through community outreach. This families’ transformation began with one young boy saying yes to Jesus through Kid’s Club. The story doesn’t end there. They will impact other families, who will share with others—until the ripple effect reaches an entire community. 

Yasin and his son, Ali.

Yasin and his son, Ali.

If you’re interested in hearing more stories of transformation like Florence’s family, you can be a part of the journey by becoming a community partner. Your partnership ensures we continue in our vision of seeing all children thriving, all communities transformed. Visit sozochildren.org/community-partnership for more details.

Kinship: Eddy + Kim's Story

We can all agree that as humans we are deeply influenced by the people we share life with—our kin, our people, our community. Whether we like it or not, these relationships define so much about us as they influence our dreams, values, decisions and more. Your community and family extend past your blood relatives—they are a network of people who care for each other, cheering each other on in life. The way we see it, your community is your hand-picked family. This is the heart of our sponsorship program—relationships—a hand-picked family cheering on each other.

This month, we have been looking at the ways in which sponsorship has shaped and molded our Sozo family—not only our kids, but also the families who have the privilege of supporting them. On October 1st, we began our “31 Days of Sponsorship” campaign with the goal of gaining 31 new sponsors this month! We believe sponsorship is an incredible way to love and support those across the globe whom you might not otherwise meet—getting to build new relationships and make an impact on another’s life. One thing we’ve found to be true is that often the impact goes both ways. This particular story highlights one of our sponsorship relationships and we hope through these words you will see the amazing way God goes before us to connect individuals in unique ways.

Our first character in this narrative is Eddy, who became part of the Sozo family in 2011 with his brothers John and Solomon. Eddy is hardworking, artistic, joyful, and loves Jesus. You will almost always find him with a smile on his face. Early on, Aggie, our Child Development Director, noticed that Eddy excelled in hands-on projects like crafts and beading. Eddy decided that taking on a trade would be most appropriate for his future career. He developed an interest in fashion, specifically tailoring, and started taking classes to further cultivate his skillset.

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A couple years later, Kim Stockdale got involved with Sozo Children through her local church. Being a creative at heart, she wanted to contribute in a personal way, so she began sewing quilts for the Sozo bunks. These quilts were beautifully stitched with love, customized for each child. She had a gift.

Kim and Eddy met on Kim’s second trip to Uganda in 2015. While their mutual love for sewing brought them together, it was their conversations that connected them on a deeper level. They would work together and talk for hours as they stitched. Building on the foundation from his classes, Eddy learned more about sewing and Kim’s eyes were opened to Eddy’s world perspective and heart.

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“While sewing for me is therapeutic and a way to create things, Eddy has shown me that sewing is a way to connect with people on a deeper level and share God's love. We take what gifts God has given us and find ways to glorify Him and build relationships. When I talked with Eddy, I saw hope, perseverance, and love on a whole new level—a joy that overcomes all trials,” said Kim. They both made a huge impact on each other.

After returning from her trip, Kim’s family was able to start sponsoring Eddy. He had stolen her heart with his passion for people, eagerness to learn, and his desire to spread the gospel through artistry.

Through Sozo’s sponsorship program, they are able to write letters, video chat and visit. Supporting others selflessly looks like wanting the best for them and being willing to encourage them towards that goal. We are confident that these two will always be encouragers—a hand-picked family to each other.

Eddy has since started his apprenticeship with a local tailoring company serving boutiques in Kampala to create colorful African clothes.

It is beautiful how the Lord orchestrates these divine relationships, weaving common passions—like sewing—into our lives to connect us to others. Community is important and receiving people who lift you up—who support and love you unconditionally is a sweet gift from the Father. Sponsorship is so much more than a monthly payment, it is a powerful relationship—a second family across the globe that is cheering you on—your own Ugandan kin.

As Kim reminds us, we can always keep adding people to our family, “When Eddy grows up and is the fashion designer he dreams of being and no longer needs his family's help, we will find another Sozo child that the Lord has placed on our path and eagerly await what the Lord will do through our relationship with them. Finding joy and restoration together.”

Resilience: Junior's Story

Everyone loves a good comeback story, right? It’s why we watch inspirational movies and cheer for the underdog at baseball games. It’s a tale as old as David and Goliath—we always root for David to get his shot. There is something innately wired in us that honors others tackling life with resilience.

