In 2003, a Ugandan priest named Jason Musoke arrived in the small parish of St. Philip’s, Nabusanke Equatorial, with his wife, Faith, to take up the post of rector.
As he began the usual round of pastoral visitations, introducing himself to the members of the community he would serve, he was shocked and saddened by the large number of children in the community who had been orphaned and left in dire poverty by the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Most of these children were living with distant relatives; very few had the means to attend school, or even meet their own daily needs.
“Prayerfully, we decided to pick out some few and started…meeting their essential requirements, like education, medication, feeding and general upkeep,” Musoke, now a canon and archdeacon in the Church of Uganda’s diocese of Buganda, recalled in an email.
In the first year, the Musokes invited five orphans to live with them. But as time passed, the number grew steadily, and they now have 66 children in their care. Though they have been able to find alternative lodging for some of the children, they are still responsible for providing their food and school fees.
“We could not accommodate them all in our house, but asked friends around us to accommodate some of them,” said Masoke. “Some take two or three or four, [but] they only offer accommodation, and we take care of the rest of their requirements.”
But the Masokes’ generosity comes with a heavy financial toll, and it is often a struggle to provide even the basics.
“General upkeep is becoming hectic to us, because as the children continue growing up and the more they advance into high educational levels, the more expensive they become,” said Masoke.
In addition to his duties as a priest, Masoke also tends a plot of land, and if conditions are good, it provides them with enough food. When the harvest is meagre, however, they must stretch their money to purchase food.
“During good seasons, we have two meals a day and in bad seasons, we have only one meal, and at times [we go] without any meal and depend only on porridge,” he explained.
St. Philip’s has, however, been able to receive some relief through a relationship with their link parish, St. Francis Anglican Church in Winnipeg.
The diocese of Rupert’s Land, in which Winnipeg is situated, has long had a companion relationship with the diocese of Buganda and individual parishes in both dioceses are encouraged to establish their own links with each other.
The partnership between St. Philip’s and St. Francis began as a link between St. Philip’s and St. Barnabas Anglican Church. When St. Barnabas merged with two other Winnipeg parishes to form St. Francis, the partnership continued.
St. Francis is neither a large nor an affluent parish. But as Wendy Henderson, a parishioner involved in raising funds to support St. Philip’s explained in an interview with the Anglican Journal, supporting the work Masoke is doing is a major priority.
“From our budget in our church, we send him $2,500 a year, and we have a very small church…[we’re] running a deficit budget this year ourselves,” she said.
It is work she became passionate about after a trip to Nabusanke in January 2016 undertaken by members of the diocese of Rupert’s Land. Two weeks in Uganda opened Henderson’s eyes to the challenges the church faces in caring for the needs of its people.
“Before [the trip], I was probably the person sitting in the pews going, ‘Oh, they’re asking for more money,’ ” she said. “And then we went down and I saw and I thought, ‘You know, we could send them $1,000 a month and it wouldn’t be enough to keep them living in any kind of a decent standard.’”
St. Francis transfers the money to St. Philip’s quarterly through a channel established via the diocesan companionship, but according to Henderson, situations sometimes arise in which funds need to be sent immediately.
This was the case recently when Musoke’s car was totalled, or when he needed to purchase new bed frames and mattresses after an infestation of bedbugs forced the Musokes to burn the 15 triple-decker bunk beds the children sleep in when not at school.
“Every small issue is a big issue,” says Henderson, noting that the tightness of the Musokes’ finances means that problems that would be simply inconvenient for North Americans with a healthy income can be devastating.
In addition to their support for the parish’s general work with orphans, St. Francis is also sponsoring two Ugandan girls, Fencan Cheptoek and Eunice Nimusiima, through Compassion Canada.
Henderson says that those interested in supporting the Musokes’ work can do so by mailing a cheque to the diocese of Rupert’s Land, with a notation “For St. Philip’s Nabusanke Orphans,” care of:
935 Nesbitt Bay
Winnipeg, MB R3T 1W6.