Morris Daily Herald: Defining Poverty and Joy

Sunday, May 17, 2009

By Heidi Terry-Litchfield  hlitchfield@morrisdailyherald.com

When Jennie Reeder traveled to Africa last summer, she knew it would affect her life. She just didn’t know how much.

Africa opened Reeder’s eyes to what is outside the United States. She found that what is considered poor in America is nothing compared to those on the other side of the globe.

Reeder, a 2005 graduate of Morris Community High School, currently attends University of Iowa, where she is working toward her civil engineering degree.

She originally attended Oklahoma City University, studying dance performance, before deciding that wasn’t the career path for her.

“To do dance, you can’t really have a family, and have to live in the city, and be ready to travel at a moment’s notice,” she said. “I want a job where I can have a family.”

By getting her degree in civil engineering, she will be able to work anywhere in the world; and that is exactly what she has planned. She’s studying Arabic and plans to study Egypt before she graduates, so she can move to the Middle East and help.

After seeing how the children live there, she said she will never call herself a ‘poor college kid’ again.

“If you have a toilet and running water, you are not poor,” she said. “If you have food, you are not poor.”

Last year, Reeder set out with a group of high school and college students for Uganda with Teen Mania Ministries. The organization allows students from the United States and Canada to go to different countries around the globe as part of their ministries.

She and her group went to Village of Hope Uganda and helped clear fields to plant crops, as well as offered Vacation Bible School to the children and helped build huts.

To understand what goes on at Village of Hope Uganda, Reeder said one has to understand that Uganda has been in civil war for years. In 1989, 25-year-old Joseph Kony led an armed struggle against President Museveni’s government and Uganda’s military, forming the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Eventually, Kony began kidnapping children; making them commit atrocities against their own families. Minors make up nearly 90 percent of the LRA.

Village of Hope Uganda is located in Gulu and hopes to house the orphans left by this war, including children who were at one time part of the LRA army.

“After seeing the children and putting a face to them, when they were no longer a number or an image on TV, that made me decide I have to go back,” she said. “I really can’t think of a better way to spend my summer vacation while I’m in college.”

This year, Reeder is returning with a student from Virginia, who was with her group last year, and friends they have recruited at their colleges. She said they won’t be going back this year with Teen Mania Ministries; instead, they are taking on the journey by themselves.

“We’ve fundraised the money to go and we have everything in order to go,” she said. “It was definitely harder to go on our own, but we wanted more time and more freedom while we were there to help.”

She said Village of Hope has about 260 children and she is coming back to Morris to speak at First Presbyterian Church in hopes of finding sponsors for some of the children.

“We will help build houses, huts or the school,” she said. “The houses will have house moms so every child has a chance for a future.”

She said she’ll never regret the time she spent volunteering there, because it has been so rewarding.

“Honestly, for me it’s about God,” she said. “It’s having the same love he has for us towards others.”

She said they haven’t been fighting inside Uganda in the last year or two, so she never felt her safety was an issue on the last trip and, again this year, one of the main women running the organization will be meeting them.

“Last year, I went thinking we’ll change lives, it will be awesome, and we did, but,” she said. “they taught me so much more.”

She said there isn’t enough food to feed all the children each day, but still they don’t fight for the food there is. Instead, you can hear one passing on the food so someone else can get it because they ate the day before, or two days ago.

“Everyday possessions don’t define their joy,” she said. “Even without food, they stay happy.”

She said it was sad to see thousands of children all sharing one hole in the ground for a bathroom.

“There are six to seven to a mud hut; the only clothes they have are what they are wearing, and they are all starving,” she said. “It changed me forever.”

She said it makes her feel stupid for ever complaining about the little things here.

She said she appreciates everything much more.

When she returns from her six-week visit to Uganda this year, she will just have enough time for laundry before leaving with Teen Mania Minisgtries four days later for Australia, where she and another college student will supervise a group of high school students as they go help with the Indigenous Australians.

Tonight, Saturday, May 16, Reeder, along with Veronica Blue and Randi Adams, will be at First Presbyterian Church in Morris for a mission presentation.

A contemporary service will be held at 5:30 p.m., casual dinner at 6:30 p.m., and the presentation at 7 p.m.

The public is invited to attend one or all portions of the evening.

For more details on Village of Hope Uganda, you can view their Web site at www.villageofhopeuganda.com

For more details on the presentation, you may call the church office at (815) 942-1871.