This month, our word is resilience. At Sozo we have had the honor of seeing firsthand this word lived out in the story of one of our oldest boys, one who has recently graduated from secondary school. His character is honorable and his drive is unparalleled.

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A resilient person demonstrates the ability to bend, but not break, to stumble, but not stay down—a person of resilience can not be shaken.

Junior grew up in an impoverished area of Uganda. Enduring malnutrition, being surrounded by cultural evils, and living in unimaginable conditions, his early years were far from easy. Thriving in the community and focusing in school were nearly impossible due the chaotic and unstable environment; this was Junior’s reality prior to coming to Sozo.

All of our kids have incredible dreams and Sozo seeks to empower these children so that they might reach their goals. When Junior became a part of the Sozo family, he expressed his ambition of becoming a doctor someday. He desired to break the cycle of poverty and create a sustainable life that he might be able to help children facing similar situations in years to come.

When the time came for him to take his national exams, a test that would determine his qualification to continue onto a higher education, he didn’t score as high as he hoped he would. With the score he received, he would not be able to apply to medical school. Needless to say, he was distraught.

Each one of us can relate to this type of crushing disappointment; we have all experienced the confusion and pain of having to accept when our paths don’t go as planned, we’ve all stood in these shoes—overwhelmed and disappointed with a reality that wasn’t anticipated. But we all also know this truth: difficult circumstances do not get the final say in our stories because God’s plan for our lives will always prevail.

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Junior is a survivor and a fighter. Being the resilient soul that he is, Junior didn’t choose to stay discouraged.

Instead, knowing he could do better, he sought out Aggie, our Child Development Director, as a source of wisdom and support. She told him he could repeat the year and retake the exam. Promising himself, and those around him, that he would study harder and come back stronger, Junior took this second chance to pursue his dream of going to medical school.

From then on, when Junior was faced with obstacles in school, he did not break, but remained unshaken. He did not let fear or pride seep in, rather he clung tightly to hope and determination. He worked harder than ever and spent another year repeating his courses, knowing he was constantly working towards his dream.

When he wasn’t immersed in his course work, Junior spent hours in the village. He served with an energy that was clearly from the Lord—giving hours of time to love on Kid’s Club attendees and worked earnestly on the land for future Sozo children.

After this year of classes and hours of preparation, Junior was able to take the national exam once more. His result this time differed from before, this time he scored high and passed. He recently got accepted into university and is now living out his dream studying to become a doctor.

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To know him, is to love him. Junior lives a life of constant outpouring. He is a role model for all of us. He exemplifies a resilient character that we believe will carry him to succeed in medical school. He is on a mission to give back to his country and his people and we could not be prouder to watch God work through him and cheer him on.

May we strive to be like Junior, never giving in to what is easy, but always choosing to stand back up when knocked down. Let us be resilient Kingdom builders.

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To learn more about Junior’s journey, watch our latest video:

Dreams: Driven By the Great Commission

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“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” — 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV

We all carry with us our own dreams—something we are passionate about, strive for, and place our hope in. Dreams inspire us to work toward something bigger than ourselves; they motivate us to work to be the best we can be and do the best we can do. Dreams give passion for life and create purpose in the everyday.

As believers, we are called to live with a Kingdom-mindset, living each day driven by the Great Commission and the responsibility to tell others about the Good News of the Gospel. Our dreams, our aspirations, our joys—they are all to point others closer to Jesus. Living out our dreams can be a way of carrying out the Great Commission.

This month at Sozo we want to celebrate dreams, encouraging others to pursue their dreams in the light of eternity. God has given each of our children a dream in order to make them thrive for His glory and for their good.

At the end of the month, we will host our Annual Dinner! We are excited to celebrate the big dreams—both the individual dreams of each of our children and the big-picture dreams of Sozo as a whole—with our Sozo community and family! Join us and read about some of Sozo Children's dreams!

What are your dreams and hopes?

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Emma's dream is to be an accountant and to help business firms grow financially.

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Benja enjoys playing soccer so his dream is to become a professional soccer player.

Mercy wants to become a missionary, traveling to all nations to share about Jesus!

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Douglas wants to become a doctor to be able to give treatment to people in rural communities in Uganda.

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Since Janet was a child, she has always admired doctors and hopes to become one! She believes her faith will help minister healing to her patients.

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Marvin wants to become a successful businessman and use his experience to contribute to the growth of Uganda’s economy through helping other people to start successful businesses.

