Under African Skies
Meet Lacey Melancon. This past January, she joined Thibodaux-based Refuge 127 on a mission trip to Uganda, Africa, to deliver funds to an orphanage in the impoverished nation. It was her first trip out of the country—and one she will never forget. To preserve the memories she created there, Lacey created a blog, This Girl’s Heartbeat, which she used to document and share her trip in detail. PoV caught up with Lacey to learn more about the trip and what Refuge 127 is doing in Africa. Here’s what she had to say.
1. How do you prep yourself for visiting an impoverished nation like Uganda? What are you expecting to find when you enter the mission field?
This was my first trip ever overseas, so that in itself was an experience for me. My friend, Mandy [Holloway], and her husband, Shay [Holloway], had gone a year before, and I was able to see pictures and they would tell me stories. A lot of prayer went into it—I knew I was going to a place that was very different from what I was used to. I knew I was going to meet children that were in a situation I wasn’t used to. It was asking God to prepare my heart, to prepare my mind, to prepare my spirit to experience everything through His eyes and to really get the heartbeat of what His mission for me was.
2. What was Refuge 127’s mission objective in January?
Regionally, we promote foster care and adoption. Internationally, we help this organization and are helping to rebuild an orphanage. Our goal in January—we paired up with a church from Indiana who has the same burden we do for this orphanage—and we were going there to deliver funds that we had collected throughout the year to the bishop over this orphanage so, in turn, he could start building the buildings, feed the children, and provide education. In December, we’re going back to do more service—we want to build things—build desks and fences, things like that.
3. Put us in Uganda. What’s it like to be there?
There’s a lot of poverty—that’s all they know—that’s how they live. What struck me so much was the people. They value what really matters in life—friends, family and God. It’s not a materialistic culture. The land is beautiful. They say New York never sleeps. Kampala, where we were, has nothing on New York. There are no traffic signals. There are motorbikes everywhere. People are driving in and out of each other. It’s kind of controlled chaos. There are goats and cows walking on the streets. It’s a very alive city. You drive five hours through countryside to get to the orphanage.
4. What do you appreciate most about African culture in Uganda?
The simplicity. Again, we’re just going for a couple of days. We’re just exposed a little to what everyday life is. But with that poverty comes simplicity—and it’s not a negative thing. They don’t have all these material things. You wake up, you eat, you have friends—the pace in Uganda is a lot slower than in America. It’s less stressful. We live by the clock, and they just kind of go with the flow.
5. What are people most in need of at the orphanage?
We visited an orphanage that had over 700 children there. The orphanage that we’re building is about 10 minutes down the road, and they’re going to transfer these children to the new orphanage once it’s built. There’s no medical—not one cotton ball or bandage. These children are suffering from illnesses that are preventable. There’s a lot of heart issues and AIDS. Things like an earache—their ears are hurting, but there’s nothing to put in them. We want to do some medical mission trips in the future. Education is very primitive. At the orphanage, they don’t all speak the same language—very few speak English. Food is a need. Right now, the children eat once a day. Sometimes they skip a day so the younger ones can eat. We have a farming initiative that we’re starting as well. The fourth thing is the buildings. The new orphanage is going to have 25 buildings. We have four built right now. The buildings will include dorms, a medical facility, a church and classrooms. Now, at the old orphanage, they sleep on cement floors or on grass mats. You know, you hear about it on TV and from missionaries who come to church and talk about it; but when you can experience it for yourself, it’s reality. While I’m in Thibodaux, sleeping in my bed, these kids are eating a bowl of rice a day and sleeping on cement. The need is so huge, but one person and one group can do so much.
6. You get rather personal with your blog. How does that channel of communication help you to cope with what you are seeing?
I’m a very detailed person, and when Mandy and Shay went to Uganda last year, I wanted to know every little detail. When I went on this trip, I wanted the people at home to know every detail as I experienced it because there’s no better way for people to catch the burden unless you explain it to them. And I didn’t want to wait until I got home to explain this to them. People told me that they felt like they could hear me telling them the stories. For me, it was a journaling experience. It was so much to take in. Rereading those blogs has helped me to re-experience things … and emotions. I don’t want to forget that. So the blog was a release, but I really wanted people to understand it.
7. Do you have a favorite memory of your time in Uganda?
I have two. We were playing with the kids outside the orphanage, and it started to rain. All the children ran into the church, and all the visitors went into the bus. Mandy and I heard all the kids singing and clapping, drums beating. We thought, “What are we doing in this bus?” After convincing the bishop’s brother to let us off the bus, we went into the church and the kids were having a worship service and dance party. It was like a freedom to have fun and just be with all the kids. The other experience was, we were able to baptize over 200 children for Jesus—such an awesome experience!
8. What do you appreciate most about being in the U.S. after spending time in an impoverished nation?
You have an appreciation for everything. You have an appreciation for your house, your bed, running water … I have an appreciation for turning the light switch on and having the lights come on. You don’t take anything for granted anymore. You really value the stuff that matters. There is such a bigger picture that God has for us.
9. Why is it important to keep going back? What difference is being made?
It’s important to bring people so they can see for themselves what the mission is. It’s definitely a spiritual experience. Because there’s not a lot of noise, God is so present there—there are no distractions. It’s important because, if nobody goes and brings back this message, then those kids are forgotten.
Vist Lacey’s blog at thisgirlsheartbeat.blogspot.com