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June 13, 2014

Gov. Robert Bentley guest speaker at upcoming Uganda missions fundraiser

A Ugandan minister’s fight to bring improvements in education and basic human needs has grabbed the attention of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

Bentley will be the guest of honor and keynote speaker at a June 19 dinner raising funds for Uganda missions and a locally sponsored orphanage.

For several years now, Pastor Nassan Ibrahim has been a familiar face in and around the Cullman and North Alabama area. A man of great faith, he has developed a relationship with people here who have seen what his mission has accomplished and have been willing to assist him in bringing the Christian faith to the people of his homeland in Uganda.

Ibrahim has welcomed delegations from the United States to come and witness first-hand what their contributions have helped to build in a country where famine and fear have ruled for decades.

Cullman’s Dot Gudger was one of the short-term missionaries who went to Uganda in 1999. She was impressed with the former Muslim’s message. She witnessed a debate between Ibrahim, a converted Christian, and some of his Muslim countrymen. The fact that they were allowed to debate religions is something new for Uganda. “It was a huge victory for the Christian population there,” said Gudger.

Daystar Church Pastor Jerry Lawson has been to Uganda seven times. “I saw many Muslims converted to Christianity through Nassan Ibrahim’s ministry,” said Lawson.

“The success of his ministry is totally phenomenal. Nassan has a beautiful heart — we can see the genuineness of his heart for the people of Uganda — and for God,” said Nita Perry, who is working with a Cullman committee to help raise funds for a roof for Daystar’s sister church in Uganda.    

For the Americans, it was both a shock and a revelation to see people living in such poverty stricken conditions. But they all agree that life inside the refugee camp is better than outside its boundaries.

The orphanage was somewhat better. It was built through the auspices of people in the United States, many of whom are from Cullman and North Alabama.

“I’m not sure that the kids in the orphanage would even have food to eat if it weren’t for Nassan’s ministry,” said another Ugandan visitor, Shari Gato, who has been to Uganda twice. “Its incredible how much they lack in material things, yet how rich they are in joy and spirit. When you don’t have anything, God is everything.”

The people in the camps and the children in the orphanage welcomed the strangers.

“The Ugandan people loved us,” laughed Dot. “They called us Bazungus (whites), and we drew a huge crowd wherever we went.”

The group met for a service in a large tin building with a dirt floor. It held 500 people, with more coming and going during the event.

At that time, a large part of the mission revolved around orphan children whose parents were killed during the Amin regime. There were 260 children being cared for by teachers who had received no salaries in months. Although the orphanage was destitute, the leaders informed the group that they had just moved into the “upgraded” quarters. “The buildings reminded me pictures I’ve seen of concentration camps in World War II. Children slept on thin foam-type mattresses, with no pillows. They all shared a common wash pan. I could only imagine what they had been like previously,” Gudger shuddered. “It was the most awful place I have ever seen, anywhere, but it was better than life outside the orphanage would have been.”

For $10 per month a person could sponsor a child. “I remember thinking that I, personally, often waste enough food that could save the life of one of these children!” exclaimed Gudger.

These days things have improved due to the contributions of people like Gato, Lawson and Gudger, who have seen the needs first-hand and come to realize how much $10 can do to help these children. Today, the orphanage has a self-contained school, led by Christian teachers, totally funded through donations.

Among other social services, Pastor Ibrahim’s ministry has provided funds for the drilling of wells for drinking water in various places throughout the country.

Since the mission trip Gudger took to Uganda, many other changes have taken place due to the dedication of people here in the states who have committed to help further Pastor Ibrahim’s mission to bring Christianity to his countrymen, to improve their lives with education and to provide them with the basic human necessities so that they can become productive citizens.

According to Gato, funds raised in the United States have provided restrooms, cisterns, new dorms for the orphanage. “Even the refugee camps, which were destitute, now have shelter and food,” said Gato. “The impact of this ministry on their culture is incredible. I’ve seen thousands of people give their lives to Christ in the crusades there.”

Ibrahim’s radio station now transmits Christian messages to millions each day. The ministry has also been able to build some small houses, with a cost of approximately $150 each.

The ministry has grown to include more than 130 Ugandan ministers, many of whom Ibrahim raised in his own home. They once had to walk to and from their churches, and everywhere else they went. Pastor Ibrahim returned to the United States in order to raise money to buy bicycles for them.

Last fall, the President of Uganda arranged to meet with Ibrahim after seeing a picture of the preachers receiving the bicycles on the front page of a Ugandan paper. That meeting resulted in the President, who is also a Christian, attending the Christmas Day service at the building, which was still in progress of being built at the time.

The new building, called Daystar Cathedral, is now almost finished. “I’ve seen pictures of it and it’s going to be beautiful,” said Gudger. “But they need funds to finish the roof.”

Pastor Ibrahim has vowed not to build himself a new dwelling until the church is completed. “He lives in what they call a ‘waddie’,” Gudger described. “He says that he promised God that he would build this church, and that he would not live anywhere else until the church is finished.”

Pastor Jerry Lawson recalls that he was profoundly affected by what he witnessed there. “I’ve never seen a more compassionate outreach than Nassan Ibrahim Ministries,” he said. “Having personally raised more than a dozen orphans in his own home, he really lives what he preaches.”

“No one is more wrapped up in what he is doing than Nassan,” Pastor Lawson continued. “At one point, a church built him a home, but he turned around and gave it away to house orphans.”

“Cullman County has been so kind to Pastor Ibrahim’s ministry, as has all of Alabama,” said Gudger. “Many people here know him by sight and often inquire about him and how his ministry is doing. One church even offered to bring him and his family here, but he feels that his place is in his own country, bringing the Message to those in such dire need of the Word of God.”

To assist in helping to finish the church, citizens from all around Cullman County have formed a committee to arrange a fundraiser to be held on June 19, 2014, at 7 p.m. in the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. Dress is business casual.

Guests will be served fork-tender poppyseed chicken over rice, with green beans and red potatoes, a tossed green salad and buttery crescent rolls.

For dessert, there will be homemade apple or peach cobbler a’la mode, with tea and coffee.

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