Redemption: Stanley's Story

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In general, we like to see people come out on top, we like to see the ending worth the fight to get there. We relish seeing light triumph darkness and enjoy boasting in God's faithfulness.

The beauty of redemption is that it is the giver of new life. Yet at the same time, the scary thing about redemption is that there is nothing one can do to earn it on their own.

Redemption is the heart of the gospel; of grace itself. Redemption is a form of love, a love written by God the Father and displayed in the life of Christ the Son. This form of love is something our good friend Stanley experienced a few years ago.

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Stanley was born and raised in the village where the Sozo Village Project is being built. He knew everyone that lived there, and was familiar with every square inch of the land as if it was his own backyard. Stanley knew his village well. His village knew him as the town drunk.

Having a knack for handy-work, Stanley made a living fixing odds and ends for folks around the village. He could neither read nor write, but through performing various odd jobs, he was able to get by financially. However, whatever money he did earn, he would take and spend on alcohol, despite the fact that he had a family to provide for.

This was his reputation: stumbling down the streets, always drunk. It was a reputation he could not escape even if he wanted. And because of this reputation, people in the village began to take advantage of him, until he would barely receive payment for the jobs he would do. But whatever he received, however little it would be, he would take to the bars.

Then, in August of 2011, Daudi, Sozo’s administrative director in Uganda, joined our team as a full-time staff member. That fall, in November, Daudi and his team began the search for a long-term solution for a Sozo Children base, land where the children could live and grow.

This was when Sozo and Stanley’s stories intersected.

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One day as Daudi and a team were working throughout the village, they were meeting with various people and families around the area where Stanley lived. Eventually, they ended up at Stanley’s doorstep, and although they had never met him before, knocked on his door. After a time of conversation, the team began telling Stanley of the truths of the Gospel, outlining the good news of Jesus Christ.

Through their message, the Holy Spirit began to work in Stanley’s heart. The Spirit brought conviction, and where there is conviction, there is redemption, and where there is redemption, there is freedom. The team asked Stanley his thoughts on the Gospel—what it meant for Christ to come, to die, and to rise again for him, what it meant for Christ to come and redeem him of his sins and bring him close to the Father.

That day, Stanley accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.  

“We laid hands on Stanley and prayed for him and promised to bring him a Bible,” Daudi recalls, remembering the day when Stanley became his brother in Christ. “This day changed his life.”

Like a slate wiped clean, Stanley’s life has been completely transformed since that day. He experienced the depths of redemption that only comes through the blood of Jesus.

As Stanley’s actions, decisions, and words began to reflect this new life to which he had been called, the people in the village were astonished. He had been dirty, dressed in rags, living as the town drunk. They thought this transformation was a joke.

But after a while, everyone around Stanley began to see that this was not an ingenuine change of heart; Stanley had been changed from the inside out through the redemption of Jesus. He was no longer bound by the chains of addiction or the way people would take advantage of his labor. He was free, indeed.

Those at Sozo, like Daudi, continued to check in with Stanley. Toward the end of 2012, when teams and interns came to the village to help rebuild homes in the community, Stanley began appearing at the sites offering his help where he could. Soon, Sozo staff saw the color of Stanley’s character—his determination and his hard work ethic. They began paying him for his help on Sozo’s property, slashing and clearing the land for the infrastructure to be laid. As progress on the land was being made, the Sozo family was able to hire him full-time to be the groundskeeper and guard. Because of his familiarity with the village land, especially the area where our future children’s homes are, Stanley has become an incredible asset.

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The village community continues to marvel at Stanley’s transformation and sanctification. Because of his association with Sozo and the trust he has earned from those in his town, the village began to embrace Sozo, in part because of Stanley’s story.

“Stanley does not only touch the people that come [to Sozo], but he has touched us, because we have been living [his story] with him. We praise God for this,” Daudi marveled.

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At Sozo, Stanley was accepted, welcomed in, and respected. Now he is an integral part of the community, both at Sozo and in his village. He is an extremely valuable resource to those around him. He now supports his family. He is a doer; he is dependable. Whenever something needs to be done, he does it joyfully, always willing when people come to him for help. Never uttering a complaint, Stanley has a servant’s heart.

We are expectant that the Lord will continue to use Stanley and his gifts to bring The Village Project to life. This is the power of redemption. This is the power of Christ’s saving grace, of the grace written of in Ephesians 2: “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.”

