2:00 P.M. EST Sept. 17, 2010 | OAKLAND, Calif. (UMNS)
A California church with fewer than one-hundred members is raising money to build an educational complex in Kumi, Uganda.
Chinese Community United Methodist Church leaders in Oakland, Calif., adopted the mission to Uganda after their music minister, Aeri Lee, returned from a trip there determined to help one of her former students.
Lee met Silver Omakenyi nine years ago at a Bible college in Kampala, Uganda. Accompanying him on a trip home to his village, Kumi, she made a startling discovery.
Omakenyi, 26 at the time and unmarried, was caring for eight orphans he had taken into his home. His primary source of income was selling instruments he built by hand.
“He was this 20-something young man, single, unmarried, and he was the head of the household,” Lee remembers. “He had all these little children – eight of them. The littlest one was four.
“I said, ‘I didn’t know you were taking care of all these children.’ He was like, ‘Well, they’re actually not my children, but they are folks who have no one else to care for them.’”
An orphan himself, Omakenyi then told Lee of his dream to build schools in the village.
“He didn’t come out and say, ‘I need help’ or ‘could you,’” she says. “He didn’t solicit ever. That’s the first thing that drew me. It’s something different, something special about this young man.”
“We plan to have a primary school for orphans and dormitories, and we plan to have even a secondary school as well as a music school on this land," Omakenyi says in a home video Lee shot during a 2005 trip to Uganda. He walks on the plot of land where he envisioned the school.
“I flat out said, ‘I don’t think this is possible!’” recalls Lee, who, at the same time, was brainstorming ways to help Omakenyi raise the money needed. “I really felt like, ‘Who am I? I’m just a musician.’”
Over the next few years, as Omakenyi drew up plans for the educational complex, Lee raised nearly $80,000 from friends. When she married, Lee requested donations to Omakenyi’s school in lieu of gifts. Before leaving the reception, wedding guests left checks and cash totaling $25,000.
Aeri Lee (right) makes music with Silver Omakenyi
while serving as a piano teacher in Uganda. A UMNS
photo courtesy of Aeri Lee.
View in Photo Gallery
As Omakenyi’s vision for the school complex was quickly becoming a plan, much more money was needed. That was when Lee approached the leaders of her congregation for help.
Chinese Community Church, where 100 worship on a "good" Sunday, does not have deep pockets. They do not have a budget for projects of this size. But they adopted the plan to be partners in mission in Uganda and had an idea to begin fundraising.
“What we know how to do best in Chinatown is feed people.” says Becky Wong, a church member.
The church planned a benefit dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant and invited the entire neighborhood. Renting the top floor of Legendary Palace restaurant, they worried whether attendees would fill even 10 tables. As the guests arrived – many of them strangers from other parts of town – it became clear they would fill the entire room, all 25 tables.
“It’s big for us,” said Wong. “This is more people than we have on a Sunday morning in our congregation.”
The dinner raised $40,000, which has already been sent to Kumi to continue construction of the primary school. A Volunteers in Mission team from the church began the building in the summer of 2009.
Lee says another $40,000 is needed to complete the primary school. She hopes it will open within two years.
Fundraising will then continue to build the secondary and vocational school, as well as a music school that is now part of the vision.
Omakenyi is confident. “We are looking forward, trusting,” he says.
“It’s in God’s hands now,” echoes Wong. “He’s brought us this far. We know He’s not going to let us down now.”
*Simmons is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.