Local 77-year-old joining family in move to Uganda for mission work

Four years ago, a 73-year-old woman sat alone in a Washington airport waiting for her son-in-law to arrive from Sweet Home.

The two were catching a flight together that would carry them to Lugazi, Uganda.

“I’m here by myself,” she told herself, “and I’m going to a country I’ve never been to, to meet a man I’ve never seen, and I don’t care whether they make it or not.

“I’m gettin’ on that plane.”

Helen Whipple, who’s lived in Lebanon the past two years, had been waiting for an opportunity to take a mission trip to Uganda for a long time. Her daughter and son-in-law, Stacey and Bill Houtz, gave her a reason to go when they decided to visit Pastor Hudson Suubi of Faith Children’s Home.

The trio have since made multiple trips to Uganda over the past four years, but are now putting a stop to that practice.

The Houtzes are set to move to the country Aug. 21, where they will serve as missionaries for Suubi’s orphanage. Stacey’s mom, Whipple, will move next door to them in November.

Pastor Suubi grew up in a family in Uganda that practiced witchcraft, but became a Christian as a teenager, and now serves as a pastor throughout the country and fosters 50 orphans. Suubi visited the Full Gospel Church in Sweet Home church in 2013 to speak, and that’s where the Houtzes met him.

“I shook his hand and something told me then that I had to go over there one way or the other,” Bill said.

Stacey told him to talk to Whipple, whose response was simply, “How much, and when?”

When the family makes a trip to Faith Children’s Home, they bring candy, clothes and school supplies. Whipple’s personal ministry is to supplyBibles in their native language. In four years, she’s distributed about 3,000 Bibles.

Some who’ve never had a Bible will shed tears and hug her neck when she places one in their hand, Whipple said.

“These people are so hungry for the written word of God,” she said.

Bibles cost about $10 for Ugandans; the Houtzes estimate the average household income is about $1.25 a day.

“These people don’t have much, but they’re grateful for anything you do for them,” Stacey said.

Though Suubi and his wife, Mercy, have five children of their own, they take orphans in under their care and promise them a full education, Stacey said.

“There’s one kid named Bob, he was totally abandoned,” she said. “He was so malnourished that he was just laying in a ditch to die, and they took him in.”

Today, Bob iis well into elementary school and is “flourishing,” she noted.

Though other western missionaries and doctors visit Lugazi, Ugandan children are amazed to see white people, Whipple said.

“They come up to you and they’ll pinch your skin to make sure that you’re not going to change color,” she said.

Through fund-raising efforts over the last four years, the Houtzes and Whipple helped provide a water tank, solar panels, a new stove, mosquito netting, septic cleaning, and building repairs.

“Money over there goes a long way,” Stacey said. “One U.S. dollar is 3,600 shillings.”

What that essentially means is that it’s about twice the value. As an example, one soda can be purchased for a dollar in the United States, but two sodas could be purchased for the same dollar in Uganda.

“That is a prize for those kids, to have soda pop,” Whipple noted.

The Houtzes recently sold their home in Sweet Home and purchased two acres of land in Lugazi, and Whipple is in the process of selling her Lebanon home, which will provide for her house and ministry in Lugazi.

“The reason I decided to go over there was because I was spending so much money on airplane tickets to go over there for three or four weeks, so why not move over there and use that money over there?” Whipple said.

She sees her main ministry as speaking in churches and handing outBibles. This way, she can hand out more Bibles, she said. The Houtzes have a different angle.

“On one acre, we’re going to put our house and a garden, and have goats and chickens, and who knows what,” Stacey said. “The other acre is going to go for widow and orphan homes.”

“It’s gonna be a little village and they’re gonna call it Faith Village,” Bill added.

Stacey explained that Suubi names everything with Faith: Faith Children’s Home, Faith Village, and Faith Farms, which is five acres of land sponsored by Full Gospel Church.

After they settle into their new abode, the family will help where help is needed, and Whipple will continue her ministry of Bible distribution.

“For us, it’s going to be laid back,” Bill said. “From one day to the next, anything can change.”

When they leave the United States this month, Bill will bring with him a bag full of seeds to start his new garden, he said. One thing he wants to introduce to the children is an American style salad with leafy greens.

The residents of Lugazi eat a lot of cabbage, rice, beans, mangoes, bananas and pineapple, and they drink a lot of tea, Stacey said. They also eat African donuts and lentil-filled samosas, an Indian influence from early British occupation.

Of the stranger things offered, there are grasshoppers on a stick, she said. But Suubi is accustomed to feeding Americans, so he makes sure to provide more palatable plates for his guests.

“What’s really weird is they give you eggs – it’s like an omelet kind of thing – but it’s white, and we asked them one day ‘How come they’re not yellow? Do you take the yolks out?’” And they don’t. Their yolks are white over there,” she said.

The chickens are free range and don’t eat grains like they do here, Whipple explained. The yolk is so pale that it looks white.

Bill, Stacey and Whipple all cited different first impressions of the country, but there was one thing they all agreed on.

“The people are so loving and very respectful,” Stacey said.

“The people over there appreciate what you do for them,” Bill said. “Not like here.”

“I fell in love with the country. I fell in love with the people,” Whipple said. “They are loving, loving people.”

Anyone wanting to support the family with letters or donations can send correspondence through Whipple’s church, Lebanon Christian Center, 665 S. Airport Road, Lebanon OR, 97355. Checks can be made to Lebanon Christian Center with a notation for “Uganda Bibles” or “Ugandan children.”

“This is gonna be a great adventure, but we’re ready for it,” Bill said.