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Laughter: The Sozo Choir

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Laughter is the global speech that binds us together, defying all language and social barriers.

Someone once said that laughter is the best medicine; studies have even proven that laughing is indeed beneficial to our health. Laughter releases positive chemical endorphins into our bloodstreams that bring a sense of relief, relieving stress and bringing comfort.

At Sozo this month, we celebrate the gift of laughter.

It was such a privilege to have twenty-two of our Sozo Children in America for five months. They met new faces and touched many lives as they traveled from city to city, sharing their love for Jesus everywhere they went. However, the tour didn't just impact the individuals in churches they visited, but also shaped their own personal character and growth. From the feedback we've received, the tour fostered new confidence in our kids, and at the same time allowed them to be vessels for the Gospel.

Amidst the crazy choir tour schedule of the past few months, a sense of relief—some laughter—is just what these kids gave to each other and those around them. This laughter was energizing and like medicine to the kids. 

As you can imagine, the choir kids experienced a full range of emotions and human experiences while in America for several months: friendship, homesickness, anticipation, teamwork, frustration, success, and laughter. And while, on any given day, any of our kids could have experienced one or all of these emotions, something that remained constant was their continual laughter. 

Our staff got an inside look into these new experiences that come with visiting a foreign country. New experiences, new phrases and cultural norms, and new technology all brought a sense of joy around the office as our kids tangibly and socially discovered America.

Even though the kids are back at home in Uganda, their stories continue to bring us joy and laughter, and that’s a testament of the Gospel-joy they have and have used to testify to the glory of God. We want to share with you some moments from the choir tour that made us all laugh and brought us joy!

New Adventures

While at the Hargis Retreat Center, Janet and some of the other choir members tried paddling in a canoe for the first time — the end result, hilarious. Watch this video to hear about the event that made Janet laugh the hardest all choir tour.

New Cultural Norms

The choir quickly adjusted to the new phrases, words, and social queues we are so accustomed to, and frequently used their favorites.

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  • At Sozo's home base in Alabama, they learned the southern slang "y'all", "roll tide" and "war eagle".
     
  • The kids embraced the pop-culture reference "Bye, Felicia", which makes Dennis laugh every single time you say it to him.
     
  • They learned what it meant to "dab" and quickly added it to the freestyle portion of the choir performance.

New Technology

Benja pretending to work at the Sozo office.

Benja pretending to work at the Sozo office.

Two words: Google Home. The choir kids were mesmerized by Siri and the Google Home features and loved taking advantage of the fun technology. They got a kick out of asking Google all kinds of questions. Here are two of Hannington's most frequent requests:

  • "Google, play The Greatest Showman soundtrack, volume 10!"
     
  • "Google, what is the fastest/slowest/most expensive car in America right now?"

 

So whether it’s jump roping under a Ugandan sunset or dancing around an office, laughter continues to bind us together as one. Laughter is universal, it is unifying, and it creates community and camaraderie. Laughter is a gift from God and we are so thankful that we have been able to spend the past few months laughing with our Sozo Choir kids!

And we want to hear from YOU! If you had an interaction with our choir kids or got to see them perform, share with us ways in which they brought you happiness of made you laugh. We are so thankful for these crazy fun kiddos! Comment below or share with us @sozochildren!

EQUIP: BADRU + PATO'S STORY

At Sozo, our vision is to raise up our children to be the future leaders of Uganda, for the purpose of seeing the next generation of Ugandans become thriving leaders for Jesus Christ. As our mission says, all children thriving, all communities transformed—this is the goal we wish to see accomplished.

We seek to equip our kids in every way we can—relationally by modeling healthy friendship and family dynamics; mentally by giving them quality education that matches each child’s abilities, needs, and skill-sets; physically by providing medical care; spiritually by feeding them with the truths of the Gospel. Our goal is to furnish them for service or action so that they can accomplish their dreams and build the Kingdom.

As our kids grow and prepare to graduate from Sozo, we hope to not only provide for their current and immediate needs, but also to push them toward a successful future. Recently, we have been able to see the tangible effects of this desire through the efforts of two of our boys, Patrick and Badru: two of our oldest Sozo boys who have just transitioned from their Sozo home and into the busy world of real-life Uganda.  

Patrick and Badru had two unique stories. Then, one day, their stories converged.

