Miracle milk changes lives
PASTOR Greg Holder from Grafton's Riverside Church and Kakamega's Bishop Nicholas Olumasai share an unusual dream.
It's a vision of healthy, productive dairy cows, one for each of the 1040-or-so orphans cared for through the 43 churches overseen by the Bishop in Uganda and Kenya.
These are cows with a special mission; providing milk, income and hope of a future for the poorest of the poor, orphaned children in one of the most disadvantaged parts of the world.
The first five cows of the Orphans Cattle Program herd have already been bought with money donated by Riverside Church supporters in the Clarence Valley and are "at work" with widowed women who care for groups of orphans under the supervision of local church communities in Kenya.
Purchase of the cows was one of the main objectives on the recent visit to the African nations by Pastor Greg and another Clarence Valley church member, Neale Carter.
Bishop Nicholas is visiting the Clarence Valley as part of a visit to Australia to raise awareness and funding for church projects in his Kakamega area, most particularly the Orphans Cattle Program.
The two men first met at a conference in Sydney two years ago.
"When I first saw him God spoke to me and said 'Help this man'," Pastor Greg said.
"We just sat and talked. He showed me a photo of a cow. It wasn't his cow - he didn't own any - but he said it was his dream to have a cow like that one for every orphan in Kenya. I invited him to come and meet our people and he did."
Greg has been Pastor at Grafton's Riverside Church for the past five years and was pastor at Coffs Harbour for nine years before that. He and his wife Helen have three children Ben, 24, Chris 21 and Jessica, 18.
By the time Greg and Neale started out on their mission to Uganda and Kenya in March this year they had about $8000 gathered from the Valley to pay for cows or other orphanage projects they deemed appropriate.
Pastor Greg has a diary of that visit, written primarily for his daughter, Jessica, but a document that has now been distributed to a far-wider audience.
No stranger to the church's international mission work among the world's underprivileged, he said: "I have been to India and lived with the poorest of the poor there, spent a winter in Siberian Russia and worked among the refugees on the Thai-Burma border. But I had seen nothing like the poverty we found in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan."
His journal outlines visits to COME Uganda mission projects including hospitals and schools and instances of what he believes was divine intervention in seemingly chance encounters that helped make their mission more meaningful and valuable.
First major endowment from their donated funds was to a remote school in Uganda, $1500 for roofing iron plus about $48 towards wages for the principal, who had not been paid at all that term.
Hospital visits, prayer and preaching, a community concert and a village wedding completed the days in Uganda, leaving some wonderful and also, sadly, some very vivid memories of Uganda.
There is much sickness, poverty and despair in almost every house or shed but they are also the most happy people in the world and simply giving someone a wave will literally make their day and their faces, every one of them, will flash you back with a smile that says 'hello, have a good day'.
"The Ugandan people are among the poorest in the world but I truly believe the spirit of God is all over the place. I will truly miss it," Pastor Greg said.
Qualified electrician Neale Carter spent busy days in Kenya working on church properties, while Pastor Greg, along with Bishop Nicholas, was preaching and teaching to bush communities, university students, in orphanages and schools.
One community, with a basic church under construction on donated land was in need of $550 to finish roofing and walls, prompting another major gift from the donated funds.
The Orphans Cattle Program was formally instituted with the purchase of the first five cows at various markets and a responsible local committee set up to administer it.
"Under the program we will have constant access to updates and accountability for the herd we will be raising up. This will, I believe, eventually become a major source of supply and increase to the missions program we are supporting," Pastor Greg recorded in his diary.
The diary recorded more visits to orphanages, churches and schools, more gifts to communities in desperate need, one of them a remote rocky village where about 200 people squeezed into a service in an outdoor church constructed from tree limbs covered with fertiliser bags sewn together.
A gift of $375 to the orphan school there provided desks for students who previously took their lessons perched on a handy rock.
On the day of his return to his family in Australia, Greg's diary concluded: "So many reflections, so many miraculous things. I am reminded of a message that God gave me to preach about two months ago… to see God's hand truly move, we must be prepared to be moved ourselves and to position ourselves for a miracle."
In pursuit of the miracle, things are already on the move at Grafton's Riverside Church.
Next February Pastor Greg will lead a team of five back to Kenya and Uganda to carry out more work on school and orphanage projects. There is no shortage of volunteers keen to be a part of the mission.
Riverside Church's mission co-ordinator Helen Ellis has already visited Kenya and Uganda to see the church's work there and hopes to go back with her husband for a longer stay some time in the future.
"When we go next February, we are hoping to take a minimum of $20,000, more if possible - from this area alone," Pastor Greg said.
The funds, which need to be raised before Christmas, will go for the purchase of more cows and maintenance of the Orphans Cattle Program into the foreseeable future.
Well aware of the hard work and challenges ahead, Bishop Nicholas and Pastor Greg are equally confident of the on-going success of the program.
"It is something that could change the course of history in a nation over 50 years.
"It is the vision of Bishop Nicholas, dear to my heart and close to the hearts of the people in this church."