by Dr. Gregory Bartha
February 22, 2017
During the 2014 First Presbyterian Church Uganda mission trip, the team visited FOCUS – the Fellowship of Christian Unions Uganda – a nondenominational evangelical Christian ministry. The main presenter was Ronald Asiimwe, a recent graduate of Makerere University in Kampala. He has earned a degree in Mental Health and Community Psychology. He is very articulate, and I could sense him to be a person of strong character with leadership skills. I have stayed in touch with him since that time. He expressed a desire to study in the US and get an advanced degree in counseling. Currently, I’m sponsoring him at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he is in a Masters degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy.
One of the 13 brothers and sisters, Ronald grew up in Igorora, a small village in western Uganda. His father traded in hides and skins and was frequently absent from home. He was also a heavy drinker. His mother worked as a seamstress and was also away from the home for long periods. He often stayed with relatives and attended a local primary school. When he was 12 years old, he moved to Kampala with his father who, in addition to his trading business, worked as a traffic control officer and as an assistant to a local official.
Ronald attended secondary school for two years. Then, his father refused to pay his school fees. He was out of school for one term, then found a sponsor, Jaz Karim, founder of Uganda Children’s Trust. Jaz is of Indian ancestry and was born and spent his early years in Uganda. His father was a successful and prosperous businessman. When Idi Amin came to power, the Karim family was expelled from Uganda, as were most other Indian merchants. The family resettled in England and are now British citizens. Jaz has always loved Uganda and returned in 2003 to establish his charity, which provides educational support to poor children. To date, the organization has sponsored 200 children. Jaz does fundraising all over Europe and returns to Uganda several times a year to meet with students. He stresses hard work and encourages all participants to dedicate themselves to helping vulnerable children. Jaz is a Muslim but respects all religions. He has told Ronald, “Never talk bad about my Muhammad, and I’ll never talk bad about your Jesus.” Jaz is an avid tennis player, and Ronald met him when he was working as a ballboy at a Kampala tennis club. Thanks to the support he received, Ronald attended a very good secondary school for six years. Then, a friend of Jaz, Michael Burrows, sponsored Ronald at the university level for three years. Ron was active in Christian fellowship and Bible study during his time at Makerere University.
Ronald’s father, now 70, has returned to Igorora. He has stopped drinking and is now active in his church. He and Ronald are on good terms. Ronald’s mother died in 2001. I recently visited Igorora with Ronald and met several of his old teachers and friends. One friend, John, also known as Mr. Boy for his small size, was Ronald’s nursery and first grade primary teacher. He is now approaching 100 years in age and calls himself the Century Man. He can no longer walk and was carried up to the house to meet and visit with us. He was still alert and animated. He clearly is gifted with a kind and gentle nature. When I saw him, I thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s great aphorism, “Try to be a person of value, not a person of success.” In the eyes of the world, Mr. Boy was not a person of importance. But he was a powerful and positive influence in the lives of hundreds of children.
Prior to our arrival and Igorora, Ronald had contacted people in his village to identify vulnerable children who are unable to attend school. We visited the children, took pictures and posted profiles. Ronald plans to raise funds to assist these children.
Ronald has adapted well to life in the US. He has a very friendly and outgoing nature and has made many good friends at Oklahoma Baptist. When he graduates, he plans to return to Uganda to practice marriage and family counseling and to continue his work with vulnerable children.