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When Patrick was very young, he lost both his parents, an event that caused him to move in with his grandmother Jajja Gladys.  As his sole caregiver, Jajja Gladys struggled to care for Patrick financially because of her dependence on external, unreliable resources to provide the food and care that the growing boy needed.  Over time, it became apparent that she could no longer care or provide for Patrick, a fact that forced her to look for other options of care for him.

Just like Patrick, Badru had a difficult, tumultuous childhood as well. When he was young, he lived with his father—a relationship that over time proved unhealthy and abusive. After years of financial and emotional struggle, his father abandoned Badru, but ultimately what ended their relationship was the fact that Badru decided to follow Christ. Early on, Badru attempted to share his faith with his family (who are all Muslim), but he was denied and his father told him that he was no longer welcome in their own home. This has not stopped Badru from sharing the gospel. 

Badru and Patrick were taken separately to Mercy Home of Children, an orphanage in Uganda. This was where the two hoped to find healing and rest, a place they could trust and find provision. This is where the two met and where they began to share a story. Over time, however, the children’s home proved to be unsafe as well. The haven that they expected to provide peace and hope became a place of unrest and abuse. Eventually the government intervened, closing the organization due to its corruption.

But these boys’ stories were not over.

In 2012, Patrick and Badru were moved from Mercy Home to Sozo, where both were enrolled in school. Sozo wanted to equip Patrick and Badru for work that would use their specific talents and gifts, a realization that began their plumbing education and apprenticeships.

Today, after having spent six years of training and preparing, Badru and Patrick are ready to transition into their adult lives.

“Tomorrow, we are shifting,” Badru said when reflecting on his graduation from Sozo. Both boys, now men, are leaving Sozo with dreams they are ready to pursue and have been equipped to follow, but both recognize the departure as bittersweet because of the love and experiences they have had here.

“I didn’t expect this, I didn’t expect to be who I am today. I am thankful for all of you and the impact you had on my life,” Badru said.  “It’s a bit scary. But we started a good job, and now we finished it.”

That is the power of their determination, something they have been equipped to understand and pursue: realized passion and hope fulfilled.

Aside from receiving an education, aside from living in safety, aside from creating community and close friendships, the boys recognize that the most valuable gift they received from Sozo was an understanding of the Gospel.

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“God is everything. In every situation, we have to lean on him. Now I don’t need to fear, because the Bible tells us to ‘be strong and courageous.’ We know God because of you guys.  This is truth, this is love, this is life.” – Patrick

At Sozo, our goal is to empower vulnerable children to become thriving leaders for Jesus Christ. We believe we can do this by following the exhortations found in Ephesians 4:12-13: “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Equipping our children to become thriving leaders for Jesus Christ is what will transform community and give glory to the Creator.  Witnessing Patrick and Badru’s stories of determination and hope gives us a tangible picture that God is faithfully working through the mission of Sozo, and so much of that is due to the support and prayers of you, our Sozo community.

We ask that you would continue to pray for Badru and Patrick as they step out into their new lives on their own two feet, that they would keep their eyes fixed on the Cross and that they would grow into strong, humble leaders in their communities.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THESE TWO GRADS! 

Familiarity: The Sozo Family

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There is a sweet comfort that comes from what feels familiar, what feels like home. The idea of familiarity invites peace, security, and safety—a warmth that destroys loneliness and fear. Nothing in this life is more important than relationships—that is why Sozo’s mission strives to not only provide physical and emotional care for our kids, but to provide love, friendship, and family for them, giving them a haven not to just call their living space, but a place they can call home.

This month at Sozo, we are looking deeply at the idea of the familiar: the things that make us feel loved, safe, and secure. The things that are most familiar—our family and friends—are among the most important possessions one can hold onto.

Join us as we talk with our choir kids as they reflect on their relationships with their siblings or friends, something that reminds them that they are chosen and loved because of the things they hold familiar.

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SIBLINGS Q & A: Hannington and Natasha

What does the word "family" mean to you?

Hannington: A group of people living together related by blood.

Natasha: What it means to me is something I can depend on.

What is your favorite thing about each other?

H: My favorite thing about Natasha is that she is my sister.

N: Me too, that he is my brother.

Describe your sibling in three words:

H:  She is my sister, she is stubborn, and she is funny.

N: He is determined, he is wise, and he is short.

What is your favorite thing to do together?

H: Playing around, jumping rope, and running together.

