© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
John Fryters stands with Pastor Mahoka Francis Agati, the executive director and founder of the Grace Mission to the Nations in Uganda, which operates churches in Kampala and Busia, as well as a large orphanage and two schools. He is in Prince Albert for a couple of weeks through his friendship with Fryters, sharing news of his organization’s work in Uganda.
Francis Agati cares deeply for each of his 207 children.
The 47-year-old pastor spends most of his waking hours trying to figure out how to feed and give homes to the several hundred Ugandan orphans, along with managing nine churches and teaching classes at a nearby bible school. Agati also has a wife and six children at home to provide for, two of whom are orphans he took in as his own.
“I’m very busy,” Agati admits with a smile. Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown P.A., this is his first trip to Canada. On a brisk but warm fall day, Agati finds himself cold, still adjusting to the mild northern weather. Since his arrival last Friday, he has rarely removed his touque or the down-filled vest he bought when he arrived here. But for the Ugandan pastor, dealing with the frigid Canadian climate is entirely worth it.
It was a pamphlet Agati stumbled upon in 1994 that brings him to Prince Albert today. Looking for a book on spiritual welfare, Agati found a pro-life pamphlet on a shelf at a library in Uganda.
“I picked it up, and took it home,” Agati said. “When I got home I read it and I became convinced in my heart about what was in it. And there was an address, so I took it down, and I wrote to it. And he took a long time to respond, but one day I went to the post office and there was a letter. “
The letter was from Prince Albert resident and pro-life association president John Fryters. Fryters had prepared the pamphlet as part of a media kit that he sent to 500 different places across the world.
The two kept in touch over the next few years.
“I shared with him what I was doing on the ground, which was taking care of the orphans,” Agati said. “You see in Uganda there are five to six million people, but it is estimated that there are almost five million orphans as well in our country. This has come about from the civil wars in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army, and also the war in Sudan that brought in a lot of refugees. in addition to that was the AIDS epidemic. Forty per cent of the population was infected and many children became fatherless. Even now, in most villages you can go into a home and find out that either the mother or the father is infected. It’s a very desperate and disheartening situation there. “
Wanting to help Agati, Fryters decided he needed to take action. Starting by sending clean bed sheets and soap, he soon realized that he had to do more. Fryters booked a trip to Uganda in 2000, but a massive heart attack soon after put his travel plans on the sideline. It wouldn’t be until 2009 that the two would meet in Kampala, Uganda.
Seeing the work Pastor Agati was doing, Fryters became impressed by the unique approach he was taking to helping Ugandan orphans. Instead of giving money, Agati helps provide them with ways to sustain themselves and the families who take them in.
“We are doing things that are ‘self sustaining,” Agati said. “So we go and buy some goats, and then when the goat produces, we give a goat to a family, so that they can raise it, and then when it produces, it helps the family, and the orphans. Because the orphans live with other families, its not just the orphans that are the beneficiaries, because the family themselves are poor. So that’s how we are trying to do it, we're trying to do different small projects to bring in some money.”
Fryters believes that this ‘sustainability” approach is the answer when it comes to foreign countries giving aid to places such as Uganda. Fryters points to one specific example of how giving aid money to poor nations doesn’t always work.
“When I was last there, we walked by a hospital,” Fryters said. “And (Pastor Agati) pointed to sign and it said 'this hospital built by money from the European economic union,' and it was empty. No doctors, no nurses, no medicine. Today, it’s still empty."
Fryters said that using aid money to buy livestock and other supplies are helpful in teaching Ugandans how to rely on themselves and get to a point where they no longer need help from charity.
“I’ve been buying cows and goats,” Fryters said. “We’re also doing things like giving a loan to a woman who’s going to buy a knitting machine and knit sweaters and then sell them. That’s the solution, to teach the people to sustain themselves.”
Pastor Agati says that the sustainability approach has made a huge difference to Ugandan people. Still, with millions of orphans in the country, there is lots of work left to do. But without any money from the Ugandan government for the country’s failing economy, combined with the fact that Uganda isn’t a country that Canada has targeted for international development money, there is only so much the pastor can do.
“We just need the resources to put together this project,” Agati said. “If we had the resources to put into it, we could help more orphans, because there are so many orphans in need.”
That’s what brings Pastor Agati to Prince Albert. Nineteen years after Agati first wrote to John Fryters, he is visiting the city in order to personally appeal to Canadians. So far, he has raised around $2,000, but hopes to partner with more private donors and businesses.
The pastor has plans for the money, including investing more in sustainability projects, and investing in the best form of sustainability-- a child’s education.
“Education is the key to a human’s being,” Agati said. It’s the best investment you can give to a child, because it lasts their whole lives.”
Agati will be in Prince Albert for the next two weeks, speaking and appealing to Canadians. Arrangements to meet with Pastor Agati, or to donate to his cause can be made through John Fryters at 306-970-8675.
Agati says that he knows that it will take a lot of work to help the millions of children that remain orphaned in Uganda. He doesn’t know how he will do it, but has faith that it can be done.
“Sometimes, when you think too much about how you are going to do things, it becomes an impossibility. But you always look to the future, you have faith, because if you start thinking that it’s going to be an impossibility, then failure will come knocking at your door. So that’s the concept I have, I presume in my life that this can be done. Because of faith, I believe this can be done. That is how I’ve been going all along, from 1994 until now.”