By REID TUCKER
The Rev. Moses Mbuga does not believe in mere happenstance, especially when it comes to doing the work of ministry.
Mbuga, the founder and director of Imani Milele Children, a Ugandan non-profit organization that focuses on taking in orphaned and at-risk young people of the East African country and bringing them up with Christian values, trusts in the providence of a higher authority. That trust led him to accept the invitation to have Imani Milele’s children’s choir perform in DeFuniak Springs on May 8 when the next scheduled stop on their American tour fell through at the last minute.
“Everything that happens is according to the will of God,” Mbuga said. “It was in his plan that we come here to share our message. Nothing happens just by coincidence.”
Imani Milele (meaning “everlasting faith”) arrived in America in mid-March, making their home base in Sebastian, Fla., and the group began its tour of the country in May when the choir, comprising 25 young people between the ages of 8 and 17, performed in Fort Walton Beach. The choir’s DeFuniak Springs visit is its second stop before heading to several other states including Georgia, the Carolinas, Oklahoma and Texas before finishing their tour in south Florida and returning to Uganda in December.
Candy Nowling, managing director of The Matrix Community Outreach Center, took the helm coordinating Imani Milele’s visit to DeFuniak Springs. She met Mbuga two years ago and, upon hearing that the choir was in the area, invited the children to visit DeFuniak and to perform at the First Baptist Church before leaving for an engagement in Georgia. The children and adult staffers stayed in the homes of 10 DeFuniak families during their three-day stay in the city, and Nowling said the families involved had a great time hosting the group, short-notice as the arrangement was.
“It was amazing, the outpouring of support we got from everybody,” Nowling said. “We’ve had a full schedule for the kids and a lot of activities in the community for them. It’s just been wonderful to have everyone visit.”
Mbuga started Imani Milele’s ministry in 1989 with just three children, but the program today gives educational, financial, medical and spiritual support to more than 3,000, while housing 80 and operating eight schools in Uganda. The group’s choir is its chief outreach tool, with the aim of performances and singing engagements being to raise awareness for the plight of orphaned, impoverished and at-risk children in the African nation. Mbuga said Uganda’s violent history, which includes eight years under the military rule of Idi Amin in the 1970s and ‘80s and an ongoing civil war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Liberation Army, has left upward of 3 million children homeless or displaced.
Having lived in poverty after the death of his father in his early 20s, Mbuga said he knows first-hand what the struggles of Uganda’s youth can do to a child’s outlook on life and future prospects. He founded Imani Milele as a means of connecting vulnerable young people with educational opportunities they need to live up to their potential.
“Working with children for all these years, I’ve discovered that many children have dreams but their dreams are dormant or some dreams have died because of not having anyone to step into their lives,” Mbuga said. “For us, as a body of Christ, we cannot sit back and just look on as our country’s problems worsened. As Imani Milele we came out to be a solution to the big problems faced by our country.”
Though 2013 marks Imani Milele’s first trip to the U.S., Mbuga already has plans to return with a new group of 25 students next year. He said the group’s efforts in the States have already paid dividends in terms of increasing the awareness for the group’s ministry in Uganda, and several new partners and sponsors have already come on-board. While the outreach side of Imani Milele remains a crucial component of the organization’s mission, Mbuga said the bottom line is to transform the lives of the individual young people through teaching them about God’s love.
“Our goal is to raise these children with Biblical values so that they grow up with the fear of God,” Mbuga said. “If someone grows up with respect and fear of God then the future is bright because they will know they were created by a loving creator.”