N: I like disturbing and annoying him. If he is lonely I come and start tickling or pinching him.

H: I shout back at her.

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Do you have a nickname for each other?

N: I call him Ollington.

H: She is Chapot.

A: How do you care for each other?

N: When Hannington is lonely, I can play with him.

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BEST FRIENDS Q & A: Benja + Rosco

How did you meet?

R: We met in 2007 before we came to Sozo.

What is your favorite memory together?

R: My best memory together was when Benja came and we helped to give him a new name. It had been a Muslim name, but now it is Benjamin. It is a brave name.

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How would you describe ONE another in three words:

B: Rosco is a godly man, strong, and brave.

R: Benja is brave, loving, and caring.

What is your nickname for each other?

B: I call Roscoe, JaJa.

R: Benja’s nickname is JJ

what does it mean to be a good friend?

B: A good friend is one of your family members, in your heart.

R: A good friend is a friend who will always be there.

Why are you each other’s best friend?

R: We are best friends because we grew up seeing each other. We like the same things.

B: We have grown together since we were young. We have the same character. We are our brothers’ keepers.  

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SIBLINGS Q & A: Clinton, Dennis, and Benard

Describe one another in three words:

Benard: Clinton is funny, stubborn, and he likes to joke. Dennis is also funny, he likes to be bossy, and he likes making fun.

Dennis: Clinton is funny, he likes joking, and he likes playing. Benard likes disturbing others and he likes making jokes.

Clinton: Dennis is funny, he likes being bossy, he likes fighting. Benard is very helpful and he likes joking around.

What do you enjoy doing together:

B: Being with them all the time and playing with them.

C: Helping each other and playing together.

D: Riding bikes and playing football.

What is a memory you have together?

C: When we were at school for the first time, Benard helped me me feel ok.

How do you care for one another?

D: Benard wakes me up in the morning and he helps me.

C: Benard shares with me.

Determination: Daniel's story

Each of us are driven by the desire to reach an end; we all have unique passions and purposes that motivate and push us to reach goals that are bigger than ourselves. We are all running our own race, and we are all running that race for different reasons and because of different motivations. But no matter what the goal or what the motivating purpose, we all are driven by our own determination.

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This month at Sozo, we are looking closely at the meaning of this word—determination—examining what it means to us, our kids, and our mission.

It’s funny how the will of determination can put blinders on one’s eyes, keeping one from seeing the obstacles or hardship standing in the way of goals or growth or one’s full potential. Perhaps this is the paradox of determination: when the state of one’s own will is so strong that it blinds  them—but this blindness is indeed good, for it protects them from the giants of fear and hopelessness.

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This is where our story begins. Daniel is one of our older Sozo Children and for years, Daniel wore these blinders of determination. Daniel grew up in a small Ugandan village, one far from our Sozo homes and community. After a short period of time when he attended school, his primary education was halted because of the financial burden it weighted upon his family. For ten years, he was unable to work toward his goal of finishing his education.  

“That was the goal I wanted most: I wanted to go back to school.” – Daniel

After years of staying home, Daniel decided that if he could not attend school, he could at least work to make money for himself and his family. Leaving his family, his home, and his comfort, he left for the city where he began to work as a maid. For about a year, he served in people’s homes, taking care of their property and land.

But another obstacle stood in his way: his employers refused to pay him. His situation became unhealthy, something he soon realized. That’s when truth intervened, in a way Daniel never could have hoped.

The home where he worked sat next to one of Sozo’s homes. While Daniel worked, cleaning the compound or performing menial tasks around the house, he would listen to the Sozo community worship, pray, and do devotions together. Daniel slowly began building relationships with the Sozo family next door, and soon they invited him to join their Bible study. Daniel began attending the devotions, making friends with the Sozo boys, learning a little English, and hearing the good news of the Gospel.

Even though he was not in school and was in fact in a bad situation due to his work, Daniel was unknowingly doing what he had hoped to do all along: he was learning.  

And God was working.

Soon, it was time for Daniel to move back to his small village to be with his family. As he prepared to leave, our boys reached out to Aggie, our Child Development director, asking if he could possibly attend school through Sozo. Daniel was determined to do whatever he could to continue his education; his dream was slowly turning into a reality.

Daniel came to Sozo in 2013, when he was 16-years-old. His first day there, he was enrolled in school. Because it had been ten years since he had last sat in a classroom, the administration wanted to place him in Primary-2, the equivalent of 1st grade. If Daniel had never left school, he would have nearly finished his education; but he was just now entering school with kids ten years younger than him. After much discussion, though, the school allowed Daniel to move up to Primary-4, or third grade.

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Despite the fact that he was finally where he had always dreamed of being, obstacles continued to rise against Daniel. His first term in school, he did very poorly, to the point where the other children around him began to tease and make fun of him.

“I did very bad,” Daniel owned, remembering the time when he had been at the bottom of his class. Yet he was determined to not let this discourage him. “I never lost hope.”

His failures drove him to do better. Coming back to school for his second term, Daniel was determined to not only get through school; he was determined to excel. Slowly, his performance improved. He worked diligently and sought out the help of his teachers and older friends, so much so that he felt as if he was “disturbing” them, when really, he was displaying his determination to succeed. Eventually, the children who had made fun of him started coming to him, asking him for advice on how to excel academically.

This past year, in 2017, Daniel completed Primary-7. Now he is able to enter the Secondary level schooling in Uganda, something no one in his family has ever done.

“For me, my goal was to study and to finish primary and go to the next level. I wanted to show them I could do it, and do other things. I wanted to show them I could improve and that I would stand and speak English on my own.” - DANIEL

More than just achieving the goals he had set for himself, however, Daniel proved his character by becoming a leader within his school and within the Sozo community. He was appointed dormitory father, time-keeper, and class monitor, which are all honors and leadership roles in the school. Now as he prepares to enter secondary school, he is excited to pursue his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.

Daniel’s story is one that presents a beautiful picture of determination and resilience. Despite all obstacles—whether they were financial (because he could not afford school) or time-based (because he had spent ten years out of school) or cultural (no one in his family had ever achieved higher education)—he knew what he wanted to achieve, and he set out to do so. His determination held him to a higher standard, and he did not rest until he had achieved his dream.  

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, but what you want and how determined you are to get there. You have to take that chance and work hard. I think what matters is what you want and to get help, and you have to work hard to achieve that goal when you get the chance. Respect the people that are older than you, thank them for everything they do to help you. Seek counsel from them so that they can continue having hope in you, so that I can help other people when I grow up.” - DANIEL

Those blinders of determination, the blinders that kept Daniel from fearing the obstacles that stood in his way, produced a new form of sight: vision coming from education and the light of the truth of the Gospel.

Daniel realized that achieving his goals would not only help himself; his goals were ones that could help others as well. He wanted to learn, to grow, and to mature, not only for himself and his own betterment and advancement, but to help his family and those around him. He wanted an education to help others, to be hospitable to them, to share his story with them, and to assist them however he could. His determination was one that was unselfish, that was others-focused, and that was genuine.

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At Sozo, we are determined to see our mission come to fruition: All children thriving. All communities transformed. All for God’s glory. Each of us has our own goals as we run our own race. Just as Daniel did, realize your goal, hold fast to your determination to achieve it, and do not run aimlessly.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So…do not run aimlessly.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-26

Embrace: Ryan's Story

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Our word this month is embrace. With 22 of our Ugandan children in America for the first time, new dreams and vision unfurling, and the constant growth and change inevitable with a non-profit organization, we felt this word was an appropriate choice entering this new year. Throughout our lives, with each twist and turn, God is constantly inviting us to take a seat at His table and calls us to trust Him. Our prayer this month is that we might all continue to learn to embrace His plans and not our own ways, to release our clenched hands and embrace where He has us and those around us. This month we want to introduce you to our newest member of the Sozo Children family, Ryan. This is his story of embracing change and newness, but also his start to embracing others in love. 

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The Ugandan government defines “vulnerable children” as those who are forgotten, describing them as lost, neglected, orphaned, or abandoned. Often these children live on the streets, enduring lives of unimaginable abuse and neglect. They live without a home, a family, or any means to pursue a healthy life or hopeful future.

These are children that have not been embraced by love, hope or peace. Instead, they have been captured by fear, loneliness, and abandonment. Ryan, a five-year-old Ugandan boy, was one of these children. 

When law enforcement or investigators find these children, they report them to the government in an effort to remove them from these hopeless situations. The child is then placed with a referral, a place that provides safety and emergency care. In Uganda, Sozo Children acts as one of these emergency care referrals.

Ryan was found aimlessly exploring the streets of a Ugandan town. This is not an uncommon sight; often, because of the large number of orphans in this nation. As soon as Ryan was found, living alone and living without a home, he was immediately taken to the police station, where he waited to be moved to a referral home to receive emergency care. Moving him to Sozo Children in Uganda gave him not only a place of refuge; it gave him a place that welcomed him in as home.

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Assuming the role as Ryan’s emergency-caretaker, the Sozo community welcomed the little boy with open arms. Upon arrival, Ryan immediately began the entry process. This initial period of time is when the referral (Sozo Children) provides the vulnerable child with basic necessities such as food, shelter, medical care, and protection until they are able to begin the tracing process. The tracing process is a twenty-one day period of research that involves both social workers and counselors. During this time, those involved in the investigation spend tireless hours seeking as much information as they can find concerning the child. “Who is this child's family?” “Where is child from?” and “How did this child get lost?”

Right now, we are still unsure the answers to all of these questions; anything could have happened to Ryan. He could have been kidnapped, or kicked out of his home, or he could have run away. Over the course of those initial twenty-one days, no concrete information was found concerning his story, his identity, or his background. Ryan himself could answer no questions for us; he was unable to state for certain the number of family members he had or where he had come from. Edwin, one of our Ugandan social workers, even took Ryan back to the exact place where he had been found, attempting to trigger his memory to remind him of anything from his past. We have no tangible evidence has yet been found concerning Ryan’s personal history. But for now, he has been welcomed into a new home, a place of refuge and grace and safety. Here, he does not have to worry about his future—just as no five-year-old should.

Sozo Children received a new family member, as he has recently been placed more permanently with us. While the investigators continue to search for pieces to the puzzle of his past, he is able to rest in the stability of knowing that, at least for now, he is safe and provided-for.

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In the true sense of the word, Ryan has been completely embraced and surrounded by his Sozo household and family; the team and the other kids have welcomed him in with open hearts. His energetic, outgoing, overly friendly demeanor has made this easy. As part of his entry into Sozo, he has been enrolled in school and is incredibly eager to learn—his favorite English phrase is “let me see,” signifying his inquisitive and creative spirit. He loves to explore and stay busy as he is intrigued by almost everything around him.

One thing that has struck the Sozo staff the most about Ryan, though, is the way he has not only so naturally entered the Sozo environment, but how he has taken an active role in embracing and cherishing those around him as well. Over Christmas, not long after first entering Sozo, Ryan encountered Ronald, an out-of-house Sozo child who was visiting for a few days. Knowing what it meant to be the new kid, Ryan immediately took Ronald under his wing. He gave Ronald a tour of the Sozo house, taught him worship songs, and never left him alone; they were always together. We believe Ryan’s accepting spirit to embrace this new little one is a reflection of the love and hospitality he received from our wonderful Ugandan team.

Ryan’s story is one that so clearly exemplifies the nature of the word embrace. In a time that was probably confusing and scary, He embraced those around him with love and enthusiasm. We know God has big plans for this child and we expectantly wait to see how Ryan continues to grow. 

May Ryan's story be our story, too, embracing those around us in love.

What are you embracing this month?

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2018: A Year of Stories

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As individuals start to make resolutions and set aspirations for the new year, we want to share with you the challenge we've set before our organization as we walk into 2018.

Our goal is to take a deeper look into the heart of Sozo Children.

Launching our Sozo Stories Blog!

This organization and ministry is ever evolving and growing, but our overall goal hasn't changed. Our vision has always been to see all children thriving, all communities transformed, all for God's glory. This year we are launching our Sozo Children blog right here. This platform will allow us to share more in depth with you how we are working to see this vision come to fruition.

When Sozo Children first began, we clung to the word Sozo, a greek word meaning "to save or to rescue from destruction". As God's children, we have all been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and have been adopted as His sons and daughters. Just as children from Uganda walk in freedom knowing that the God of the universe knit them together in their mother's wombs and brought them into the light, we embrace the gift of freedom to tell of the marvelous works He is doing in our lives.

We invite you into these digital pages. Each month we will be sharing stories from Uganda about how the Lord is moving through this organization. We hope these words will help you connect to our mission and our children in a more powerful way. Join us as we journey forward into this new year as we fill this blog with stories of hope, joy, laughter, bravery, faithfulness, and transformation.

These stories are our stories, but also, these are your stories. After all, we are all Sozo Children.